Legends Of The Cotswolds
This article looks at a few of the more famous legends of the Cotswold region of England.
As the fighting commenced, the sound of frantic horses, beating drums and agonizing cries could be heard above the din, producing the prodigious noises of war heard all too often on English soil. This particular struggle, called the Battle of Edgehill, took place on a Sunday in October 1642, making it the first engagement of the English civil war. In the end, both sides claimed victory and hundreds lay dead on the field.
On the Christmas eve following the skirmish, farmers and townsfolk together with "certain wayfarers" were astonished to find themselves in the thick of a ghostly re-enactment of the entire siege from start to finish. The Battle of Edgehill would not be so noteworthy if not for the fact it's been repeated more than once by spectral armies. Respected churchmen of the day and high ranking officers of the King were among those who witnessed the spectacle.
So goes one of the more celebrated legends of the Cotswolds. This section of England is well known for its poster-perfect villages and correct English ladies who capitalize on the bed & breakfast market. But, it's also a region of intriguing folklore.
Instead of barring the gates against them, the people of Warwick Castle, north of Stratford, now spend their days welcoming strangers from foreign lands.
Stories have been handed down the generations about a dairymaid who lived at the castle in the fifteen century. Moll Bloxham was famous locally for the potency of her spells. Moll enjoyed illegal gains from cheating the villagers who bought butter and cheese from the castle dairy. In the beginning, townsfolk put up with her short weights in fear of her bewitching powers. Eventually however, she was summoned before the Earl and dismissed.
Cursing the Earl with each step, Moll raced to the top of the Beauchamp tower and locked herself inside. She began devising potions directed against her ex-employer, or at least that's how the legend goes.
Unsure how best to handle an angry witch, the Earl called three priests to his aide, pleading with them to confront Moll and take care of his predicament. When the door was finally broken down, the priests came face to face with a monstrous black dog, eyes blazing red and immense fangs snarling...but no dairymaid. All assumed she had turned herself into the hound with her sorcery. Instead of attacking the men, though, the hound rushed past them and hurled itself over the battlements and into the river below. The tempestuous spirit of Moll Bloxham remains imprisoned in the flowing waters of the river below Warwick castle.
A cousin to Stonehenge, the stone circle known as the Rollright Stones sit on a hill overlooking the village of Long Compton. Touted as a past meeting place for witches, there are about 60 stones in the circle, but there are those who believe it's impossible to accurately count them. Tradition tells of a baker who once went to the spot with a large basket of loaves to assist in the count. Determined to get the correct number, he carefully placed a loaf on every stone, but somehow even that surefire method failed.
Another well-known tale alleges the Rollright stones were once an invading king and his soldiers turned to stone by a powerful witch. As the king and his men tried to pass she chanted:
Seven long strides shalt thou take, and
If Long Compton thou canst see,
King of England thou shalt be.
And so the King confidently strode forward seven paces but as he did so a great mound of earth rose up blocking his view of the village. The witch concluded her chant:
As Long Compton thou canst not see
King of England thou shalt not be.
Rise up stick and stand still stone,
For King Of England thou shalt be none,
Thou and they men hoar stones shall be
And I myself an elden tree.
Beelzebub had his place in Cotswold tradition. He was often referred to as Old Nick or Old Scrat. It was commonly believed if a young girl looked into a mirror for a long time, the devil would come up from behind and peer over her shoulder, thus teaching her a frightful lesson about vanity.
Between Alcester and Stratford lies a hill, whose origins are steeped in myth. Legend says on September 21st, known as devil's nutting day, the devil was out gathering his share. He had collected a hefty bag full when he had the misfortune, (at least for a man in his position) to meet the Virgin Mary, who happened to be passing. The devil was so astonished to see her, he hastily threw down his bag of nuts before flying off. The nuts then magically turned into the hill called The Devil's Bag of Nuts.
Birds and animals are commonly found in Cotswold folklore. The robin's breast was said to have been scorched by hell-fire, as it brought a beak full of water to Christ on the cross. The robin was also considered a reliable weather indicator. His song in the morning meant rainfall before night; but in the evening, the robin's song foretold a clear day on the morrow. It was an ominous warning of impending death if a bird, especially a robin, dashed itself against the window of a house.
Should you wish to find the most haunted village in the Cotswolds, Prestbury, four miles from Cheltenham claims that honor. They offer a diverse assortment of spirits including: The Black Abbot, a cavalier on horseback, an old woman who peers into windows, a phantom shepherd, a cultured ghost who plays the spinet, and a gentlemen called Old Moses, among others.
Old Moses haunts a converted coach-house now called Walnut Cottage. He's partial to the dining room and turns up there most often. When challenged by the owner of the home the ghost answered, "Here's Old Moses! You see, I likes to look in sometimes." Thoughtful of him to explain his presence, though his grammar could use some work.