Sunday, 4 April 2010

Spooky Sunday

Fans of the works of J R R Tolkien will be familiar with the Barrow-wights, mysterious, malevolent beings that inhabited ancient burial mounds, guarding the treasures interred within.
Tolkien’s Barrow-wights may have been inspired by traditions once prevalent in parts of South West England. Professor Leslie Grinsell collected an astonishing corpus of tales associated with Britain’s ancient monuments and in Dorset he learnt of the ‘Gabbygammies’, beings very similar to Tolkien’s. Referring to a Bronze Age round barrow at Ashmore (now destroyed), Grinsell writes:

‘It was formerly haunted by Gabbygammies or Gappergennies who made strange noises which ceased after the barrow was opened and human bones found in it removed to the churchyard and reburied there.’

In my home county of Flintshire, there is a story about a tumulus at Axton haunted by similar creatures. The barrow, near a house called Ty Gwyn, formerly had a 7-ft high stone standing on its summit. Due to the presence of a hole drilled through its upper part, this bore the name of Carreg-y-doll (the Holed Stone). The stone was given a wide berth in daylight and avoided altogether after dark, for it was believed the barrow on which it stood was the home of evil goblins – bwbachod – who guarded fiercely a valuable treasure hidden there. Their mindless gibbering could often be heard emanating from within.

One evening, according to tradition, a stranger passed by Carreg-y-doll and perceived its silhouette faintly illuminated by a ruddy glow, apparently given out by the stone itself. He decided to investigate, and as he got close he could hear an eerie sound, as of the pained whimpering of some animal coming from beneath it. He stepped up on to the barrow.
Immediately, he was gripped by a powerful force. It felt as if two enormous hands had grabbed him by the shoulders. He was lifted off his feet and thrown against the side of the mound. He struggled wildly, but the invisible force held him fast. His ears were filled with the fearful sound of an insane gibbering and his eyes were blinded by a red light. The earth seemed to open up around him, and he felt himself being dragged beneath, down and down to some black place…
The next morning, the stranger was discovered, wandering around and around near the stone in a delirium. He muttered over and over again something about a terrifying place full of evil-faced goblins and weird cackling, and sights which had obviously petrified him, but which he was never able to fully describe. As he recovered, he seemed to have forgotten his experience and never spoke of it again...
That at least is the story, which comes from a Welsh language book of folklore published in 1938, Coelion Cymru (pp 109-10). The stories in it were collected by Evan Isaac, who lived in Holywell. The stone has long gone and it's hard to work out which of the many tumuli near Axton is the one referred to - but either one of the two photographed here would be a good guess. Northern Flintshire, incidentally, represents one of the most extensive Bronze Age burial grounds in Britain - there are scores of barrows in the Gorsedd/Llanasa region.

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