Monday, February 20, 2006

The Stiperstones

The legendary origin of Shropshire’s Stiperstones is related in Frederick Grice’s collection, Folk Tales of the West Midlands. This range of hills was once used as a resting place for the Devil in his travels between England and Ireland. One day he decided to fill in the valley that lay between the Stiperstones and the Long Mynd. He made himself a special apron from the hides of slaughtered cattle and carried in it a load of rocks from Ireland. However, the apron frayed in the heat and the Devil dropped them all over the hillside.

Another landscape myth from Sussex on the origin of Devil’s Dyke is retold on the South Downs Way site: “The story goes that the Devil was angry at the conversion of the Sussex people to Christianity, and resolved to cut through the Downs to the sea to let in the salt water and drown them all. As he dug away by night, an old woman saw what he was up to. She lit a candle and woke her rooster, so that the light and the crowing made him think daybreak was coming. The Devil fled, leaving the Dyke unfinished, and so it remains today.”

Clearly landforms attached to ‘the Devil’ are likely to correspond to those strange rock forms, desolate mountains, deep ravines and so on that people regarded as abhorrent before cultural values changed during the eighteenth century. It would be interesting to consider any specific aspects that are more prevalent than others – perhaps the Stiperstones is an example of a type in which the landform looks as if something destructive has happened. However the naming of landforms after the Devil has not always simply reflected a fusion of folklore and geomorphology. Use of the Devil’s name by European settlers in parts of North America reflected anxiety about the unknown dangers of a new world, including fears about the original inhabitants they were displacing.

1 comment:

snarlerson said...

In the county of Hereford we find the Devil's Shovelful. It is situated at the eastern end of Shobdon and is in reality a prehistoric barrow. But Ella Leather collected a story, published in 1912, which had the Devil infuriated by the erection of such a fine church at Shobdon. He dug up a shovelful of earth so that he could bury both the village and the church. But approaching the village, he scared an old cobbler who dropped his bag. Out tumbled a pile of old shoes. The Devil asked whether the village was Shobdon but the cobbler told him that he had worn out all his shoes looking for the place. The Devil lost heart and dropped the earth where he stood, forming the feature known as the Devil's Shovelful or the Cobbler's mound.

The church at Shobdon was one of the glories of the Herefordshire Romanesque school but it was demolished in 1752 leaving some of its fine sculpture as an eye catcher for the landscaped park. But at least Viscount Bateman replaced it by a jewel of a Gothick church which is well worth a visit.