Hollywood would have us believe that fairies are mischievous but kindly creatures – think Tinker Bell, the fairy dust-sprinkling brat of the Peter Pan films. The reality is somewhat different. These wee magical creatures should be avoided at all costs. They are malicious, devious beasties who’ll try to bamboozle and trick you, and then lure you into one of their snares.
Fairies kidnap babies and leave ‘changelings’ in their place. When I see a small child wearing fairy wings in the street, all I see is fairy propaganda at work. Under no circumstance should you wander unsuspecting into the realm of the fairies, and definitely avoid eating their food. These winged willow-the-wisps are a menace, but, for reasons known only to themselves, fairies don’t like iron. Carry iron with you at all times.
Having just survived a close encounter with fairies while walking in Underlaid Wood, close to Beetham in Cumbria, its ‘fairy’ easy to see how belief in the small folk could take possession of a person’s mind. The narrow woodland tracks cross a landscape of wind and rain sculpted limestone. Its a magical place, with a soundtrack of eerie, creaking trees to accompany your walk. Surely, fairies live in these enchanted woods?
Of course they do, they even have their own staircase, ‘The Fairy Steps’. What further evidence is needed?
Of course, fairies aren’t really real. That’s what I keep telling myself, and anyone who claims otherwise requires a one way ticket to the psychiatrist. They may be folk tales, grown out of pre-Christian beliefs and traditions, but the idea of the fairy has had a powerful influence on the Western European mind for centuries…and for centuries people have believed them to be real creatures influencing human existence. A bit like the Djinn in Arabic culture.
I had my fairy encounter while on a walk to Arnside, where the River Kent reaches Morcambe Bay and the Irish Sea. The day started fine, but by the time I reached Arnside it was raining. Three hours later it was still raining. As the Eurythmics sang, ‘There’s nothing like an English summer’.
The estuary at Arnside is famous for its railway viaduct, and for being one of the most dangerous bits of sand anywhere in England. The estuary is deceptive, people die here every year. Quicksands will swallow a person whole; deep water channels are hazardous; most dangerous of all, the ‘Arnside Bore’. Not some old bloke in the pub, but a tide that arrives with the speed and power of a steam train at full speed. You don’t want to be on the sand during the Bore.
I reached Arnside via the village of Beetham, home to the 14th century Beetham Hall. This fortified country house appears to be slowly crumbling, but it is still a powerful reminder of the history of this region…and Beetham Hall has seen some history. On the wrong side of the War of the Roses the owners lost the Hall and their lands to the crown. On the wrong side during the English Civil War, its Royalist defenders found themselves under siege from Thomas Fairfax’s Roundheads. Serious damage was inflicted on the building, it hasn’t recovered since.
Beetham itself is a pretty little village, with a cluster of old buildings, including St. Michael and All Angels Church, parts of which are 12th century. The original chapel was dedicated to the largely forgotten St. Lioba. She was born into a nobel Saxon family, and was destined for Holy Orders from an early age – she was related to St. Boniface, which no doubt helped her career. Boniface made it his life’s work to covert Germany to Christianity (where he met a sticky end, presumably at the hands of an affronted pagan).
St. Lioba accompanied Boniface on his missionary trips. It was while pestering Germans that she is credited with saving a village from a terrible a storm, one of several miracles allegedly achieved through prayer. Beetham parish church doesn’t have an association with her anymore, but up the hill from the church is a shrine containing a statue of her ringing a bell.
Getting closer to Arnside the Limestone Link route I was following passed by the 14th century Hazelslack Tower. A Peel Tower that was constructed to protect people from attacks by Scots raiders and Border Reivers. The tower fell into disrepair in the 17th century, coinciding with an end to Border Reiver activity.
From here it was only a couple of miles to Arnside. On a good day, you can look out over Arnside Sands and see the hills of the Lake District in the distance. Unfortunately, the clouds had gotten progressively bigger and darker on my journey and now, in Arnside, the heavens opened. Only another six miles to go…as the Eurythmics sang, ‘Here come the rain again’. I blame the fairies.