Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Castle Neroche :Tales of Dragons and knights

 


Castle Neroche in Somerset is the site of an iron age fort, now heavily wooded, it occupies a prime position on a steep scarp of the Blackdown Hills.
Although no structures remain, the steep earth ramparts clearly show where the hill fort and the later Norman castle once stood.



Local rumour has it that the hill is hollow and a huge dragon slumbers there for most of the year guarding its vast store of treasure. It accumulated the treasure by attacking unlucky travelers on the road and stealing their treasure although some say that it is faerie treasure that the dragon guards.



It crawls out from his lair at certain times of the year to fly to the nearby Cadbury Hill.
This is also a hill fort, formerly known as Camelet and which has been associated with King Arthur.
He is said to sleep beneath the hill waiting for the moment when the country is in its darkest hour and he will ride forth with his knights to come to our aid.

Another legend associated with this hill is that a store of faerie treasure is hidden deep within the hill, if you dig for it the gold will sink so far into the earth so that you will never reach it.



The treasure on Neroche has never been found although several attempts have been made. The first, documented by the Revd F Warre in the 1750's describes the attempts by a number of men to dig into the hill. In some accounts they actually uncovered a huge chest of gold but as they attempted to pull it free from the dirt it slowly slid back into the hole. The deep sides of the pit they had dug began to collapse almost trapping the men. But they did not escape the Dragon's curse that easily, from then on all suffered bad luck.
 Another attempt was made in the 1800's; as they dug the men began to hear strange noises              coming from deep within the earth beneath their feet. Whispers filled the air around them. Overhead a sudden violent storm broke. The men's nerves gave way and they fled. But they too did not escape the wrath of the Dragon. All died within the month of a mysterious illness.

But that's enough of the folklore, here are a few facts about the site...

       The Iron Age site was converted into a Norman military outpost for the suppression of the south                       west rebellion in 1067-9 ( Anglo Saxon resistance to Norman rule) when it was heavily upgraded to a motte and bailey fortification. 



It was under the command of Robert Count of Mortain, brother to William I ( the conqueror)
It was only occupied for a few decades after that before being abandoned. 
During the 'Anarchy,' a civil war in England  and Normandy 1135-1153, it was briefly reoccupied.
This is the period in our history when there was a succession dispute between King Stephen 1135-54

and his cousin the Empress Matilda.




The origin of the name Neroche dates from before the Norman occupation as it is derived 
from the old English words nierra and rechich (Rache) which is a breed of dog used in the Middle Ages for hunting. So it is 'The camp where the hunting dogs were kept' giving it's alternative name of Castle Rache.

Click the link below to experience the muddy adventure with Millie and Mabel on Castle Neroche
 and watch for the blooper at the end!











Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Hedgehogs: More Folklore than Fact


 Hedgehogs are now active after their winter hibernation, scuffling through the undergrowth in the search of a tasty worm or two. We have already spotted the first hedgehog in our little village, the dogs were wary but interested!

In folklore the hedgehog is portrayed as hardworking little beast who collects apples and other  manner of fruit by rolling over and impaling it on its prickles, then taking it back to its den for the long winter. This is however incorrect as the hedgehog's diet does not include apples, or milk as they are lactose intolerant.Commonly eating invertebrates, they sometimes nibble on carrion,frogs,baby birds and birds eggs.
They do not collect food at all, instead relying on their body fat to survive the winter.

The Roman author Pliny the Elder suggests that they collect grapes in this manner in his work Naturalis Historia and from the 13th century onwards this image figures largely in illuminated manuscripts.


According to Finnish  legend a female hedgehog was responsible for creating the earth.
In the beginning there was no dry earth, just a never ending lake. A giant hedgehog appeared carrying soil and rocks in its prickles to form the land.


The hedgehog appears in many countries folklore; in Bulgaria it is depicted as being very wise.
In the beginning of time the Sun decided to marry the Moon and everybody was invited to the wedding, animals included. All attended except the hedgehog so the Sun went looking for it to see why it didn't attend. The hedgehog was found gnawing on a stone, so the Sun asked it was it was doing. The hedgehog replied I am practising eating rocks as once you are married you will have many Sun children. They will all shine brightly in the sky and the earth will dry up, nothing will grow and we will all starve to death. The Sun thought about this for a while, and realising the wise animal was right called off the wedding.


In Slavic folklore it is believed that the hedgehog can lead the way to the magical plant, raskovnik, which could be used to unlock doors and find hidden treasure. Apparently the plant is difficult to recognise and only chthonic (subterranean) creatures are able to find it.
It resembles a four leaf clover.
In some parts of Serbia the treasure was believed to be a black man in chains who once found would request that the raskovnik be brought to him. Once found the chains securing the man would break, he would disappear to be replaced by a cauldron filled with gold.

The poor hedgehog not only being wise and capable of finding hidden treasure was also regularly eaten in years past. 
Traditionally a Romany favourite, wrapped in clay and put on the fire. The clay is cracked open when done and peeled back along with the prickles and skin
Apparently its a delicious, firm, white meat but quite fatty....

In 2016 Tyson sparked an outrage when he revealed that he ate hedgehog as part of his training regime.

And on that note I found a recipe dating from the 17th century in 
The Fairfax Household Book....

" For a lunatic. 
Take a hedgehog and make a broth of him, and let the patient eat of the broth and flesh."

To end with a cheery thought....I believe May is Hedgehog month so go on hug a hedgehog!!

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Shute's Lane and Hell Lane

 Shute's Lane and Hell Lane, Symondsbury, Dorset are ancient track ways known as Holloways,             and are two of the best examples in the country. 

The name Holloways come from the old English word 'hola weg' meaning sunken road.

They connect the tiny village of Symondsbury to North Chideock.

The name Symondsbury comes from the Old English meaning hill or barrow belonging to the man named Sigemund. It was listed in the Domesday Book as Simondesberge.

The hill relates to the nearby Colmer’s Hill, a conical mound topped by trees which is the highest point in the district.



It is said that it is not uncommon for children to hear faerie music issuing from the depths of the hill. A  tale dating from the previous century relates to a young girl who was drawn to the hill by the sound of beautiful music, so entranced she began to dance and dance. Under the spell of the faerie music she could not stop cavorting around the  hillside until she eventually collapsed and died from exhaustion.

In past times the main economy of Symondsbury centered around flax and hemp production for Bridport’s rope and net manufacturing trade




 These sunken lanes are common in the west country due to the underlying rock being soft sandstone. 

Worn down over hundreds of years by the passage of feet, livestock and wagons; the weather also plays an important part in the formation of these lanes, the deep sides funnel the falling rain from the surrounding land which then pours down the narrow space. At times the lanes can become a rushing stream wearing the soft sandstone down further.

Shute's Lane and Hell Lane, which are about ten  metres below the surrounding countryside, are believed to be about 300 years old although others date back centuries starting as drovers or pilgrims paths.



Hell Lane, deeply rutted, was believed to have been formed by the passage of wagons transporting stone from the nearby Quarry Hill at North Chideock. 

 Heavy carts transporting the local Forest Marble and Oolite a form  of limestone, struggled along these Holloways carrying the stone to the nearby villages. 



The parish church of St John the Baptist in Symondsbury  was built in the early 14th century from this stone.


The soft stone in Shute's Lane has been carved over the last few decades by passing visitors. The results are quite amazing and well worth a visit.








If you intend to visit these Holloways be advised to wear suitable footwear as Hell Lane in particular can be  hard going, wet and muddy.

To see the video of our recent visit follow the link:

https://youtu.be/49P1o6YOXEI



Saturday, 20 March 2021

The Valley of Stone, created by Giants of course!

 ‘The Land of Bone and Stone’



         The Valley of Stones lies in a secluded valley near the quaint little village of Little Bredy. 

            It is part the South Dorset Ridgeway. an ancient trackway which runs along the ridge of high land.  


A prehistoric ceremonial landscape which has been used for thousands of years and is believed to be a place to celebrate life and death, hence it's name ‘The Land of Bone and Stone.'

Link to the video of our visit

https://youtu.be/nhw31yRwql0


Archaeologists have dated flint tools found at nearby Bincombe Hill  to 500,000 years ago; they were made by  a nomadic people who had followed herds of wild animals north when there was still a land bridge between the Britain and Europe.


At first glance this site is fairly insignificant when compared to the larger henges of Stonehenge or Avebury although just as important in archeological terms. A durable rock,  it was used in the construction of Stonehenge, the Avebury stone circle , and closer to home  the Hell Stone.

This is a Neolithic Dolmen with the roof still intact, built on a ley line its entrance is aligned with the midwinter solstice.



 The Grey Mare and her Colts, also to be found on the Ridgeway is the remains of Neolithic chambered long barrow. Its entrance also aligns the winter solstice sunrise and the sunset of the summer solstice.



The valley  floor is strewn with boulders, washed down from the surrounding valley sides during the ice age and are the post glacial remains of cenozoic silcrete that once covered much of southern England.



This particular sarsen boulder train is one of the best British examples and is the same conglomerate stone that ‘The Nine Stones’, a prehistoric circle near Dorchester is constructed.

This particular stone circle is featured in the paranormal mystery The Doll

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0843QVJFG



This is the experts theory of how the valley of stones came to be but local legend tells otherwise... that  the stones were deposited there during a throwing contest by local giants. 




The giants, during a particularly violent altercation, instead of coming to blows decided that they would settle the disagreement by having a throwing competition. The winner would be the giant who could throw the most, the farthest. They each scooped up a handful of boulders from the hillside and took turns to hurl them as far as they could down the valley. The grassland soon became littered with  hundreds of boulders as they continued for days until they finally, exhausted, gave up.


 Which giant was declared the winner nobody knows but the result was the line of sarsen stones leading up the valley floor, which sounds a much more interesting explanation...

Of course this doesn’t explain the stone cicle set in the middle of the sarsen stones!


Millie, feeling the mystical vibes....


Mabel on the other hand is just hungry....



Or the stone circle could have been created by the famous white witch that lived in a tumble down cottage on the Ridgeway.

Maybe she has something to do with it, who knows...local legend has it that she was the local healer and midwife to the area. During phases of the moon she would transform herself into a white hare and was often seen running across the surrounding hills.

The locals had come to avoid her when she assumed this form as tales were told around the fire in the winter of some huntsman who were foolish enough to try and hunt the hare, not knowing it was the witch. They set their dogs to chasing it across the grassland of the hills. The hounds finally caught up with the  hare and set up on it, the men soon followed and set to, trying to beat the animal to death. Somehow,maybe using her magical powers she escaped and although seriously wounded made her way back to her cottage. Here she collapsed on the cold floor  and lay there close to death as the men pounded after her. They burst into the cottage and saw with horror that it was the witch whom they had attacked, terrified of reprisals they ran for their life except for one young man who stayed to help the old woman. He lifted her into her bed and tended her wounds, making a healing potion under her direction and waited until she had recovered before leaving. 

The hunters of Little Bredy learnt their lesson and  never hunted hares again...It is said that sometimes the white hare can still be seen running across the ancient grasslands.

It's an interesting place to visit but I would  suggest you do it in conjunction with another of the mentioned sites.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Eggardon Hill: home to the supernatural Huntsman and the Demon Hounds





 We decided to chance another visit to this amazing hill, located on the chalk uplands near Bridport in Dorset it was once the site of an Iron Age fort dating from 300 BC. 

It was first documented in The Domesday Book of 1086. There are several barrows on the site but the hill has never been excavated

It has an excellent defensive position with its steeply sloping sides and excellent views over the surrounding countryside and Jurassic coastline. The view to the sea is so good that the notorious local smuggler Isaac Gulliver 1745 -1822 planted a grove of pine trees on the hill to guide his ships as they approached the shore. The trees were later felled on Government orders but the octagonal earth works built to protect them can still be seen today.

The weather forecast wasn't too bad, in fact it was quite mild when we left our little village but as usual, and as many locals will tell you, Eggardon is a law unto itself.


I don't know if its due to ghostly hordes that haunt the hill but it was freezing up there and blowing a gale!

Even on a summers day it has strange atmosphere but today, with a mist rising from the valley, it was downright spooky...

No other brave soul had ventured up there, just us...



But the dogs Millie and Mabel enjoyed themselves however....

For the full windy experience of our day on 

Eggardon Hill click the link to the video below

https://youtu.be/47FtfBj6JFc




During certain phases of the moon a ghostly horde of  faeries, demons and witches 
hunt across the hill looking for the souls of the long dead. Their eerie cries can be heard echoing around the ramparts
For more info about the folklore of Eggardon and the surrounding countryside try
Faeries and Folklore of The British Isles.

There is also the legend of the Huntsman and the Black Hounds that travel with him, some believe him to be the Devil...

The Black Hunt is mentioned in the novel 'The Doll' a spooky supernatural thriller.




There are also Skylarks to be seen on the hill...very inconspicuous while on the ground but once airborne its distinctive song makes it readily recognisable!
Sadly the bird due to its decline in recent years is now on the Red List for endangered species.




Saturday, 20 February 2021




 Despite the endless rain and cold, spring is at last making an appearance. Snowdrops have been pushing through the sodden earth ( what plucky little flowers!) and little green buds have been bursting from the stems and branches of the shrubs in the garden.
 

My thoughts  should be turning to seed brochures to plan this years vegetable plot but looking out the window at the pouring rain I can't just get enthusiastic...  so I will read my folklore books instead and dream of warm spring days.

So I am waiting for the Cuckoo to arrive, might have a bit of time to wait as it traditionally doesn't appear until April.

The cuckoo comes in April

Sings a song in May

Then in June another tune

And then she flies away

It is quite apt that the Snowdrop is also known as the Flower of Hope as we are all hoping; after the past months, for better times. 

Other names for Snowdrops: Candlemas Bells, February Fair Maids, Snowbells and Snowpiercers. On the Welsh borders they are gathered to purify the house but in some counties this is a no no as they are known as Death flowers, maybe because they grow in so many graveyards and recall the white clothes traditionally worn for the death of a child.

It is one of the first flowers to appear at this time of year. Its beauty symbolises purity.

'The snowdrop in purest white arraie, first rears its head on Candlemas daie'  Circa 1500

The second of February is Candlemas Day, St Mary's Feast of the Candles. Officially the Feast of Purification and the presentation of the Christ in the Temple. 

When Christ was presented to the aged Simeon, forty days after his birth, he prophesied that  Jesus would be a light to lighten the Gentiles. So hence the candlelit services and processions.

Back to gardening... it is on this day that we are supposed to plant beans...don't think so!


Just found this in The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore by Charles Kightley



One day in February in 1799 a passing farmer noticing a handkerchief hanging on a bush, rescued Elizabeth Woodcock of Impington, Cambridgshire from the snowy hole in which she had taken refuge from a blizzard eight days previously. Drifting snow had covered her to a depth of six feet and she had become to weak to climb out; during her confinement her only sustenance was two pinches of snuff!

So avoid travelling by night in snowy weather...

"For she was all froze in with frost

Eight days and nights poor soul

But when they gave her up for lost

They found her down the hole"


One has to wonder what was in the snuff??



Saturday, 13 February 2021

Queenie and Sybil, The Psychic Sisters. 

Ghosts, witches, hell hounds and all manner of paranormal mysteries to get your teeth into...

The whole series of their adventures is available on Amazon either as a kindle download or in paperback. 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07K2KX6WY/ref=dp_st_9090931406



If you wish to just whet your appetite on the first in the series The Lavender Witch, it is available as a free download until the 16th of February.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009QNXWQG