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