Local memory has it that "men from Dowsborough beat down men from Stowey Castle, and the men from Stowey beat down Stogursey Castle".
..The great hill-camp of Danesborough is practically the central point of our district, and it is a usual saying with us that a Quantock man never cares to be out of sight of "Dowsboro' pole." [..] I have already mentioned the tradition that at Danesborough there was a massacre of "the Danes," and though it is not likely that those marauders ever reached the camp, no doubt some such slaughter did take place there, possibly in the invasion of Kentwine. But it is said that the old warriors are still living within the hill, and that at midnight their songs and merriment as they feast may be heard.
From Danesborough runs eastward the ancient trackway to the Cannington, or Combwich, fort and the tidal ford. And along this route the "Wild Hunt" still passes overhead, coming from the river to the hills. The belief of the hunt is strong with us, but I have never heard that its passing is held to portend anything special, as in the north.
Local Traditions of the Quantocks
C. W. Whistler
Folklore, Vol. 19, No. 1. (Mar. 30, 1908), pp. 31-51.
Dowsborough hill is replete with all sorts of strange names that beg for explanation: Great Bear, Robin Upright's Hill, Knacker's Hole.. One of them (mentioned below), 'Dead Woman's Ditch' is supposed to refer to the murdered wife of John Walford. The place he was left to hang in irons is now called 'Walford's Gibbet'. Ruth Tongue collected a little tale about the site from a farmer's daughter in Cannington.
Arter Walford were 'anged up there to Dowsburgh, there was a lot o' talk down to the Castle o' Comfort Inn, and they got to talking, and then they got to drinking zider and then one vellow getting a bit over-merry, they dared 'en to go up to Walford's Gibbet. Well, 'twere getting late at night, and being over full o' zider, 'e said 'e would, and off 'e goes. Well no sooner be 'e out o' front door than a couple o' rascals gets out by back door, and straight up over the 'ill. Laughing to themselves, they come up through the barn and the bushes like, till they come to the foot o' the gibbet, and they 'ided in bushes. And bye and bye they 'ears bootses coming up 'ill, getting a bit slower like, as they comes nearer to where gibbet was, and they chuckles to theirselves, and then boots comes a bit slower, like, and then, out o' the air above 'em comes a voice - "Oh! Idn't it cold up 'ere! Be yew cold too?"
Well by the time the vellow with the boots, and they two got down to Castle o' Comfort, they weren't cold no more.
You can still visit the Castle of Comfort today, it's marked 'hotel' on the map. But perhaps you'll only want to walk up to the Walford's Gibbet during the daylight.
Story copied from 'English Folktales' by Briggs and Tongue, 1965.
Ruth Tongue's sources (for her 1965 'Somerset Folklore) knew this as the Danish Camp, or perhaps even 'a Roman look-out or summer camp' (ah, a Roman summer camp, how sweet) and traditionally 'a band of Danish sea-robbers made it their fort while they preyed on the villages.' However, the women they kidnapped thought up a devious plan to get them all incapacitated, so one night while they were all feasting and drinking, the locals suddenly attacked and massacred the lot of them. 'On wild autumn nights at midnight they say you can still hear the revelry, followed by the clash of arms.' Only one of the Danes survived. A girl had fallen in love with the young musician boy who had fled before the battle, his harp slung over his shoulder. She sheltered him for several days until he was discovered - and killed. Afterwards his ghost was said to roam the slopes of Dowsborough - or 'Danesborough'- and heard singing faintly and plucking at his harp. To put it even more romantically (as Lawrence does in 'Somerset Legends'): "At times a startled pony pricks his ears at soft movements in the bracken and the notes of a muted song."
Tongue mentions that 'Wordsworth remembers him in a poem." Wordsworth did live for a time on the edge of the Quantocks. So no doubt 'The Danish Boy' http://www.bartleby.com/145/ww157.html
is the poem she refers to.
John Garland's 'Haunted Somerset' (2007) mentions Berta Lawrence's 'Quantock Country', in which she says: Near Danesborough Ring the Quantock woodmen swore they heard ghostly music issuing from underground, the revelling of Viking warriors feasting with wassail-cup and song.
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!" http://www.can-taunton.com/somersetlegends.php
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.
[ST 1602 3912] Dowsborough Camp HILL FORT [GT]
[ST 1590 3917] TUMULUS [GT] (1)
Dowsborough (Danesborough) Camp, Didington, c.340 yds. by 170 yds., the defence is a bank of stones with a ditch and second rampart below, following the natural line of the hill. The upper bank has been demolished for some distance along the S. face from the W. The entrance seems to have been at the apex on the S.E., but here the banks have been altered and the ditch partly filled up. At the N.W. end inside the rampart is a circular tumulus of stones with flat top but no surrounding ditch. Plan. See photo AO/63/374/6. Univallate hillfort (3-15 acres). Scheduled. (2-4)
This is a univallate hillfort with a nearly complete counterscarp bank. The entrance is at the east end. The wide gap in the ditch is an original feature, and an amorphous scatter of stones inside the rampart may indicate that the entrance was more complex than it now appears to be.
Inside the rampart at the north-west is a ditched bowl barrow. The mound is 1.2m high and the ditch 0.3m deep. Re-surveyed at 1:2500. (5)
A plan and illustration of the hillfort are present together with text. (7) ST 160 391. Dowsborough. Listed in hillfort as a univallate hillfort covering 2.0ha. (8) Dowsborough Camp was surveyed at a scale of 1: 1000 by the Exeter Office of EH as part of the archaeological survey of the Quantock Hills AONB. Additional elements include trial pits for stone/copper ore, a charcoal burning platform and evidence of WWII activity. The possiblity of a late Roman/post-Roman phase is discussed in the site report, which contains full details of the survey and a plan (9).The Iron Age hillfort, Bronze Age barrow and some internal features are partially visible, through trees, on aerial photographs.