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Idlebush Barrow

Barrow / Cairn Cemetery


A traveller was once lost on the Downs and was worried he wouldn't get safely to a village or town before it got dark. He met some shepherds sitting on the mound and asked them the way to Lambourn. The first man said nothing but just nodded his head in a particular direction. The second went to the trouble of raising one finger (not like that - politely) and pointing in the same direction. The third shepherd stirred himself enough to vaguely wave a toe. And lo, the place was consequently named Idle Tump. Despite being a pretty ridiculous story it does include your classic 'three times' motif. And it could indeed have been a place where shepherds would have a bit of a kip.

This story is mentioned by Alfred Williams in his 'Villages of the White Horse' (1913).

Another tale claims the bushes and trees on the barrow are too lazy to grow properly. "About 1800 some trees were planted on it which would not grow on account of the bleak situation," claimed Grinsell's mysterious source in 'Ancient Burial Mounds of England' (1936). This seems a very dull explanation to me. You'll have to go and look yourself to judge the truth of this one.

David Nash Ford has suggested here
that the 'idle' actually derives from the meaning 'empty', implying that the barrow was unsuccessfully dug into for treasure in the dim and distant past.

Also, as mentioned by wysefool below, the mound was known in Saxon times as Hawk's Low, but also apparently as Wade's Barrow ('Weardaes Beorh'): Wade being Wayland's father. So it seems that the mythic landscape that included Wayland's Smithy spread further out, and perhaps there were other local places that were part of the stories too.

Those wishing to squeeze some fairies into the equation (that'll be me) will be able to get some mileage from this:
As many as a dozen or moor horses run, and they started from Idle's Bush, which wur a vine owld tharnin'-tree in thay days - a very nice bush.
Because fairies do like a good thorn tree. From The Scouring of the White Horse, by Thomas Hughes (1859).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
25th August 2004ce
Edited 21st May 2013ce

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