In the Exmoor book by H.J.Marshall (1948) Exmoor:Sporting and Otherwise the story is related about how Shepherd Will Little’s knowledge of the countryside around and about Hoar Oak Cottage was ignored by the Exmoor Hounds when they were out hunting on the moor.
The book makes frequent mention of Hoaroak Cottage and the ancient boundary marker that is the Hoaroak Tree as well mentioning people linked to Hoar Oak Cottage. At the time Marshall was writing, the shepherd at Hoar Oak was William Little and H. J. Marshall tells the tale that Will Little was one of the few who knew the good ground between Exe Head, Chains Barrow, Ruckham Combe and on via Saddle Gate, to Chapman’s Barrows.
Marshall recounts this tale:
He (Will Little) was once on Exe Plain when the Hounds passed in full cry, a horse rode up to him and inquired his way . “Come with me and I will take you across the Chains” replied the shepherd. The horseman did not like the prospect.
“Is there a way around?” he inquired
“Yes” said the shepherd “You can ride down Hoccombe Combe, there in front of you, go past my cottage in the valley, then ride under the hill on sound heather. But ‘tis a long way round. Better come with me”
The rider shook his head.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do” said the shepherd “ I’ll jog along quietly and be at Saddlers Stone a long while before you can gallop there!”
So it was settled. And the young shepherd jogged leisurely along over the bog and reached Saddlers Stone, well known to all hunters. He sat there for some time before the stranger came up, his horse covered in sweat from hard galloping.
There’s no doubt that Will Little, shepherd of the Hoar Oak herding and resident of Hoar Oak Cottage, not only knew his way around the moor but had stout legs and a good set of lungs!
This fascinating book is now out of print but it is worth tracking down a copy if only for Lionel Edward’s lovely pen and ink illustrations and the hand drawn map of Exmoor on the inside cover. The book recalls epic hunts crossing the moor from’ Bratton to Porlock Bay’ – referred to in the old Exmoor Hunting song of the same name and which has been captured in this YouTube clip