Monday, 24 January 2011

Roulston Scar and the Devil's Parlour

Roulston Scar forms a headland of limestone cliffs on the southwestern edge of the North York Moors, a continuation of the Whitestone cliffs near Sutton Bank. To the eastern side lies the famous Kilburn white horse, carved into the hillside during the 19th century, while above the cliffs sits an airfield where gliders regularly cast off into the abyss between Roulston Scar and Hood Hill, and glide up on the thermal air currents that flow up the cliff face. But I was not here to watch the aerial displays, I was here to find a hidden cave in the cliff face that was known in local folklore as the Devil's Parlour. I had no idea however if the cave even existed.

The cliffs of Roulston scar are high and their base sits upon very steep wooded slopes which are inaccessible without climbing and scrambling. The cliffs run west from the white horse, and then curve around to the northeast as they head towards Sutton Bank to form a kind of a headland that projects out over a densely wooded valley towards Hood Hill.

I decided to start near the white horse and make my way along the cliff top, but I hadn't gone very far before I noticed strangely perforated rocks set into the steep hillside below me. I was intrigued and decided to give the rocks a closer inspection, so I scrambled down the hillside and climbed over them, inspecting the large cup-shaped depressions that seemed to have been gouged out of them.

I climbed further down and was amazed to see a whole row of these huge boulders that seemed to have cavities carved out of them everywhere so that they had the appearance of a giant Swiss cheese.

I shone my torch inside and could see a whole honeycomb of tiny caverns and passageways, like some subterranean world that had been carved out by mysterious small hands. I sat down there and tuned in, and suddenly I could see them! Tiny 'boggles' about 8 inches tall with brown furry skin and long, pointy drooping ears. They each wore rustic-looking breeches with braces passing over their shoulders.

At first they were afraid, peeking out from dark corners of their subterranean caverns, but again I surprised myself by starting to talk in rhyme. I spoke long with them, too much to recall this time, asking them to come out and sing and play and have no fear. Having gotten over their initial mistrust all of a sudden they did start to sing: "Hey-hey-yap! Hey-hey-yap!" and slowly they crept out into the light.

Soon they were dancing around and playing and climbing all over me. They knew then that I had come to liberate them! I planted my wand firmly in the ground and white light shone forth from it, illuminating all the dark places within the rocks.

I drew in energy and concentrated it into my hands which started to glow red. One by one the boggles leaped forward and touched my glowing hands, each one taking a little bit of the energy for itself before returning to the rock and carrying the energy to its own little cavern which then seemed to glow red also with the energy that had been brought back. It seemed then that every cavern turned into a little forge, where happy little boggles were beating away joyously forging magical weapons.

I could sense now that the whole ridge seemed to have come back to life and was filled with energy, life and light, and small boggles everywhere!

I edged further along the ridge, climbing through the undergrowth, and passed many more of these pock-marked rocks. 

Some of the holes looked truly bizarre, like dinosaur eggs that had just hatched, while others looked like they had been deliberately broken into, chipped at and mined. For what purpose? And by whom? Were the boggles mining for hidden treasures?

The whole ridge seemed to be buzzing with energy now, and I felt like my job had been done. I was about to leave the steep slope behind and scramble back up to the cliff top when I heard a woodpecker drumming at a tree in the forest below me and then saw a flash of red and black as he flew further down the slope. I had heard it was lucky to follow woodpeckers and they had served me well in the past so I decided that I had to follow this one too to see where he would lead me.

I scrambled down the steep muddy slope, past stunted ancient oak trees that had barely seen the passage of man and followed animal tracks through dense thorn bushes until eventually I came to clearing where there were rocks smothered in bright green ivy. I stopped and looked around. It was a magical place, untouched by the outside world which was so close by, but protected by its inaccessible location.

I had travelled west slightly, across the cliff face, and was now facing uphill towards an ivy-covered boulder. To the left of the boulder was a forked tree, and beyond it a small glade that seemed even more magical. I knew this was a special place. I closed my eyes and took a step through the forked tree, but a voice in my head told me to leave my backpack and coat behind. I dropped them to the ground and left an offering by the tree, and then continued on carrying only my wand.


Suddenly the scene darkened and a huge presence loomed over from the clifftop. A huge, powerful and terrifying spirit of the land. A hundred feet tall, dark and djinn-like. He was the spirit of the moors and demanded to meet with me. I opened my eyes with a start and found myself back in the clearing. I didn't know what the earth spirit wanted but I didn't feel like the time was right to confront such a being. 

I looked around and the place now seemed more magical than ever and was vibrant and buzzing with energy. Ivy climbed and cascaded over the rocks all around me. I continued on, heading further westward along the steep wooded slope until I came to a sheer cliff face. I climbed down to the base of the cliff and rested my back against it. As I sat down I tuned in to the energies of this secluded place.

I was met by a dark and sinister-looking elven commander wearing black armour and an intricate, tight-fitting black helmet. Was this the same dark elf I had met on Hood Hill? He seemed to have a similar energy. I didn't trust him and was slightly afraid of him. But I did trust my intuition... suddenly it was clear to me what I had to do! I was afraid of the consequences and performed the act in a kind of daze, but I found myself drawing my sword of light, my otherworldly weapon. The dark elf looked at me with a challenge in his eyes but before he had chance to say anything I struck him down!

I felt a surge of energy as the light overcame the darkness! A sudden shift to a higher state of being and awareness. I am the bringer of light! I am Aurvandil the luminous wanderer! I felt myself grow and it was if I had a huge pair of wings like an angel. I was filled with white light, and the light from my wand and my sword burned with an blinding brightness!

Feeling elated I opened my eyes and the evening sun was shining brightly into the clearing where I was standing. I walked towards a gap in the trees and soaked up the intensity of the sun's rays, absorbing its light and then casting it out in all directions like I was a star myself. What an exhilarating experience!

Coming back down to earth I realised that it was now getting late and would soon be dark, so I made my way back along the base of the cliff, back out through the forked tree and back into the mundane world. The Devil's Parlour would have to wait until the next day.


The following morning I decided to take a different approach. I walked through the wooded valley to northeast of Roulston Scar that is known as Happy Valley, and made my way to a small footpath that led up to the top of the cliffs. I followed the footpath until I could see the cliffs looming to my right and then headed off through the undergrowth towards the base of the cliffs where they met with the top of the steep wooded slope.

I then followed the base of the cliffs, scrambling up and down, climbing over trees and rocks. Progress was slow, but I checked every nook and cranny in the cliff face and I knew that if there were a cave here then I was eventually going to find it! A few promising looking holes and fissures led nowhere, but as I rounded a corner in the cliff I came to a fissure larger than any I had seen previously and I knew that this had to be it!

I climbed up to the entrance and squeezed inside, it was not a large cave by any means and the narrow crevice only led a few yards into the cliff, but it was a cave! And a cave with enough of a reputation to at some point have been given the name of the Devil's Parlour. But why? Perhaps that was what I was here to find out?

I crawled deep inside the crevice and once I reached the end I sat down and meditated.

I called upon any spirits here to show themselves. After a while I sensed the presence of a small humanlike creature. It was a hob, a hobgoblin like the one I had met at Hob Holes. He hid deep within the dark recesses of the cave and didn't want to come out.

I asked him why he was afraid and he told me that a priest had cast a spell upon him and banished him to the darkness, he couldn't leave his cave any longer and was trapped in this dark otherworld. I promised him that I could break the spell, that he longer had any need to be afraid, that the Christian priests did not hold power here any longer. So I took him by the hand and led him into the light...

He seemed so happy! He told me how long ago the druids used to come to his cave regularly to seek his aid. Druids and locals alike would leave offerings of food there for him; but then the Christians came and called him a devil! They forbade the local people to visit him anymore and they cast wards and spells and banished the poor hob.

But now he was free again! He jumped and leaped for joy, and then tumbled head over heels down the hillside and disappeared into the trees below.

Well now I know why it's called the Devil's Parlour, I thought! No doubt a similar cave I had found earlier called the Fairies Parlour had a similar story attached to it.

I decided to continue a little further around the base of the cliff and made some curious finds.

Firstly the imprint of a fossil ammonite.

Then a small rock shelter filled with feathers and snail shells.

And finally a mummified rat, which I decided to leave behind for future explorers to discover!

Clearly Roulston Scar has many more mysteries still to be uncovered!


Rob Wildwood (Aurvandil) has now released a book containing hundreds of his own stunning full colour photos of many of the magical places he has visited in his travels. The images capture the magic and mystery of each place and are enhanced by extracts of local folklore that reveal the magical lore of each place and tempt deeper investigation. Every site listed has full directions and map grid references that can be checked online, so join Rob Wildwood as you discover Britain's magical places at

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