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 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