The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near



25 minute podcast featuring Santa as 'The Shaman' 
(an antidote to over-commercialised 'Christmas' cheer):



Graunt that no Hobgoblins fright me
No hungrie devils rise up and bite me;
No Urchins, Elves or drunkards Ghoasts
Shove me against walles or posts.
O graunt that I may no black thing touch.
Though many men love to meet such.

John Day


The Knockers of the Mines

In Welsh faerie lore the 'Knockers' are spirits of the mines or caverns who make strange sounds deep in the earth and may try to prevent mining activities which disturb them. In the following account from George Borrow's Wild Wales (1862), a miner tells Borrow of such an experience:

"Do you like the life of a miner?" said I.

"Very much," said he, "and should like it more, but for the noises of the hill."

"Do you mean the powder blasts?" said I.

"Oh no!" said he, "I care nothing for them; I mean the noises made by the spirits of the hill in the mine. Sometimes they make such noises as frighten the poor fellow who works underground out of his senses. Once on a time I was working by myself very deep underground, in a little chamber to which a very deep shaft led. I had just taken up my light to survey my work, when all of a sudden I heard a dreadful rushing noise, as if an immense quantity of earth had come tumbling down. 'Oh God!' said I, and fell backwards, letting the light fall, which instantly went out. I thought the whole shaft had given way, and that I was buried alive. I lay for several hours half stupefied, thinking now and then what a dreadful thing it was to be buried alive. At length I thought I would get up, go to the mouth of the shaft, feel the mould, with which it was choked up, and then come back, lie down, and die. So I got up and tottered to the mouth of the shaft, put out my hand and felt - nothing; all was clear. I went forward, and presently felt the ladder. Nothing had fallen; all was just the same as when I came down. I was dreadfully afraid that I should never be able to get up in the dark without breaking my neck; however, I tried, and at last, with a great deal of toil and danger, got to a place where other men were working. The noise was caused by the spirits of the hill in the hope of driving the miner out of his senses. They very nearly succeeded. I shall never forget how I felt when I thought I was buried alive. If it were not for those noises in the hill, the life of a miner would be quite heaven below."


The Dog of Peace and the Fairy Man

I saw the figure of a man, and what appeared to be an animal of some kind, coming across the bog with great speed, in the direction of myself; the nature of the ground seemed to offer but little impediment to these beings, both clearing the holes and abysses which lay in their way with surprising agility; the animal was, however, some slight way in advance, and, bounding over the dyke, appeared on the road just before me. It was a dog, of what species I cannot tell, never having seen the like before or since; the head was large and round; the ears so tiny as scarcely to be discernible; the eyes of a fiery red: in size it was rather small than large; and the coat, which was remarkably smooth, as white as the falling flakes. It placed itself directly in my path, and showing its teeth, and bristling its coat, appeared determined to prevent my progress. I had an ashen stick in my hand, with which I threatened it; this, however, only served to increase its fury; it rushed upon me, and I had the utmost difficulty to preserve myself from its fangs.

'What are you doing with the dog, the fairy dog?' said a man, who at this time likewise cleared the dyke at a bound.

[ ….. some conversation, partly in Irish . . …]

But now with a whisking sound came running down the road a hare; it was nearly upon us before it perceived us; suddenly stopping short, however, it sprang into the bog on the right-hand side; after it amain bounded the dog of peace, followed by the man, but not until he had nodded to me a farewell salutation. In a few moments I lost sight of him amidst the snowflakes.

George Borrow From Lavengro Chapter XII

(Borrow’s delightful but often prosaic writings are sometimes suddenly enlivened by his encounters with gypsies, horse-whisperers, snake-tamers and other characters. The above is an autobiographical account of an incident from his childhood when he lived  for a time in Ireland).


The Vixen and the Oakman

The hounds were closing in on the fox and she was beginning to tire. As she slowed to a weary pace, the hawthorn tree said

“Jump up on me then run along the high stone wall”.

“I’m too tired to jump up” said Fox, “but thank you kindly”.

“There’s a water gap in the wall just here”, said Hawthorn, “squeeze through to the forest like Hedgehog does. They’ll have to go two miles around the wall to follow you”.

“I’m not a hedgehog”, said Fox. But then she heard the hounds and squeezed into the gap and eventually wriggled through, though she left much of her pelt on the stones.

“Thank you Hawthorn”, she said before limping off into the forest.

One of the hounds came to the gap and sniffed the scent of Fox. He lifted his head to bay, but Hawthorn dropped a bunch of haws into his throat and made him cough instead.

“Give her a chance” said Hawthorn, “you’re twice her size. She may be a vixen but she’s got good manners and doesn’t cough and splutter all over my roots.”

The hounds went round the wall into the forest and soon picked up the scent of Fox again. She was limping badly now and stopped to rest in the bracken.

“Oh Holly Tree, block the way behind me” she said.

But Holly was barren and did not answer, but beckoned. Fox slid away and made for a great oak.

“Please let me in” she pleaded. “I bring news”.

Oakman doubted Fox’s words but pulled her safe inside anyway, for he guards all forest creatures.

Once inside she gasped “Your mistletoe bough – men with axes – going to cut it down – I heard them say so.”

“You came through danger to tell us that?”

“Yes”, said Fox.

The hunt went past and Fox bathed her sore paws in Oak’s rainpool.

“Keep away from Barren Holly” said Oak as Fox left. She meant to.


Lake District, collected in the 1940’s.



In the old days before the dykes were made and the wet lands were drained they were full of boggarts and Will-o-the-wisps and such like, and folk dared not venture over the bogs in the dark.But there was one among all the uncanny things that made up for the rest. That was Tiddy Mun. He dwelt deep down in the green water holes and came out at evening when the mists rose. When he came out he came creeping like a limping lobelty with long white hair and a beard that was all matted and tangled all sheathed in grey so he could not easily be seen in the dark. But his whistle could be heard like a peewit laughing into the wind. He was not wicked like some of the others, but was eerie enough. But on wet seasons when the water rose to the people's doorsteps, the whole family would go out together and, shivering in the darkness, would call:

Tiddy Mun wi'out a name
Tha watter's thruff

And they would call this until the heard the whistling like a peewit across the marsh, and then they'd go home. Next morning the waters would be down. But then it was decided to drain the marshes, though the farmers would not have anything to do with it, for what would Tiddy Mun do then? But ditches were dug and the land got drier and drier and Tiddy Mun grew angry. Then the cattle began to die, and milk curdled and children pined and died in their mothers' arms. And they didn't know if it was the bogles or Tiddy Mun himself, so they all took a stoup each of water and came to the dyke edge and and poured the water out together chanting:

Tiddy Mun wi'out a name
Here's watter for thee, tak thy spell undone

They listened, but all was dead still with not a sound. Then a great wailing and whistling broke out and the sound of wailing babies, and all the mothers begged Tiddy Mun to lift his spell. And they felt cold hands touching them, and cold lips kissing them and the sound of soft wings fluttering in the dark. Then silence for a while until the sound like a peewit whistling across the marsh and they knew that Tiddy Mun was lifting the spell.

And every Full Moon they would go out with the stoups of water to say their rhyme. While they did this Tiddy Mun stayed for a while longer. But the land is all drained now and he has gone away. And the land is empty.

Thomas Stonehouse and The Hob

This story was told by an old labourer on the Musgrave Estate. About the year 1760 his grandfather, Thomas Stonhouse, lived at Hob Garth. He kept a flock of sheep, and perhaps a smallholding besides. He had a malicious neighbour, Matthew Bland, of Great Fryup, who one night, for fancied grievance, broke Thomas's hedge and let all his sheep loose.

Although Thomas hunted them all day, by nightfall he had collected only five out of forty and had caught so heavy a chill that he was in bed for days afterwards. Yet in the morning all his sheep were back in the field and new posts and fixings had been put into the broken hedge.The next night every one of Bland's cattle were turned loose and it was more than a fortnight before he recovered them all. 

Next day after this, all Stonehouse's sheep were again turned loose. Although his neighbours did their best to get the old man's sheep back, few were rounded up by the end of the day. But the next morning all but four were back in the field, and these were found dead, having fallen into a disused quarry. By now his neighbours were convinced that Hob was helping the old shepherd.

When he was well enough he went to the field to count the sheep and take some hay for them, as it was winter, then sat by the gate waiting for the friend who had promised to pick him up in his cart. As he sat there he was greeted by an old man of strange appearance with very long hair, very large feet, hands, eyes and mouth. He stooped as he walked with a long holly stick. He told Thomas that his lost sheep would be replaced when lambing-time came and that Matthew Bland would get what was coming to him. 

When his friend arrived in the cart he was surprised to see Thomas talking to the empty air. He thought the old shepherd's mind was beginning to wander.  When lambing-time came, though winter had returned for a brief, bitter spell, Bland lost many lambs, but Thomas lost none, in fact many of his ewes had twins. 

As the saying goes, "When t'hobman did tak ti yan, ya war yal reeght i' t' lang-run."

(R. Blakeborough, 
Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire, 1898)



The Pixies, as the fairies of Devon and Cornwall are usually called, were often said to lead people astray. The term ‘Pixy-Led’ was used to describe this occurrence. In the The Western Daily Mercury newspaper for 6 June 1890 there is an account of one of a group of men working in a  woodland who left the others to go back for a tool as they went home for the evening. A strange feeling came over him and he heard voices and laughter all around him. That was the last he remembered. When he didn’t come home with the others his wife went to look for him. She found him wet and bedraggled sitting in a stream, not knowing where he was. He had been ‘Pixy-Led’. When he saw his wife he came to his senses and she told him he should have turned his pockets out or reversed his coat as this was a defence against the pixies. The newspaper report mentions others who were led astray in this way and remained under the spell of the pixies until dawn.

In other parts of the country, fairies are said to lead travellers astray with lights such as the will-o-the-wisps on marshes. These tales don’t usually give a reason other than mischievousness for the practice. But this tale from Yorkshire does:

A tailor once boasted that he would like to catch a fairy and keep her captive. On his way home one evening he somehow lost his way. He dropped his scissors and couldn’t find them. Other items in his work bag fell away into the twilight. Then he saw a beautiful girl holding a light. He called to her to help him but she didn’t move, so he went towards her.  But as he got nearer she seemed to get farther away. He followed her and the light seemed at one moment very close but the next moment far distant. She led him here and there for several hours, then disappeared leaving him utterly lost and bewildered in the darkness.


Mermaids and May Dew

John Reid loved Helen Stuart, but she thought she could do better. But if she wouldn’t consider him, he would consider no other. So he bided his time.

There was a custom among the girls to go out early on Mayday morning to gather May Dew. John also rose early, before dawn, on that morning and watched the Sun rise by the Dropping Cave where wishes might be granted if you encountered the Mermaid.

As the morning filled with light, John heard an unearthly voice singing. It was coming from the rocks where the sea washed into the cave. So John went down into the back of the cave and followed the ledge to its entrance. There he saw her, her hair hanging down her back, and he was spellbound by her song and by the sight of her. He might have remained mesmerised but she was looking the other way or her spell might have made him cast himself into the rocky water to swim to her. But the thought of Helen gathering the May Dew saved him. He followed the ledge through the side of the cave and down onto the beach so that he could approach the Mermaid from the seaward side.

When she saw him her voice changed and the song near froze the blood in his veins. He held his ground for a moment to gain his resolve, then approached her.

“Man what with me?”, she said in a voice that was both enticing and repelling, so that he felt that he hovered briefly between and solid world and the water world, though he held on to the formula that the lore he had learned required when dealing with Mermaids. He replied:

“Wishes Three”

He asked that he would never be drowned at sea, as his father had been, and this was the traditional first wish, and in the Mermaid’s power to grant.

He asked that he would prosper in all his undertakings at sea. This, rather than the desire for specific wealth, was also traditional and might be influenced by the Mermaid’s powers.

The third wish should be unstated, but must have to do with water. So it was well that the gathering of May Dew by Helen was on his mind.

“Quit and have!”, she said, “And unbar my way to the sea”.

So John retreated and the waves washed over the rocks and she was away.

He climbed up onto the knoll above and across to the place known as Lovers Leap where he found Helen telling her friend about a strange dream, that she had been gathering the May Dew and had heard an unearthly song and seen John Reid on the beach below the knoll, and the words of the song spoke to her and the drops of dew turned into a shower of gold. As the dream ended she saw the Mermaid sliding through the waves of the sea.

Now John came to her through the mounds where primroses blossomed and spoke too of having seen the Mermaid. The last time she had been seen was when John’s father had drowned. So Helen was fearful, and she said,

“Do not tell, for they thrive ill who carry tales from the Other World to this.”

Helen was so affected by the events of that morning that she allowed John to walk her home, and the bond was forged, and on the next May Day they were betrothed.
(adapted from: Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland
Hugh Miller, Edinburgh 1872)


Faërie Ointment

It is a common theme of tales of faery that a special ointment is put on the eyes of their babies to enable them to see things that humans can’t see. Sometimes humans get to use the ointment, but if they are found out they are made blind by the faeries.  This theme occurs in stories from many different locations and with some variations, Here’s part of a Shetland tale that contains it:

On another occasion when Kirstan was among the Trows, she had to dress a baby and one of the grey men brought a box of curious ointment with which the child was to be anointed. While doing this Kirstan chanced to put up her hand to her eye and wiped some of the ointment onto it. From that time her sight was so keen that she could see a boat on the ocean twenty miles away and could tell the position and features of every man in it. One day a trowman met her on the hill and says to her
“Ye travel light and brisk for sae auld a wife.”
Never suspecting who he was she replied
“It’s my güde sight that helps me alang.”
“And which eye do ye see best upon, güde wife?” he asked.
Kirstan told him and he instantly put his little finger in the eye and she was blind in it ever after.

(from ‘Marie Kirstan the Midwife’)

Humans called to look after faërie babies sometimes get to use the ointment in this way. It does not always confer sharp-sightedness, as here, but usually gives humans the ability to see faeries, or see into the faërie realm, when others can’t.

The most common reason given for blinding is when humans see ‘invisible’ faeries stealing goods in the market and challenge them, thereby giving themselves away.

The desire to see into the Realm of Faery and so look beyond the edge of this world into the Otherworld, manifests itself in a number of ways. The theme of the magic ointment gained from the faeries themselves is one such. At the edge of what we know, or can know, the Otherworld beckons. Properly attuned, we might catch glimpses of it in the twilight, through the mist, or at special times of year. At other times, there is always the ointment, if you care to risk losing your sight altogether.


The Fairy Widower at the Crossroads

Jenny’s family were poor, and her cloak was tattered, and food was scarce, so her mother sent her to seek for a position, so she might earn her keep, and perhaps send some money home. So off she went. After walking a while she rested at a crossroads, pulling at some fern leaves that grew there.

Suddenly there was a man standing before her who asked her what she wanted. So she told him.

“That’s right Jane”, he said “and I’m here to offer you what you seek.”

Jenny started. No-one but her mother ever called her Jane, and she had never seen this man before.  But he said

“I’ve watched you looking at yourself in the dewpond from the other side.”

Then, pointing to some petals of violets in her hair, “and I’ve watched you help yourself to these violets of mine to twine in your tresses.”

Jenny didn’t know what to say, but the man continued, “Will you come to my house and look after my young child?”

She thought this was what she was seeking, so she said

“Yes, when should I come?”

“At once”, he replied.

She agreed then to go with him.

“Not yet”, he says, “You must swear my oath.”

Jenny looked frightened.

“Don’t worry”, he says, “you must kiss this fern leaf and say ‘For a-year-and-a-day I promise to stay’.”

So she kissed the fern leaf and said

For a-year-and-a-day
I promise to stay

and at that the man led her away.

They walked for miles until Jenny asked to stop and began to weep for tiredness.

“There are no tears of sorrow in my world”, the man said, and he took a fern leaf and drew it across her eyes. As he did so the tears disappeared and she found herself in another world where flowers glittered like gemstones in clear sunlight.

The man himself was transformed too and appeared to shine with translucent radiance as he led her through a forest to a clearing containing a large structure that might have been formed from trees, or from stone, or from a trick of the light. She could not decide. But here she was to spend a-year-and-a-day looking after a young child.

It seemed sometimes to Jenny that the time there was forever, as she could imagine no other time, and she came to love the child she cared for, and her every need was met.

But it also seemed that the year-and-a-day passed in no more than seconds when, at the end of it, she found herself suddenly back at the crossroads which appeared unchanged, except that the ferns had gone and instead some thistles grew there.

Around Jenny’s shoulders was a new cloak which always kept her warm when she was cold, and dry when she as wet, and snug when she wrapped it around herself to sleep. But it never became soiled or ragged or looked anything but new. And the violets in her hair were as pretty as her face and so it was not long before a farmer’s son found her and wed her, and she had her own children to care for.


The Gudeman o' Siggie Taft

It was said that the trows had taken against the people of Siggie Taft. Here's why:

There was once a member of this family riding his grey mare and driving a red deer along the misty slopes of Stakkaberg, which was noted as a place of great danger. But this man feared nothing. As he rode along he heard a voice out of the raging torrent:

Du 'at rides de grey and rins de red
Tell Tona Tivla 'at Fona Fivla
Is faan i' de Velyna Vatjna
The words stayed with him and, arriving home, and putting his horse in the stable, he repeated them out loud. At once an 'uncanny woman' leaped out of the door of the adjoining byre and away with her. As she went he heard her saying the words

O care and dole -
Dats my bairn has fallen
In the Churning Water
When he went into the byre he found a milking pan of strange design beneath the cow which the woman had left behind her. This was kept in the house for many generations and brought good luck to the household. But each night it had to be put, with a special prayer, into the cauldron pot that hung on a ringed chain by the Hearth.

One night this was not done, and it was left out.In the morning it had disappeared. Ever since the trows have taken against the people of Siggie Taft and their luck has ended.

  Adapted from (dialect modified)  Shetland Folk Book II



In The Colloquy with the Ancients, as St. Patrick and Caoilte are talking with one another, a lone woman robed in mantle of green, a smock of soft silk being next her skin, and on her forehead a glittering plate of yellow gold, came to them; and when Patrick asked from whence she came, she replied: “Out of uaimh Chruachna, or ‘the cave of Cruachan’.”

Caoilte then asked: “Woman, my soul, who art thou?” 

“I am Scothniamh or ‘Flower-lustre’, daughter of the Daghda's son Bodhb derg.”
Caoilte proceeded: “And what brought thee here?”

 “To require of thee my marriage-gift, because once upon a time thou promised me such.”
And as they spoke Patrick broke in with: “It is a wonder to us how we see you two: the girl young and invested with all comeliness; but thou Caoilte, a withered ancient, bent in the back and dingily grown grey.”

 “Which is no wonder at all,” said Caoilte, “for no people of one generation or of one time are we: she is of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who are unfading and whose duration is perennial I am of the sons of Milesius, that are perishable and fade away.”

 The exact distinction is between Caoilte, a withered old ancient - in most ways to be regarded as a ghost called up that Patrick may question him about the past history of Ireland - and a fairy-woman who is one of the Sidhe or Tuatha Dé Danann.


The Brown Man of the Muirs

Two friends went hunting on the moors for wildfowl. One of them strayed into some woodland where he had seen some birds descending. He thought he saw a movement in the distance, certainly not a bird but possibly a deer, and he walked towards it through the trees. Pausing at the bank of a stream, he saw a figure emerge from the trees on the other side of the stream. A man it was, and yet like a wild animal. He seemed to be composed of the very things of the woodland itself, of moss and bark and leaf-mould.  He was not so much seen as experienced by other senses than sight, sound and smell, although all of these senses were stimulated by him. So his voice, when he spoke, was harsh and strong:

“What do yer mean by coming here after the animals I have care of?”

His voice was terrible and yet it was enticing.

”Come over here and I’ll tell yer how to behave in my woodland.”

It was as if the hunter had no choice but to put down his gun and cross the stream. Just then he heard his friend’s voice behind him and turned around. When he looked back the figure across the stream could not be seen.

“Did you see that?” he asked. But his friend had seen nothing. When he told him what had happened, his friend was fearful.

“Oh, it’s lucky I came, if you’d crossed the stream he would have torn you apart! It’s only that water that saved you. We’d better go and forget hunting for today.”

But as they were leaving a bird flew up from the undergrowth. The hunter lifted his gun and fired, bringing down the bird. But as he did so his arm froze and the chill never left it. It was said that he was cursed by the ‘Brown Man of the Muirs’ and he pined away and died soon after.

Scottish Borders/Northumberland.  Passed on by letter to Walter Scott. 
Said to have happened in 1641.


The Watchers by the Well

The folk tale ‘The Watchers by the Well’ has an eerie quality of old magic about it. Its ‘frame’ narrative is about a man living alone in a forest full of wood and water spirits. He decides to look for a wife, but chooses one who appears to be unsuitable for the life he lives in the haunted wood. But he marries her anyway. Problems soon begin to occur as she wilfully interferes with the various magical defences around the cottage. The outcome of the story is that she has to learn how to live in this place and the learning process is the chief part of the plot of the tale. But the tale is also of great interest because of the various magical elements it contains. These include:
Ribbons by the Well

Ribbons, rags and other items such as pins were common around holy wells either as offerings or as magical tokens. Ribbons function here as a way of keeping the ash tree in his place. But when the wife takes them to put in her hair the tree attacks the house and is not to be seen anywhere the next day.

Ash Tree

Ash trees often appear in tales as malevolent or aggressive spirits that have to be contained or protected against. Whereas beech trees are often seen as benevolent. Tree lore is a field that needs more detailed exploration.

Wise Woman

‘White Mary’ lives nearby and is able to put right what the inexperienced wife has spoiled. She is a more positive teacher than the husband.

White Mary stood godmother after she’d filled the gaps in the stones into the wood, and rebuilt the wishing well with mosses and herbs, and the sweet water was gushing out in its old slender spout, and there was a little ash tree nodding above it with seven ribbons.”

She is the archetypal fairy godmother, white witch and magical helper. As well as building magical defences around the house and the well she teaches the wife how to live safely in a dangerous place of spirits and dark presences.
Nick-Nicky- Nye

He is the water spirit whose green eyes frighten the wife when she sees them looking up from beneath the waters of the river. She makes the mistake of showing him her fear and so cannot wash her clothes in the river. Though she learns how to live with the other threats, Nicky is never contained. When he tries to grab her baby she needs the combined efforts of her husband, White Mary and the spayed spaniel bitch to help her.
The Spaniel

The ‘white and gold spannel’ of this story is an essential element in the protection of the house. Spayed spaniel bitches are attested elsewhere as possessing magical powers and as defenders from malevolent spirits. She keeps Nicky at bay and after the attack on the baby she eventually drives the spirit further down the river away from the house. When the ash tree attacks she defends the house and a gnawn branch is found the next day when the tree has gone. The spaniel also stands guard after the magical configuration of stones is moved by the wife.

The tale is magically evocative of the haunted forest and the way of life of those who live there with its other inhabitants. The husband, with the help of White Mary, knows exactly how to do this. But the wife has to learn. The use of standard folk-tale motif of the ‘disobedient wife’ perhaps exaggerates her wilfulness in failing to follow the proper observances. She initially tramples White Mary’s good-luck nosegay into the ground, moves the ‘untidy’ stones and kicks the spaniel. The husband’s attempt to teach her how to behave by beating her owes more to the standard tale format than to the lessons she has to learn to survive in the haunted wood. But she does learn. And what she learns is something akin to The Fern Law of Faery. She learns to live with the wood spirits, bogles and the like. At the conclusion of the tale the spaniel comes to sit by her at the fireside indicating the completion of the learning process.


This tale appears in Katherine Briggs’ Dictionary of British Folk Tales {Part A Vol 1. pp 554-560}. It was collected by Ruth Tongue from a travelling gipsy but assigned to the Welsh-English border area. Another tale, featuring the same characters and haunted wood, but before the wife has arrived, is ‘The Harbourer and the Hare’ but this tale was collected in a different part of the country.


The Wondrous Wood

Once there was a wild and wicked warlord who ruled his territory fiercely so that all feared him and his band of retainers and unwillingly did his will. Worse still, he was lecherous and lustful and no girl or young woman was safe from him.

Within his territory was a forest, and within that a wondrous wood that no-one ventured into for it was deemed to be a perilous place. In the forest, not far from the wood, lived an old lady with her grand daughter. She span yarn and teaching the girl to do the same. On market days the old lady would take yarn to sell or to trade for food and other goods. She went alone and left the girl in the house, especially now that she had become of an age where she might attract the attentions of the tyrant.

But one market day the old lady was too ill to go to market so the girl was sent to trade quickly for some essential food and then to return without dallying. But as she came to the edge of the forest the tyrant was out riding and he saw her. She turned back but could see no way of escape without straying into the perilous wood. So she went into it until she came to a great oak barring her way. She stopped and paid her respects, then asked leave to pass. There was a shiver of leaves and she saw a way ahead through the trees.

She walked thro’ the wood where the oaken tree stood
And she curtsied did she to the oaken tree
And he let her go down to the town, the town
From the wood, the wonderful wood.

The tyrant followed her into the wood, but when he came to the great oak tree he slashed with his whip and tried to pass. As he did so a large branch came crashing down and killed him stone dead.

He rode through the wood, where the oaken tree stood
And he cursed, did he, at the oaken tree
And he took out his blade to capture the maid
But a bough fell quick and it broke his neck
In the wood, the wonderful wood.

When he didn’t return, his men came after him. But the wood closed about them and they were never seen in the world again.

O they rode to the wood where the oaken tree stood
To cut down the tree, the oaken tree,
Then the tree gave a groan and summoned his own
For the trees closed about and they never got out
Of the wood, the wonderful wood.

As for the girl she returned safely from market. So that was alright, wasn’t it?

Collected in Warwickshire from Miss Lily Kingston Streetly in 1916.


The Wal at the Warld's End

This Scots dialect tale has more in common with 'Three Golden Heads' than others with the 'Well at the World's End' (and similar) titles.

Here the bonny king's daughter arrives at the well and it is too deep to dip the bottle in. "Three scaud men's heads" ask her to wash and dry them with her apron and she does so. They then dip the bottle in for her and also confer wealth and beauty upon her.

The ugly queen's daughter is then sent but refuses to wash and dry the men's heads. She is made even more ugly and blighted with further afflictions.

What is going on here? Is this a fertility theme? In George Peele's 16th century play which employs these folk-tale sources, the verse reference:

Fair maid white and red
You shall have some cockle bread
refers to a bawdy term at the time where "kneading cockle bread" was a term for female masturbation. The actual reference seems to be to the fact that the maid will get a husband. This is the case with both daughters here, though one gets a prince and the other a poor cobbler who beats her. Does each girl have to confront maleness in order to make the transition to marriage? If so it is simply a variant on the 'kissing the frog' theme which is linked to the other 'Well at the World's End' stories.

This is an aspect emphasised, also, by the fact that each of the girls is offered a ride on a pony "over Hecklepin Heath" on the way to the well, but only the 'bonny' daughter accepts the ride.