Tales and Traditions of the High Peak

By William Wood (1862)

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2009

Author's Preface

IN bringing these Tales and Traditions before the public some diffidence is experienced, because there are numbers who treat traditional lore as little less than pure fiction. That tradition is born of truth, although but very rarely bearing the exact image of its progeniture, the following singular and remarkable instances will in some degree corroborate:-

On the northern coast of the Firth of Forth, near to the town of Largo, in Fifeshire, there has existed from time immemorial an eminence known by the name of Norie's Law, and the popular tradition respecting this spot, has ever been that a great warrior, the leader of a mighty army, was buried there, clad in the silver armour he wore during his lifetime. Norie's Law is evidently artificial, and there can be no wonder that the neighbouring county people should suppose that a great chief had been buried underneath it, for the interment of warrior chieftains under artificial mounts, near the sea, is as ancient as Homer. Hector, speaking of one whom he intended to slay in single combat, says:-

“The long-haired Greeks
To him, upon the shores of Hellespont,
A mound shall heap; that those in after times,
Who sail along the darksome sea, shall say,
This is the monument of one long since
Borne to his grave, by mighty Hector slain.”

Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors buried their warrior leaders in the same manner. In all the numberless burial barrows thrown over by agricultural progress, in England and Scotland, no [Page xxviii] silver armour was ever found except in Norie's Law; and what but tradition from a very remote period, could have told of a mighty warrior being buried in silver accoutrements at Norie's Law. The verification of this tradition came to light in the year 1819, when a man in humble life and very moderate circumstances, residing near Largo, was - greatly to the surprise of his neighbours - observed to have suddenly become passing rich for one of his position and opportunities. A silversmith, in the adjacent town of Cupar, had about the same time been offered a considerable quantity of curious antique silver for sale; part of which he purchased, but a larger part was taken to Edinburgh, and disposed of there. Contemporary with these events, a modern excavation was discovered in Norie's Law, as it did not require a witch to surmise that a case of treasure-trove had recently occurred. The late General Durham, then owner of the estate, was thus led to make enquiries, and soon discovered that the individual alluded to, induced by the ancient tradition, had made an excavation in the Law, and found a considerable quantity of silver which he had disposed of as previously noticed. Acting on this intelligence, General Durham caused the Law to be further and carefully explored, when were found some lozenge-shaped plates of silver, scales of a coat of mail, silver shield and sword ornaments, and the mounting of a helmet of the same metal. These relics are still preserved at Largo House.

At Ballyshannon, says Bishop Gibson, in his edition of Camden's Britannia, two pieces of gold were discovered by a method very remarkable. The Bishop of Derry being at dinner, there came in an old Irish harper, who sang an ancient song to his harp. His lordship, not understanding Irish, was at a loss to know the meaning of the song; but upon enquiry, he found the substance of it to be this, that in such a place, [Page xxix] naming the very spot, a man of gigantic stature lay buried; and that over his breast and back were plates of pure gold, and on his fingers large rings of the same metal. The place was so exactly described, that two persons there present were tempted to go in quest of the golden prize which the harper's song had pointed out to them. After they had dug for some time, they found two thin pieces of gold, circular, and more than two inches in diameter. This discovery encouraged them to seek next morning for the remainder, but they could find nothing more. In all probability they were not the first inquisitive persons whom the harper's song had sent to the same spot. The harper's song was traditional when sung before the Bishop; it was called Moira Barb, and one passage in there translated:

“In earth, beside the loud cascade,
The son of Sora's King we laid,
And on each finger placed a ring
Of gold, by mandate of our King.”

The “loud cascade” was the well-known waterfall at Ballyshannon, now known as “the Salmon-leap”.

Another instance of a similar description occurred in Wales. Near Mold, in Flintshire, there had existed from time immemorial a burial mound or barrow, named by the Welsh peasantry Bryn-yr-allylan, the Hill of the Fairies. In 1807, a woman returning late from market one night, was extremely frightened by seeing, as she solemnly averred, a spectral skeleton standing on this mound and clothed in a vestment of gold, which shone like the noon-day sun. Six years afterwards, the barrow, being cleared away for agricultural purposes, was found to contain arms and burnt bones, the usual contents of such places. But besides these, there was a most unusual object found, namely, a complete skeleton, round the breast of which was a corslet of pure gold, embossed with ornaments [Page xxx] representing nail heads and lines. This unique relic of antiquity is now in the British Museum; and if we are to confine ourselves to a natural explanation, it seems but reasonable to surmise that the vision was the consequence of a lingering remembrance of a tradition, which the woman had heard in early life, of golden ornaments buried in a goblin hill.

The following tradition was, twenty years ago, remarkably verified. In the reign of Elizabeth, Lady Russell, wife of Lord John Russell, is said to have beaten one of her sons to such an excess that he died. This alleged treatment was in consequence of the youth refusing to learn to write; on every occasion, making nothing but blots on his copy books. After Lady Russell's death, her ghost or apparition was continually seen in the house where her son died. So recent as the aforementioned time, some alterations were made in this dwelling, when a quantity of antique copy books were found pushed into the rubble between the joists of the floor, and singular as it may appear, they were covered with blots.

I must here apologise for having so profusely interspersed these tales with a smattering of facts, and also a many notes, both however tending to illustrate the novelties of the district, and the characteristics of the inhabitants, - past and present.

One of the Tales in the prospectus, “the Resurrectionist”, I have omitted, as some of its details might not accord with the feelings of many at the present time.

THE AUTHOR.

Eyam, Aug, 1862.

Editorial Note
There is an account of Norrie's Law and its finds on “The Modern Antiquarian” website, citing an account in The East of Fife Record dated June 16th 1882, which post-dates Woods by twenty years!

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in January 2009.

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