Elf-shot by mermaids…

It’s a good theory that faeries are most strongly associated with the ‘Celtic Fringe’ (Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Wales) because these areas were not overrun by later beliefs that came with the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. Cumbria also largely missed out on the Saxons, so our traditions have a lot in common with the classic Celtic areas. But a perusal of a map, never mind a tome of folklore, shows that Cumbria has at least as many elves as faeries.

Dancing Elves (1866) by August Malmstrom
Dancing Elves (1866) by August Malmstrom

The word, ‘elf’ is derived from ‘alfar’, the Scandinavian word for diminutive supernatural types; they are, if you like, Viking faeries. There are several Elf Howes; the Elfa Hills; Elva Hill, Elva Plain and Elva stone circle; Elf Hall at Hallthwaites, Ellabarrow at Pennington, and lots more. Continue reading

The elven procession at Staveley

Early in the sixteenth century, a young man by the name of Simon Bell had just finished a long watch in his post as under-steward at Kendal Castle. It was quiet – painfully quiet – and Simon decided he needed company, and entertainment. He took a horse and rode up to Ambleside, where he met with friends and enjoyed a few welcome beers.

Riders of the Sidhe 1911
Riders of the Sidhe 1911

It was late by the time Simon set off for home, but he made good speed until he reached a cross-roads near Staveley, when his horse came to a halt and refused all efforts to move him. Simon heard noises around him and looked to see a procession of people ‘all below the middle stature’ who ‘came along the by-road as if their clog-soles had been purposely made of felt’1. Simon’s first thought that this could be a band of Scots, fleeing the recent ‘Battle of Flodden Field2, although if he had thought that there would be any about, he wouldn’t have left the castle in the first place. He hid in the nearby scrub. Continue reading

The Luck of Edenhall

Cumbria is home to a number of ‘lucks’, or drinking vessels that are believed to protect a home and its residents from ill fortune. Perhaps the most famous is the Luck of Edenhall.

Edenhall is a small village near Langwathby in the Eden valley, and it was the seat of the Musgrave family for several hundred years.

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The Luck of Edenhall, 13th century V&A Museum no. C.1 to B-1959

The Luck is a glass beaker, with blue, green, red and white enamel and gilding, in a case bearing the initials, ‘IHS’ – the Greek rendering of Jesus. The glass is believed to be of Syrian or Egyptian origin, and it was made some time around the 13th or 14th century; a similar one was gifted to the Cathedral of Douai in 1329. The combination of location and date strongly suggest that the glass was brought back from the Crusades. Continue reading

Corpse roads, faerie and ghostly goings-on

Cumbria isn’t alone in having a number of coffin paths, or corpse roads. These days, they’re footpaths between one village and another, sometimes marked with crosses and punctuated with low stone benches. The paths cross water at least once, intersect other paths, and are curiously unpopular amongst locals after dark. Their function until a hundred or so years ago, was simple: these are the routes taken by coffin-bearers to the nearest church with a burial ground. Some routes were just a couple of miles, others much longer, but all cover wild and largely uninhabited territory. Continue reading