Dartmoor, England is a barren plateau in Devonshire County, known chiefly as the setting for the great Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and for its hardy strain of ponies and sheep. Once a year, as their ancestors did, the local people gather at the tiny village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor (pop. 673) to show their sheep, display the muscular skills of the young people and sing of "Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all"—for Widecombe Fair was the inspiration for this ballad, one of the oldest in England.
Under the shadow of Widecombe church's 15th Century 120-foot tower (above), the narrow street of the village becomes a midway of souvenir stands, refreshment stalls and parking lots. During the morning, on a field used hundreds of years ago for the same purpose, the stock is judged. The afternoon is given over to sports. Some test riding skills at which the people have excelled since long before Widecombe's first fair. Others pit rough-hewn youths against one another in a cross-country race, pillow fights (pages 38, 39) and tugs of war. Widecombe Fair remains much the same as it has always been, but even here the march of the machine advances on the purely bucolic: easy winner of the tug of war this year was a team which had trained for weeks against a tractor.
Winners parade on ancient fairgrounds to receive trophies after horse and pony events.
Wheelbarrow race entries first gallop to the start, then jump off horses and find partners.
November 15, 1954
Battered runners catch their breath after cross-country run through bogs, brambles, streams, barbed-wire fences.
Letter race requires contestants to pick up "letter," ride around field, dismount and deposit "letter" in box.
Musical posts is an equestrian version of parlor game. When music stops, riders fling themselves off horses and race towards willowy poles. Since there are never enough poles, field is constantly narrowed until only winner is left.
Water-carrying race demands great control over mount. Riders gallop down track, fill cup with water from pail, race back and pour it into delicately balanced glass jar on post. Stunt is repeated until jar overflows.
Pillow fighters balance precariously on log. Rules prohibit them from holding log with hand and allow them to use only one hand to swing pillow. Despite increasing darkness and cold, crowd cheered action enthusiastically.