Up until 1200, many farms were within the large Parish of Lydford. This meant that bodies had to be transported miles along the Lych Way to Lydford for burial. Coffins were heavy and difficult to carry over the exposed terrain, so the body was wrapped in a shroud and when the funeral party reached ‘Coffin Wood’ it was transferred to a coffin for the final steps.
In 1260 the tenement dwellers petitioned the Bishop of Exeter for permission to attend the church at Widecombe. However, in the 15th and 16th centuries the new farms that developed in the south of the area were not given dispensation to use Widecombe Church so they still had to trudge the old Lych Way.
These coffin journeys were still of many miles and so places were needed to rest and change bearers. Where there was a large flat stone became such a place and this is a picture of the best-known coffin stone which has split in two, in the legends by lightening but more likely by frost (photo from Legendary Dartmoor website).
I have heard that carrying a coffin low is a tradition in this area. Presumably it would have been too tricky to shoulder a coffin across such terrain. A wheeled bier was pulled by men for the easier journeys.
Simon Smith, Heart And Soul Funerals, Buckfastleigh 01364 643522