Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Hurl Stone, Chillingham

Around Chillingham are some interesting old stones, and each seems to be hiding a mystery. Perhaps the most well known is the Hurl Stone near Newtown, said to be a favourite haunt of the fairies. As you might remember from my Cateran Hole blog entry, there is said to be an underground passage running from Cateran Hole to Henhole, another favourite site of the fairies.

According to an article by George Tate (1863), as explorers were passing along this passage and under the Hurl Stone, they heard fairy harp music and the pattering of tiny feet dancing, and shrill sweet voices chanting:
"Wind about and turn again,
And thrice around the Hurl Stane."

"Round about and wind again,
And thrice around the Hurl Stane."

The explorers of course headed home, they were sensible folk and knew not to disturb the fairy folk, especially when they were merry-making.

According to Curiosities of Northumberland (1970), "The name is probably a corruption of 'Earl's Stone' although some say it was given that name by people who believed in giants and explained that it had been hurled there by one of their race". Some believe the Hurl Stone to be the remains of an ancient cross, and that it was moved to the hill from a roadside location, some say that part of the stone was struck off by lightning.

Unfortunately there are no public footpaths leading to the Hurl Stone and it is on private land so I could only admire it from a distance. The larger tower seen next to it in the above photo is a more modern folly, the Hurlstone Tower, built by the landowner.

Also of interest as it may also refer to the Hurl Stone, is a story of a mysterious stone located somewhere between Lilburn and Middleton. According to 'Legends Respecting Huge Stones' by James Hardy (1844) in Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Divison, Volume 2, here rests a stone "which in the suggestions of the "Religio Loci" is not to be removed while the present system of things maintains its stability". According to legend, two locals decided to dig for treasure under the stone, ignoring the often repeated tales of demonic watchers slumbering beneath, when "all at once, one of them heard a low fluttering as of something struggling to get free, come from beneath the stone". But his companion was not scared easily, and they resumed their work, when suddenly, "the stone commenced moving up and down with violent commotion, - and out there issued from under it - and the earth quaked to let it forth, - a creature all in white - in figure like a swan - that "flaffered and flew," and made such strange and hideous outcry, that the horror-struck delinquents, casting down their implements, hurried off, each in the direction his terrors prompted him, would farthest carry him, from the grasp of the evil thing, which his unhallowed doings had evoked from the invisible recesses of the earth, and whole rage no human power might avail to appease".

Unfortunately no one seems to know which stone in the Lilburn area the legend is attached to, or what the creature was, be it demon or faery. The legend could refer to the Hurl Stone itself, though that seems to be on the other side of Lilburn rather than the side near Middleton, or it could refer to the prehistoric standing stone at the base of Ewe Hill, but again that isn't in the direction of Middleton. There have also been a number of burial cairns discovered in the area, and the remains of old settlements, so unfortunately it's difficult to know which stone the legend refers to, we can only hope that the swan-like creature is still slumbering below!

(Above: Ewe Hill Standing Stone)

Sources & Further Information
Northumberland Legends, George Tate
Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Division, Volume 2
Curiosities of Northumberland, Armstrong, Graham & Rowland
The Modern Antiquarian
English Heritage Pastscape

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