by Jonathan Rudd
There’s a lot of mysterious going’s on in Yorkshire! From werewolves near the coast to fairies down the bottom of the garden, our great county has many a strange tale to tell!
1. The Wold Newton Triangle
The mysterious Wold Newton triangle is an area of special paranormal interest, from Bridlington in the South, to the outskirts of Scarborough in the North and as far west as Ganton.
Long ago, this part of Yorkshire was once a haven for wolves which roamed the Wolds countryside, right up until the 18th Century. Reportedly, these beasts would dig up bodies from graves, which according to local legend would turn them into werewolves. There have also been sightings of zombies recorded here since the 12th Century.
One of its most fearsome inhabitants is the werewolf, known as “Old Stinker,” due to his bad breath. One night in the 1960s, a lorry driver was travelling down the remote road between Bridlington and Flixton, when a pair of red eyes appeared before him. At first he thought it was another vehicle – that is until a werewolf type creature crashed through his windscreen!
Another reason for mystical happenings in the triangle are “ley lines,” which are a special geographical alignment that are believed by some to be lines of hidden energy which are connected to the paranormal between ancient monuments such as The Rudston Monolith and Stonehange.
In the Wold Newton triangle lies the village of Rudston, which claims to be the oldest settlement in England. The monolith at its centre dates back to the early Bronze Age and was a place of worship for the Beaker people in around 2000BC. At 25m, it is the highest standing stone in Britain and located near the church. According to legend, the stone was thrown there by the devil and was worshipped by the tribe people in the area.
Another source of mystery in the Wold Newton Triangle is the Gypsey Race river, which flows through the area on its way to Bridlington harbour. This underground water course only occasionally rises above the surface, at the Great Wold Valley, located in the triangle, regardless of the weather. It is said that the Gypsey race flows the year before a major historical event and has done so prior to the English Civil War, The Black Death plagues and both world wars. Locals call this river “The Waters of Woe, as it is seen as a sign of impending doom.
Another strange event to hit the triangle was a great meteor which fell out of the sky during a thunderstorm in December 1795. Among the frightened villagers was a local journalist and playwright, Major Topham, who witnessed the dramatic event. He reported it to the wider press of the time. Legend has it that at the time of the meteor falling out of the sky, a couple were in a stagecoach. They were strangely hypnotised so they could not remember when the rock flew past them and afterwards the lives of their families thereafter took mysterious paths.….Very strange happenings indeed!
2. Mother Shipton
The story of Mother Shipton is at the centre of the country’s oldest tourist attraction and is one of the best known Yorkshire legends. It revolves around the mysterious birth of Ursula Southeil in a cave by the banks of the River Nidd in Knaresborough. Her mother, Agatha, was only fifteen when she gave birth, but did not declare who the father was, leading to her being shunned by the local community. Two years later, an abbot from Beverley intervened and a local family looked after Ursula while her mother was sent away to a convent. She would never see her daughter again.
The girl grew up in Knaresborough, but was teased about her unusual appearance, which led her to return to the cave where she was born. There, she studied nature and learnt how to make potions with the flowers which grew nearby.
At the age of twenty four, she married a carpenter from York, Tobias Shipton and changed her name, but he died a few years later.
In these years Ursula discovered that she could also predict the future and her prophecies were to make her famous around the town and eventually on a national scale.
She started to make a living by telling people’s fortunes and adopted the name, “Mother Shipton,” in older age. She died in 1561, aged 73. The cave and adjacent petrifying well, which can turn objects to stone due to high mineral content in its water became England’s oldest tourist attraction in 1630. Some critics say that in order to attract tourists to the site, they invented and embellished the story of Mother Shipton’s prophecies. There is strong evidence to suggest that she was definitely real and that some elements of her predictions came true. One famous prediction was that Cardinal Wolsey would never see the city of York. On his way there, the Archbishop was summoned back to London to face trial for high treason, but died in transit. Another was a prophecy of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and even the internet, “Around the world, thoughts shall fly in the twinkling of an eye.” Some have argued that many of her predictions were invented long after she had died and the truth has been stretched about her life story and prophecies. Her prophecies and legend remain open to interpretation.
3. Giants shaping the landscape
There are plenty of stories about the origins of the Cow and Calf Rocks on Ilkley Moor. The most common is that of Rombald the giant, who lived there long ago. Local legend has it that he accidentally trod on a rock and broke it in two, as he was running away from his wife. She dropped the stones in her skirt to form the “Skirtful of stones” rock formation. If you look closely, it seems as if the cow and calf rocks have been separated by a giant foot. The moorland between Ilkley and Keighley is known as Rombald’s moor, named after the giant.
The Hole of Horcum on the Yorkshire Moors is an impressive sight, but also said to be the work of a giant. It is 400m deep, ¾ mile across and locally known as “the Devil’s Punchbowl.” The giant, known as “Wade” apparently scooped a handful of earth to throw at his wife during an argument and created what is now the “Hole of Horcum.”
At the bottom of Yorkshire’s second largest lake lie the remains of a mysterious town. On this occasion how it got there has for once nothing to do with a regionally named water company!
Legend has it that an angel, dressed as a beggar visited the town to seek food and shelter. None of the townsfolk would help the stranger, except for a poor couple who lived on the edge of the town. They gave him some oatcake and milk. The angel in disguise left the house and stood to face the town. He morphed from a beggar into an angel and cursed the town below, chanting,
“Semer water rise, Semer water sink
And swallow the town all,
Save this house,
Where they gave me food and drink.”
Suddenly the town was flooded, never to be seen again, except for the house where the couple had been so kind to him. The desperate villagers had no time to escape and were left ringing the church bells for help. On stormy nights in this isolated part of Wensleydale, mysterious muffled bells can still be heard from the lake, the ghosts of drowning villagers desperate to escape their fate!
5. The Cottingley Fairies
One of the most famous Yorkshire myths is that of the Cottingley fairies. In 1917, the Griffith family, with their nine year old daughter, Frances travelled from South Africa to stay with their relatives, the Wright family in Cottingley near Bradford.
Francis and her older cousin Elsie, who was sixteen would often play together in a stream near to the house. To the annoyance of their parents they would come back muddy and wet.
When asked why they went there, they replied, “to see the fairies.” None of the adults would believe them, until they borrowed Elsie’s father, Arthur’s camera and took the famous pictures which showed them playing with what seemed like fairies.
While Arthur, who had developed the photos in his dark room, refused to believe the two girls, his wife, Polly thought they were real. She took the photos to a meeting of the Bradford Theosophical Society, who studied the supernatural.
The lecture that evening was about “fairy life.” She showed them the pictures, much to the amazement of the audience. A prominent member of the society, Edward Gardner sent the prints to a photography expert, Harold Snelling to check their authenticity. His analysis confirmed his opinion that the photographs were real and showed no sign of any fakery, such as cardboard cut-outs or additional studio work. He concluded the camera lens had only taken what was in front of it, fairies and all.
On receiving this news, Gardner decided to make some copies of these prints to take around with him to show people on the theosophical lecture circuit. He also sent them to Kodak for a second opinion. While the technicians authenticated the picture as genuine, they doubted the existence of fairies and declared that they must have been faked somehow. Undeterred, Gardner continued to exhibit and sell copies of the Cottingley fairies on his lecture tour.
The author and spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame became aware of these fairy pictures and became intrigued with them. He had been asked by “Strand” magazine to write an article about fairies and the occult and saw these pictures as the perfect accompaniment to his piece. Conan-Doyle sent Gardner up to Cottingley in 1920, to meet the Wright family. Frances, who now lived in Scarborough, was invited back and the two girls were asked to take more photos of these fairies at Cottingley beck. Elsie’s father, Arthur had already searched her bedroom for cardboard cut outs but was still convinced that they were fake.
The two girls insisted that only they could go to the stream and take more pictures, as they claimed the fairies would not come out if too many people were watching. One day when nobody was watching the girls came back with more photographs to the delight of Gardner and Conan-Doyle, who received a telegram immediately after the visit.
In December 1920, Conan-Doyle’s article was published in Strand magazine, along with the fairy pictures. The response from the public caused great debate, with some people believing they were real, while others dismissed them as fakes.
Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, an extremely well-travelled and learned man remained convinced by their authenticity, so much so that he wrote a book about them, named, “The Coming of the fairies,” in 1922.
After this time, the pictures of the Cottingley fairies were largely forgotten. Both girls grew up, left the UK, married and had children.
Years later, the story was dug up again by The Daily Express in 1966, who had traced Elsie. Although she did not comment on their authenticity, she did admit that the pictures may have been “figments of her imagination.” This is also what she told a BBC documentary, “Nationwide,” in 1971. In September 1976, the now ageing cousins were interviewed by Yorkshire Television’s Austin Mitchell.
Now with more advanced technology the photographs were re-analysed and found to be fakes. Still the cousins kept to their story, but did admit that it was not normal to see fairies. Two years later an observer noticed how similar the fairies looked to those who featured in a book published in 1915, called, “Princess Mary’s gift book.” something which the girls may have had in their possession at the time.
Finally in 1983, just a few years before their deaths, Elsie and Frances finally admitted that the Cottingley fairy pictures were a hoax. They had drawn and cut out pictures of fairies, inspired by Princess Mary’s gift book, had attached them to string and used a hatpin to keep them upright. The cardboard cut outs they had used were thrown into the stream afterwards. The pictures of the Cottingley fairies had for over sixty years been a joke which got out of hand. In the process these two girls had managed to convince a world famous author and many other leading academics of the time into believing in the existence of fairies.
Happy Halloween Yorkshire!