Breckon Howe, Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85374 03406

Also Known as:

  1. Brakken Howe
Breckon Howe on 1853 map

Getting Here

Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights at the highest point on the moors just above the west side of the road, you’ll see a large mound with what looks like a standing stone on top of it.  A minor road turns off the A169 at this point, heading southeast, and the large mound is 150 yards from the roadside. You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this conspicuous prehistoric tomb surmounted by a relatively recent boundary stone, sits at the highest point on the moors in these parts.  Despite this (as with others on these moors), very little has been written about the place and it has received only minimal attention in archaeology tomes.  Even the renowned pen of Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) gave it only passing mention.  Perhaps it aint a bad thing to be honest.

Breckon Howe, from the south

As well as being conspicuous, it’s large.  Rising some six feet above the natural ground level, it measures 26 yards across its east-west axis, and 29 yards north-south, with a rough circumference of 88 yards.  The boundary stone that surmounts its crown sits in a hollow that looks like it was opened up a century or two ago by antiquarians (much like ourselves).  But its position of the tomb in the landscape that is most striking.  The view from here is considerable, having a clear 360º view for many miles around.  Other prehistoric tombs can be seen from here, but more importantly this tomb can be seen on the skyline from many others.  This was probably a deliberate feature intended by its builders–and it’s not uncommon, as many of our upland regions are crowned with ancient tombs like Breckon Howe.  In all likelihood this would have been the resting place of some important ancestral figure: a tribal elder or a shaman, whose spirit after death could view and travel across the landscape they inhabited in life.

Although the tomb presently sits amidst an endless sea of heather (Calluna vulgaris) typical of moorland across our northern lands, the name of the site ‘breckon’, according to George Young (1817) derives from the dialect word meaning ferns or bracken.  This is echoed in Francis Kildale’s (1855) local dialect study and subsequently in Joseph Wright’s (1898) unequalled magnum opus.

Folklore

In the early 19th century, one George Calvert who lived in the area, collected as much folklore as he could, as it was dying off with the coming of the Church.  One such piece told that there was once a hob who lived by this old tomb.  A hob is generally known as a supernatural creature, but in this area it can also be a medicine man.  Some hobs were good, others were malicious.  We know not what type of hob lived lived here, but Calvert simply told us there used to be “T’ Hob of Brackken Howe”.  Nowt more!  It would be good to find the story behind this old character, if it hasn’t been lost entirely…

References:

  1. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  2. Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
  3. Kildale, Francis, A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases Collected in Whitby and the Nieghbourhood, J.R. Smith: London 1855.
  4. Home, Gordon, The Evolution of an English Town, J.M. Dent: London 1905.
  5. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, .Henry Frowde: London 1898.
  6. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Acknowledgements:  A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.418942, -0.685822 Breckon Howe

Jim Craven’s Well, Thornton, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference — SE 0967 3251?

Archaeology & History

Is this the site of the lost Jim Cravens Well on the 1852 map?

Another well with considerable supernatural renown was this little-known site near the old village of Thornton, on the western outskirts of Bradford.  We’re not 100% sure about its exact location, but the grid-reference cited here is of an old ‘Well’ that was highlighted on the first Ordnance Survey map of the region, at the end of solitary path which led to it and nowhere else.  Our only documentary information comes from Elizabeth’s Southwart’s (1932) fine old book on the folk life of the old village, as it once was.  At a place once known as Bent Ing Bottom, just south of the old village, is where it used to be known.  The name of this Well is also curious, as no historian has yet worked out who the ‘Jim Craven’ was, nor what his relationship to the site might have been.  It’s the folklore of it, however, which brings it the attention it deserves.

Folklore

In Elizabeth Southwart’s (1923) work, she told us that the place once known as “Bent Ing Bottoms have lost their romance.” She continued:

“Whether the golfers have driven it away—for the fields now form part of the Thornton Golf Links—or whether the advance of modernity in other forms is to blame, it is difficult to say.  Once they were the haunts of “Peggy-Wi-T’-Lantern” and the Bloody-tongue.  Peggy, a dame in a white mob cap, kilted skirt and white stockings, walked about with a lantern, enticing the unwary traveller to his doom.  She was given to wandering, for, they say, Jim Craven Well, half a mile away, was a place to be avoided after nightfall.

“The Bloody-tongue was a great dog, with staring red eyes, a tail as big as the branch of a tree, and a lolling tongue that dripped blood.  When he drank from the beck (known as the Pinch Beck, PB) the water ran red right past the bridge, and away down—down—nearly to Bradford town.  As soon as it was quite dark he would lope up the narrow flagged causeway to the cottage at the top of Bent Ing on the north side, give one deep bark, then the woman who lived there would come out and feed him.  What he ate we never knew, but I can bear testimony to the delicious taste of the toffee she made.

“When the dark was coming we used to sit on the filled-in pit, which makes a hump in the middle of the field, and wait for him.  The sun would sink redly, through the arches of the viaduct, the trees that lined the beck would grow an ever darker green until they became black, the beck would begin to gurgle and gulp in a queer way; and down in the hollow we would hear a whimper, a whine, a moan, a snarl.  Then, with scalps and spines playing queer tricks, we would wait and wait.  But none of our little band ever saw him, except one girl, and she saw him every time.

“One Saturday a girl who lived at Headley came to a birthday party in the village, and was persuaded to stay to the end by her friends, who promised to see her ‘a-gaiterds’ if she would.  As soon as the party was over the brave little group started out.  But when they reached the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue, one of them suggested that Mary should go alone, and they would wait there to see if anything happened to her.

“Mary was reluctant, but had no choice in the matter, for go home she must.  They waited, according to promise, listening to her footsteps on the path, and occasionally shouting into the darkness:

““Are you all right, Mary?”

““Ay!” would come the response.

“And well was it for Mary that the Gytrash had business elsewhere that night, for her friends confess now that at the first sound of a scream they would have fled back to lights and home.

“We wonder sometimes if the Booody-tongue were not better than his reputation, for he lived there many years and there was never a single case known of man, woman or child who got a bite from his teeth, or a scratch from his claws.  Now he is gone, nobody knows whither, though there have been rumours that he has been seen wandering disconsolately along Egypt Road, whimpering quietly to himself, creeping into the shadows when a human being approached, and, when a lantern was flashed on him, giving one sad, reproachful glance from his red eyes before he vanished from sight.”

Southwart later tells us that the ghostly dog travelled into the north and vanished.  From the description she gives of the children walking their friend to “the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue,” I can only surmise that the solitary well shown on the very first OS-map of Thornton at the coordinate given above is the place in question.

The ‘Bloody Tongue’ is first mentioned in Yorkshire folklore, I think, by Roger Storrs, in his article on holy wells in 1888, where he tells it to be one of the mysterious beings that live, usually at the bottom of the waters and almost universally used “to deter children from playing in dangerous proximity to a well.”

From the description of the waters turning red when the ghostly dog drank from it, we have a mythic account of when the waters occasionally turned red from the iron-bearing waters (chalybeate) which, obviously, wasn’t like this at all times.  Whether this was a sporadic, unpredictable flow of iron in the waters, or a cyclical pattern of the water-flows, we are not told (which would imply, moreso, that it was sporadic).  The folklore about this ghost and its appearance with another elemental creature along an old straight track running north from Upper Headley Hall to Thornton is intriguing—as in many old pre-christian traditions, North is the airt, or direction, representing Death; and black dogs are traditionally guardians of underworld treasures in the land of the Dead.  With the plethora of other animistic folktales once known in this district (boggarts or goblins were known in nearby woods, wells and farms) it is likely that the origin of such folklore dates way back into antiquity.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of West Yorkshire, forthcoming
  2. Southwart, Elizabeth, Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, John Lane Bodley Head: London 1923.
  3. Storrs, Roger, ‘Legends and Traditions of Wells,’ in Yorkshire Folk-lore Journal – volume 1 (ed. J. Horsfall Turner) 1888.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Jim Craven's Well

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Jim Craven\'s Well 53.788820, -1.854705 Jim Craven\'s Well

Samson’s Stone, Crieff, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 82519 22021

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 96866

Getting Here

Samson Stone on 1866 map

Samson Stone on 1866 map

Tale the A85 road between Comrie and Crieff and, roughly halfway between the two towns, take the minor road south to Strowan (it’s easily missed, so be aware!).  A few hundred yards along, stop where the trees begin and walk into the fields immediately east.  Keep walking, below the line of the trees, and you’ll get to it within five minutes.

Archaeology & History

Samson's Stone, looking east

Samson’s Stone, looking east

Mistakenly cited by some as a standing stone, the large boulder which rests here on the hillside just below the woodland is a glacial erratic.  Highlighted on the 1866 OS-map of the region, I hoped that we might find some rock art on the stone, but cup-and-rings there were none.  However, there is a curious ‘footprint’ on top of it, similar to the ones found at Dunnad, at Murlaganmore and other places (see Bord 2004); but I can find no previous reference to this carved footprint.

'Footprint' on top of stone

‘Footprint’ on top of stone

In 1863 the site was described in the local Name Book, where it was reported to be “a large oblong shaped stone lying on the surface, eight feet long, four wide, and three thick”; but, much like today, it was also reported that “There is no tradition respecting it in the neighbourhood. Supposed to have received the name in consequence of its great size.”

Most peculiar…..

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Samson Stone

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Samson Stone 56.375822, -3.903839 Samson Stone

Beinn na Cailleach, Broadford, Skye

Sacred Mountain:  OS Grid Reference – NG 601 232

Getting Here

Seems rather daft giving directions for a mountain, but… For incomers, cross the bridge onto the island and keep on the A87 road to Broadford.  A couple of mile the other side of the village westwards, take the small left turn in the trees and go to the dead-end.  The hill reaching up above you (west) is the legendary mountain to walk up!

Folklore

Beinn na Cailleach

This giant old mountain has been associated with the primal female creation figure, the cailleach, for many a moon. And strangely – for me anyway – I’ve not ventured to sleep with this old place in my passings here as I usually do wherever the cailleach resides.

It doubtless has many more tales than the one A.A. MacGregor (1937) mentions in his superb Peat-Fire Flame.  Here he tells the story of,

“the cairn situated on the summit of Beinn na Cailleach, not far from Broadford… This cairn is believed to mark the site of burial of a Norse princess who died at Ord. On her deathbed this princess commanded her attendants to convey her, when dead to the top of Beinn na Cailleach, and to bury her there, in order that she might lie in the wake of the winds from Norway.”

MacGregor then follows the tale with a lovely note on some boring old dood he obviously had little respect for, saying:

“It is the traditions associated with this cairn that MacCulloch, the geologist, in his Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, asks to be excused from repeating, since he considers them, one and all, to be unworthy of regard. But, then, MacCulloch was a most tiresome fellow; and he seems to have imbued most of his writings with something of the same tiresomeness”!

On the lower northeastern slopes of this great mountain we find another of the old woman’s abodes, the ‘Lochain Beinn na Cailleach’, where this great hag would no doubt wash her linen, as many old myths tell she did at other pools of the same name.

A slightly different version of the folktale was told by Archibald Geikie in his Note-book of a Field Geologist from 1858:

“The top of Beinn na Cailleaich is flat and smooth, surmounted in the centre by a cairn. Tradition tells that beneath these stones there rest the bones of the nurse of a Norwegian princess. She had accompanied her mistress to “the misty hills of Skye,” and eventually died there. But the love of home continued strong with her to the end, for it was her last request that she might be buried on the top of Beinn na Cailleaich, that the clear northern breezes, coming fresh from the land of her childhood, might blow over her grave.”

An early essay in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1841 tells the grave atop of the mountain to have been the resting place of the Norwegian King Haco’s wife or his nurse. Derek Cooper (1970) meanwhile told us that whilst the cairn was “erected as a memorial to a Skye chieftain,” the cailleach of the mountain, or “the old woman is reputedly Saucy Mary, who laid a chain between Kyle and Kyleakin to exact toll from passing ships.”

There are other mythic place-names scattered around the edges of this mountain with hints of ancient female deities, or pagan goddesses — whichever way one cares to see them.

References:

  1. Cooper, Roy, Skye, Routledge: London 1970.
  2. Geikie, Archibald, The Story of a Boulder, MacMillan: London 1858.
  3. MacGregor, Alisdair Alpin, The Peat-Fire Flame: Folk-Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1937.
  4. o’ Crualaoich, Gearoid, The Book of the Cailleach, Cork University Press 2003.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island and its Legends, Blackie & Sons: London 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.237499, -5.976387 Beinn na Cailleach

The Grey Lady, Lundie, Angus

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 3069 3609

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 31894

Getting Here

Grey Lady on 1860 OS-map

The site of the stone is on the top of a ridge due west of Lundie Castle and is best approached from the minor road between Lundie and Denhead, but at the time of my site visit a steel gate had been erected across the field just before the site of the stone together with a large festoon of electric fencing, which I did not cross.

Archaeology & History

The Grey Lady stood on the near grassy horizon

The Ordnance Survey name book describes the stone, the informants being Mr. Pattullo junior and Mr. Bett of Pitermo:

This name is applied to a Standing Stone a little to the west of Lundie Castle. It is about 4 feet high, between two & three broad & rather a Kidney Shape. …Some think of druidical origin, but young Pattullo intends to blast it shortly“.

The rough grass probably marks where she stood.

And indeed it seems the feckless youth did have his wicked way with The Grey Lady, who had been a landmark for millennia, for she sadly no longer exists. In view of the folklore attaching to the stone, it may be worth speculating whether the kidney shape denoted a lunar symbolism for the stone.

Folklore

The OS name book states:

“The ladies of Lundie Castle have romance connected with it – that a white lady is to be seen walking round it on a certain night of every new moon.”

Reference:

  1. Ordnance Survey Name Book; Forfarshire (Angus) volume 66 (1857-61)

© Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian 2017

 

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  56.511685, -3.127782 Grey Lady standing stone

Bogle’s Well, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 597 650

Archaeology & History

Of all the ancient wells in the city of Glasgow, this has to be one of the most intriguing! Descriptions of it are few and far between, but it is the name of the site which is of interest, to folklorists and occult historians alike.  For the word ‘Bogle’ is another term for a ‘boggart’ or goblin of some sort!  The well is mentioned in Andy MacGeorge’s (1880) excellent study in his description of ancient wells in the city. Citing notes from the 17th century, amidst many sites,

“Another was Bogle’s Well, in regard to which there is a minute of the town council “that Bogillis Well should be assayed for bringing and convoying the water of the same to the Hie street according to the right the town hes thereof,” and the magistrates are recommended to arrange for having this done “by conduits of led.””

…Obviously in the days when they were clueless about lead-poisoning!  The word ‘bogillis’ is the early plural form of the bogle, or bogill (Grant 1941:201).  But where exactly was this old well?  Are there any other records hiding away to help us locate its original position?  It seems to have been one in a cluster of legendary and holy wells in a very small area scattered between Glasgow’s cathedral, down the High Street and to the northern banks of the River Clyde… (the grid-reference given for this site is an approximation)  In a less esoteric fashion, the occult historian Jan Silver suggested that the name of the Well may relate to the family name, ‘Bogle’.

Folklore

Traditionally ascribed in the lower counties of England to be an evil malicious sprite, in more northern counties and in Scotland the creature was said by Katherine Briggs (1979) to be a more “virtuous creature”, akin to the helpful brownies or urisks of country lore.  This was said to be the case in William Henderson’s (1868) Folklore of the Northern Counties. Whether this well was haunted or the home of a bogle, we do not know as the folklore of this site appears to be lost; so I appeal to any students who might be able to enlighten us further on the place.  The Forteans amongst you might have a cluster of ‘hauntings’ hereby, perhaps….

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Glasgow, TNA 2017.
  2. Briggs, Katharine, A Dictionary of Fairies, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1979.
  3. Grant, William (ed.), The Scottish National Dictionary – volume 2, SNDA: Edinburgh 1941.
  4. Henderson, William, Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, W. Satchell: London 1879.
  5. MacGeorge, Andrew, Old Glasgow, Blackie & Son: Glasgow 1880.
  6. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  7. Steele, Joyce, Seeking Patterns of Lordship, Justice and Worship in the Scottish Landscape, Glasgow University 2014.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.857998, -4.242440 Bogle’s Well

Kelpie’s Stane, Corgarff, Aberdeenshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NJ 264 087

Also known as:

  1. Kelpie Stone

Folklore

The old Scottish folklorist, A.A. MacGregor, described this legendary rock, “by the Bridge of Luib, on the River Don,” in his classic Peat Fire Flame. (1937)  One of the numerous ‘holed stones,’ it was one of countless rocks in our isles imbued with animistic spirit essence, akin to similar rocks found in all of the other cultures in the world.  MacGregor told how,

“It happened that a man summoned to the death-bed of a relative came to this crossing-place just after torrential floods had carried away the bridge. When he was on the point of abandoning all hope of reaching the opposite bank, a tall man appeared from nowhere and volunteered to carry him across. The distracted homecomer accepted the assistance proffered. But, when he and his carrier reached mid-river, the latter reverted to the form of the river kelpie and endeavoured to drag him down to the river’s bed. The victim managed to escape. As he scrambled to the bank, the infuriated kelpie hurled after him the huge boulder that to this day goes by the name of the Kelpie’s Stane.”

But the stone was also known to possess healing and magickal properties, as evidenced from MacPherson’s (1929) chronicle, which told:

“Somewhere near Dinnet was the Kelpie Stone. Childless women passed through its 18 inch (46cm) hole to concieve. A noble lady performed the task to no avail; only when she repeated it in the same direction as the river flow did the charm work.”

Close by are several other intriguing place-names which may at some time have had some archaeo-mythic relevance to this legendary rock. On the hill above is the old Carn Lian; the water course nearby is the Allt na Ciste; but most intriguingly we find the Bog of the Old Woman, or the Moine Cailleach a half-mile to the east.

References:

  1. MacGregor, Alisdair Alpin, The Peat-Fire Flame, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1937.
  2. McPherson, Joseph M., Primitive Beliefs in the North-East of Scotland, Longmans, Green & Co: London 1929.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.163980, -3.217472 Kelpie\'s Stane

Clach na Glaistig, Iona, Argyll

Legendary Rocks:  OS Grid Reference – NM 262 222

Also Known as:

  1. Glaistig’s Stone

Folklore

One of the best known supernatural creatures in the Scottish Highlands and Islands was one called the Glaistig: an elemental described variously as, “a thin, grey woman with yellow hair reaching to her heels and attired in green raiment”; or a deity both beneficial and dangerous, “often described as half-woman, half-goat.”  Katherine Briggs (1979) wrote that sometimes this creature

“sometimes has the attributes and habits of the Cailleach Bheur, sometimes assumes animal form, often that of a goat, but more often she is described as half-woman, half-goat.”

Something decidely shaman-like!

In many of the places where she was found, she would tend for the cattle and in order to appease her, local people would pour milk into the hollowed stones by which she lived (at some places these were cup-and-ring stones).  The Iona Glaistig was no exception.  The great Scottish writer A.A. MacGregor (1947) mentioned this creature and its stone in one of his classic books, saying:

“In the shieling days of Iona when, during the summer months, the inhabitants of the east end and of the west end of that island were wont to pasture their cows alternately for fourteen days on the common grazing at a spot known as Staonnaig, a Glaistig dwelt in a hollow rock near at hand. For this Glaistig, the Iona women at milking-time each evening poured a little milk on what is still pointed out at the Glaistig’s Stone.”

This “pouring of milk” onto hollows in stones is a custom found in cultures from Europe eastwards into India and, no doubt, even further afield.  The precise whereabouts of this sacred stone remains hidden.

References:

  1. Briggs, Katherine, A Dictionary of Fairies, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1979.
  2. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, The Peat Fire Flame, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1947.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.313159, -6.428428 Clach na Glaistig

Beinn na Cailleach, Islay, Argyll

Sacred Mountain:  OS Grid Reference – NR 450 596

Also Known as:

  1. Beinn na Caillich

Folklore

Another great mountain of the ‘Old Woman’: primal creation deity of these hills. Whether she holds sway over the land here for many months, as she does on Mull and Skye, I cannot find.  One creation legend here tells that one of the furrows down the side of the mountain – called Sgrìoh na Caillich – was said to be made by her as she slid down it in a sitting position. The small loch on the way up to her summit – Lochan na Caillich – was one of her washing places; and the Beinn na Caillich Beag, immediately east, speaks of other legends, now seemingly lost to us.  It’s highly likely that some of the megalithic remains nearby had some mythic relationship with this old hill, though I aint found any studies along these lines…yet!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.763049, -6.065332 Beinn na Cailleach