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


Hecate said...

What gorgeous pictures!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you! It's such a beautiful place to photograph :)

Ent said...

Goblin Coombe is an eerie plaice - lots of Yew trees I think I remember - a very odd atmosphere. Yew is supposed to be a bit mind altering in large glades. Coombe is from the same rot as the Welsh Cwm - making the word origins lie in the iron age...

The Faery Folklorist said...

Definitely an odd atmosphere there, and very interesting to hear more about the origins of the word! If you ever hear any other stories about Goblin Combe i'd definitely love to hear them :)

elfmother said...

You can definitely get the 'feel' of the eeriness of this goblin-holm. Great pictures. I am so glad that I have discovered your blog and I am having a wonderful time reading the entries, they are so intriguing. Thanks!