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South Cambridgeshire-inspired stories of witchcraft, magic and ghosts feature in former journalist's new book

A former journalist has published a collection of short stories based on tales he was told by older inhabitants of villages in the small corner where Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex meet.

The book by former Linton resident Richard Humphries - Tales From the Fire Hills - has been published this week and is available from Kindle Books, price £3.99.

Richard, 71, said: ‘We had come from a busy London suburb where people didn’t have time for their neighbours and regarded the countryside as an alien place to be avoided.

Richard Humphries, author of Tales from the Fire Hills. Contributed picture
Richard Humphries, author of Tales from the Fire Hills. Contributed picture

“With hindsight, London was pretty dull.

‘We moved to a thatched cottage – haunted, as it turned out – in a village where everyone knew everyone else and there was a real sense of community. And the people were absolutely wonderful.

‘To many of them witchcraft, magic and ghosts were still a real part of everyday life, alongside sorrow, love and lust. Life was on a completely different scale.

‘Everyone had their own story to tell. They often spoke of events that were still fresh in their memory but had, in fact, occurred decades ago.

‘For example, one old farmer related in great detail a conversation his grandfather had once had with a visiting Government official.

“I questioned him about it and from some of the documents he still had we worked out that the actual conversation must have taken place in 1853.

“To him it was just a fairly recent snippet of family gossip.”

Tales related by local people have been re-worked by Richard into a volume of 18 short stories, all of which are based on actual events and span the years from the 1830’s to the present day.

Only the names of characters and locations have been changed, to safeguard the sensitivities of their descendants.

Richard, who now lives in Wisbech, said: “The stories all came from an area bounded by Cambridge, Newmarket, Haverhill and Saffron Walden.

"It’s a beautiful part of England and because it was off the beaten track until relatively recently remained largely unspoiled.

“Up until the last war the pace of life in our village hadn’t changed a great deal in the previous few hundred years.

“The year was governed by the rural calendar – the Plough Boys did the rounds of the villages on Plough Monday, the school-children went May Dolling on May Day, the village feast took place in late May, the Harvest Home in September and the Molly Dancers turned out on Boxing Day.

“That was the way it was and the way it had always been.

"Sadly, most of that tradition and pace of life has now disappeared.

"Fortunately, the humour and the good nature of local people survives.”

From 2006 until 2014 Richard was Senior Communications Manager at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust.

His forthcoming novel, On the Day We Got to Heaven, is due out in the autumn.