‘Fold upon fold of the encircling hills, piled rich and golden,’ is how the writer (best known for her posthumous 1936 novel South Riding) Winifred Holtby, described England’s Yorkshire Wolds.
Eighty years on, here’s how a couple of tourist guides currently describe the area: “With hidden valleys, chalk streams and peaceful villages, the Yorkshire Wolds make a refreshing change from city life or a seaside break. It’s a fabulous place to unwind and enjoy the English countryside at its best.”
But, there is also a much darker side to this mysterious countryside.
It is a place where kings built hospices to protect weary travelers from wolves – and werewolves; a place where cloistered monks chronicled the predations of zombies, vampires and aliens; a place dotted with henges, barrows, tumuli and ancient burial mounds that superstitious locals once avoided for fear of encountering the fairy folk who dwelt there.
It was here, in prehistoric times, that the first settlers in this countryside worshipped before stone monoliths, while wearing masks fashioned from the skulls of animals, and where in later times, the county’s squirearchy had their masques disturbed by the screams of an unquiet skull.
Unmatched by anywhere else in England, the Wold’s many myths and legends also include green-skinned fairy folk, headless ghosts, ancient warlords, miracle-working priests, a disappearing river, an avaricious Queen, a black skeleton, a Parkin-eating dragon, sea serpents, turkeys galore, England’s oldest buildings, shape shifters, enchanted wells, giant monoliths and a grid of ley lines.
The Wolds have a reputation for otherworldly spirits and fairy folk. S.T./Flickr
Even more strangely, it is also a place associated with some of the greatest heroes and villains of recent pulp, crime and science fiction according to the literary concept devised by science fiction writer Philip Jose Farmer (1918-2009).
And all this was before the peace of the Yorkshire Wolds was disturbed by the crash of a giant meteorite falling from the sky into the center of what I have called the Wold Newton Triangle.
Where is the Wold Newton Triangle?
The western side of the Wold Newton Triangle broadly follows the path of the B1249 road across N E England’s Yorkshire Wolds from Driffield in the south, then down Staxton Hill and on into the Vale of Pickering.
The eastern side of the Triangle is bordered by the North Sea, running the length of the A165 coast road from Gristhorpe and Filey Brigg along to Flamborough Head and Bridlington Bay. The southern and final side of the Triangle runs parallel to the old Woldgate Roman road, which heads out from Bridlington and across what used to be called the East Riding of Yorkshire towards Stamford Bridge and York.
But why should such a place, and a relatively remote and sparsely populated place at that, throughout all its long history, be the location for so much weirdness? Is it merely coincidence or are there other factors at play to make this part of the Yorkshire Wolds a nexus or focus for the arcane, the unusual and the just plain uncanny?
When it comes to possible explanations, two candidates stand out from all the rest: the Ley Lines and the Gypsey Race River.
The Ley Lines
If we accept that ley lines really exist then Rudston, at the heart of the Wolds, is one of the most mystical and magical locations in the country as it is the end point (or primary node) for not one but five ley lines, including one of the country’s three “Basic Alignments.” This is the Rudston to Wardstone Barrow in Dorset ley, which intersects the other two Basic Alignments (the Lands End to Hopton and the Isle of Wight to Isle of Man leys) at the Beckhampton ‘Adam’ Longstone (standing stone) near Avebury.
Junction of the Yorkshire Wolds Way with the Chalkland Way. Dr Patty McAlpin/Wikimedia Commons
Also radiating out from the monolith is the Rudston to Helvellyn ley, the Rudston to Scilly Isles ley, the Rudston to Prescelly (or Preseli Mountains – the source of the giant bluestones used to construct the inner circle of Stonhenge) in Pembroke ley, and the Rudston to Harwich ley. (Harwich is also on a ley line that runs across to Prescelly and intersects the Rudston to Wardstone ley at the King Stone monolith, part of the Rollright standing stones complex in Oxfordshire. Taken together, these last three ley lines also form the three sides of a triangle with Rudston at the apex which, if you accept the mystical significance of leys, just adds to the aura and power focused on the Rudston monolith.
Rudston Monolith, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. The stone stands almost 26 feet high next to Rudston Parish Church of all Saints. Made form Moor Grit Conglomerate from the Late Neolithic Period. This stone can be found in the Cleveland Hills inland from Whitby. This view to its wide face looking NE. Wikimedia Commons
But there might be another explanation.
The Waters of Woe
Over the centuries the legend has grown up that the Gypsey Race River is a harbinger of evil, only flowing before a major calamity or tumultuous event strikes the land – or “battle, plague or famine” as one old folk saying puts it – earning the stream the reputation of being “the Waters of Woe.”
The Gypsey Race apparently flowed in the years before the famines that accompanied “the Anarchy” of the 12th century civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, the Black Death, the start of the English Civil War, the execution of King Charles the First, the Restoration of King Charles II, the Great Plague of 1665 and the Fire of London, the landing of Prince William of Orange and the start of the Glorious Revolution, the year of bad harvests in 1861, the Great North Sea Storm of 1888, in the years before the start of both World War One and World War Two, as well as the exceptionally harsh winters of 1947 and 1962, when many Wolds villages were cut off for several days by 12 foot (3.6 meter) deep snowdrifts.
The tumultuous history of the region included the Great Fire of London, 1666. Public Domain
And, the Gypsey’s appearance in 1795, is said to have been almost simultaneously followed by the Wold Newton meteor crashing to Earth.
Wold Cottage meteorite. A chondrite which fell near Wold Cottage Farm, near Wold Newton in 1795. On display in the Natural History Museum, London. Wikimedia Commons
To download a map of The Wold Newton Triangle please click here: http://www.urbanfantasist.com/wold-newton-triangle-map.html
For more details of the myths, legends and facts of the Wold Newton Triangle visit www.urbanfantasist.com
Featured image: The hauntingly beautiful landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds. What strange history and mysteries lie within? Paul Moon/Flickr
By Charles Christian