Look for faery ring to see ‘hidden folk’

The mysterious Willy Howe.
The mysterious Willy Howe.

This Saturday is All Hallows Eve, a time when the veil between worlds is thin and there’s a good chance of seeing the hidden folk.

Not those small people with butterfly’s wings – the hidden folk are wingless and definitely not cute. Perhaps they were old gods of places, never quite forgotten. No doubt they were easier to see 900 years ago, when a mysterious encounter on the Yorkshire Wolds spawned a legend that’s still told today.

A mile outside the village of Wold Newton, in a field near the lane to Burton Fleming, stands a Neolithic round barrow called Willy Howe. It’s the largest barrow on the Wolds, around 13 metres high. The residents of Wold Newton have always known this as the home of hidden folk, because of the villager who rode down the lane one night. As the man drew close to the old mound, he heard singing. He stopped his horse to listen. Immediately a door opened in the steep bank, flooding the grass with light.

Now if he’d been quite sober he might not have ridden up to the door so boldly, but he wasn’t and so he did. He peered inside and to his amazement saw a room with people seated at a glorious banquet. A serving-man spotted him and came to offer a drink from a golden goblet.

Although a bit merry, the man still had his wits. He knew well that to drink something offered by a faery would bind him to their world for good. Seizing the goblet, he tipped out the contents and fled with it on his horse, pursued by furious mound-dwellers. He was lucky to make it home unscathed.

William of Newburgh, a canon and historian, was born in Bridlington in 1136. He knew “Willey-hou” and its legend, which he recorded. According to William, the goblet was real. It was “of an unknown material, unusual colour, and strange form. It was offered as a great present to Henry the Elder, King of England, and then handed to the Queen’s brother, David, King of Scotland.” Excavations by Lord Londesborough in 1857 and Canon Greenwell in 1887 found no artefacts, but it is possible that a cup was looted from the mound in earlier times. Or maybe the mound was always empty.

If you must see the hidden folk, look for a faery ring of white toadstools. From twilight to midnight is best, as they come out then to dance. Don’t stare – just try to catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye.

It’s wise to carry some protective magic. Gather ivy, elder and rowanberries at dawn on All Hallow’s Eve and twist them into a garland. And remember not to accept a gift, or anything to eat or drink. But if you really want to join them, sit inside the faery ring on All Hallows Eve and they’ll whisk you off to their kingdom forever.

Plan your fire

Halloween and Guy Fawkes turn us all into fire worshippers. But if you’re having a bonfire, please think about hedgehogs. They see our heaps of scrap wood and garden rubbish as a good place to make a winter nest. To avoid a tragedy, collect the material in one place and move it to the bonfire site on the day you plan to burn it.