Sniffer brings his injured horse to Captain Johnson.

Henry meets Julian and Dick at the bus station.

Sniffer's dad is annoyed to find he can't collect the injured horse for a few days.

On the moors the children say hello to the gypsies—but are told to clear off.

Sniffer shows George how to make gypsy patrins.

Old Ben tells the tale of the Bartle family on Misty Moor.

The Five find the Bartle's old railway engine.

A plane in the night! WHAT is going on?

Five Go to Mystery Moor

Review by Keith Robinson (August 14, 2005)

For some reason the Five's thirteenth adventure, Five Go To Mystery Moor, is one of a few that has stuck in my mind through the years. But whereas old favorites like Five Go To Smuggler's Top and Five on a Hike Together were almost exactly as I remember them, this adventure on the moors turned out to be totally "new" to me except for vague details here and there. In fact it's really only the fog I remember well—and that doesn't even come along until the end.

But it's quite a good adventure anyway, despite hardly remembering a single thing about it. While Julian and Dick go off camping with friends from school, George and Anne go to stay at a riding school with Captain Johnson and his wife, and their daughter Henrietta. Cue another boy-wannabe. Just like George (and Jo from Five Fall Into Adventure), Henrietta prefers to strut about in boy's clothes. Luckily (also like George and Jo) she happens to have a name that could easily be shortened/changed to a male version, so she calls herself Henry. Good job she wasn't born with a name like Jane or Sue—although if she had been, I wonder if that would have curbed her masculine tendencies?

In any case Henry is actually more boy-like than George in some ways. Her hair is straight, for one thing, and apparently George's curly hair is not very boy-like at all. Cue jealousy from George. The childish arguments between George and Henry dampen the atmosphere a little for poor Anne, who just wants everyone to get along, but it makes for a more interesting read...especially when Captain Johnson gets fed up and snaps at both George and Henry. I liked the informal "family" feel to the riding school; even Mrs Johnson tells George and Henry alike that they're being childish and silly. Never mind that George and Anne are paying guests; they have to toe the line like Henry and everyone else. And they have to do household chores as well as grooming the horses and so on, so this riding school is not some place you go and get waited on hand and foot. No, everyone mucks in here!

Just when George is looking forward to returning to Kirrin Cottage, the girls receive a letter from Aunt Fanny. It says, quite simply, that George's father is ill so please stay another week at the riding school. It amazes me how casually Mrs Kirrin tells her daughter that her father is ill without explaining the actual illness itself. This brief letter is so cold and thoughtless, and completely unnecessary too. Doesn't the riding school have a phone? Couldn't George's mother have phoned and explained the problem instead of dashing off a quick letter? And what's so wrong with George and Anne coming home anyway? In any case it looks like the girls are stuck where they are. They can't go to Anne's home because her parents are abroad and there's decorating going on, so naturally George is annoyed at having to stick out another week with that awful Henrietta.

But wait! Here comes another letter! This one is from Julian and Dick, who have decided to come and stay at the riding school with the girls for a week. Bear in mind that this letter comes a few pages after the bad news from Aunt Fanny, and there's no mention of it being the next day or anything, so presumably this letter arrives mere hours after the first. If so, why? Second post? Or the postman forgot there were two letters and came back to deliver the second one? How come Julian and Dick knew the girls were staying another week? There are so many things wrong with this whole scenario that I could easily spend half a paragraph moaning about it (oh, whoops, I have). Anyhow, the girls are excited by the news and plan to meet the boys at the train station at half past twelve, which is when the only train gets in. But they're wrong; Julian phones and speaks to Henry, and says that they'll be arriving at the bus station at half past eleven. As George and Anne have already gone out for the morning, Henry rushes to meet the boys instead. (Presumably Julian must have en route phoned from his 1940s-style mobile phone, since there seems to be hardly any time between his phone call and Henry meeting them at the station.)

Henry is very pleased that Julian and Dick mistake her for a boy, and of course George is livid when she finds out later. The tension mounts as Julian and Dick tease George about how "boy-like" Henry really is, and it all comes to a head when they plan to head off on horses across the moors and Henry is invited along. George suddenly develops a headache and says she's not going. So rather than beg her to come along, Julian announces he's very sorry about her headache and they'll see her later. George is mortified when her cousins and that awful Henry set off together!

Serves her right. Meanwhile, another little subplot evolves when Sniffer, a small gypsy boy who sniffs a lot, turns up with his horse. Sniffer says his mean old father wants Captain Johnson to look at his horse's bad leg straight away so the gypsy group can get on their way across the moors. But the Captain's having none of it and insists that the horse rests for a few days in the stable. Sniffer is worried. What will his father say? "My father will be angry," he says. "What's the hurry?" the Captain retorts. "Mystery Moor will still be there in two days' time!"

And so we are introduced to Mystery Moor. Why is it called Mystery Moor anyway? And why are the gypsies so opposed to waiting around for Sniffer's horse to get better? Julian, Dick, Anne and Henry leave the sulking George to her headache and go off to the moor on horseback for a look-see. They come across the gypsy travellers are are told, quite shortly, to "Clear off and leave us alone!" So they dutifully clear off and head home. But they get a little lost and by accident come across a set of old railway tracks half buried under sand and heather. They surmise that the tracks should lead into a town, so they follow the tracks and, sure enough, arrive at Milling Green. From there it's a short ride back to the stables.

The children (this time including both Henry and George) visit Old Ben, an eighty-something blacksmith with time on his hands. He gladly tells the history of the moor. "When my grandad was a boy it was called Misty Moor," he says, and goes on to explain about the sea-fogs that used to come stealing in from the coast, apparently so thick you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. The name Mystery Moor, he continues, came about because of the Bartle Family that used to live around the area—great strapping men that nobody dared argue with. The Bartles found a plentiful supply of good sand in the moors and they built a small railway leading from the quarries into Milling Green, so they could transport the sand easily. But they fought with the gypsies a lot, and all this came to a head when, one very foggy night, the Bartles disappeared without a trace. The Gypsies "done away with them," so the story went.

And so the mystery deepens. Why are the gypsies so keen to cross the moors? And why now? They do this perhaps three or four times a year, and nobody knows why. Can the Five (and Henry) find out? Of course they can! But things get a little hairy when the gypsies find out they're being watched by a bunch of children—especially when the thick fog comes rolling in!

This book culminates in quite an exciting end, and it's the stumbling around in thick fog that stuck in my mind for twenty-five years or so. I couldn't remember what they were doing, or why they were out there on the moor, but that foggy scene left a very large impression on me. But when I think about it, it was always the dark and creepy scenes that stayed with me: the foggy marshes of Castaway Hill and the tunnels running under Smuggler's Top; the night when Dick slept in a barn and an escaped prisoner speaks to him through the window; the spook train rushing through the tunnel...oh, and Clopper the Pantomime Horse! (Eh?)

On the whole I like Five Go To Mystery Moor. As a bonus it has a nice title too, unlike the next book in the series, Five Have Plenty of Fun...