Thursday, 24 March 2011

Furzey Gardens, New Forest

It appears that not all fairies have departed from the New Forest, in modern times the faery abode of choice is Furzey Gardens near Minstead. A beautiful garden open to the public, with a scattering of delightful hidden fairy doors and enchanting fairy tale towers and tree houses. Not only is the garden beautiful but part of a charity that provides horticultural training and care for young people with learning difficulties, and i'm sure the fairies help out too whenever they can!

According to the Paranormal Database, there were also sightings of fairies in Minstead in the 1920s, when sightings were reported that "several little people climbed the trees of the forest, possessing catlike attributes for better balance". They sound like a very curious breed of fairy, but unfortunately i've not managed to find any other sources for this story to gather further details.

I did however pay a visit to Minstead and Furzey Gardens, and i'm very glad I did! The gardens are truly enchanting, as I hope you can see from the below photos...

This feline fellow did possess the catlike attributes of the local fairies, but was far too busy relaxing in the sun to climb any trees...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Cold Pixies Cave, New Forest

The New Forest is a place not only full of trees, but full of ancient history, and with this of course comes fairy legends! It's thought that the New Forest contains more than 200 ancient barrows, scattered over hilltops and fields, many buried forever lying forgotten under mounds of gorse and bracken. These were once important places, where the dead were laid to rest, a place of respect and peace. It's no secret that many many years later these strange green mounds were a mystery to common folk, their original purpose had been long since forgotten and instead they were seen as strange mysterious places where peculiar artefacts were found, sometimes long buried treasure or weapons like arrow heads. It's no surprise that the common folk viewed these green mounds with suspicion and thought they belonged to a different race, a race who buried wonderous treasure and shot trespassers with little stone arrow heads... yup you guessed it, the fairies! Of course this is just one theory, there are plenty more out there.

This leads us to one such barrow in the New Forest, a bronze age barrow most often known today as Cold Pixies Cave. The name varies in written literature and other names include Coldpix's Cave, or just Pixey's Cave. It has also been suggested that the name is Colt Pixies Cave, named after the Colt Pixies who take on the form of a horse and lead the wild horses of the New Forest into bogs and other such trouble!

The New Forest: Its History and its Scenery, by John R Wise (1863) says that "The proverb of “as ragged as a colt Pixey” is everywhere to be heard, and at which Drayton seems to hint in his Course of Faerie:- "This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt, Still walking like a ragged colt."

It is in this same book where lies the earliest recorded reference to this barrow being linked to the fairies I have managed to find so far, being from 1863. The author writes:
"There is scarcely a village or hamlet in the Forest district which has not its “Pixey Field,” and "Pixey Mead," or its "Picksmoor'" and "Cold Pixey," and “Puck Piece.” At Prior’s Acre we find Puck’s Hill, and not far from it lies the great wood of Puckpits; whilst a large barrow on Beaulieu Common is known as Pixey’s Cave."
Myself and my partner in crime (and keeper of many useful Ordinance Survey maps!) visited the New Forest for a few days last week while visiting my family in Somerset. I also thoroughly recommend the Glastonbury Faery Fayre for anyone down that end of the country! We were lucky enough to get very sunny southern weather, so on a bright and sunny morning we headed to Cold Pixies Cave.

It's certainly a place fit for the fairies, with golden gorse bushes bursting with blossoms, and lush green grass scattered with daisies. Especially enchanting is the gorse archway at the on the slope of the barrow, creating a doorway perhaps to fairyland itself. I confess I did go through it, whilst being suspiciously watched by a wild New Forest horse, perhaps a colt pixey wondering if the doorway to faery wasn't completely closed afterall...

Sources & Further Information
The New Forest: Its History and its Scenery, John R Wise
Folklore journal 22: Hampire Folklore, Moutrav Read
Cold Pixies Cave - Modern Antiquarian
New Forest Bronze Age Barrows
Heritage Gateway - Cold Pixies Cave

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Fairies of Grennan Cove

I've been holding off posting this story until I could find more information and further sources, but unfortunately this is one of those stories that seems to be passed on by spoken word rather than being printed in books! I say unfortunately... but in some ways that makes it even more beautiful and special, a story passed on by locals and from parent to child. Of course, the other possibility is that it's a modern fairy tale, but either way it's a lovely story and a lovely place to visit!

I found the story on the Mull of Galloway website, the only source i've found for it so far. I've spoken to the website owner and he says as far as he knows it's local folklore, if I find out anything else i'll of course let you know. It's a lovely website for anyone thinking of visiting the area, and contains some curious other local tales including the heather ale legend.

The story is set on the Mull of Galloway, the most southernly point of Scotland, and a place famous for it's smugglers and beautiful scenic views. You can see right across to Ireland on a clear sunny day! The Mull of Galloway website says that here near present day Kilstay, the "sailors would throw offerings of food to ensure fair winds and a safe journey but none hung around to wait on the fairies coming out of the dark recesses of their cave to collect these offerings". According to folklore, the Cove of Grennan was a well known spot for these cave-dwelling fairies, and there was once a narrow passage leading all the way to Clanyard Bay on the west coast. It seems that the locals were wary and would not explore these caves until....

"One day a piper, braver than the rest, marched off playing his bagpipes and walked straight into the cave accompanied by his dog. Those left outside could hear the music being played from within the depths of the earth until, eventually, it faded away. The dog, minus its hair, finally emerged terror stricken from the cave at Clanyard Bay but the piper was never seen again. Local legend, however, suggests that sometimes in the summer nights, when all is still and there is no wind at all moving around the Mull, it is possible to hear the faint sound of the pipes and that of a howling dog coming from under the ground at Clanyard Bay."
This area was once used by smugglers, and was said to contain secret passageways used to smuggle goods from the coast to nearby farm houses, so there's a good chance that this bay did once contain tunnels as in the story above. Stories of hauntings in such tunnels were commonly spread about by the smugglers themselves, knowing that if the locals were too scared to enter the tunnels then they'd never discover all the illegal goods hidden there. Of course, once the smugglers had abandoned the tunnels, what a perfect home they would have made for any fairies looking for a new abode!

Whilst seeking fairies in nearby Dumfries, I couldn't resist visiting this lovely spot and seeking out the secret tunnels for myself! Unfortunately the tunnels are long since gone, leaving behind towering rocky boulders and dense green shrubs and brambles. Trickling waterfalls seep through the rocks and form sparkling little rockpools, and lonesome thorn trees top the rocky cliffs above. Very pretty and very typical of a fairy dwelling place!

On the beach I found a little washed up fairy door, in a bed of seaweed and driftwood. I tried knocking, but alas no reply!

Sources & Further Information
Mull of Galloway Website
Smugglers Britain, The Solway Firth & Galloway

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Fairies of Galloway & Nithsdale

It seems there are none more prepared for battle than the fearsome faeries of Galloway and Nithsdale! Although there are stories of far more pleasant fairies having dwelt in this area too, today I shall be writing of a particular group of fae who were feared for good reason by those who offended them and attracted their retribution. A description of these rogue characters can be found in 'Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song' by R. H. Cromek (1810), where he gives them the title of 'Light infantry of Satan!':
"They were small of stature, exquisitely shaped and proportioned; - of a fair complexion, with long fleeces of yellow hair flowing over their shoulders, and tucked above their brows with combs of gold. a mantle of green cloth, inlaid with wild flowers, reached to their middle;- green pantaloons, buttoned with bobs of silk, and sandals of silver, formed their under dress. On their shoulders hung quivers of adder slough, stored with pernicious arrows; and bows, fashioned from the rib of man, buried where 'three Lairds' lands meet,' tipped with gold, ready bent for warfare, were slung by their sides. Thus accoutred they mounted on steeds, whose hoofs would not print the new plowed land, nor dash the dew from the cup of a hare-bell. They visited the flocks, the folds, the fields of coming grain, and the habitations of man;- and woe to the mortal whose frailty threw in their power!- a flight of arrows, tipped with deadly plagues, were poured into his folds, and nauseous weeds grew up in his pastures; his coming harvest was blighted with pernicious breath,- and whatever he had no longer prospered. These fatal shafts were formed of the bog reed, pointed with white field flint, and dipped in the dew of hemlock. They were shot into cattle with such magical dexterity that the smallest aperture could not be discovered, but by those deeply skilled in Fairy warfare, and in the cure of elf-shooting."
The following passage regarding the local fairy rades can also be found in the above book, and was told to the author by an old woman of Nithsdale:

"I' the night afore Roodsmass, I had trysted wi' a neeber lass, a Scots mile frae hame, to talk anent buying braws i' the fair:- we had nae sutton lang aneath the haw-buss, till we heard the loud laugh o' fowk riding, wi' the jingling o' bridles, an' the clanking o' hoofs. We banged up, thinking they wad ryde owre us;- we kent nae but it was drunken fowk riding to the fair, i' the fore night. We glowred roun' and roun', an' sune saw it was the Fairie fowks Rade. We cowered down till they passed by. A leam o' light was dancing owre them, mair bonnie than moonshine: they were a wee, wee fowk, wi' green scarfs on, but ane that rade foremost, an' that ane was a gude deal langer than the lave, wi' bonnie lang hair bun' about wi' a strap, whilk glented lyke stars. They rade on blaw wee whyte naigs, wi' whustles that the win' played on. This an' their tongues whan they sang, was like the soun' of a far awa' Psalm. Marion an' me was in a brade lea fiel' whare they cam by us, a high hedge o' hawtrees keepit them frae gaun through Johnnie Corrie's corn;- but they lap owre't like sparrows, an' gallop't into a green knowe beyont it. We gade i' the morning to look at the tredded corn, but the fient a hoof mark was there nor a blade broken.'"

Some had more pleasant dealings with the fairies, like this young man:
"A young man of Nithsdale, being on a love intrigue, was enchanted with wild and delightful music, and the sound of mingled voices, more charming than aught that mortal breath could utter. With a romantic daring, peculiar to a Scottish lover, he followed the sound, and descivoered the Fairy banquet:- a green table, with feet of gold, was placed across a rivulet, and richly furnished with pure bread and wines of sweetest flavour. Their minstrelsy was raised from small reeds, and stalks of corn:- he was invited to partake in the dance, and presented with a cup of wine. He was allowed to depart, and was ever after endowed with the second sight. He boasted of having seen and conversed with several of his earthly acquaintances whom the Fairies had taken and admitted as brothers!"
Although fearsome, the fairies were said to be fair, and only punished those deserving. They rewarded those who were kind to them, as shown in this story:
"A woman of Auchencreath, in Nithsdale, was one day sifting meal warm from the mill: a little, cleanly-arrayed, beautiful woman, came to her, holding out a bason on antique workmanship, requesting her courteously to fill it with her new meal. Her demand was cheerfully complied with. In a week the comely little dame returned with the borrowed meal. She breathed over it, setting it down bason and all, saying aloud, 'be never toom.' The gude-wife lived to a goodly age, without ever seeing the bottom of her blessed bason."
It is said in Galloway and Nithsdale to be very bad luck to plow certain fields deemed to be the rallying places of fairies, often marked with an old thorn tree in the middle, as told in this story:
"Two lads were opening with the plow one of these fields, and one of them had described a circle around the Fairy thorn, which was not to be plowed. they were surprised, when, on ending the furrow, a green table was placed there, heaped with the choicest cheese, bread and wine. He who marked out the thorn, sat down without hesitation, eating and drinking heartily, saying, 'fair fa' the hands whilk gie.' His fellow-servant lashed his steeds, refusing to partake. The courteous plow-man 'thrave,' said my informer, 'like a breckan, and was a proverb for wisdom, and an orable of local rural knowledge ever after!'"
Unfortunately, or fortunately for those who crossed them, the fairies were said to have left the Nithdale and Galloway area around the year of 1790:
"The 'Fairy Farewel,' is a circumstance that happened about twenty years ago, and is well remembered. The sun was setting on a fine summer's evening, and the peasantry were returning from labour, when, on the side of a green hill, appeared a procession of thousands of apparently little boys, habited in mantles of green, freckled with light. One, taller than the rest, ran before them, and seemed to enter the hill, and again appeared at its summit. This was repeated three times, and all vanished. The peasantry, who beheld it, called it 'The Fareweel o' the Fairies to the Burrow hill!'
So it appears that I'm over 220 years too late with my visit! Though I wouldn't be surprised if the fairies have sneaked back to the area, or stealthily emerged from one of the many cairns in the area, finally leaving their green grassy hills behind and moving into nearby forests. Below are some photos taken on my visit to Galloway and Nithsdale, locations include the walk to St Ninian's Cave, Cairn Holy II, and nearby forests.

P.S. A request for help! Currently researching a fairy story of a piper visiting fairy caves near Grennan on the Mull of Galloway. Any help would be gratefully appreciated!

Sources & Further Information
Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, R. H. Cromek
Cairnholy, Modern Antiquarian

Mermaid of Galloway

"Once a young crofter was wandering below the cliffs on a beautiful summer night when the wind was still and the silver moon shone through the clear depths of ocean, casting a flood of light through Land-under-Waves. He heard sounds of song and laughter. He crept softly towards a shadowy rock, and, climbing it, looked down on a bank of white sand. There he beheld a company of mermaids dancing in a ring round a maid who was fairest of the fair...

At length he crept stealthily down the rock, and ran towards the skin coverings lying on the sand. He seized one and ran off with it. When the mermaids saw him they screamed and scattered in confusion, and snatching up their skin coverings, leapt into the sea and vanished from sight. One maid remained behind. This was the fair one round whom the others had been dancing. Her skin covering was gone, and so she could not return to her sea home.

Meanwhile the crofter ran to his house and hid the skin covering in a box, which he locked, placing the key in his pocket. He wondered what would happen next, and he had not long to wait. Someone came to his door and knocked softly. He stood listening in silence. Then he heard the knocking again, and opened the door. A Maid-of-the-Wave, clad in pale sea-blue garments, stood before him, the moonlight glistening on her wet copper hair. Tears stood in her soft blue eyes as she spoke sweetly saying: "O man, have pity and give me back my skin covering so that I may return to my sea home."

She was so gentle and so beautiful that the crofter did not wish her to go away, so he answered: "What I have got I keep. Do not sorrow, O fair one. Remain here and be my bride."

This is an extract from the tale of the Mermaid of Galloway, a famous Scottish tale of a man who captures a mermaid and makes her his wife. But of course, you can no more tame a wild maiden of the sea than you can tame the wild sea itself, and the ending is far from happy for the young crofter. The above extract was taken from "Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend" by Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1917) and the rest of the story can be read here.

This is one of many tales surrounding the Mermaids that once dwelled in the sea and rivers of Galloway. They were mostly friendly creatures, and some were skilled in the art of healing. In 'Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song' by R. H. Cromek (1810), a mermaid cures a young maiden:

"A charming young girl, whom consumption had brought to the brink of the grave, was lamented by her lover. In a vein of renovating sweetness the good Mermaid sung to him-- 'Wad ye let the bonnie May die i' yere hand, An' the mugwort flowering i' the land.' He cropped and pressed the flower tops, and administered the juice to his fair mistress, who arose and blessed her bestower for the return of health."

Another poem of the Mermaid of Galloway can also be found in this same book, it's a rather long poem and too long to include in it's entirety, but here is it's poetically beautiful beginning:

"There's a maid has sat o' the green merse side
Thae ten lang years and mair;
An' every first night o' the new moon
She kames her yellow hair.

An' ay while she sheds the yellow burning gowd,
Fu' sweet she sings an' hie,
Till the fairest bird that wooes the green wood,
Is charm'd wi' her melodie.

But wha e'er listens to that sweet sang,
Or gangs the fair dame te;
Ne'er hears the sang o' the lark again,
Nor waukens an earthlie ee."

The photographs in this blog were all taken by myself in Galloway during Valentines weekend, the perfect time to perhaps spot such a beautiful and romantic creature. It's not a challenge to see why this beautiful coastline gave birth to so many mermaid stories, with it's wild untamed coastlines and rocky beaches with many a perfect spot for a mermaid to sit and comb her silky golden hair and admire the beautiful sunsets.

Sources & Further Information
Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, Donald Mackenzie
Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, R. H. Cromek
The Maid-of-the-Waves