The Barghest of Busky Dike Lane – Fewston

Busky-Dyke, the Busky-Dyke,
Ah! tread its path with care,
With silent step haste through its shade,
For “Bargest” wanders there!

Barghest Black Dog (Artist -Jaime Sidor)

  In his ‘Yorkshire Legends and Traditions‘ (written in the late 1800’s) the Rev Thomas Parkinson mentions the Barghest of Busky Dike Lane – just to the west of Fewston village, 7 miles to the west of Harrogate.

  The Barghest was a supernatural creature capable of assuming different forms, but often appearing as a very large and menacing black dog with glowing eyes. The rev. Parkinson had spent his childhood at Crag Hall near Fewston, so he would have heard tales of local ghosts and spirits, but by the time he came to publish his book in 1888, the tradition of the Fewston Barghest had faded, and the area changed dramatically with the building of a reservoir in the Washburn valley.

  Parkinson wrote …”Near Fewston, in the Forest of Knaresborough, is a spot named Busky or Bosky Dike – no doubt from the bushes, locally called ‘ busks ‘ or ‘ bosks,’ with which the sides of the narrow gill, through which the brook or dyke runs, were at one time covered. The place has now been denuded of its bosky appendages, and has at present no trace of the former dark and gloomy character which made it the haunt of the bargest, or boggart. Often was he seen, in days of old, promenading, with noiseless step, in the shade of the bushes and hedges, his long hair hanging from his sides, and his horrible eyes glaring upon the terrified wayfarer, and dragging with him his fabled chain. When pursued, he almost invariably disappeared at one particular place, where a large drain crosses the road. Of late years he has, however, never been seen. With the darkness of his haunt he has disappeared here, as else-where.

1853 OS map showing the area haunted by the Barghest (map credit NLS)

  Busky Dike Lane runs along the high ground on the north side of the Washburn valley. In the past this would have been quite an exposed route heading up into the higher moorland areas – just the kind of road haunted by the Barghest black dogs. The first edition OS map (1853) shows Busky Dike as the name of an isolated house mid way along the lane. The actual dike or stream running in a ‘narrow gill’ would seem to be 140m further along the lane heading west from the house, while the drain where the Barghest was said to disappear seems to have been alongside the old school house, 100m along the lane towards Fewston village. In this way the Barghest would have haunted a section of the lane between two watercourses, which tallies with the belief that these supernatural black dogs could not cross running water.

Even in mid summer the stream runs across the road

  Today, Bosky Dike Lane has regained some of its ‘dark and gloomy character’, with trees over hanging the narrow and little used road. The stream crossing the lane forms a pool by the road side, and then runs across the road surface before dropping down into the gill. A bend and dip in the road at this point also gives this location an isolated feeling, so it is perhaps not hard to see how it was once believed to be a Barghest haunted spot.

With silent step haste through its shade, For “Bargest” wanders there …

  Old stories relate that a direct encounter with a Barghest was often fatal, the person being either ripped to pieces or crushed to death. Others travellers only heard the sound of the dog following them in the darkness, its huge paws padding along the road, or its rasping breath close behind them. This was taken as an omen of death, either for that person or someone they knew. The origins of the black dog folklore are obscure, but there are stories of Roman Catholic priests performing exorcisms, and transferring the evil spirit into the body of a black dog. The dog was then led up into the hills, and buried in some isolated location. This old religious practice might explain the widespread belief in these dangerous supernatural black dogs (See the Trollers Gill Barghest for more information).

The Bosky Dike?

  After thoughts
  The Rev Parkinson wrote a poem about the Fewston Barghest in which he seems to include a couple of tantalising references to lost folklore in the area. Along with the Barghest, he mentions witches meeting at the Bestham Oaks, and Fairies dancing in Clifton Field. These are likely stories he heard in his youth when he lived at Crag Hall nearby.

Busky-Dyke, the Busky-Dyke,
Ah! tread its path with care,
With silent step haste through its shade,
For “Bargest” wanders there!

Since days when every wood and hill
By Pan or Bel, was crowned,
And every river, brook, and copse
Some heathen Goddess owned.

Since bright the Druid’s altars blazed,
And lurid shadows shed
On Almas Cliff and Brandrith Rocks,
Where human victims bled.

Hag-witches oft, ‘neath Bestham oaks,
Have secret revels kept,
And fairies danced in Clifton Field,
When men, unconscious, slept.

Dark sprite and ghost of every form
No man e’er saw the like
Have played their pranks at midnight hours,
In haunted Busky-Dyke.

There milk-white cats, with eyes of fire,
Have guarded stile and gate,
And calves and dogs of wondrous shape
Have met the traveller late.

And “Pad-foot” oft, in shaggy dress,
With many a clanking chain,
Before the astonished rustic’s eyes
Has vanished in the drain.

But lo, there now, as deftly reared,
As if by magic wands,
In superstition’s own domain,
A village school-room stands!

Where thickest fell the gloom of night,
And terror held its sway,
Now beams the rising sun of light,
And intellectual day.

Before its beams, its warmth, its power,
Let every phantom melt,
And children’s Gambols now be heard,
Where “fearful Bargest” dwelt.

Yet softly tread, with reverent step,
Along the Busky shade;
There ghosts our fathers feared of old
Will be for ever “laid.”

 Bestham or Beston, was the old name for the area forming the northern part of Fewston parish. The above reference to witches meeting at the Bestham Oaks is of interest because it likely refers to the Fewston women accused of witchcraft by Edward Fairfax in the 1620’s. The fascinating and disturbing account of the Fairfax families belief in witchcraft can be read in ‘Daemonologia : A Discourse on Witchcraft’ written by William Grainge in 1882.

  As for the fairies dancing in Clifton Field, this may refer to the area around Bland Hill to the south east of Fewston village, which in the past was a dispersed township called Clifton. 

Grainge, W. (1882) Daemonologia: A Discourse on Witchcraft as it was Acted in the Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax, of Fuyston, in the County of York, in the Year 1621.
Parkinson, T. (1888) Yorkshire Legends and Traditions Vol 1.

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