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: