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Malhamdale river - Who knows what's hiding in the low lying mist

Folklore of the Dales

Sunday 18 July, 2021, by

The Yorkshire Dales is an expansive and beautiful place with magnificent views and sights, both above and below ground. But not everyone knows about the area’s hidden folklore from hobgoblins and boggarts to giants and the ferocious Barguest! Join us in learning a little more of the stories and legends that can be found in the Dales.

Hobgoblins and Boggarts

An image of the Buttertub Pass
Who knows how many boggarts are hidden in the Buttertub Pass – Credit: YDNPA

Hobgoblins are said to look like small hairy men and regularly interact with humans, whether that be to help or to hinder them! Hobgoblins are often associated with mischief, with some becoming incredibly problematic for families. Households were thought to have their own hobgoblin that could help around the house if treated well. It’s said that a well-looked after hob could finish household chores in the night while the family slept.

An angered hob, however, could be impossible to get rid of if it wanted to punish and trick those who went against it. It would follow a family wherever they moved if they tried to get away. It would make milk go sour, remove things from the home, or even cause animals to become lame – so it’s best to stay on the good side of one of these emotion-fuelled creatures.

An angered hob is known as a boggart and is most commonly heard of in Yorkshire and Lancashire, inhabiting cloughs, small water-carved valleys, and potholes.

Fun fact: The hob was transformed in the fantasies of Professor J R R Tolkien into a hobbit.

Kelpie of the River Ure and The Strid

A photograph of the bubbly water of The Strid flowing through the rocks
The bubbling Strid, let’s hope it’s not a kelpie – Credit: Andy Kay

A kelpie is often seen as a beautiful white horse that walks alongside tired travellers until yield to temptation and climb onto it’s back. Then the creature gallops off at breakneck speed and plunges into one of the deep pools in the river, drowning its hapless rider. There are tales of two kelpies in our area: one wanders along the banks of the Ure at Middleham looking for its next victim, and the other is seen appearing from the foam of The Strid, just below Bolton Abbey, considered as one the most dangerous stretches of water found in the world. Very fitting for a creature as feisty as the Kelpie

A horse is not the only form a kelpie is known to take, however. It is said they also have human forms, one of a beautiful woman and one of a burly man. The kelpie itself is a Scottish-based folktale so it seems odd for two to be mentioned in Yorkshire – maybe they heard all the good things about the Dales and decided to visit. Or maybe a dangerous place like The Strid is the perfect habitat for these allusive creatures.

The Barguest of Trollers Gill

An image of a wooded area in the Dales with light creeping through
Let’s hope there isn’t a barguest hiding in these woods – Credit: Tim Foxford

The barguest is a fairly well-known creature of legend, with many regions of the UK having their own version. The Demon of Tidworth, the Black Dog of Winchester, the Padfoot of Wakefield, and the Barghest of Burnley are all forms of this monstrous beast. A huge, long-haired black dog with massive eyes and sharp claws, some say that one look at the hound can turn you into stone or be a portent of death.

Our local barguest is said to inhabit Trollers Gill in Wharfedale, along with many other mysterious creatures such as fairies, trolls and sprites. Some theories suggest that it is our Barguest that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes story “The Hound of the Baskervilles” rather than the spectral dogs that roam Devon’s Dartmoor National Park. Conan Doyle could have heard the legend from his mother, Mary, who was a keen teller of folktales and lived in Masongill at the time of writing his famous book.

The origin of the name varies depending on who you ask. Some say it means ‘town-ghost’, others that it comes from the German Berg-geist – ‘mountain ghost’ – or Bär-geist – ‘bear-ghost’.

Churn Milk Peg

An image of a wooded area surrounded in purple flowers
Is Churn Milk Peg around? – Credit: Paul Harris

Churn Milk Peg is the name of the old hag who is found guarding nuts to make sure that children don’t come along and pick the unripe ones. Peg is said to wear peasant clothing and seen smoking a pipe as she guards the thickets. She’s said to mostly guard hazelnuts due to the painful stomach aches caused by eating unripe ones. Her name comes from the term for the pulp of unripe nuts which is called ‘churn milk’

This tale was most likely made to keep kids away from eating unripe nuts and possibly getting ill because of it, but who knows – maybe Peg is out there somewhere with her pipe.

Giant of Penhill

An image of the view across Upper Wensleydale from Sedbusk across to Hawes in early morning autumn sunshine
A view similar to what the giant could see – Credit: Mark Sadler

A long time ago there lived a giant in Wensleydale. This giant, whose name is unknown, is said to be a descendent of Thor, god of thunder. This nameless giant lived in a castle that sat upon Penhill from which he could see all of Wensleydale. Every day the giant would take out his hound called Wolfhead to round up his prized pigs and take them through the gates of the castle. The giant loved his pigs and would often comment on how fat and valuable they were.

One day while rounding up his pigs the giant noticed a flock of sheep and commented on how they are nothing compared to his valuable pigs. He decided to tell his hound to attack the flock. Quickly, a shepherdess named Gunda came over and begged the giant to stop his hound as the sheep were all her family had. The giant heard the girl’s pleas and refused, being the cruel man he is. Eventually, the girl angered the giant so much that he had enough and killed her.

Even though his hound Wolfhead was his only friend the giant would eventually kill him too. As you can tell, this giant wasn’t liked by anyone and was feared by everyone except one old man. This brave man would be the end of the giant with the help of the doomed shepherdess, Gunda, and the betrayed best friend, Wolfhead, both somehow alive and well. When the giant saw the two in front of him he was astonished. Just as realisation dawned, Gunda let go of Wolfhead, who pounced on his former friend, pushing them both off the cliffs of Penhill, never to be seen again. It’s unknown how the old man brought both Gunda and Wolfhead back or even who he is but it’s safe to say he saved a lot of people.

The fairies of Janet’s Foss

An image of Janet's Foss with a walker stood in the foreground
The beautiful dance floor of Janet and her fairies – Credit: YDNPA

The fairies of Janet’s Foss is most likely the most famous folktale from the heart of the Dales.

Janet’s Foss (foss is Norse for force) is said to be the home of fairies who play and dance around the gladed pool at the foot of this lovely waterfall. The name comes from their queen who lives in a cave behind the fall and was first recorded at least two hundred years ago with signs showing it has carried the name of the fairy queen for much longer.

There are also tales of there being a wraith, a type of ghost or spirit, at the waterfall. Visitors have reported encountering a green mist above the pool slowly moving around. Whether these claims are true or not is unknown, but it’s most likely just a natural phenomenon… or is it?

Angel of Semerwater

A photograph of Semer Water lake in autumn Wensleydale
The watery grave of the Semerwater town – Credit: Wendy McDonnell Photography

This tale states that there was originally a town where Lake Semerwater currently sits, but it was submerged because of the townspeople’s selfishness.

It all started when an old homeless man came to town and went door to door begging for something to eat or drink. With each door, he went to he was turned away and shunned. Eventually, the old man walked up to the door of a poor yet welcoming couple who let him in and gave him a fresh oatcake and a drink, even though they didn’t have much for themselves. As the old man was leaving the nice couple’s home, he transformed into a bright, beautiful angel. As he rose up into the air he uttered a curse on the town:

“Semerwater rise, and Semerwater sink, and swallow the town all save this house, where they gave me food and drink.”

And with that the lake rose up and swallowed the town and its inhabitants, only sparing the couple that fed and cared for the old man. Some say you can still hear the town’s bell ringing from the lake.

There are also tales that say a large stone north of Semerwater is there because of a battle between a giant and the Devil. Said to have been thrown by the giant, it is known as the Carlow Stone. A stone thrown by the Devil is said to have landed on the slopes of Addleborough and still holds the Devil’s claw marks. This stone was accurately named the Devil’s Stone.

Richmond drummer boy

An image of what's left of the walls of Richmond castle
The ruins of Richmond castle – Credit: YDNPA

Everyone who’s been to Richmond should recognise this tale. The legend says that sometime in the 18th century there was a previously undiscovered tunnel, found to connect Richmond Castle and Easby, by the ruined abbey. Eager to discover the exact route and destination of the tunnel, soldiers persuaded one of the regimental drummer boys to go down into the tunnel, due to him being one of the smallest people there. He was given instructions to walk along the tunnel whilst continually beating his drum so that the route could be followed above ground.

The drum’s beat could easily be heard leaving the enclave of the castle, heading across Market Place and along Frenchgate, to the banks of the River Swale and heading towards Easby. However, about half a mile from Easby Wood, the drumming ceased and was never heard again. No one knows what happened to the boy, but he was never seen again. Now the only marker of the tunnel above ground is the Drummer Boy’s Stone, marking the spot where the drumbeats were last heard.

One tale says that the drummer boy actually come across the tomb of King Arthur and his knights and was asked to join them in their deep sleep to wait for when the king is needed to save England.

If you’d like to try and find these ominous creatures for yourself, why not visit our walks page to help find a walk in the area for your monster hunt.


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