PHILIP DAVIES tells of us the mystery surrounding the Bronze Age monument, Mitchell’s Fold Circle in Shropshire…
What is Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle?
Stone circles are an ever present part of the British countryside. The most famous of these is of course Stonehenge in Salisbury, but there are plenty of other stone circles around the country. Most are thought to have been built when humanity was only just starting out on the path of civilisation, whereas others have been rumoured to have been created through other, more supernatural means. Mitchell’s Fold on Stapeley Hill in the south west part of Shropshire is one of these latter type of stone circles.
Drought all About
Many years ago Shropshire was suffering a great drought. Crops were failing, livestock was dying and the local people were facing starvation and some very difficult times ahead. A passing friendly fairy took pity on the people of Stapeley, a village in South Shropshire, and left them a cow. Now as you would probably expect from a passing fairy, this was no ordinary cow, it was magic!
The next day the people of Stapely found the cow and placed it on the nearby hill for safekeeping. Thankful for the cow, but also very much aware that this was quite possibly another animal that would wither and die as most of their livestock had already done the people delicately started to milk the cow.
Much to the surprise of those milking the cow, she gave a plentiful supply of milk, providing enough of it so as to not only help the village that had been given the cow, but those further afield too! In fact there was so much milk that potential disaster was avoided and the people were saved from the imminent famine.
Now as I mentioned, this was a magic cow and as you may expect from gift from friendly fairies all this milk came with a condition: anyone who milked the cow could only ever fill one pail with milk for their family. If someone was greedy and tried to fill two then the cow would kick out or no more milk would be forthcoming. It was strictly one pail, per household, per day.
The Season of the Witch
As the legend of the magic cow grew so it came to the attention of an evil witch. The witch had it in for the people of Stapeley and had decided to take it upon herself to milk the cow dry and had come up with a cunning plan to get around the single pail of milk per household rule.
Dark clouds were gathering on the horizon and were met with great celebration. At last the long drought looked to be coming to an end! Crops would grow strong, livestock would once again thrive and the magic cow could perhaps be used to make life a little easier for the people of Stapeley. The evil witch saw this and knew that she would have to work quickly. She set out that evening looking to put her plan into action.
With the storm threatening to break at any point the people hunkered down in their houses and the evil witch climbed Stapeley hill and approached the cow. With lightening scissoring down from the sky and rain lashing around her she began to milk the cow.
The cow accepted the witch’s milking as easily as she had done so with anyone else. However, the cow started to become concerned as he witch seemed to be taking a long time, milking her for far longer than anyone else had done so, but with all the rain and dark clouds the cow found it difficult to see what was going on.
As time went on so the cow grew increasingly agitated and threw another glance backwards just as a flash of lightning lit up the area. It was then that she saw that rather than a milk pail, the evil witch was milking her into a sieve and milk was lying around the hilltop wasted in great puddles and being washed away by the storm. Realising she had been tricked the cow kicked out and ran away, putting the cackling laughter of the evil witch behind her.
The End of a Witch. The Start of a Legend
The next morning the people opened their shuttered windows and unlatched their doors, their first thought being the wellbeing of their cow on the nearby hill. The people climbed the hill as they had always done, each of them carrying a single milk pail, but this time there was no milk to be collected. The magic cow was nowhere to be seen and in its place stood a witch, cast into stone. The very same witch that had tricked the cow the night of the storm.
The people quickly realised what had happened (After all, you can’t trick a magic cow without some form of comeback) and although the cow had left, they were glad that she had stopped this evil witch from causing them any more harm. The witch was held fast in place and so the people built a stone circle around her petrified form in order to stop the witch from ever leaving Stapeley Hill.
As for what became of the magic cow that is now lost in time. The stone witch, however, can still be found surrounded by her stone sentries at the top of Stapeley Hill. Whether the witch lives on inside her stone prison is unknown, but reports of ghostly cackles heard around the area whenever the sky is black and the lightning flashes would certainly seem to suggest that she does!