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Earl's Hill and Pontesford Hill



Every year on Palm Sunday crowds of people were wont to ascend Pontesford Hill 'to look for the Golden Arrow,' and within the memory of the older people of the district a regular 'wake' or merry-making was carried on there, with games and dancing and drinking. Even as late as the year 1855, or thereabouts, whole families, old and young together, were in the habit of ascending the hill on Palm Sunday as a matter of course, and even now a good many young people make this yearly pilgrimage: but of late years the practice has been confined to the wilder spirits of the neighbourhood, and has been little countenanced by the more repectable sort. Mrs. R-- of Castle Pulverbatch tells me (September 12th, 1884) that she never allowed her daughters to join in it, but that two of her sons did so on Palm Sunday last past.

When she first came to live in the neighbourhood in 1846, it was a great annual picnic. Every household was occupied beforehand in baking cakes and packing up kettles and crockery in preparation for 'going palming,' as it was called. It was said that there was a sort of emulation to be the first to gather a 'palm' or spray from the ancient 'haunted yew-tree,' the only one of its kind which grows on the hill, for the lucky gatherer of the first palm would 'come in no misfortune like other folk' throughout the coming year, whatever he might do or wherever he might go, provided he kept his palm safely.

The next proceeding was to race down the hill to the Lyde Hole, where a little brooklet which winds down a lovely narrow glen on the eastern side of the hill, suddenly turns and falls into a basin-like hollow at the foot of steep walls of rock, forming a deep circular pool, of which 'folk suen to say as there was no bottom to it, but now they washen the ship [=sheep] there.' Whoever could run at full speed from the top of the hill down the steep sides of the Hole (a physical impossibility, or nearly so), and dip the fourth finger of his right [left?] hand into the water, would be certain to marry the first person of the opposite sex whom he or she happened to meet. 'You could not choose but that one must be your fate.'

What the Golden Arrow is, the search for which is the professed object of the Wake, or how it came there, none of the folk can tell. Though many very old people have been questioned on the subject for the purposes of the present work, little has been elicited beyond a hazy idea that it was dropped by some great one in days gone by, and never found. 'But,' said Mrs. R--, 'whenever it is found, some great estate will change hands, for it will never be found till the right heir comes, who is to find it.' She thought the estate was that of Condover, of which so many similar traditions are rife, but on this point she would not speak positively, though she reminded me that the Squires of Condover were formerly Lords of the Manor of Pontesbury.

The only other person who knew any tradition on the subject was an elderly man, post-master at the neighbouring village of Minsterley (now dead), who declared in 1873-4, that a good fairy in those days gone by ordained the search for the Golden Arrow as the condition on which she would undo some unknown injury, curse, or spell, inflicted by a fiend or demon. But to be successful, the quest must be undertaken at midnight on Palm Sunday by a young maiden under twenty [twenty-one?], the seventh daughter of a seventh son.
From Shropshire Folk-Lore, by C.S. Burne, volume 2 (1885).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
12th May 2011ce
Edited 12th May 2011ce

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