Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Netherwitton Fairies

If there's one village in Northumberland that's full of fairies, it's Netherwitton, and after visiting it I can see why the faery folk are so attracted to this lovely little village. Infact it doesn't seem to have changed much in the past hundred years, with it's charming old cottages, little stream winding through the village centre, and lovely little wooded areas creeping in at the edges. The first of the Netherwitton fairy stories is about a milk maid, and took place in the time of George the third, so somewhere between 1760 and 1801 to be precise.
"Many years ago, 'ere George the Third was king', a girl who lived near Nether Witton, returning home from milking, with her pail on her head, saw many fairies gambolling in the fields, but which were invisible to her companions, though pointed out to them by her. On reaching home, and telling what she had seen, the circumstance of her power of vision being greater than that of her companions was canvassed in the family, and the cause at length discovered in her weise [a circular pad worn on the head to save it from the pressure of the pail, made from stocking, or a wreath of straw or grass] which was found to be of four-leaved clover: persons having about them a bunch, or even a single blade, of four leaved clover being supposed to possess the power of seeing fairies, even though elves should wish to be invisible; of percieving in their proper character evil spirits which assumed the form of men; and of detecting the arts of those who practised magic, necromancy, or witchcraft."
Our second story set in the village of Netherwitton, like the above story, can be found in the Local Historian's Table Book, Volume 3 of the Legendary Division (1846):
"A cottager and his wife, residing at this place, were one day visited by a fairy and his spouse, with their young child, which they wishes to leave in their charge. The cottager agreed to take care of the child for a certain period, when it had to be taken thence. The fairy gace the man a box of ointment, with which to anoint the child's eyes; but he had not on any account to touch himself with it, or some misfortune would befal him. For a long time, he and his wife were very careful to avoid the dangerous unction; but one day, when his wife was out, curiosity overcame his prudence, and he annointed his eye, without any noticable effect; but after a while, when walking through Long Horsley fair, he met the male fairy and accosted him. He started back in amazement at the recognition; but instantly guessing the truth, blew on the eyes of the cottager, and instantly blinded him. The child was never more seen."
I didn't spot any fairies or meet any milkmaids on my wander around Netherwitton, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find them in this magical village. Perhaps I should return with a four-leaf clover tucked under my hat next time!

Sources & Further Information
Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Division, Volume 3
Dictionary of British Folk-tales, Katharine Briggs
The Fairy Mythology, Thomas Keightley

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

Fairies Caves, Cullercoats

Most of the places I blog about require lots of trawling through old books, a bit of internet research, maybe some library visits, and at least 20 minutes of being buried under Ordinance Survey maps. However, this entry is about a place I stumbled across completely by accident! Though some would say there are no accidents.

There's a little costal bay in Cullercoats, home to a lifeboat station, old watch house, a marine laboratory, and some mysterious caves. I live in a town further up the coast and have been to Cullercoats on many occassions and wandered around the caves, but until a random glance at the tourist board one Spring afternoon in April, I had no idea they were known locally as the Fairies Caves!

I've never come across any fairy legends about the caves while reading local folklore and history books, so I imagine any stories that gave the caves their name were told verbally among the locals, rather than being written down. If anyone has any further information I'd love to hear it though.

In an interview on the Tyne & Wear Museums website a lady recalls her memories of old Cullercoats, she tells "I never ventured very far into the caves, but the caves were there, you know, there was the Fairy's Cave and there was the Smuggler's Cave, and so on". This suggests that the caves have been associated with fairies for some time, and the name wasn't invented purely for the tourist board. Perhaps the name was originally given to the smaller caves that are too small to be used by humans, and would have been perfectly sized for use by the local fairies!

There's no shortage of mysterious caves along this stretch of coast, including a cave full of goblins and infernal demons at Tynemouth, i'll save that for a future blog though!