Shown on the 1864 OS map of the area as a ‘Well’ just at the front of St Bride’s Chapel—now a very pleasant old cottage—peasants and pilgrims would stop for both refreshment and ritual here as they walked down High Kype Road. Although the chapel was described in church records of January 1542 as being on the lands of Little Kype, close to the settlement of St Bride, there seems to be very little known about the history or traditions of the well. If anyone has further information on this site, please let us know.
Bride or Brigit has her origins in early British myth and legend, primarily from Scotland and Ireland. Her saint’s day is February 1, or the heathen Imbolc (also known as Candlemas). Although in christian lore St. Bride was born around 450 AD in Ireland and her father a Prince of Ulster, legend tells that her step-father (more probably a teacher) was a druid and her ‘saintly’ abilities as they were later described are simply attributes from this shamanic pantheon. Legends—christian and otherwise—describe Her as the friend of animals; possessor of a magickal cloak; a magickian and a healer; and whose ‘spirit’ or genius loci became attached to ‘sacred sites’ in the natural world, not the christian renunciation of it. St Bride was one of the primal faces of the great prima Mater known as the Cailleach: the greater Gaelic deity of Earth’s natural cycles, whose changing seasons would also alter Her names, faces and clothes, as Her body moved annually through the rhythms of the year. Bride was (and is) ostensibly an ecological deity, with humans intrinsically a part of such a model, not a part from it, in contrast to the flawed judaeo-christian theology.
Paul, J.B. & Thomson, J.M., Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland AD 1513 – 1546, HMGRH: Edinburgh 1883.
This long lost ‘holy well of St Brigit’ (Tobar Bhride) has been mentioned—purely in literary repetition—by such folklore giants as F.M. MacNeill and others, but none of them give any additional information about it than that first mentioned by Alexander Stewart’s (1890) in his fascinating article on magical stones. Indeed, knowledge of this well’s very existence was only preserved thanks to a ritual incantation that was recited to imbue and maintain healing properties of one such magickal stone, known as the Charm Stone of Keppoch. It
“was an oval of rock crystal, about the size of a small egg, fixed in a bird’s claw of silver, and with a silver chain attached, by which it was suspended when about to be dipped.”
It was dipped in water taken from the sacred well of St Brigit, somewhere not far from Keppoch. The incantation made over the stone was in Gaelic, obviously, but the english translation is:
“Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of Power!
In water of purest wave,
Which (saint) Bridget didn’t permit to be contaminated.
In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the high trinity
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.”
On the east side of the river, just a few hundred yards away, could once be found the Fuaran na Ban-Tighearna, or the Well of Her Ladyship. In this sense, the term ‘ladyship’ refers to the “wife of a baronet or knight.” (Dwelly 1918) The idea that it may refer to Bride in Her guise as a ‘lady’ is linguistically improbable here (though not impossible). Also, if this fuaran did have a geomythic relationship with Bride, we would expect to find a Cailleach in the nearby landscape, which we don’t.
An interesting piece of folklore that may relate to this well is described by the great Scottish landscape wanderer, Seton Gordon. (1948) Although he makes no mention of a Bride’s Well, there is the tale of a missing bride up Glen Roy, of which Keppoch sits below. “It was in earlier times,” he wrote,
“that the Maid of Keppoch was taken by the fairies in Glen Roy. She was an Irish girl, little more than a child, and had become the wife of MacDonell of Keppoch. But the wedding rejoicings were scarcely over when the bride, wandering into the oak woods which still clothe the lower slopes of Glen Roy, disappeared mysteriously. It was believed that, like the Rev Robert Kirk…she had been spirited away by the fairies. If indeed she was abducted by the Little People they held her closely, for from that day to this no trace has been found of the fair Maid of Keppoch.”
St Bride of course was Irish, like the Maid of Keppoch. And just a mile up Glen Roy from Keppoch House we find the Sron Dubh and Sithean, or Ridge of the Dark Fairy Folk. There are several burns (streams) running either side and below this fairy haunt, but I can find none with Bride’s name. Someone, somewhere, must know where it is…
Gordon, Seton, Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands, MacMillan: London 1948.
Dwelly, Edward, The Illustrated Gaelic English Dictionary – volume 1, Fleet Hants 1918.
Stewart, Alexander, “Notice of a Highland Charm-Stone,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 24, 1890.
Follow the same directions to find the Blackheath Circle, but instead of turning onto the golf course, keep going up the steep road until you reach the T-junction at the top; then turn left and go along the road for about 200 yards, past the second track on the left, keeping your eyes peeled across the small moorland to your left where you can see the rocks rising up. Walk along the footpath towards them. You can’t really miss the place!
Archaeology & History
If you’re a heathen or geologist and you aint seen this place, check it out – you won’t be disappointed! First mentioned in 1491, this has always been a place of some repute. Its legendary companion, the ‘Groom’, lays resting on the Earth after being felled sometime in the 17th century.
A beautiful, remarkable and powerful site of obvious veneration. First described in local deeds as early as 1491, there are a great number of severely weathered boulders all round here, many like frozen rock giants haunting a magickal landscape. The modern lore ascribes the stones to be dedicated to Bride, goddess of the Brigantian people. And like Her legendary triple-aspect, we find here in the landscape a triple aspect to the outcrops themselves: to the west are the Bride Stones; to the east, the Little Bride Stones; with the Great Bride Stones as the central group, surveying everything around here.
At the main complex is what is singularly known as the Bride itself: a great smooth upright pillar of stone fourteen feet tall and nine feet wide at the top, yet only about two feet wide near its base, seemingly defying natural law. Watson (1775) described, next to the Bride herself, “stood another large stone, called the Groom…(which) has been thrown down by the country people” – probably under order of the Church. Crossland (1902) told how the Bride also acquired the title, “T’ Bottle Neck,” because of the stone’s simulacrum of an upturned bottle.
Scattered across the tops of the many rocks hereby are many “druid basins” as Harland and Wilkinson (1882) described them. Many of these are simply basins eroded over the millenia by the natural elements of wind and rain. It is possible that some of these basins were carved out by human hands, but it’s nigh on impossible to say for sure those that were and those that were not. If we could find a ring around at least one of them, it would help — but in all our searches all round here, we’ve yet to locate one complete cup-and-ring. So we must remain sceptical.
On the mundane etymological side of things, the excellent tract by F.A. Leyland (c.1867) suggested the Bride Stones actually had nothing to do with any goddess or heathenism, but derived simply from,
“the Anglo-Saxon adjective Βñáð, signifying broad, large, vast — hence the name of the three groups known as the Bride Stones. The name of The Groom, conferred on the prostrate remains, appears to have been suggested by the fanciful definition of the Saxon Brád, as given by (Watson).”
However, the modern place-name authority A.H. Smith (1963:3:174) says very simply that the name derives from “bryd, a bride.”
A “rude stone” was described in one tract as being a short distance below this great rock outcrop; it was turned into a cross by the local christian fanatics and moved a few hundred yards west, to a site that is now shown on modern OS-maps as the Mount Cross.
Although local history records are silent over the ritual nature of these outcrops, tradition and folklore cited by the antiquarian Reverend John Watson (1775) tell them as a place of pagan worship. People were said to have married here, although whether such lore evolved from a misrepresentation of the title, Bride, is unsure. In the present day though there have been a number of people who have married here in recent years.
If the Brigantian goddess was venerated here, the date of the most active festivities would have been February 1-2, or Old Wives Feast day as it was known in the north. The modern witches Janet and Stewart Farrar, who wrote extensively about this deity (1987), said of Bride: “one is really speaking of the primordial Celtic Great Mother Herself,” i.e., the Earth Mother.
Telling of further lore, Watson said that weddings performed here in ages past stuck to an age-old tradition:
“during the ceremony, the groom stood by one of these pillars, and the bride by the other, the priests having their stations by the adjoining stones, the largest perhaps being appropriated to the arch-druid.”
New Age author Monica Sjoo felt the place “to have a special and uncanny power.” This almost understates the place: it is truly primal and possesses the virtues of strength, energy, birth and solace.
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Crossland, Charles, “Place-Names in the Parish of Halifax in Relation to Surrounding Natural Features,” in Halifax Naturalist, volume 7, 1902.
Farrar, Janet & Stewart, The Witches’ Goddess, Hale: London 1987.
Harland, John & Wilkinson, T.T., Lancashire Folklore, John Heywood: Manchester 1882.
Leyland, F.A., The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax, by the Reverend John Watson, M.A., R.Leyland: Halifax n.d. (c.1867).
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1963.
Watson, John, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax, T. Lowndes: London 1775.
From Otley go north straight over the river and upwards into the countryside for nearly two miles (past the TV mast on the right). As you reach near the top of the hill, there’s a turn to your right. Go on here for a hundred yards or so, then walk along the footpath to your right. After a few hundred yards, keep your eyes out for the stone just through the gate, in the walling on your left.
Archaeology & History
Although we see named on the 1853 Ordnance Survey map the respective place-names of Bride Cross House and Bride Cross Allotment, the first literary reference to any site here as a standing stone appears to be Eric Cowling (1946) who, when commenting on the pagan tradition and folklore of ancient sites, told that
“The name of Bride Cross Farm, Dob Park, is very significant, for at the meeting place of several tracks to the south-east is a squat standing stone built into a wall and marked as a boundary stone, which was probably Brides Cross.”
Although I’d read about this place as a kid, it was Graeme Chappell who first brought me here some twenty years back, in one of our many exploratory forays into the prehistory of this area. It’s a nice fat squat standing stone, similar in stature to the more famous Bull Stone near Otley Chevin, a few miles to the south — though our Bride Stone here is about half as high. Only about three-feet tall, it stands by the gate at the wall-side about 200 yards down the footpath from the Dob Park Lodge road and does seems to have been used as a boundary marker, as the letters “F.F.” are carved deeply on top of the upright (possibly denoting the Fawkes family of Farnley).
Cowling’s assertion that this old stone accounts for the ‘Bride Cross’ place-name is probably right, as the site is roughly midway between the respective place-names of the House and Allotment. There is an old field-name of Crosse Close in the vicinity, from 1692, but I haven’t located it. If such a cross ever existed nearby (most likely, it’s gotta be said), it’s obviously the relic which left the place-names — though the standing stone was certainly here first! As yet, we’ve found no references to this place before 1853…which can’t be right…
Seems to be a petrification legend in here somewhere. Although the short tale doesn’t say as much, it is supposed to have got its name through “the murder of a bride, rejected by a suitor, on her return from a wedding.” Indeed, I’d go so far as to say ‘fertility’ as well!
Eric Cowling (1946) really stuck his neck out and reckoned sacrifices occurred here in the not too distant past. This may relate to the nearby Haddock Stones, a few hundred yards south, thought to derive its name from a cairn and ‘altar stones.’
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
Phillips, Guy Ragland, Brigantia — A Mysteriography, RKP: London 1976.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 5, Cambridge University Press 1961.