Boggle Hole – Robin Hoods Bay

Boggle Hole cave

“My mammy bid me gan to bed,
My daddy he said, No,’
My mammy said, if I wad na gan,
She would fetch the Boggle-Bo”

 Boggle Hole is a cave in the cliffs at Robin Hood’s Bay, 5 miles to the south of Whitby. The cave has given its name to a YHA youth hostel, which was originally a water mill located in a narrow stream gully running down into the bay. Although the location is somewhat isolated, it is on a scenic and popular stretch of the coastline.

 The Boggle Hole cave itself is located in the cliffs immediately alongside the gully, on its south side. In the past the cave appears to have been larger, but at some point much of the roof has collapsed, leaving an open cleft running back into the cliff. The constant action of the tides, and winter storms are the likely cause of the collapse, undercutting the cave sides until they could not support the roof. In its original state the cave would have been similar to the Rev. Young’s description of the Hob Hole cave at Runswick bay, further up the coast. (see Hob Hole post).


 Unfortunately very little folklore has survived in connection with the Boggle Hole cave, except that it was believed to be the home of a ‘Boggle’. In northern folklore, a Boggle was a spirit or ghost of some kind, often mischievous or frightening. The boggle name seems to have been applied to a variety of supernatural beings, but it has its origins in the Old English word ‘bugge’, meaning a Hob goblin or sprite. This bugge-boggle-hobgoblin fits in with the wider tradition of Hobs found across the North York Moors region. There is a reference to this Boggle having originally lived in Robin Hood’s Bay village, but it caused so much trouble that it was eventually banished to this cave, almost a mile further along the shoreline. This is quite a common folklore theme, where a troublesome spirit has to be ‘laid’, usually by a priest using prayer and ritual to confine the spirit to a certain location. It is also worth noting that this is the nearest cave to the village, as the geology of the cliffs elsewhere in the bay does not seem to be suitable for the creation of this type of sea cave.


 This seems to be all the information we have about this particular cave Boggle, however there does appear to be some similarities with two other spirit haunted caves further up the coast. The Boggle Hole cave has a similar setting and association with Robin Hood’s Bay village, as the Hob Hole cave does with Runswick Bay village. Both caves are also located next to steep sided gullies with streams running down them – a feature also common to the ‘Boggart Hole’ sites in Lancashire, as highlighted by Simon Young (see this PDF article). Both locations may also share a link with the regions Old Wife or Carlin figure, as there is a Carlin Close on the slopes of Runswick Bay and a Carlin Bank Wood in the stream valley leading down to Boggle Hole. Like the Robin Hood’s Bay Boggle, the Runswick Bay Hob was also said to have lived in the village (in a stream gully there) or in various caves further south along the shore. At Sandsend further up the coast, another steep sided ravine runs in land, and this was also home to a Hob spirit (sometimes referred to as fairy or witch) called Jeanie, who lived in ‘Hob’s Cave’ next to a waterfall and stream there.

 This might suggest that the fishing communities on this stretch of coast each had their own Hob/Boggle spirit dwelling in a cave next to a stream flowing into the sea. The original purpose of these coastal Hobs is lost in the mists of time, but they may have originally been seen as a type of helpful guardian spirit – who was able to ensure a good catch, and the safety of the fishermen while out at sea. (See the Runswick Hob Holes post for more on this). These cave dwelling ‘Guardians’ may have been a relic of the Norse belief in Landvaettir spirits who protected certain areas of land and coast. The presence of running water connecting the cave locations to the ocean might have also been seen linking their shrines on land to the realm beneath the waves.

Looking back from Boggle Hole cave to Robin Hood’s Bay village

 Runswick, having been the more isolated fishing village seems to have clung on to it superstitions longer . While during the Middle Ages, Robin Hood’s Bay was actually a busier port than Whitby. This commercial activity, rather than just fishing, may have led to the demise of old beliefs and superstitions much earlier. The banished boggle perhaps being a faint memory of those times.

What’s in a name?

 The origins of the Robin Hood’s Bay name is regarded as something of a historical puzzle today. The location is some distance from the traditional areas connected with the legendary outlaw, and there is no reason to connect him with the Yorkshire coast. It has been suggested that as the stories of Robin Hood became more and more popular around the country during in Middle Ages, people began to attach the outlaws name to existing place names which suggested a connection with him.

Robin Hood

 One of the early candidates for a historical Robin Hood was a Robert Hood, who was outlawed at York in the year 1226. In the following years, this Robert Hood was also referred to in documents as Hobbe Hod, Hob being a short version (or pet name) for Robert, as was Robin. The earliest reference to Robin Hood’s Bay appears to be in a letter from around 1322, in which it is referred to as “Robyn oede Bay”. Stories of Robin Hood seem to have been in circulation by this time, so the Robin Hood’s Bay name perhaps dates from the late 1200’s. This raises the question as to what was the bay called before this time?

 As noted above, there seems little to connect Robin Hood with this bay and small port on an isolated stretch of the Yorkshire coast. Originally the Robin Hood’s Bay name only referred to the actual bay, not the village, which was known as Bay Town. So this was seen as the bay belonging to Robin Hood. Folklore tells us that the bay was the dwelling place of a Hob/Boggle spirit, while the historical Robert (Robin) Hood was also referred to as Hobbe Hod. Did the earlier name of the bay perhaps include this Hob element? like the Hob Hole name in Runswick Bay further north? A name such as ‘Hob’s Bay’ would have been the kind of local name which could easily become linked with Robin (Hob) Hood when the popular ballads and stories reached the Yorkshire coast. Pushing this speculation a little further – a common feature of Hob stories is that he is presented with a cape or hood, which prompts him to leave the area where he has been active (Henderson, 1879). Could there be an echo of this in the Hob/Boggle leaving to live in the cave?. Obviously this can only be speculation, but worth highlighting as an alternative origin for the name.

 It has also been suggested that in the past there was some confusion or crossover between the ballad stories of Robin Hood, and the belief in Robin Goodfellow – a mischievous puck or hob-like spirit, who inspired his own ballads and tales such as The Mad Pranks and Merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow, published in 1628. Both Robins helped good people who were in need, but also played tricks or punished those who were unworthy. This is a common fairy attribute, which was perhaps merged into the character of Robin Hood, while the helpful hairy ‘Goodfellow’ reminds us of the North Yorkshire Hobs.

From hag-bred Merlin’s time have I
thus nightly reveld to and fro:
And, for my pranks, men call me by
the name of Robin Good-fellow:
Fiends, ghosts, and sprites
That haunt the nights,
The hags and goblins doe me know,
And beldames old,
My feats have told,
So Vale, Vale, ho, ho, ho!

 Today, Boggle Hole is often busy with walkers and tourists passing by the cave, but before the water mill was built higher up the ravine this would have been an isolated and quiet spot by the sea – perfect for any retiring Boggle or Hob.

Photo edit to show how the Boggle Hole cave may have looked in the past

After thoughts
 It has been suggested that the boggle story may have been created to keep people away from the cave if it was used by smugglers, however there is no evidence that the cave was used for this purpose. It is also thought that most people in the district would be aware of the smuggling, or even involved in it at some level, and so such a story would serve no real purpose. The more detailed folklore connected with the Hob Hole cave at Runswick also lends supports to the Boggle Hole folklore.

The 1322 letter which mentions Robyn Oede Bay is a complaint against the men of that port who ‘hijacked’ a Belgium fishing boat. So there is a possibility that the name originated as a kind of jokey reference used by these bay dwellers, who saw themselves as ‘Robin Hoods’ of the sea.

Henderson, W. (1879) Folklore of the Northern Counties.
Young, S. (2014) What is a Boggart Hole?
PDF at

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