Author CHARLES CHRISTIAN tells us about the mysterious stories behind new book A Travel Guide to Yorkshire’s Weird Wolds: The Mysterious Wold Newton Triangle
Stand on Staxton Hill looking north and in front of you lies the Vale of Pickering. In the far distance is the purple-hazed, heather-covered uplands of England’s Yorkshire Moors and to the east lie the resorts of Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington. Behind you are the rolling acres of the Yorkshire Wolds, sloping away down to the market towns of Driffield and Beverley.
This charming rural landscape is holiday-maker country but it has a much darker side.
The weird history of Yorkshire’s Wolds
Here be dragons, werewolves, zombies, vampires, green skinned fairy folk, headless ghosts, screaming skulls, ancient warlords, miracle-working priests, very eccentric gentry, disappearing rivers, a black skeleton, sea serpents, shape shifters, enchanted wells, giant monoliths and a grid of ley lines. Why so much strange activity is found in one small, seemingly quiet backwater is a mystery. Take for instance the werewolves of Spital Ho.
Werewolf or wolves?
Originally Spital Ho, near Staxton Hill, was built to shelter wayfarers from wolf attacks but the wolves’ incredible cunning led to beliefs that they were in fact human beings who became wolves at night giving rise to the werewolf legend. Werewolves have made appearances in the area up until the 18th century when a huge wolf-like creature attacked a stage coach near the Wold’s village of Flixton. The last report of a werewolf was in the 1960s by a terrified local bus driver!
Apparently, the town of Filey was once terrorised by a dragon until it was tricked by the locals into eating some local sticky cake called parkin. This caused the dragon to jump into the sea to wash the cake from his teeth whereupon the locals ambushed it and it drowned. Filey Brigg’s rocks are the dragon’s fossillised bones and there are reports of sea serpents sighted off the Brigg.
And then there are the ghosts
Flamborough Head has not one but three ghosts: a spectral ‘White Lady’ and two female wraiths. One of these is Jenny Gallows who committed suicide by throwing herself down a pit. According to local legend, if you run round this pit nine times you will hear the sound of fairies. Unfortunately, when you complete the eighth circuit of the pit, the ghost of Jenny Gallows will rise from the pit and cry out, in a broad Yorkshire accent:
Ah’ll tie on me bonnet
An’ put on me shoe,
An’ if thoo’s not off
Ah’ll soon catch you!
The Hall at Burton Agnes, just off the A614, has a 19th century ghost in the form of Old Nance who on passing away wished to be buried in the Hall. Not unnaturally her sisters who lived there weren’t keen and did not comply. Old Nance made their lives such “a burden to them’ with her moanings and walking about the corridors they finally dug her up, decapitated her and left the skull on the hall table. Peace returned but every time they tried to remove the skull Old Nance returned until finally they created a niche in the brickwork where apparently the skull resides to this day.
Ganton Dale House, off the B1249, had ghosts so well known that during World War Two members of the Women’s Transport Service were given special dispensation, when driving military trucks across the Wolds at night, to take the far longer route to Scarborough rather than the direct road from Driffield via Staxton so they didn’t have to drive past Ganton Dale House in the dark.
Explanations of why this sleepy area should be so weird are possibly its ley lines, its disappearing river dubbed ‘The Waters of Woe’ or even the meteorite that fell to earth in Wold Newton in 1795! But that’s another story.
CHARLES CHRISTIAN is a professional writer, editor, journalist and science fiction/urban fantasy author. His most recent non-fiction books are A travel guide to Yorkshire’s Weird Wolds: The Mysterious Wold Newton Triangle and the Amazon.com top 20 bestseller: Writing Genre Fiction: Creating Imaginary Worlds – The 12 Rules. His website is www.urbanfantasist.com