LAY OF THE LAND

 The Lay of the Land website is a record of visits to folklore and archaeological sites – mostly in the North and East Yorkshire region.

 Having had an interest in archaeology, local history, and folklore for over forty years, many sites have been visited during that time, but there is always a ‘to do list’. With more time available i decided to create a website to record these visits, along with my thoughts and speculations about the locations.

 The Lay of the Land seemed an appropriate name for the website as the phrase usually refers to the physical features of the land, but a ‘lay’ can also mean a story, which fit nicely with the folklore attached to places in the landscape. There is also a wee nod to the punk band The Fall, and their ‘quirky’ track of the same name.

 Much of the folklore information comes from old books written in the 1800’s – but this was a time when the belief in witches, ghost, fairies, and Boggarts etc. were dying out. The authors rarely recorded the folklore in detail, usually providing only a passing mention to illustrate the rustic nature of the inhabitants of a place. It may be interesting to read a piece of folklore in an old book, but to actually visit the location connected with it puts it briefly back into the real world. It naturally raises questions like why did people believe a giant threw this particular rock? or why did they believe fairies lived in this cave? You are stood in a place where these kind of beliefs were once accepted as true, and they were just another part of the environment.

 Beliefs that seem odd to us today were once part of everyday life in the past. A different time and mind set, yet we are human just like them, so it should be possible to have some understanding of their thinking. Folklore sites existed because they served a purpose – the fairies in the cave were left small gifts in return for ‘luck’ (or to get rid to bad luck). the giants rock was the scene of folk rituals to try and ensure a safe child birth and the newborns health. Things that adversely affected peoples lives, but were seen as out of their control to some degree. In other cases folklore gave an explanation to natural curiosities in the landscape, or ancients sites where the history was unknown. Times have changed and the old folklore no longer serves a purpose, so it has been retired and stored away in old books.

 Reading another old book, i was struck by a comment made by Rev. Thomas Whitaker who was writing in early 1800’s. He quotes the author John Lucas (writing 80 years earlier) who speculated that the Reformation and the age of Enlightenment had created a world where Fairies, elves, and dwarfs, etc. were no longer seen. Whitaker then adds ….

“To quote such a passage is to give the history of a most important revolution in the human mind, whether for the better or worse I will not say. Superstition, indeed, is fled, but has left a vacant place in the minds of men for levity, presumption, and irrational credulity, which leaves, perhaps, to this enlightened generation little real cause of triumph.

 This is quite an extraordinary comment from the vicar of Blackburn and Whalley in Lancashire, yet he seemed to think that something important had been lost in the drive to root out superstitions and folklore.
 The Lay of the Land ‘tips its hat’ to the reverend, and if visiting these sites brings the folklore back into the landscape again, if only for a short while, – the Hob of Hobhole, Jenny Biggarsdale, the Elbolton Fairies, the Giant’s Lapstone, even the Trolls Aws! will not be forgotten.

 

Whitaker, T. (1823) A History of Richmondshire.

 

Folklore in the Landscape

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