A Wall on Dartmoor, by Thomas McMullan

There is a wall on Dartmoor. You will see it if you walk along the tracks from the aerial tower to the ruins of the old prison. There is a wall that curves, looms larger than our homes, bigger than any of us and older than any of us. I live near the base, where I am sheltered from the rain. My home to which you are invited to visit is big enough for three. There is a kitchen, a cupboard, a potted plant on my bedside table. If I crane my neck from the toilet window I can see the tops of the highest letters.

You will see the wall long before you reach my home. As you trek along the hills you will see a grey mark that will not disappear unless you turn away. Do not turn away. There are deep marshes that have grown deeper with the rain. The grass grows over the bog and it is not until your foot falls in the earth that you will realise the danger you are in.

As you approach you will be able to read the biggest words, those painted in red letters near the very top of the wall. You will not be able to read them all, they have worn away in places and your eyes will be heavy from the journey. There are ladders that reach to the uppermost point, although I have only ever scaled to the half-way mark. The names beyond that thin platform may be worn away and the words may be smudged but the shape of what they say remains.

My neighbour is a friendly man. His name is Peter Morris and he will invite us into his home where he will cook us a delicious meal. Peter laughs often, I hear him through the walls of my home. His wife does not smile but she is a beautiful woman and she will welcome you into their home with open arms. It was only last week that I sat at their dinner table and shared a meal with them. There is a spare room in Peter’s home where Peter’s father used to live but they have no need for it now. I am certain that I can convince them to rent it out to you if that is an offer you would be interested in hearing, if my rooms are too small for your needs.


The roosters in the public square are the property of all of us. It is in our best interests to keep them well fed. We have arranged a rota for who in our village should be held accountable in any given week for the well-being of the animals. The roosters can be heard from my home. When the sun comes up I hear them cockadoodledoo.

There is a group of us who go to the wall every day and read what has been written in red. Our group carry knives, some of us carry metal bars. We will go to the wall and we will read the accusations. If there are names repeated or if the names are written big enough then we will pay that person a visit. One of us will shout, the others will join. We will point in the direction of the home and we will knock at their door. If that person runs then we will chase them. This is good exercise. By the time you find the person you will have worked up a sweat. If you are feeling energetic you can help us carry the accused into the square beside the roosters. You can help us carry their bodies away too.


Peter’s wife has blue eyes. Her hands are soft and when she leads you by the arm into her home you will be forgiven for feeling light headed. She will make sure that you are comfortable. She will sit you down beside her at the table and she will pour you a glass of cold water. She will look you in the eyes and touch your wrist. As you lay on top of her she will weep and tell you that she wants to run away. But the bogs are deep. You tell her this. The bogs are deep and if you leave you will both be sucked into the ground.

When I was a boy Peter’s father would take me by the hand and lead along the base of the wall. He would read the names and their crimes and I would repeat them. He told me that anyone could write on the wall. If you had a bucket of paint and a brush you could write on the wall. If you thought someone was cheating you, if you thought someone was telling lies, if you thought someone was plotting or scheming or calculating or murmuring you could write their name on the wall. This is the law. As a boy I joined the crowd with Peter, who was the same age as me but not the same height. I was bigger than him. His head came up to my neck. We would join the crowd of men and Peter’s father would give us knives from his kitchen.


If you visit then we will spend an afternoon together climbing the wall. We will reach the half-way point and look out at the view. I stood in that spot last summer, after I had climbed with my bundle of emergency rope wrapped around my shoulder. I tried my hardest to read the words written above me. It was impossible. Whatever accusations had been made were torn beyond sense, the names of the accused were no longer names at all. Strips of paper full of holes. The biggest words there were painted in red paint. Seen from the ground they looked ancient and immovable but from there they looked as if they had been written by a child.

Peter’s wife will touch your arm and tell you to come inside. She will push you into her room. She will shake. She will say that her husband is a good man. You will kiss her and stroke her. You will listen to what she has to say but you will know what you have to do, that when the sun sets you will have to find where he is hiding. Away from the homes and over the moors. You will walk until it is dark, until you have found his campfire.

You will find him hiding beneath an outcrop of rock.  He will look so thin. When you lift him he will be as light as a feather.

You must walk straight towards the wall, until you can see the words written in red which cover every inch of stone. The letters stand on top of one another, the newer words lie on the older. When you see the wall you should not turn back. The bogs are deeper from the rain and it is not until you have begun to sink that you will realise the danger you are in.

Thomas McMullan is a London based writer. His stories have been published by 3:AM (upcoming), The Literateur, Cadaverine Magazine and Mint Magazine. He writes freelance for The Guardian and has had work produced at The ICA and The British Museum. He has collaborated with visual artists in London and Beijing and is currently looking for an agent for his first novel. He tweets at @thomas_mac

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