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The North York Moors have long since been surrounded in mystery..with folk tales of fairies and witches and various other mystical creatures (not all of which you’d want to meet on a dark, gloomy night on the dales!). Below is simply a quick peek into some of the mysteries and folklore that our beautiful home is steeped in. By no mean is it an extensive collection, and depending on who you hear them from (and which old country Inn you venture into!) differing accounts do exist.
These are simply a collection of short tales that have been passed down to me from my father, from reading old books as a youngster and from word of mouth. I hope you enjoy and pass them down to your children too!
The Hob: also referred to as a Hobgoblin, a Boggle and a Bogart. These kind yet mischievous creatures are common place throughout the North York Moors. Said to be small household spirits, which look like hairy little men, they can most often be found residing near human dwellings.
Often in exchange for a jug of fresh cream, the Hob would work an entire night..often finishing jobs that the master of the house had no time to complete. Known to be extremely helpful they can turn at the drop of a hat should you anger him, offend him or forget to pay him then be prepared to witness the wrath of a mischievous Hob, for if you offend him he will turn your milk sour and make your life hell! An extremely helpful Hob used to reside at Hart Hall, Glaisdale.
However, particular Hob left under acrimonious circumstances when the master of the house witnessed the Hob at work one night completely naked.
Taking pity on the Hob, and in way of payment, he handed the Hob an old servant smock. The master should of known better! For it is a great insult to a Hob to give him clothes and as a result he left Hart Hall immediately shouting “Gin Hob mun hae nowt but a Hardin’ hamp, he’ll come nae mair, nowther t’ berry nor stamp!” The hardworking old Hob who had helped the masters family for decades was never to be seen again. Another renowned tale of a local Hob is the one rumored to be called Hobthrust who lived at the bottom of Runswick Bay in a small cave etched into the alum rock named Hob Hole.
This particular Hob was well known to the local fisherman and their families, for it was believed that he had the magical ability to cure the terrible Whooping Cough illness. Often late at night, the fishermas wives would carry their sick children down to Hob Hole and call upon the Hobs mystical healing powers, chanting “Hob Hole Hob! My bairns gotten t’kink cough! Tak it off! Tak it off!”
A true love story set in Glaisdale. Legend has is that Tom Ferris, the son of a local moorland farmer fell hopelessly in love with Agnes, the daughter of a wealthy land owner who lived with her family over the opposite side of the turbulent River Esk at Glaisdale.
Upon realising that the only way he could have Agnes’s hand in marriage was to make his fortune, Tom set out one stormy night to cross the swollen River Esk to kiss his true love goodbye. He was to set sail from Whitby to seek his fortune the next day, but upon trying to cross the river he almost drowned when getting washed under by the rough current. Upon pulling himself free from the river he vowed to build a bridge over the Esk so that other lovers would not suffer a worse fate than him.
Many years later, and true to his word, Tom returned from sea a very rich man and built a bridge over the Esk in 1619. Tom and Agnes married and in true love story fashion…lived happily ever after.
Black Dogs: The legend of the Barghest refers to the huge, monstrous black dog like creature with sharp, fearsome teeth and huge haunting eyes that prowls Whitby and the local countryside.
It is said that if you are unfortunate enough to hear the beats bloody curdling and chilling howl during the night..then you will be dead by dawn. There are numerous tales about mysterious and vicious black dogs roaming the streets of Whitby and local areas. But this tale focuses its attention on a phantom Black beast rumored to haunt Kettleness just 6 miles north of Whitby near Runswick Bay.
It is said that a visiting Schoolmaster and some students witnessed a monstrous black hound across the shore. The beast was so large the school master felt sure it could not be a mortal canine and as it appeared out of thin air, all those who saw it were filled with a wave of terror. So filled with fear, that the school master contacted a local Reverend and demanded an immediate exorcism of the area.
It is said that the school master and reverend returned to the shores of Kettleness and performed the exorcism..however upon seeing the terrifying phantom beast again, the school master suffered a breakdown and was eventually hospitalised, plagued with fear.
Saltersgate Inn: The now abandoned and derelict pub at Levisham near Whitby holds a legend about a fire that never goes out. There are numerous different versions of this legend but the one i know best stems from the 1730’s when the then Landlord (who was a former Sea Captain) allowed smugglers from the near by coast to use the Inn so that locals didn’t have to pay high taxes on their goods.
The story goes that after one rather unsuccessful raid on the Inn, one lone excise man grew suspicious and returned to the Inn.
Witnessing the smugglers in the act he was took by surprise and the smugglers grabbed this opportunity to capture him and murder him! They buried his body underneath the now legendary fireplace and the landlord lit the fire and vowed never to let its flames die down, for no one would ever search under a lit fire and find his body.
And so it was that for the next thirty years, before the landlord died the fire never once went out, and by this point it has become somewhat of a ritual never to let it die (although no one spoke of why).
Legend also states that the ghost of the murdered excise man would haunt and terrorise the Inn and its inhabitants should the fire ever go out. The Inn is now in a state of constant disrepair and pretty much derelict. The fire has long since gone out..I wonder if the curse of the excise man has kept others away?
Hand Of Glory: In the early 20th Century a local stonemason, Joseph Ford discovered a severed mummified human hand hidden over a lintel in the wall of a thatched cottage in Danby. A Hand of Glory is said to be the pickled right hand severed from the body of a hanged felon The hand is usually taken whilst the body is still hanging from the gallows and notoriously used by burglars. The burglar would often enter a house (sometimes claiming to need shelter for the night). A candle made from human fat would be placed inside the hand, or in this case the fingers themselves would be lit, and it is said that they lit fingers would magically send the occupants of the house to sleep into a deep coma from which they were unable to wake. It is said that all the fingers of the hand would set alight should all occupants be asleep, but if one finger remains unlit it means one occupant is still awake. The burglar is said to chant the following verse as he lights the Hand of Glory “Let those who rest more deeply sleep, Let those awake their vigils keep. Oh Hand of Glory, shed thy light, Guide us to our spoils tonight” The severed mummified hand which was found at Danby is still exhibited at Whitby Museum today.
Witches: Now old witches are as prominent in the Yorkshire Dales than any fairytale land you may have read about. Locally it was said that witches were able to transform into running Hares in an attempt to run away from folk catching her. There is the story a grumpy old disgruntled farmer living near Glaisdale who was so overcome with anger when he saw “no mere ordinary hare” chewing on the tops of some freshly sprouted crops in his field. Now, upon knowing that this was no ordinary hare he decided drastic action must be taken! There are numerous tales of different Witches inhabiting the area, again this is in no way an extensive list but some well known are Old Nanny Pearson from Goathland who is sid to be able to grow so small that she could walk around her own crockery cupboard. It is said that she too good transform into a hare, and was once shot at by a farmer but the Hare survived, although Nanny Pearson was seen a few days later with similar injuries! Old Betty Strother of Castleton had a desire for ‘love’ potions! In 1678 one of the very few local cases which came to church court heard that a local witch named Dorothy Cooke from Whitby was accused of bewitching a child to death.
Mulgrave Woods: The beautiful and enchanting setting of Mulgrave Woods is the home of many mysterious and magical creatures. The Mulgrave estate (now owned by the Marquis of Normanby) is steeped in history.
It is said that the last ever King of the Sikhs, Maharajah Duleep Singh, once leased Mulgrave Castle from Lord Normanby and it was a common sight to see his Indian elephants in the grounds of the Castle and also being ridden down Sandsend old road and onto the sands.
It is also said that he used to ride his elephants whilst taking part in the estates grouse shoot. Another story the Maharajah leaves behind concerns falling on love with a local village girl from Sandsend who subsequently, if not inevitably, fell pregnant.
Of course marriage was not an option and the stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock was a burden too great for the young girl to bare. Feeling alone, ashamed and abandoned the young girl is said to have taken her own life by walking straight out to sea. Her body was eventually recovered and she was buried in an unmarked grave upon the cliff.
In the 6th Century it is also believed that two Giants named Wade and his wife Belle ruled the area around Whitby.
Such was their strength and stature it is said that they were able to lift and move mountains and throw great boulders as though they were tossing pebbles.
Despite their momentous size, it is said they were good souls and loved each other dearly. Legend says they were responsible for constructing and building the castles at both Mulgrave and Pickering. They also owned a giant cow and Belle would milk her daily.
Wades affinity was towards the sea, and therefore he was responsible for building Mulgrave Castle, where as Belle wanted a castle building in land so her cow had more space to roam..thus she built Pickering Castle. However, they only had one giant hammer to share between them. To overcome this problem they would toss the giant hammer between each other, from Pickering to Mulgrave, giving each other a heads up as to when they would throw it.
Could this be responsible for the rough terrain between our home town and Pickering? It is believed that the giants are also responsible for building Wades Causeway, a rocky road linking our home to Pickering over the moors, a road built so that Belle didn’t have to trample over the rough moorland to milk her giant cow everyday.
To this day if you go out onto the moors you will find huge unexplained rocks still strewn across the moorland, evidence of where they accidentally dropped rocks whilst constructing the road.
You will also find large bogs filled with water which were caused by the giant cows huge hoof prints. A huge stone, aptly named Wades Stone, marks his grave at Mulgrave. As with all animals, the giant cow eventually died, and as a matter of respect one of its giant ribs were on display at Mulgrave Castle…however some naive folk believed this was actually the jawbone of a whale!
The woods are also home to fairies…and if you look closely you may be lucky enough to see one! One that you definitely don’t want to bump into however is old Jeanie of Mulgrave. She is said to reside in an old cave names Hobs Cave..and has a strong dislike to visitors (locals, tourists, white settlers alike!) She is said to curse anyone who interrupts her and terrifies any locals who bother her.
Many locals blamed Jeanie for any unsettling events or misfortunes which may have occurred. Now one local, young farmer who no doubt have devoured more than one shandy decided he was just the chap to put an end to Jeanie’s terrifying reign.
Now this young gentleman thought a lot of himself, and he was sure people would speak of his names for years to come as the handsome fella who defeated the Wicked Witch. So he jumped on his horse and made his way to Hobs Cave in search for the ugly old witch…but as he approached and started shouting her name, the sky went dark and eerily quiet.
All of a sudden Jeanie whooshed out of her cave and chased the farmer on his horse. She was hot in his heels and there was no time to attack her…he must swallow his pride and get to safety.
Faster n faster he whipped his horse with Jeannie hot in his tail, angry and screaming incantations. Suddenly the farmer remembered that witches cant cross the water, so he made his way to the river all the time whipping and whipping his horse to gallop faster and faster.
Just as he got to the river he whipped his horse one last time and as he sprung off his back legs to cross the river the farmer screamed with delight for getting free of old Jeannie. But it wasn’t that easy…for even though Jeannie couldn’t grasp hold of the farmer, she snatched the hind flanks of the poor old horse and cut it straight in two!!
The lifeless back end of the horse was washed down the river, the front end lay lifeless of the river bank. The farmer had escaped..but it was said that no one ever spoke of Jeannie again and the villagers of Sandsend and Lythe adopted a “live and let live” approach…never blaming Jeannie of anything again.