Saturday, 29 January 2011

Mulgrave Woods and Jeannie the Fairy

Folklore tells that Mulgrave Woods in North Yorkshire was the abode of Jeanie the Fairy. She was said to live there in a cave called Hob's Cave and to dislike visitors intensely. She would cast curses on anyone who bothered her and many a local misfortune was blamed upon the malevolence of this mysterious spirit. Long ago a brave and foolish local farmer decided to go and find this elusive fairy for himself, to purge the place of her misfortune once and for all. But as soon as he laid eyes upon her terrible visage his courage failed him and he leapt back on his horse and fled in terror. Jeanie chased him and he only escaped with his life when he remembered that the spirit could not cross running water, so he galloping for the nearest stream and leapt across it. As he did so Jeannie struck the horse with her wand and cut it in two but the farmer just managed to reach the safety of the other side before his horse fell down dead.

"A very mischievous fairy, Jeanie of Biggersdale, resided at a place so called at the head of Mulgrave woods. A bold young farmer, perhaps under the influence of John Barleycorn, undertook one night, on a wager, to approach the habitation of this sprite, and to call her : but his rashness nearly cost him his life ; Jeanie angrily replied that she was coming, and while he was escaping across the running stream he fared worse than Burns's Tarn O'Shanter, when pursued by Nanny the witch ; for Jeanie overtaking him just as his horse was half across, cut it in two parts though fortunately he was on the half that got beyond the stream !"

This snippet of folklore was all I had to go on, so I took out a map and located Mulgrave Woods. I was surprised to discover that the woods were still completely intact and covered an extensive area on a private estate, filling a whole valley which contained two streams with many side valleys and gulleys. The woodland extended almost all the way to the sea at Sandsend and reached inland for several miles, its many fingers following the stream beds and gulleys deep into the countryside. Exploring this area was going to be a daunting task!

Further investigation poined me towards one of the side gulleys with a high waterfall, famously known as Biggersdale Hole. Could this be it? The steep gulley leading down into the hole was called the Wizard's Glen and was reputed to be a magical place. Of course I just had to investigate!

I set off one morning in late January, crossing the North York Moors until I reached the seaside town of Sandsend, just north of Whitby. The weather was not great so I didn't fancy a long hike through the woods and instead opted to drive around the woodland to a farm located just above Biggersdale Hole. I parked my 4x4 in a field and soon found the stream that led me directly to the waterfall. The small trickling stream suddenly transformed into a torrent of water as it disappeared over a lip of rock and plunged into a hidden gorge deep below.

I gingerly crept around the edge of the gorge on tiny rabbit trails but could find no possible way down the sheer sides.

I sat there and meditated, I could sense an entrance at the base of waterfall, a hidden doorway to the otherworld, somehow I had to get down there! I was left with no option but to follow the top of the gorge and hope that the sides became less steep further downstream. I was able to walk through the field that adjoined the gulley, but unfortunately the sides of the gulley were sheer for its entire length and it was only when I reached the main valley directly ahead that I was able to scramble down and eventually made my way down to one of the main streams in the valley called East Row Beck.

Now all I had to do was follow the bank of East Row Beck until I came to the small stream that flowed out of Biggersdale Hole! The going was tough and sometimes I had to leave the flooded riverside and climb up the steep banks into the forest again, but eventually I made it to the entrance of a steep-sided valley. There was a clearing there with a little wooden footbridge crossing the steam, now all overgrown and little used. The hint of a pathway, long overgrown, led into the Wizard's Glen.

The day was overcast and misty and the glen seemed incredibly magical and mysterious. It may have been a trick of the light but as I stood there I kept catching movements out of the corner of my eye, as if hidden spirits were darting from tree to tree, watching me. Apart from the bubbling of the stream, dampened by the mist, the silence was total, and I was totally alone there, but the place was so magical that it lifted my spirits and drew me onwards into the glen.

The old pathway soon came to end, petering out by the tiny stream and disappearing into undergrowth and fallen branches. The magical feeling was now giving way to a more ominous one, so I decided I'd better tune in and ask permission to continue first. I was told to drop an offering of food into the stream, and also to place my new batch of flourite eggs in there too. I did as instructed and the food floated off downstream, while the eggs glittered under the surface of the water. The eggs would be infused with energy, I was told, but I must leave them there.

I now felt like I had been given permission to enter and so I pushed on through the bushes, waded through the stream and climbed over fallen branches.

The going got tougher and tougher the further I continued. Clearly no-one had been this way for a long time! I could sense the presence of Merlin above me, he seemed to be encouraging me to continue. Was this his glen? The Wizard's Glen?

Ahead of me whole trees had fallen down the gulley into the stream, it seemed impossible to go on. I wanted to turn back, to get out of this place, but the silent encouragement willed me forward. I climbed over the fallen trees, through thorn bushes and over wet slippery rocks and after an exhausting struggle finally I neared the end of the gulley and could hear the tumbling waterfall ahead!

The head of the gulley was rocky and barren, and the rocks slick with spray from the waterfall. It didn't look so deep as it had done from above though, but still there was no way out other than the way I had come in. Carefully I climbed over the wet rocks and sat down by the pool in front of the waterfall and got my breath back.

As I tuned in there I projected my spirit through the waterfall and through the wall of rock behind, and suddenly found myself standing on a green hillside. There I was met by a young troll with shaggy black hair. He seemed happy to have company and he danced and played with me, and eventually we tumbled off down the hillside, head over heels, until we stopped by the side of a bubbling stream. We sat there and talked like old friends. I asked him if the Wizard's Glen was Merlin's Glen. He told me it was not, but that Merlin was always with me when I needed to call on him. He also told me that I would not find Jeanie the Fairy here, I needed to look elsewhere in the woods.

I returned to the rocks by the waterfall. It seemed like my efforts had been in vain, but I was not despondant and was happy to have found such a magical place. As I looked down I then saw a red stone gleaming in the water, so I reached for it and picked it up. Merlin spoke to me and informed me that this stone would add fire to my wand. I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that but I popped the stone in my pocket before starting on the arduous hike back out of the gulley.

I felt a lot more relaxed now and the sense of foreboding had completely gone. Only now could I truly appreciate the beauty of the place. As I walked slowly back, taking in the atmosphere, I suddenly noticed a white feather falling from the sky directly in front of me. I reached down and picked it up and then looking to my left noticed a row of small holes like rabbit holes that seemed to have been carved directly into the conglomerate that made up the sides of the gorge. I couldn't see how they could have formed naturally and the rock looked too hard to have been carved out by animals.

I sat down there and tuned in and soon realised that a colony of small boggles dwelt here, living halfway between our world and the otherworld, the shallow holes being just entrances to their subterranean otherworld. Slowly they crept out and as I had done in other places I planted my wand into the ground there and sent them healing. The boggles were happy here in the Wizard's Glen, they felt protected and needed no help from me, but they were not aware of the other communities of boggles that I had encountered. They could not leave the area of the glen and the nearby forest and so had never ventured out into the wider world. I told them that this would soon change, and sometime in the future they would be free to roam the world again.

After more scrambling and climbing I finally made it back to the walking trail where my flourite eggs still lay glistening in the water. I picked them up and they seemed to feel very fresh and energised. Holding them up to the light all the flaws and fractures in the crystals seemed to shimmer as if they had been coated in a tiny thin layer of gold leaf. I was sure they had looked nothing like this before! They were now ready for whatever purpose my guides had in store for them.

I now found a small path leading up the side of the gorge that I had not noticed before. The path was quite broad but was overgrown. Clearly it had once been constructed by human hands for some unknown purpose. I decided to follow it as I thought it might provide a shortcut back to my car. As I neared the top I took one last look back into the Wizard's Glen, half-expecting to see faery forms dancing through the air, but the glen was silent.

I pushed on through the rhododendrons and was startled to encounter what I at first thought to be a small holy well, but on closer inspection appeared to be some kind of small shrine. A fairy shrine? Out here in the middle of nowhere?

I left a small offering there and continued on. Following the path to a knoll just above the shrine I then found an old abandoned summer house hidden in the undergrowth. Was this the answer to the mystery? In times gone by the landowner must have built this summerhouse, and the shrine, with the path leading up to it from the valley. Some Victorian romantic fancy no doubt.

Then I made the strangest discovery of all! A dead cock pheasant lying suspended in a tree as if he had just recently tumbled down out of the sky. I inspected the pheasant closer and I could reach no other conclusion than that was what had actually happened. How strange! This was not the first nor the last time that I was to encounter dead birds that had seemingly fallen from the sky, but what was the meaning of it? That one would have to remain a mystery for now.

I continued down the path and was happy to find that I was soon heading back towards my car, it had been an amazing detour, full of discoveries, but I was still no closer to finding Jeanie the Fairy. I referred back to the folklore "a place so called at the head of Mulgrave woods". Perhaps I needed to try higher up the valley?

I checked the map and saw that there was an old motte buried in the woods near the head of the valley called Fosse Castle, which I remembered had some old folklore associated with it. The motte was abandoned in the 13th century when the newer medieval castle was built right in the heart of the valley.

I took a long drive around to the other side of the valley and parked near High Lees Farm. I then followed a vert wet boggy footpath back down into the valley until I came upon a tree-covered mound near the valley bottom, the old motte of Foss Castle. I stepped up onto the flat-topped motte and paced around it's upper rim wondering how I was going going to find Hob's Cave. Beneath me the valley tumbled down into a rocky gorge where a stream cascaded over a jumble of dark and damp looking rocks. Any number of dark shadows under the rocks could have been the entrance to a cave, but how was I to explore such difficult terrain?

I decided to scramble down to the gorge in any case, just to see what I could find, and was relieved to discover an old partly-overgrown path down near the bottom. Turning right I followed the path upstream towards the head of the gorge, but the path petered out and I soon found myself scrambling over rocks and climbing up the side of small cascades. The rocks were slippery and at one point my foot slipped into pool, soaking it.

Eventually I came to a point where I could go no further, the rocks were just too slippery and steep, but the place looked absolutely magical! Bright green moss coated all the rocks and a large hollowed-out basin lay to the left that must have been carved out by swirling rocks over many thousands of years.

Gazing around I suddenly noticed that to my right was the remains of an old building! So weathered and overgrown with ivy that at first glance it looked like part of the rock face.

I sat down there in this enchanted spot by the stream and called upon Jeanie to show herself to me if indeed she dwelt here.

I waited a short while, tuning in to the energies of the place, and then I saw a woman appear! A strikingly attractive, powerful woman with flame-red hair that seemed to sweep up into the air like it was actually composed of flames. She did not appreciate being disturbed but when I explained to her my purpose she assented and agreed to show me the way to her cave dwelling. She took me by the hand and floated off to the north east, but unfortunately I could not keep up with her, and my way was blocked by the steep sides of the gully. I tried several times to scramble up but each time was defeated. By now it was starting to get dark, so with regret I had to abandon my quest for that day.

I later picked up an old Victorian novel called "Jeannie o' Biggerdale" which was set in a mill house by the stream in Mulgrave woods. I realised with a start that the old building I had discovered was indeed the mill house mentioned in the book! And the gully that I had been sitting in was where the woman in the tale had committed suicide by casting herself down onto the rocks because she was unable to be with her love, all caused by the curse of Jeanie the Fairy. After reading about the genteel lifestyle of those dwelling in the manor house and how they would take walks in the grounds of the forest it also explained to me the mysterious paths I'd discovered and the old summerhouse. How odd that the place was now so abandoned and reverting back to it's more ancient and natural state. Perhaps Jeanie still jealously guarded her realm and put paid to any plans to develop the place by casting one of her renowned and much feared curses!


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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