In the footsteps of David Essex's Christmas hit song

John Bishop's House

John Bishop's House. - Credit: David Phillips

Tales from the storyteller with David Phillips:

Did you know that the video for David Essex's Christmas hit A Winter’s Tale was filmed on Dartmoor?

No, me neither! It’s one of the moors best kept secrets! 

Last Christmas, I happened to be visiting my brother as my niece was watching Christmas music videos on TV, when up popped Mr Essex standing on what looked like a tor.

Now I’ve heard the song every year since it was released and probably seen the video many times as well, but that was the first time it had ever occurred to me that it had been filmed on Dartmoor.

When I got back home I did a Google search to try and confirm my suspicions but all that I could find was that it was filmed in the West Country... a bit too vague for me! I’m sure I could do better...

I’m on several Dartmoor interest sites on Facebook, so I posted the video and asked if anyone could identify the locations. They didn’t let me down!

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Several people offered up Combestone Tor as the rocks he is seen walking over, Vag Hill above Dartmeet he walks passed some standing stones and the tree-lined lane he walks down is the entrance to Prince Hall Hotel.

At the end of the video David is in a little boat rowing across a stretch of water which is Venford Reservoir, the one that supplies parts of Torbay.

But the part I was most interested to learn about was the bridge on which David and his doggy friend are seen sitting on at one point and the dog runs full length across it in another scene.

Some people said it was Fairy Bridge which spans the River Swincombe near Sherberton Farm, but this is a proper bridge with railings either side, in the video it’s clearly just a plank of wood spanning the river.

Then someone confirmed that back in the 1980s, when the video was made, it was indeed a plank of wood supported by a couple of telegraph poles!

Fairy Bridge

Fairy Bridge. - Credit: David Phillips

It was only in recent years that the 'bridge' became unfit for purpose and health and safety stepped in replacing it with the quaint little bridge we see today, still with the alternative crossing of stepping stones beside it. 

On the other side of the river is located the remains of what is known as John Bishop’s House.

John Bishop - not to be mistaken with the comedian of the same name - lived and worked in the area in the 1840s either as a tin miner or wall builder, records aren’t conclusive, but either way David is seen sitting on a ruined wall among the remains during the video.

Final confirmation came when a guy posted a reply on the Facebook page saying he had actually helped in the making of said video back in 1982, and he had really enjoyed his day as a member of the film crew on Dartmoor... case closed! 

Armed with all this information, one day I would like to have a go at recreating the video for A Winter’s Tale, highlighting all the changes that have occurred to the locations over the years, with the help of my niece, Beth, who is responsible for the beautiful films you can see on my Moors & More Tours website, and which just this week got the seal of approval from a member of the BBC Spotlight news team no less!

For now I will content myself with telling the story to my friends, who I took to that part of the moor just the other weekend during one of my monthly group walks.

If you too would like to visit those sites then just park up by the entrance to Sherberton Farm, walk over the cattle grid and continue down the path until you come to another path on the left with a gate across it that you can walk around.

Keep following this track until you come across the bridge on your right with the ruins on the other side - and as you stand on the bridge gazing into the River Swincombe below just tell yourself... David Essex wuz ‘ere!

Oh and don’t forget to watch the video again with fresh eyes.

Christmas for Dartmoor lovers, like myself, will never be the same again!