Monday, 21 December 2009

Merry Yule!

Wishing you all a very Merry Yule! No faery stories to share today, just some magical photos taken at Plessey Wood this weekend, we've been blessed with some truly wintery weather! I'm sure the faeries will enjoy sliding down these icy slopes, and the goblins will be throwing snowballs at any humans who venture too close!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Elf Hills, Cambo



In a little village in Northumberland called Cambo, curious signposts can be found pointing to the 'Elf Hills'. I am unsure if the name refers to a specific hill or a range of hills, but it appears on OS maps and older local maps as being just outside the village of Cambo, and next to a farm that also shares the name of 'Elf Hills'. Although the hills seem to have been given their name a great long time ago, the earliest mention I have found of the name being used in connection to fairies dates back to 1844, where it is briefly mentioned in volume 2 of the Local Historian's Table Book as being a haunt of the fairies, but unfortunately no further details are given. A more detailed account is given in 'Tales and Legends of Northumbria' by M Douglas (1934):

"The Elf-hills at Cambo were the haunt of the moorland Elves, dressed in the brown and gold of the heather and bracken among which they made their home. They were disturbed not at all when the hot-trod made their appearance, summoning Northumbrians to meet a border raid."

A book called 'Northumberland, described by Agnes Herbert' (1923) explains this further:

"The Elf-Hills near Cambo - that is, Cambo Hill, where Sir John de Cambo kept watch and ward - had, as permanent tenants, a gregarious band of "the little people" who did not in the least resent that their stronghold was often invaded and used again and again as a signal tower on which the wisp of tow mounted on a spear-point was set on fire when a raid was imminent."

Perhaps the most interesting stories relating to the Elf Hills can be found in a book called 'In the troublesome times' published by the Cambo Women's Institute in 1929. The book contains stories of local folklore and customs collected from local residents, and the Elf Hills gets many a mention including:

"Two or three other people, including Mrs Hedley of Elf Hills, have mentioned, or pointed out, "the ring on the knowe yonder".

"I think there's only one story about Elf Hills, that Elves danced around in a circle, and made a ring, and it's there yet." - Edith Henderson of school age, Scots Gap.

"My grandfather, who brought me up, used to tell me about the elves at Elf Hills." - Mrs Keith, refering to her grandfather Henry Codling

"My wife's brother, Hedley of Elf Hills, found a spear sticking out of the runner(small stream) down yonder near Prior Hall." - George Shade [the book goes on to say that the local area was dug up and ancient bracelets were found].

"My husband used to point out the elves' track from Elf Hills to Rothley Mills to us, it is in the field where the water is." - Mrs Thomas Hepple

I find the above quote especially interesting as nearby Rothley Mill is also famous as being a haunt of the fairies. The book goes on to say that the track runs from West to East and that Mr Robert Hepple explained in an Institute meeting that the track is distinct from the church track. What I wouldn't give to have been a fly on the wall at that Women's Institute meeting!

On a freezing cold and rainy Sunday, myself and my partner battled against the elements and made a visit to the Elf Hills. It nearly finished before it had begun when on the walk along the path to the hills I stopped to take some photos of the lovely old trees, and was so engrossed with their beauty that I turned around and walked straight into a tree branch hanging at head height! Luckily my head was well padded with woolley hats, but i'm sure the fairies got a good laugh out of it!

(Rain reflecting off the lense, almost looks like an etherial fae perched on the wall!)

Onwards to the Elf Hills we walked and I can see why these were once considered to be the dwelling place of the Elven folk, the lush green fields go on as far as the eye can see, and dotted along them are sunken pits densely covered in bracken and twisted gorse branches, the perfect hiding place for fairies! As you can see from the bottom photo, there are still circular patches where the grass won't grow, perhaps due to old quarry works below the soil, or maybe just from the nightly fairy dances!

For anyone intrigued by possible name origins of the Elf Hills, there is a fascinating paper called 'Are there any Elves in Anglo-Saxon Place-Names?' by A Hall (2006) available here on the University of Glasgow Website.

Sources & Further Information
In the troublesome times, Cambo Women's Institute
Northumberland, Agnes Herbert
Local Historian's Table Book Volume 2
Tales and Legends of Northumbria, M Douglas

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Goblin Combe

"There are "sights seen" here, though their nature remains vague. And if you want to get to Goblin Coombe, the best way is to go as far as the Highway-man's oak and then lose yourself"

I first started researching Faery Folklore after finding a dusty old book in a second hand book shop in Weston Super Mare. This book was called 'A Somerset Sketch Book' and as I scanned through the chapter headings... The Ploughing Match..... The Rat-Catcher.... The Sheep-Shearing...one in particular caught my eye... Goblin Coombe. At that time I lived in Somerset and although I already had an interest in faeries and an interest in local history, until that point I didn't realise just how many faery stories there are that are specific to certain locations and are only known mostly to local residents. I bought the book and read it on the train home, and a couple of months later myself and my partner were driving along to Goblin Combe in search of Goblins. That was long before I began this blog, but I thought it time to include the story of Goblin Combe as I ventured there on an Autumn day rather like today. The quotes featured below are from 'A Somerset Sketch-Book' by H. Hay Wilson (1912).

"That lane to Goblin Coombe, one June morning, promised to be unending, and nothing happened for all its turns and twists until suddenly a small boy-thing came walking around the next corner. He had very large ears like jug-handles, and an expressionless freckled face; and when he was asked where the road led he only smiled and would not answer."

"It is as lonely a place as you can see, a cheerful loneliness, barren and secure because the plough would be useless in Goblin Coombe. It is a long, winding, narrow cleft in the limestone; the steep sides are bare above, and dotted with dwarf-thorns twisted into queer shapes by the mighty sea wind that sweeps up from the channel whose waters shimmer far away beyond the valley. Shrubs and saplings grip on the shelves stony sides, and the grey boulders crop up among tufts of gorse and patches of herbage and clumps of ash and fir, and the whitebeam. Up above where the tilled land meets the Goblin region there are gnarled hedgerow oaks that seem to 'girn' and threaten like queer elf-things bound fast in the tree's slow growth."

"At other times the Coombe belongs to nature - or the goblins, which you will! And to confirm their right, in the middle of the coombe a gaunt grey signboard stands up declaring, in stark defiance of the evidence of your eyes, that there is "no path". Whence it is plain that the track winding down the valley is an illusion, a goblin path that leads you straight into fairyland."

"You could fancy that wood beneath the crescent moon alive with a silent stir of wee things, "green jacket, red cap, owl's feather," peering across the near stone wall with curious, sharp, elfin faces at the red firelight, streaming to meet the moonlight without."

We couldn't find the 'no path' sign, but we did find a large hollow old tree large enough to fit a person inside. I imagine this could possibly be the highway man's tree referred to in the story. We also found a forest bench with a neat row of stones placed on top in a curious manner. The work of local children, or could it be the work of the goblins?

Details of another fairy sighting in Goblin Combe can be found in 'Folktales of England' by Katherine Briggs and Ruth Tongue (1965):

"There was a parcel of children and they was a-picking primroses, see, and one poor little dear her wandered away on her lone self right down into Goblin Combe. She were only a little trot, see, and didn't know no better. Well, when she do find she's a lost she cries, and the tears do run down her dear little face, and dap on her pinafore like summer rain, and she do throw her self against a rock. Then the rock opens and there's the fairises all come to comfort her tears. They do give her a gold ball and they lead the dear little soul safe home - on account she was carrying primroses, see. Well, twas the wonder of the village and the conjuror he gets the notion he'd aget his fistes on more than one gold ball when next the fairises opened the hill. So he do pick a bunch of primroses and he go on up Goblin Combe, and he was glad enough to get in to the rock after all he see and hear on the way up. Well, twasn't the right day, nor the right number of primroses, and he wasn't no dear little soul - so they took him!"

Sources & Further Information
A Somerset Sketch Book, H. Hay Wilson
Folktales of England, Briggs & Tongue
Goblin Combe Environment Centre

Thirlwall Castle


In the town of Thirlwall stands the remains of a 12th Century castle, said to be guarded by a demonic dwarf. According to volume 1 of the Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary division (1843):

"A Baron of Thirlwall castle returned from a continental war laden with abundance of treasure, amongst which was a table of solid gold. The gold table, it was furthermore said, was guarded day and night by a hideous dwarf, represented by many to be the foul fiend himself. In a predatory excursion of the Scots, however, the castle was stormed and taken by night, and the baron and his retainers after a desperate resistance were slain. The castle was ransacked for the treasure, the room containing it, was forcibly entered, but dwarf - gold table - and money bags had disappeared. They searched dungeon and vault, but nothing could be found, so after setting fire to the castle they departed. The dwarf (according to tradition) during the heat of the engagement removed the treasure, and after throwing it into a deep well jumped in after it, and by his infernal power closed the top of the well over himself and his charge."

It is said that the dwarf still haunts the castle, keeping a watchful eye over the treasure hidden beneath. Some versions of the legend say he is under a spell, which can only be broken by the only son of a widow. The Local Historian's Table Book adds that 50 years ago (c. 1793) a man was ploughing and found what he thought to be the well. He returned alone at night to investigate further, but despite searching day and night he could never find the place again.

According to the National Park Website, during the restoration of nearby Blenkinsopp Castle, the entrance to a secret passage was discovered in the north-east corner. It is thought that there may have once been a secret passageway connecting Blenkinsopp Castle to Thirlwall Castle, to provide an escape route should either castle be captured by the enemy. Strangely enough, Blenkinsopp castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of a white lady whose treasure is hidden down this same secret passageway, so there must be quite a collection of gold gathering down there!

If there's one thing i've learnt about Northumberland (apart from the alarming number of evil dwarves!), it's that no matter how lovely the weather is during the week, it always rains at the weekends! On an overcast and rainy Northumberland Sunday, myself and my chauffeur/navigator/very understanding boyfriend put on our winter woolies and waterproofs and ventured off to Thirlwall Castle. Just as we got there the skies opened up so unfortunately my exploring and photo taking was cut short! No signs of any secret tunnels or overgrown wells, but it really is a lovely old castle ruin and definitely has a feeling of the Fae about it!


Sources & Further Information
Local Historian's Table Book, Vol 1, Legendary Division
National Park Website

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Cateran Hole

The Cateran's Hole, in the middle of deserted moorland, is according to legend the start of a long underground tunnel leading all the way to the Henhole in the Cheviots, about 16 miles away. One story tells of a party of young men from Bewick who decided to explore the tunnel, lead by a man named Hall. They assembled at the Cateran's Hole one evening, as they were too busy working during the day, armed with candles and food provisions. In they wandered, scrambling over rocks, plunging through water, stooping down to pass under rocks, and sometimes even crawling. Many of the party lost heart and headed home, but Hall continued onwards and persuaded many of the men to stay. Eventually they came to a huge stone that appeared to block the way, but Hall was not going to give up easily and climbed to the top of the rock and found a gap large enough to squeeze through. His men followed after him. On the other side, they found themselves in a large chamber, and sat down to rest. An extract from 'Northumbrian Legends' by George Tate (1863) continues:
"While resting, [they] were startled by the sound of wondrous music, which seemed to come down through the earth above them; the strains were wild but entrancing,now rising and swelling, and then dying away like the gushes of harmony issuing from the AEolian harp, as the evening breeze fitfully sweeps through the strings when other sounds are mute. Ere long, the pattering of tiny feet was heard beating time to the wild music; and soon blending with these sounds, a song was chanted by many voices, shrill, though sweet, but yet unlike earthly tones; and this was the burden of the song-

"Wind about and turn again,
And thrice around the Hurl Stane."

"Round about and wind again,
And thrice around the Hurl Stane."
The party were terrified, and knew well the dangers of venturing into the domain of the fairies, and realised they were now underneath the Hurl Stone, a favourite place of the fairies. They abandoned the rest of their journey, and headed home, never to venture back into Cateran's Hole again.

We decided it was about time someone ventured back down there, and myself and my partner in navigation [without whom i'd never find any of these places, I have a terrible sense of direction and am permanently pixy-led!] headed down Cateran's Hole.
We managed to walk about 35 metres along the underground tunnel without difficulty, but unfortunately the path was blocked by some very low hanging rocks and we could not venture on as far as the Hurl Stone! According to this report, there is another small chamber after the low hanging rocks, followed by a breakdown which cannot be passed. So it seems to be unknown whether or not the passage did once continue on as far as the Hurl Stone, or if it even headed in that direction. Perhaps the fairies got annoyed with all the trespassers and blocked up the tunnel!

Sources & Further Information
Northumberland Legends, George Tate

Dancing Green Hill

Near North Hazelrigg, next to a winding country road, stands Dancing Green Hill. According to Denham Tracts Vol 2:

"The Dancing Green knowe, among the heathy-backed Cockenheugh range, as well as the Dancing Hill, where stretch the bleak moors behind Beanly, still testify by their names to their being resorts of the "good people" for their favourite diversion."

Sources & Further Information
Denham Tracts Vol 2, Denham

The Cauld Lad O'Hilton


A mischievious brownie was once said to live in the kitchen at Hylton Castle. He took joy in throwing pots and pans around during the night, after the servants had taken great care in tidying it before retiring to bed. However, if the servants had left the kitchen in a state of disarray then he would carefully tidy it and spend the night cleaning up the mess. According to 'Folk Tales of the North Country' by Grice (1944), the Cauld Lad's mishievious tricks included overturning chairs, rolling up mats, emptying the linen from the cupboards, pilling all the pans in the middle of the floor, and throwing water over the wood pile. He was often heard singing:
"Wae's me, wae's me
The acorn is not yet
Fallen from the tree
That's to grow the wood
That's to make the candle
That's to rock the bairn
That's to grow a man
That's to lay me."
The servants had enough of his mischief and decided to banish him away. Luckily, they knew the best way to banish a Brownie was to give him new clothing, as a smartly dressed Brownie considers himself far too well dressed for housework. The servants made a small green cloak of silk and a red velvet hood, and laid them infront of the fire. At midnight, the Cauld Lad appeared and tried the clothing on in delight, then danced around the kitchen, singing:
"Here's a cloak and here's a hood,
The Cauld Lad O'Hilton will do no more good."

He disappeared, never to be seen again in the Hylton Castle kitchens. However, according to some sources he was later spotted rowing people across the Wear in a ferry boat, kept tethered near the castle. He would row people half way across the wear, then disappear or give them a terrible fright, returning later to row them back to the castle.

Some versions of the legend refer to the Cauld Lad O'Hilton as being a ghost, sometimes that of a young stable boy called Roger Skelton, who was killed in the 16th century by a baron of Hilton. Other versions of the tale can be found here and here.

Once a year, as part of Heritage Open days, the castle is opened to the public. I went along with my partner and trusty navigator, and we had a good wander around the castle. No strange goings on or Cauld Lad sightings, but a beautiful castle and well worth a visit.

We also ventured along to the ferry crossing in the river where the Cauld Lad is said to row to the castle, but it seems someone has put an end to his pranks and stuck a rather large rock in his boat!


Sources & Further Information
Local Historian's Table Book, vol 3, Richardson
The Fairy Mythology, Keightley
Folklore of the Northern Counties, Henderson
Denham Tracts Vol 1, Denham
Folk Tales of the North Country, Grice

Pensher Hill Fairies

Pensher hill, now more commonly known as Penshaw Hill, was once said to be a fairy hill where the fairies gathered to bake their bread and cakes. According to 'Legends and Superstitions of Durham' by William Brockie (1886):
"The fairies used to be heard patting their butter on the slope of Pensher Hill, when people were passing in the dark. A man once heard one of them say, "mend that peel!". Next day, going past again, he found a broken peel lying on the ground. So he took it up and mended it. The day after that, when going along the road with a cart, he saw a piece of bread lying on a stone at the root of the hedge, at the identical place, with nice-looking fresh butter spread upon it: but he durst neither eat it himself, nor give it to his horses. The consequence was that before he got to the top of the "lonnin" both his horses fell down dead."
Penshaw hill is now more famously known for the Penshaw Monument, which sits at the top of the hill, and also for its part in the legend of the Lambton Worm. The hill was once also home to an Iron Age hill fort.


Sources and Further Information
Legends and Superstitions of Durham, William Brockie
The Story of the Lambton Worm
Penshaw Hill Hillfort
The Penshaw Monument

Friday, 11 September 2009

Hermitage Castle Redcap


Whilst researching the Brown Man of the Muirs appearance at Hermitage Castle, I came across another legend of the Faery kind, the Redcap advisor to Lord Soulis.

According to legend, Lord Soulis was a cruel tyrant, wizard, and practitioner of the Black Arts. He is said to have fortified his castle by all available means, using both materials and infernal incantations, and recieved advice from his familiar and henchman, Robin Redcap. Redcaps, also known as powries or dunters, are said to be a breed of evil goblins with a lust for blood. They mostly inhabit ruined castles along the border between England and Scotland, where they murder travellers to dye their hats with their victims' blood. It is said that if the blood on their hats dries out, then the redcap will die. From Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802):

"Lord Soulis he sat in Hermitage castle.
And beside him Old Redcap sly ;
" Now tell me, thou sprite, who art meikle of might,
The death that I must die ?"

" While thou -shalt bear a charmed life.
And hold that life of me,
'Gainst lance and arrow, sword and knife,
I shall thy warrant be."

It was said that Lord Soulis could not be killed by metal weapons, but was eventually defeated at the orders of the King of Scotland. According to Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802):
"Tradition proceeds to relate, that the Scotish king, irritated by reiterated complaints, peevishly exclaimed to the petitioners," Boil him, if you please, but let me hear no more of him." Satisfied with this answer, they proceeded with the utmost haste to execute the commission, which they accomplished by boiling him alive on the Nine-stane Rig, in a cauldron said to have been long preserved at Skelf-hill, a hamlet betwixt Hawick and the Hermitage. Messengers, it is said, were immediately dispatched by the king, to prevent the eft'ects of such a hasty declaration ; but they only arrived in time to witness the conclusion of the ceremony."
Robin Redcap is said to still be seen at Hermitage Castle, guarding his treasure. I'm glad to say that on our visit we did not encounter Redcap, but as the castle is open to the public every summer, i'm sure there's no shortage of victims!


Sources and Further Information
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Vol 2, Walter Scott
Undiscovered Scotland, Hermitage Castle

Brown Man of the Muirs - Part 2


Continuing on the trail of the Brown Man of the Muirs, we headed to Hermitage Castle, where according to 'Cout of Keeldar' by J Leydon, the Cout o' Keelder met his fate and was drowned by the soldiers of Lord Soulis in the nearby river. The ballad tells of young Keeldar venturing out to hunt in Liddesdale and meeting a brown dwarf, who calls himself 'The Brown Man of the Muirs'. An extract reads:
"His russet weeds were brown as heath,
That clothes the upland fell;
And the hair of his head was frizzly red,
As the purple heather bell.

An urchin, clad in prickles red,
Clung cowring to his arm;
The hounds they howl'd, and backwards fled,
As struck by fairy charm.":
The brown dwarf refers to himself as 'The Brown Man of the Muir' and is none too pleased to be awoken by "stag-hound's cry, where stag-hound ne'er should be". He warns the young man then leaves, only to reappear a few verses later when young Keeldar travels 3 times around the Keeldar stone:

"The rude crag rocked; - "I come for death!
I come to work thy woe!"
-And 'twas the Brown Man of the Heath
That murmured from below."

Young Keeldar meets Soulis of Liddesdale's men and is invited to a feast at Hermitage, where his men become enchanted, though Keeldar remains awake due to a Rowan leaf in his plume. A battle begins and the Brown Man reappears, explaining that young Keeldar's charmed mail will protect him from weapons but that "No spell can stay the living tide, or charm the rushing stream". Young Keeldar escapes and reaches the stream, but the enemy force him under where he is drowned, as predicted by the Brown Man.

Below you can see the river where the Cout o' Keelder was drowned, and the mound at the nearby ruined chapel where his body is said to rest.


The castle and grounds are owned by Historic Scotland, and are open to the public from April to September. Entry is subject to an admission fee.

Sources and Further Information
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Vol 2, Walter Scott
The Lady of the Lake, Walter Scott
Poems and Legendary Ballads Vol 1, William Stuart
Historic Scotland

Monday, 20 July 2009

Brown Man of the Muirs - Part 1

According to Legend, in the moors surrounding the village of Elsdon, lives the Brown Man of the Muirs. A man of dwarven statue dressed in brown, with bright red hair, and a ferocious glare. He is said to be a guardian of the moors and protector of the wild beasties who live there, punishing those who hunt or harm them. A lady named Elizabeth Cockburn of Offerton told a tale of the Brown Man to Robert Surtees, who then shared the story with Walter Scott in about 1809.

"In the year before the great Rebellion, two young men from Newcastle were sporting on the High Moors above Elsdon, and, after pursuing their game several hours, sat down to dine in a green glen, near one of the mountain streams. After their repast, the younger lad ran to the brook for water; and after stooping to drink, was surprised, on lifting his head again, by the appearance of a brown dwarf, who stood on a crag covered with brackens across the burn. This extraordinary personage did not appear to be above half the stature of a common man; but was uncommonly stout and broad-built, having the appearance of vast strength; his dress was entirely brown, the colour of the brackens, and his head covered with frizzled red hair; his countenance was expressive of the most savage ferocity, and his eyes glared like a bull. It seems he addressed the young man: first threatening him with his vengeance for having trespassed on his demesnes, and asking him if he knew in whose presence he stood? The youth replied that he supposed him to be the Lord of the Moors; that he had offended through ignorance, and offered to bring him the game he had killed. The dwarf was a little mollified by this submission; but remarked that nothing coul,d be more offensive to him than such an offer; as he considered the wild animals as his subjects, and never failed to avenge their destruction. He condescended further to inform him, that he was, like himself, mortal, though of years far exceeding the lot of common humanity, and (what I should not have an idea of) that he hoped for salvation. He never, he added, fed on any thing that had life, but lived in the summer on whortle-berries, and in winter on nuts and applies, of which he had great store in the woods. Finally, he invited his new acquaintance to accompany him home, and partake his hospitality: an offer which the young was on the point of accepting, and was just going to spring across the brook (which if he had done, says Elizabeth, the dwarf would certainly have torn him in pieces) when his foot was arrested by the voice of his companion, who thought he tarried long, and on looking around again, 'the wee Brown Man was fled'. The story adds, that he was imprudent enough to slight the admonition, and to sport over the moors on his way homewards; but soon after his return, he fell into a lingering disorder, and died within the year."

We decided to begin our explorations of the locations of this myth on the moors to the north east of Elsdon. First choice would have been the Keeldar stone itself, where the Brown Man is said to live, but the terrain would be rather ambitious for my current fitness level so it'll have to wait a while! The moors, as shown in the photos above and below, would be the perfect hideaway for the Brown Man, with rocky crags and caves, and masses upon masses of bracken. There were far more sheep wandering around than were probably present when he first moved into the area, but there were signs of rabbits, deer, foxes, and we met a little lizard while stopping for lunch. One thing hasn't changed though, the abundance of whortleberries!


Sources and Further Information
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Vol 2, Walter Scott
The Memoir of Robert Surtees, George Taylor
The Lady of the Lake, Walter Scott
Poems and Legendary Ballads Vol 1, William Stuart