Off the beaten track with Tich

Go anywhere local with Tich (Charles) Scott and it is likely he will pass someone he knows. Always stopping for a friendly hello and chat, he usually remembers the name of their dog too!

Tich is a well-known figure on Dartmoor and is this year’s President of the 119th Chagford Agricultural and Horticultural Show on Thursday 15th August. During our interview, he reminisced about ‘going to the show as a lad and showing rams with Dad at the old fields’. As a boy, he particularly enjoyed going to the toffee apple man who wore a ‘pork pie’ or trilby hat and had a split stick.

He would “cut up the sticks with a hook from a log and boil up the toffee on a primus stove. The toffee apples were a tanner apiece. And the man’s nickname was ‘Frizzel’. He was 97 when he died…healthy eating no doubt!” Tich reminded me that the “proper way to eat a toffee apple was to nibble off the toffee around the outside, and then bite the apple”.

Having supported this Show for the last 30 years in various capacities, Tich will be presiding this year over a unique mix of farming, crafts and horticulture. Located across several meadows along the River Teign with a beautiful backdrop of Dartmoor Hills, the Chagford show has grown in size year on year and is a fascinating and fun community gathering.

Along with talented musician friends Carl Allerfeldt and Winford Dempster, Tich has even composed a Chagford Show song. It features lots of local people, names, and skills. They know it may not become as famous as Widecombe Fair (first recorded by Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould in 1890 in ‘Songs of the West’) or Tavistock Goosey Fair but it’s fun nonetheless and you’ll hear it sung at the show if you come along:

Chagford Show Song

There’s a show in August perhaps you’ve been
It’s held in a meadow by the River Teign
Get up early be up with the lark
Or you’ll be queuing back to Sandy Park

Chorus

There’s bullocks hollering and terriers yapping
Tractors smocking and horse whips cracking
Down in the beer tent there’s folks you’d know
So come on down to Chagford Show

Chorus

Wilfy Hutchings built Hurston wall
He built it long and he built it tall
He’s been the President of our show
There’s nort about walling he don’t know

Chorus

Up on top of old Dartimoor
There’s a family us calls Mortimore
There’s Morri and Ivan and Martyn for sure
And l bet there must be forty more

Chorus

Our new Chairman Judith Colton
You won’t find better this side of South Molton
‘Er rins the pub and ‘er do’s the sculle
You’ll find her right as a general rule

Chorus

Penny Who! Is very Keen
Even although the wages are pretty lean
‘ers the Maid to do the agenda
I’ve even got a pound l could lend her

Chorus

Tich and Debbie used to do all the stalls
They don’t have nort to do with the ewes
If you want to book a Dartmoor tour that feels right
You best give Deb’s a ring tonight

Tracing his family back 14 generations to the medieval Hole Farm in Chagford, Tich’s Dartmoor lineage is extraordinary. The Scott family moved between different farms over the generations (including Bowden Farm on the Castle Drogo estate) but always stayed local to North East Dartmoor.

Tich was the youngest of three brothers and they moved when he was 4 months old from Drewsteignton to Fairhaven Farm at Whiddon Down. He has lived there ever since. Along with his wife Debbie, they have created a seemingly idyllic home, living next door to their extended family that includes their son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren, as well as his Aunty June.

Sitting with Tich in the garden with a delicious elderflower juice, it was a joy to watch the grandchildren play in the next door garden, and on the other side to see Aunty June enjoying the sunshine sitting on her garden bench. A picture-perfect, multi-generational family living situation.

Tich is not one to sit still. Or as he put it, “to sit on the same bar stool in the same pub every night for 40 years”. He has holidayed in many countries but said he loves nothing more than being at home. “It is a privilege to live here,” he says. And having the opportunity to be shown around his farm, I can honestly say it is one of the tidiest I’ve seen – everything is clean, tidy, and has its place.

The garden and pond are beautifully tended, and the vegetable patch is abundant. The views up to North East Dartmoor are unparalleled. Even the cows seem happy; they come running towards Tich when he walked into their field.

One of the barns houses an interesting collection of vintage farm machinery that Tich is keeping for his grandsons as they “won’t be familiar with them when they grow up”. The collection includes an old chaff cutter, root cutter, corn winnower, seed fiddle, jumper bar for splitting granite, ladle to pour iron for gate hangings, sets of weights, and more.

Walking with him later around his field of kale, he gave me a demonstration of how he was taught by his father to sow seed by hand.

I can see the efficiency benefits of modern machinery but there was something wonderful about watching Tich walk measured steps up and down the field showing how he used to throw handfuls of seed. If you’re interested in hearing about old techniques and seeing the vintage machinery, he’s happy to show you around.

The barn next door is home to several Land Rovers (practical as well as a good investment apparently) and is the venue for an enjoyable annual cider-making gathering. Tich invites family and friends to come along and join in the fun of making cider together.

We spent several hours together last November chopping local apples, squeezing the juice into big buckets and emptying the deliciously sweet contents into large barrels to be aged for several months into pure scrumpy cider. I can confirm that the resulting cider tastes delicious and is also fairly lethal!

Tich and his wife Debbie were the consummate hosts and provided a lunch for everyone of local pasties, cakes, tea and coffee. It was a wonderful reminder of community and celebrating Dartmoor traditions.

Tich left school at 16 years old and laboured on the family farm. Working with his father, they traded all over Devon at markets, cattle and sheep fairs, auctions etc, buying and selling livestock and other agricultural items.

There is no doubt that farming is hard work. Saying that farmers have to “work harder and longer for the same money” as 40 years ago Tich, rather smartly, diversified into several areas including a successful agricultural fencing business (it’s hard to pass a fence or gate locally that he hasn’t had some hand in building or repairing – he is justifiably proud of each one), buy to let properties and tours of Dartmoor in his vintage Land Rovers.

Tich admitted to being ‘a bit of a show off’ at school and says he had good training in learning to stand up in front of people and speak on a topic for one minute as a member of Young Farmers that he joined at 12 years old. He really enjoys entertaining others and making people laugh. From a young age, he was doing storytelling, folk singing, stand-up comedy, and as an amateur auctioneer was selling goods in pubs and village halls for charity.

He says his father was a ‘larger than life character’ and as they criss-crossed the county, he got to know so many people. Uncle Henry apparently used to sit in the pub and tell stories so Tich also learnt a lot watching him too. He is forever thinking up and trying out new jokes and stories.

And, if you haven’t already, you should watch the BBC Spotlight clips of his mum April and aunty June telling stories and jokes, they’re such a giggle! Life hasn’t always been easy but Tich approaches most situations with pragmatism and a smile, believing that ‘laughter is a good tonic’.

Saying that he’s no longer a ‘farming farmer’, Tich relishes in sharing his knowledge and stories about Dartmoor with locals and visitors alike.

Visitors love his tours, saying “Tich knows the place like the back of his hand and has lots of colourful tales about its history, customs and people as well. Felt as though we were off the beaten track.”

And “Tich grew up farming on the northern edge of Dartmoor and has a real affinity for the landscape and the people who live and earn their keep in this rugged and beautiful place.

‘His stories are based on his own experience and knowledge; he delivers it with humour in a true Devon dialect that ensures everyone engages with him.”

As an award-winning Dialect Speaker, Tich regularly gets called upon to feature on radio, videos, and at local shows. He sometimes tones down his strong Dartmoor accent when speaking with me but the warm, rich tones and words of the Dartmoor dialect are sadly in decline so I delight in hearing him talk – a lovely reminder of when I was growing up.

Tich cares about his local community and does what he can to contribute. He’s a regular performer at the monthly ‘GidSong’ evenings of folk music, songs and stories raising money for Gidleigh village hall.

He dished out mangel seeds last year for locals to grow in their gardens at home, and then helped to judge the annual ‘mangelwurzel’ competition for the largest as well as most creatively presented! BBC Spotlight filmed this unique and funny Dartmoor evening and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Gidleigh village hall so packed with friends from far and wide.

Tich drives his 4WD for community care service NEDCare when needed. He helps to organise an annual 25 mile tractor run from Whiddon Down to Postbridge, as well as charity Pig Racing at Whiddon Down in the village hall near his home.

Over 50 years ago whilst doing a ‘bob a job week’ he recalled Mrs Perryman giving him snowdrop bulbs which he planted on the top of the bank at Whiddon Down and they’ve since spread down over for a wintry enchantment along the roadside.

And he is currently involved in trying to raise money to support the purchase of a framed photograph by Chris Chapman of the bosses in South Tawton Church, the second largest parish on Dartmoor.

He was eager that I invite you to contribute to the crowdfunding campaign if you feel moved to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jeremy-stephens-2

Go spend a day with Tich and you may get to taste his home made mangel wurzel wine or pure scrumpy cider – proper!

Emma Cunis

Author: Emma Cunis

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