The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian




Dowsborough is a hillfort in the Quantocks. It's covered in oaks, but perhaps there are some places you can look out and see the views along the coast. Inside the bank and ditch is a round barrow from the Bronze Age (possibly later reused as a beacon mound) - so this prominent hill wasn't ignored in times before the fort.

To the south on the curiously named 'Robin Upright's Hill' is a spring called Lady's Fountain; to the south of this a prehistoric dyke known as Dead Woman's Ditch. One theory has it that the dead woman was a woodcutter's wife - he was hanged for her murder in the 1780s. But the info on 'MaGIc' says that a map exists with this name on it from before this date - maybe an insight into how folklore gets updated over time.

As the wood continues north of Dowsborough it becomes Shervage Wood, and this was the home of the infamous Gurt Vurm - a dragon who used to eat six or seven ponies and sheep at one sitting before settling down for a nap curled around the hills. He was as fat round as two or three great oak trees. Things were fine for a while, but then local people started noticing that their livestock was disappearing. A few went up the hill to see what was going on. They didn't come back. Everyone else was a bit loathe to go up there after that.
Every year there was a fair, the Triscombe Revel, and one old lady made all her money for the year by selling wort (bilberry?) tarts there. This year she was getting rather anxious as she couldn't go up to check on the berries, and no one was daft enough to volunteer. Eventually a woodsman from Stogumber came by looking for work. She convinced him that he should go up to the wood and packed him off with some sarnies and some cider. After the steep climb he sat down for his lunch, on a comfy looking log. He'd just got nicely started when the log started squirming under him. "Hold a bit!" he said, picking up his axe. "Thee do movey, do thee? Take that, then." And he hit the 'log' so hard, it was cut in two. One end ran off in one direction, the other the opposite way. The two ends couldn't find each other - so the poor gurt vurm died.
The woodman made his way back to the old woman, carrying a hatful of worts. "There were a dragon there fust go off," he said, thoughtfully. The woman tried to look innocent - didn't he realise? hadn't anyone told him? "Her were a Crowcombe woman," he said later. (Can this whole story just be and excuse to have a dig at another village?!)

Story derived from version by Tongue in 'Somerset Folklore'

The Taunton Community Action website has yet another tale:
"The wood also has other legends and may have been always had a reputation of being otherworldly. A pool known as Wayland's Pool is traditionally where the smith god cooled the horseshoes he made to shoe the horses of the Wild Hunt, Odin's nocturnal ride across the skies to search for the souls of the damned. Horses are said to be wary of this area, perhaps not wishing to join their spectral companions!"

I can't see this pool on the map - but perhaps you may know it? This is mentioned by Tongue as well (see above). If you had the courage to leave your pony and not look back he might shoe it for nothing. 'It is a strange thing' (said a farmer to Ruth Tongue) 'how still a horse will stand at Wayland's Pool. Why you can dismount and walk away, and they won't move.'

Local Traditions of the Quantocks , by C. W. Whistler, in Folklore, Vol. 19, No. 1. (Mar. 30, 1908), pp. 31-51, says that 'Wayland's Pond' stands 'at the intersection of four ancient boundaries'. Which of course must make it an even spookier spot.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
29th April 2005ce
Edited 7th October 2006ce

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