The snow egg phrase is explained in volume 3 of the Local Historian's Table Book, legendary division, by Richardson. "This cleft is so deep and so narrow that the rays of the sun can never be said to illumine even its rugged sides, and as might be expected, there is frequently to be seen therein, a snow egg at Midsummer." Richardson also further expands on the story and claims that the hunters "heard issuing from this chasm, the sweetest music they had ever heard, and forgetting the roe which scoured away unheeded, they were impelled to enter, and could never again find their way out." The 1887 edition of the Monthly Chronicles of North-Country Lore and Legend gives further details of the fairies home:
"On the north-west side of Cheviot there is a deep chasm called the Hen Hole, in which there is frequently to be seen a snow egg at midsummer. There is a tradition, that a party of hunters, when chasing a roe upon cheviot, were wiled by the fairies into the Hen Hole, and could never again find their way out."
"There is a small cavern in the face of the highest cliff on the right bank of the ravine, still accessible, we believe, to the venturesome, though dangerously so; and into this it is said that one of the early hunting Percies, along with some of his hounds, went and never returned. He and the hounds, if we may credit the legend, still lie in the cavern, bound by a magic spell - not dead, but fast asleep, and only to be released by a blast of a hunting horn, blown by some one as brave as ever Hotspur was, and more fortunate."
Intriguingly, Hen Hole was once known by a more sinister name, Hell Hole. The Border magazine volume 6 published November 1863 contains an article by George Tate titled Northumbrian Legends, which explains:
"Henhole is sometimes called Hellhole, which a learned friend supposes may be it's true name, derived from el or ell, water, and meaning the waterhole whence the colledge has it's source. We think, however, Henhole is the archaic name from hen, celtic, signifying old, and hence we have the old hollow."
On Beltane morning we set off in search of Hen Hole, and found it very easily as it happens to be marked on Ordinance Survey maps! We walked a little further than planned as the walking guide failed to warn us that the road through College Valley is by permit only and closed for lambing season, so a 3 and a half mile stroll turned into an unexpected 11 mile hike! The views are breathtaking and the lambs adorable, and I soon forgot about my aching feet and walked onwards and upwards to the hill overlooking Hen Hole. The chasm was as dark and foreboding as expected, with rocky jagged crags and cascading waterfalls. It's hard to get a scale from my photographs, but the chasm is truly awe inspiring in person and you get a true feel for how far the drop is and how terrible it must have been for the hunters lured in by the fairies! From this distance I couldn't see any cave entrances, but they could easily lie concealed in the masses of boulders and rubble that has fallen into the chasm over the years. Unfortunately the public footpaths don't pass any nearer to Hen Hole so this was as close as I could get, but I plan to return another day and take the path over the top of Hen Hole and see if I can get a little closer and perhaps hear a note or two of the fairy music for myself!
Here are a few photographs taken along the path leading to Hen Hole, where I encountered a slow worm basking in the sun, a tree that appeared to be wandering down a hill, a beautiful beetle, and an extremely content looking lamb!