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Fairy Sites

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This is a guidebook to over 500 places in the British Isles where fairies have actually been seen.

Concentrating on places that are identifiable and able to be visited today, the sources drawn on range from traditional folklore to modern first-hand sighting reports. The entries give precise locations, usually including Ordnance Survey map references.

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The Traveller's Guide to Fairy Sites - click to read the Introduction


The Traveller's Guide

to Fairy Sites

The Landscape and Folklore of Fairyland
In England, Wales and Scotland

Janet Bord


Click to read the Introduction

"An inspiring introduction to the ancient fairy sites of Britain's magical landscape. An important addition to the renaissance of respecting, protecting and celebrating our sacred ecology" - William Bloom



Puck and the Fairies, by W M Lizard

This is a guidebook to over 500 places in the British Isles where fairies have actually been seen.

Concentrating on places that are identifiable and able to be visited today, the sources drawn on range from traditional folklore to modern first-hand sighting reports. The entries give precise locations, usually including Ordnance Survey map references.

All the different types of Little People are represented. They are mostly not the pretty winged fairies that appear in children's picture books.''Real" fairies can be frightening.

By reading these stories and travelling to the fairy sites, the reader will gain a sense of what it is to inhabit that Otherworld of the fairies.

This is a call to get up and explore the Fairyland that is all around us.


JANET BORD has lived in rural North Wales for the past 30 years and is well known for writing Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People, Mazes and Labyrinths of the World, Footprints in Stone and seventeen further books over a period of 25 years with her husband, Colin Bord. They also created the Fortean Picture Library, a pictorial archive of mysteries and strange phenomena.

The Traveller's Guide to Fairy Sites

Janet Bord

215 x 110 mm, 296 pages, fully illustrated in black and white with colour codes by county, plus user-friendly maps.
ISBN 0 906362 64 4, £12.99 / $25.95 September 2004

Fairies dancing around a Cromlech, illus by T H Thomas, 1880
Triumphal march of the Elf-King, by Richard Doyle, 1875
Brownies
Schiehallion, by Hamish M Brown
A Midsummer Night's Dream, by Arthur Rackham, 1908
Eildon Hills, Scotland
Fairies by S C Hall, 1853
Fairy Oak
17th C pamphlet
Sample county map from the book

INTRODUCTION


"When we were on holiday in Cornwall my daughter and I came down a winding lane, and all of a sudden there was a small green man by a gate watching us. All in green, with a pointed hood and ears.... We were cold with terror. We ran for the ferry below... I don't think I have ever been so frightened."


This first-hand account of a 20th-century fairy sighting contains several elements that will become familiar: the quiet rural location, the unexpectedness of the encounter, the 'small' man watching the interlopers, the green clothing, the fear experienced by the witnesses. In many ways this is a typical sighting. It is intriguing, and to many people unbelievable – yet many apparently sane people claim similar sightings in recent times, and in addition such sightings go back through the centuries, and are also legion in folklore.

I have taken an interest in fairy folklore and fairy sightings for many years, and my first book on the Little People was published in 1997 – Fairies: Real Encounters with the Little People. In that book I presented first-hand reports of sightings of fairies and Little People all around the world, in addition discussing the nature and origins of the Little People, Fairyland and other worlds, and whether reported UFO entities had any link with fairies. I ended that book with a brief list of some fairy sites in Britain, and so in one respect this new book carries on where the last one left off, in that I have in this new book tried to present an (admittedly unscientific) survey of identifiable sites in England, Wales and Scotland which have either been linked with fairies in folklore, or which are modern locations of fairy sightings. My main criterion was that the site should be identifiable, either in such detail that it is possible to give a map reference, or at least in enough detail that anyone interested can go to the general area where the sighting took place. Following these criteria closely meant that there are very many other accounts in fairy lore which have had to be omitted, mainly because the location was not given precisely enough. However, the coverage of fairy lore within the stories that have been included is probably representative, in that from my reading of fairy lore it is clear that the same themes are continually repeated, and so the tales included in this collection are likely to be quite representative of fairy lore as it now survives throughout England, Wales and Scotland.

Some of the facts about fairies that have revealed themselves may be surprising to some readers. The first and most notable is that the great majority of fairies are not tiny pretty beings with diaphanous wings. Those fairies are not the ones described in traditional fairy lore, nor are they the ones seen by people in the 20th century and more recently. However... there are of course exceptions to every rule, and it is true that there are a few reports of tiny winged fairies, indeed one was seen by a friend of mine, Nona Rees, when she was a small child. She was living by the sea at St Davids in Pembrokeshire, and on a hot summer's day in 1947 when she was five years old, she was walking home from the beach with her mother. They were in unspoilt countryside very close to the rocky shore, and approaching a stone stile, when they saw, to the right of the path, 'hovering over a gorse bush, a tiny pure white creature, with wings, like the traditional Christmas Tree fairy but perhaps only an inch to an inch and a half high.' Nona specifically commented that it 'hovered upright'; because both she and her mother were interested in natural history, they were quite sure it was not a moth or butterfly that they were looking at: 'To us, it was definitely a fairy.'

Despite this and no doubt other similar cases, it is generally true that winged fairies were a Victorian creation, and illustrations from that time usually show them as childlike and innocent as well as sporting the inevitable wings. However, this is a sanitised view of the fairies, for in traditional folklore, as well as in modern first-hand sightings, the Little People often carry a hint of menace, and people tend to feel frightened when they see them. Many traditional accounts contain information on how to protect oneself against fairies, which also indicates that the pretty winged fairy seen in Victorian paintings is many miles away from the true fairy.

A brief analysis of the 500 accounts in this book reveals some interesting, and often surprising, facts.

Fairy Names

The Little People are known by a great variety of names, some more familiar to us than others. Ones we often come across include fairies, pixies, elves, gnomes, brownies, and hobgoblins. The country people, wishing not to offend the Little People, would sometimes refer to them by names such as the Good People, the Good Neighbours, the Honest Folk, the Gentry, the Men of Peace, and similar euphemistic names. In Wales they were the Bendith Y Mamau (The Mother's Blessing), or the Tylwyth Teg (The Fair Family), again these names being given so as not to antagonise the fairies. The best collection of fairy names can be found in Katharine Briggs' comprehensive and fascinating book A Dictionary of Fairies, where she explains the varying natures of creatures going by such unusual names as Asrai (water fairies from the Welsh Border), Bean Si (Gaelic for 'fairy woman' and the same as 'banshee'), Boggart (a mischievous brownie), Buggane (the Isle of Man shape-shifting goblin), Ellyllon (Welsh elves), Farisees (Suffolk fairies), Fenoderee (Manx brownie – large, hairy and ugly), Gruagach (fairy lady with golden hair in the Scottish Highlands), Gwyllion (evil mountain fairies of Wales), Habetrot (the Scottish Border spinning fairy), Hob or Hobthrust (North Country brownies), Knockers (Cornish mine spirits), Loireag (Hebridean water-fairy), Pigsies (another name for pixies), Plant Annwn (Welsh Underworld fairies who travel into our world through the lakes), Pwca (Welsh version of Puck), Redcap (evil Scottish Border goblin), Robin Goodfellow (well-known English hobgoblin), Sidh/Sith/Si (the Gaelic name for fairies in the Scottish Highlands, and in Ireland), Spriggans (ugly Cornish treasure guardians), the Strangers (a Lincolnshire name for the fairies), and Yarthkins (fertility spirits of the Lincolnshire fens), among many others.

Fairy Appearance

The fairies vary greatly in height from only a few inches tall to human-sized and even larger, though generally their height is in between these extremes, and they are often described as being child-sized, though looking like old adults, often with beards. However they are sometimes capable of shape-shifting, and all in all the fairies' appearance can take a multiplicity of forms. They often appear 'earthy', and wear clothes made from natural materials such as moss and leaves, and their garments are sometimes described as jerkins, hose, leggings, breeches, etc. The clothing colour most often recorded is green (which is the Celtic colour of death), but red and brown, both natural earthy colours, are also reported frequently, and other colours have been seen too. Pointed caps are described surprisingly often in modern accounts, but despite the general public perception of fairies as winged and able to fly, wings are rarely reported and fairies are basically flightless. However, they are sometimes able to 'trans-locate' in a magical way, and they have also been reported as flying on twigs or plant stems, using a magic password to make this happen.

Fairy Dwelling-Places

Hills and mountains, and natural and man-made mounds, are the locations most often associated with the fairies, though some are linked to standing stones, groups of rocks, stone crosses and other stone features, natural and artificial. Some reports link fairies with woods and individual trees; and a considerable number of their chosen habitats are watery, either wells or springs, lakes or pools, rivers or streams. Man-made sites are often chosen, as fairies do not necessarily avoid structures associated with man. The man-made structure most often associated with the fairies is the prehistoric burial mound, a feature of fairylore which may reflect the belief that fairies are closely linked to the dead, maybe even being themselves the spirits of the dead. Fairyland may equate to the Underworld where the dead people congregate; and the caves, mines, holes and tunnels which sometimes feature may also be part of this theme.

Fairy Activities

The stories depict the fairies in a variety of activities, all of which have parallels in the human world. The fairies' favourite pastime is certainly dancing, which crops up in about a fifth of the reports in this book. Music also features in many stories, sometimes performed by the fairies themselves, but often simply heard as a supernatural accompaniment to their activities. The fairy celebrations of dancing and feasting often take place at night: the darkness conceals them from human eyes, but it could also be another link with their possible status as the human dead. When the fairies are seen at work, they are performing a wide variety of tasks, often domestic, such as washing. They also attend fairs and markets, help humans with the housework, and tend their fairy cattle. There are numerous accounts that involve association with animals, usually fairy cattle but sometimes fairy dogs and fairy horses. It is interesting that fairy animals are a 'Celtic' feature, being associated only with tales from Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Human/Fairy Interactions

Many interactions are involuntary on the part of the humans, and also undesirable. Fairies were known to abduct humans, or in other ways to inhibit their freedom, and interestingly most of the abduction reports in this collection took place in Celtic lands. Could this be a memory of the hostage-taking which was such a prominent aspect of the elite culture of early medieval Ireland and other Celtic areas? Fairies sometimes compel humans to act as midwives at fairy births, or to be domestic servants. Some human mothers have had their babies stolen by the fairies, and changelings substituted. However there are also cases of intermarriage of fairies with humans – though sometimes the fairy wife had to return to her family when her husband accidentally broke the rules controlling their relationship. (See, for example, Corwrion, Gwynedd.)

The bad fortune which humans often experienced at the hands of fairies resulted in the widespread use of charms and rituals to try and keep them away. Iron was widely believed to have the power to repel the fairies, and there are numerous examples in this collection. Mothers would hang a pair of open scissors above a cradle to stop the baby being stolen by the fairies: not only were the scissors of iron, but when open they form a cross which is also a protective symbol. People would also make offerings to the fairies, such as leaving pins at wells, or food-offerings, these all intended to keep the fairies in a good mood.

Many human/fairy interactions have shown there to be a multi-dimensional reality in the experience of Fairyland – the person who has stepped over the boundary between 'them' and 'us' is in both places at the same time. Many trespassers into Fairyland have experienced a dislocation in time: a short while spent in Fairyland may be months or even years in human time. But some who have interacted with the fairies have brought back fairy artefacts or relics as proof of the reality of their experience. Drinking cups are most often mentioned, including the 'lucks', but objects stolen from the fairies, or coins given in payment, usually disappear or turn into leaves when taken out of fairyland.

Most of this information comes from the fairy lore and sighting reports I have collected together in this book. Other researchers who have surveyed in detail the whole vast range of fairy lore, rather than the limited coverage I have attempted, have been able to draw more conclusions, and fascinating accounts of their work can be found in the books listed in my bibliography. I have also provided sources for all the stories and reports, and these are given at the end of each county. Where only brief details of a book are given, the full publication details can be found in the bibliography.

I have never seen any fairies myself, but I know people who have, and they are all people I can trust. So I am sure that 'normal' people do see fairies, though quite what causes these unexpected sightings is hard to explain. Are the fairies really there, living among us in another dimension of existence that we dull humans are occasionally able to penetrate? Or are they merely human mental creations which our minds externalise so that we think we are seeing them? These are questions I do not feel qualified to answer, even though I wish I could offer a simple and definitive explanation of fairy sightings. If fairies do exist all around us, but in a separate dimension, certain people visiting fairy haunts may be able to sense their presence, and perhaps even glimpse them.

It is certainly true that once you are aware of the possibility of a fairy presence, you experience a familiar landscape in a different way, and may even be conscious of a life-force operating beyond our everyday spectrum. It may also be possible to train oneself to see fairies: Moyra Doorly practised techniques that enabled her to see nature spirits when she was living on the Scottish island of Arran. Although I have never (yet) seen fairies, I had a strange experience when I was writing my earlier book on them, which I mentioned in that book: a field gate was closed for me in a way I have been unable to explain, and at the time I jokingly said that it must have been the fairies. In times past that would have been the conclusion of the country people too: the fairies were often thought of as kindly folk, living apart from but interacting with their human neighbours and being mutually helpful. While doing the research for this book, I discovered to my surprise that the area of Wales where the gate-closing incident occurred once had a strong fairy connection, although I wasn't aware of that at the time. So I still like to think that I may have had an encounter with the fairies, even though they didn't reveal themselves to me – or maybe I just wasn't able to see them.

Many of the fairy haunts in this book are atmospheric places, and the visitor who is sensitive to the spirit of a place may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of its fairy inhabitants. But I would ask, if you do visit any of these places, please be a thoughtful visitor, do not disturb anything or anybody, and pass lightly by.

Janet Bord

North Wales
January 2004


Sources

- The Cornish sighting quoted at the beginning of the Introduction was told by a President of the Women's Institute in Wellington, Somerset, to R.L. Tongue and quoted in Briggs, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature, 132.

- The details of Nona Rees' fairy sighting were provided by her in a letter to the author in autumn 2003.

- More information on fairy names can be found in Katharine Briggs' book A Dictionary of Fairies.

- Moyra Doorly's experiences are described in her article 'Invitation fo Elfland', published in Fortean Times no.179 (January 2004).

Traveller's Guide to Sacred England
Traveller's Guide to Sacred Ireland
Complete book list
Gothic Image: main booklist

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