We now have some of Paul's originals for sale that he produced for my two recent books The Liminal Shore and From Granite to Sea. Check link below for details on how to purchase
Friday, 9 December 2022
We now have some of Paul's originals for sale that he produced for my two recent books The Liminal Shore and From Granite to Sea. Check link below for details on how to purchase
Wednesday, 26 October 2022
Devils, Witches and Shucks of the Essex Saltmarsh
The Blackwater estuary is a vast expanse of tidal power, and is a shoreline littered with the ghosts of my ancestors. Here is a strand where the clandestine places of land and sea merge; punctuated with mysterious, secretive, and isolated islands. Osea, Mersea, Ramsey and Northey; Cobmarsh, Pewet and the Ray all sit on the water here, some now more accessible than others; due to land drainage and tidal flux. Here the highest tides bring overspill and nervous excitement that the old alluvial marshes are once more, creeping landwards, reclaiming their mysterious past.
The red ochre sails of traditional barges once plied their trade upon this waterway, which links land, river, and sea to generations of cultural traditions and interesting lore. This magnificent estuary where the river Blackwater meets the North Sea, is recognised as a Ramsar Wetland site of international importance.
It was here, on this eastern coast that in pre-Roman times the Celtic tribe of the Trinovantes held sway. Collaborators of Boudica and the Iceni, there isn’t much now to show they were here, but the ghosts of this lost British tribe survive deep within the land and on the tides.
These low lying and desolate salt marshes of the Essex shore are eerily beautiful in their bleakness. The marshy lip of the coastline between Brightlingsea and Maldon is particularly stunning and most definitely enchanted. This estuarial district of mid-Essex was once the hub of eighteenth-century smugglers, as barges could be sailed right to the head of the many creeks of the district, and Salcott Creek was at the centre of the illicit operations, where cargoes were unloaded and thrown into a marshy pool. The pool was actually a pond, which had been built with a false wooden bottom, which could be drained to retrieve the goods once it was safe to do so. Many of the old houses facing Salcott creek were lookouts for the illicit traders and hurricane lamps were put into top windows to warn that it was not safe to land.
Just to the west of Salcott lays the moated site of Devil’s Wood. This site is linked to the folklore of the Devil and Barn Hall. This traditional old Essex folk horror narrative is a classic example of diabolical devil lore, with layers of interesting themes to explore. The basic folk legend goes something like this -
One day, a local squire decided to build Barn Hall in what was known as Devil’s Wood. Soon after the builders had begun to dig the foundations on the small island in the centre of the wood, strange occurrences had begun. It was hoped that by building the new hall at this spot would forever thwart the Devil’s sabbaticals from gathering in their traditional meeting place. Each morning, when the builders returned, they found the trenches they had dug had been filled in. This went on for a few days, so in desperation, the squire ordered that a guard be put on duty during the night, to find out what was happening. On the first night the guard heard someone approaching.
"Who goes there!" he shouted. "I, Satan and my hounds," was the reply.
The guard replied, "This place is protected by God and me." The Devil and his hell hounds turned and fled. On the second night the Devil once more appeared. Again, the guardsman inquired as to who was there, and again Old Nick revealed himself and his pack of demon dogs. Only this time the guard made the mistake of declaring that only he was protecting the site, and not God. On hearing this, the Devil picked up a piece of building timber and declared “Wherever this timber falls, you shall build Barn Hall". The Dark Lord threw the timber high into night sky, and it twisted and turned over and over until it landed a mile or so to the west. The demon hounds then surrounded the guardsman, preventing any escape.
The Devil turned upon him, and with the hounds baying, ripped out his heart. The Devil then vowed that he would have the man’s soul whether he was buried inside the church or out. It was eventually decided that he should be buried within the church wall. There are those who say, that if you look closely, you can make out the Evil One's claw marks on the walls of All Saints parish church, where he tried in vain to search out his soul.
In the north wall of the church at Tolleshunt Knights you can still see an effigy of a knight holding his heart. The Devil’s hounds, incidentally, are said to haunt the nearby marshes on stormy nights, and the folklore of the Tolleshunt Knights Devil may indicate that we have recovered some lost wild hunt lore of the Essex coast, where the Devil and his demon hounds chase across the sky and into the grainy swamps of Salcott Creek. Here, under the light of the full moon and glistening stars, they continue to haunt the marshes and collect the lost souls of long dead bargees and fishermen of the past.
The beam, which the Devil threw up the hill was incorporated into the cellar of Barn Hall, which can apparently still be seen today. However, it would be an unwise to attempt to view it, as the Devil placed a curse on the beam, so that anyone who dared to enter the cellar would receive his deadly spell. Barn Hall was built at the beginning of the sixteenth century, so the tale can probably be traced back to this time, if not earlier.
The fields surrounding Devil’s Wood are believed to be haunted by strange beings. An account from the 1980s gives us a clue as to how the area can cause panic through its eerie reputation and unusual atmosphere.
The harvest had been completed, and the farmer was keen to get the field ploughed before the weather broke. He asked his son to plough the field into the evening, and the young farmer ended up using the powerful floodlights on the tractor to get the job finished. As the darkness of night fell across the land, the tractor driver began to glimpse movement along the edge of the field. At first, he thought that he was seeing a fox on her twilight hunt, but as he continued to plough his furrows, he began to feel very uneasy. He was convinced that he was being watched and he kept seeing and hearing movement close to his tractor. A large dark shape then cut across his path, and in a panic, he stalled the tractor. As he tried to restart the engine, he became aware that something unseen and malevolent was trying to open the tractor door; he turned the key again, now frantic to escape. The engine spluttered into life, and he headed off at full speed across the ploughed field. The tractor was bouncing around dangerously, but the young farmer wanted to get away from the terrifying dark field as soon as he could. He eventually reached the road and he headed home. The field was sold soon after this incident, and folk are still wary of driving past it at night.
The plough and sail village of Tollesbury lies on the northern bank of the Blackwater estuary and is almost completely surrounded by salt marsh, reed beds, creeks, fleets and saltings. This area is a truly wild part of the Essex shore, with little development, and is home to a huge variety of wildlife. Although once extinct, this part of the coast is now, once again, the domain of Marsh Harriers and Short-Eared Owls. At the end of the nineteenth century there were close on one hundred fishing smacks operating from Tollesbury Fleet, and oyster fishing was the main industry. The village has always been reliant on both the sea and the lands fringing the salt marsh for agriculture.
The old wind-blasted woods on the edge of the saltmarsh around Tollesbury are said to be ‘devil ridden’ and have been rumoured to have attracted the ghosts of many local witches and others practising the old folkways and magical arts. Related to this is the local ghost-lore of a phantom druid, who manifests once a month under the light of the full moon. During this time, he appears in all his ceremonial regalia in the woods on the edge of the mire.
Belief in witches and magic was still rife up to the beginning of the first world war, and the following accounts are from the early part of the twentieth century.
A local counter witchcraft charm was practised in and around Tollesbury, called branding the witch. This involved cutting a piece of your own toenail and placing it with a lock of hair from the person who had cursed you. These were both thrown into a fire. Immediately afterwards, you should place a poker into the fire, and allow it to get red hot. It was then slowly withdrawn from the flames, and as you did so, this would brand the witch and break the spell. The cursing culprit could then be identified, as he or she would show burn marks on their bodies.
Another counter witchcraft charm was used when someone had been ‘overlooked’ by a witch. You should light the copper and get the water almost to the boil. Set the ‘overlooked’ or ‘cursed’ person down by the water, and place one of their legs into it. You should get the person to keep the leg in as long as they could bear it. Then put them to bed. The following day the person was healed. However, the witch would be suffering with a scalded leg, so was identified.
Tollesbury folk had yet another way of identifying a witch. It was believed that if you saw a mouse and a cat eating from the same dish, the owner was a witch. Mice were favoured creatures of the Essex marsh wizards and witches, who kept them as familiars to help make magic. One Tollesbury sea witch was suspected of bewitching her son’s oyster smack. Each time he dredged for oysters, he would overshoot the spot. Unfortunately, there are no records of any names in this piece of sea-witch-lore. There was also a gypsy witch who travelled around the village, and at least two others who lived in the village, who had reputations as cunning folk, and were consulted about things strange and uncanny and children were warned not to look at the cottage where one of them lived.
The parish church of St Mary the Virgin sits upon the highest point in the village and parts of the building date from the eleventh century. The ancient churchyard is haunted by the ghost of a white rabbit which is reported to appear and run around the graves on some of the darkest nights of the year.
To the north-east, towards Brightlingsea, the Devil haunts the marshy promontory between Pyfleet Channel and South Geedon Creek. There was once an old weather-boarded shepherd’s cottage called ‘Found Out’ on the edge of the marsh. It sat by an old pond at the end of the old cart track from Langenhoe Hall Farm. The old cottage arrived at its unusual name through a strange old folk tale.
When the Lord God made the world, this was the last place He found out – and the owd Davvil was a-living here then.
This little shard of marshy land to the north of Mersea Island is the Devil’s country, and another story concerning the ‘Owd Davvil’ has him joining the twelve strong mowing gang as the thirteenth stranger called Hoppin’ Tom. This was originally recounted by marshman, adder-catcher, bull-tamer and poacher, Ted Allen, and was told something like this -
Once, long ago, a gang of twelve men was sent to mow Langenhoe Marsh, and very soon after they began work, a mysterious stranger surreptitiously joined them. The men were soon feeling irritated, as he mowed faster than any of them, and as a result, he earned much more money. Then one chap spied that he had cloven hooves and knew at once that he must be the Devil. Subsequently, the mowing gang formed a plan, and they had thrown down a load of iron bars in the long grass overnight. The following morning, ’the Owd Davvil’ mowed through the iron with ease, it was like they were made of butter. But later when he came to draw his pay, the farmer spied his hooves, and exclaimed “You’re the Davvil called Hoppin’ Tom, and I won’t pay you” and the Devil let out ‘a shrik like an owl and flew off in a sheet o’ flame’. As Tom flew off, he threw his drinking bowl into the field, and that’s why we still call the small pond the ‘Davvil’s Drink Bowl’ to this day. We never saw Hoppin Tom again after that; well not us, anyway.
Hidden within this old folk tale, we may have a folkloric echo that leads us into the secretive world of traditional marsh-magic, where twelve members met with the leader of their clan, to make the witchy number of thirteen. Perhaps it was on the very cusp of Langenhoe Marsh, that the leader of this mysterious group was once known as “The Owd Davvil Hoppin’ Tom”.
The above excerpts are taken from my recent book - The Liminal Shore: Witchcraft, Mystery & Folklore of the Essex Coast, published by Troy Books.
For more tales of witchcraft, mystery and magic of the Essex coast, please click the book cover, which will take you to my publishers website, where you can purchase a copy of The Liminal Shore
Photographs copyright Alex Langstone. Illustrations copyright Paul Atlas-Saunders.
Tuesday, 18 October 2022
 From the Pisky Painting write up, exhibit 1642. Museum of Witchcraft & Magic
 Seeing Fairies: From the lost archives of the Fairy Investigation Society, by Marjorie T. Johnson, pp 236, 237
 Ibid, pp 73, 74
 Ibid, pp125, 126
 The Folklore of Cornwall by Tony Deane and Tony Shaw, p 65
 Ibid, p 65
 Modern Mysteries of Britain by Janet and Colin Bord, p 157
 Witch Amongst Us by Lois Bourne, p 34 (1979) and Dancing with Witches by Lois Bourne p29 (1998)
 Popular Romances by Robert Hunt: The Elfin Creed of Cornwall
 Exhibit 3796, Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, Boscastle
Tuesday, 21 June 2022
Many readers of my more recent folklore works, may be surprised to know that my first full length book was about my experiences out in the landscape, where I was able to fully immerse myself in the hidden realms of Nature and interact with the Genius Loci at the centre of the British Isles.
According to the concept of psychogeography, the idea of something as mundane as a walk can be expanded and constituted through a conscious contemplation of both place and walker’s relationship with it. This can be both deepened and expanded through psychic interactions with layers of story, lore and myth, where it somehow morphs into a kind of 'occult topography', which seems be a more descriptive term for this type of practice.
Spirit Chaser tells the story of my very own attempt at this type of interaction. At the beginning of 1989, I started having a longing to return to the Cumbrian fells. I had no real motive, apart from some remote and brief childhood memories of a 1970s family holiday, where vast lakes and high waterfalls had imprinted somewhere in my consciousness. I was 24 years old and I was interested in paranormal phenomena, folklore, earth mysteries and the practice of witchcraft and neopaganism. I was also involved in the countercultural, cultish and liminal world of psychic questing. With all of this floating around my psyche, looking back it was inevitable that I would end up on a spiritual adventure of discovery and pilgrimage, which incorporated many, if not all of the above interests. The nostalgic spectre of it all is now very apparent, and the interaction with the 'Genius Loci' - that elusive polytheistic and animistic spirit of place has become commonplace in all the more creative areas in my life. For this is when magic happens, at the point where we begin to connect.
If I were to write Spirit Chaser now, it would have undoubtedly been written very differently. However, as with all writers' work, it has become a snapshot of my life, frozen in time.
Here is the back cover blurb:
Spirit Chaser takes us on a magnificent journey, a journey into the twilight past of seventh century Britain and Ireland. A journey into the heart of a modern day quest for the mystery that is the Sancta Bega; the sacred ring at the mystical centre of the British Isles.
You can read Cheryl Straffon's review of Spirit Chaser on page 11 of Meyn Mamvro issue 80 here
In 2014 we published a limited edition hardback edition, celebrating 25 years since the beginning of the quest. There were only 30 copies produced. We now have only 2 left, and they are available here
Saturday, 23 April 2022
Sunday, 10 April 2022
|Bucca's hoofprints at Tolcarne, Newlyn|
Footprints in Stone
Petrosomatoglyphs in Cornwall
by Alex Langstone
I have long been intrigued by ideas of topographical features relating to giants and other legendary figures. These petrosomatoglyphs, such as footprints and handprints, can be found all over the world, and seem to variously belong to kings, devils, saints, horses and giants. Cornwall has its own stony prints and our journey begins on Tintagel Island.
King Arthur’s footprint is located at the highest point on the island, and centuries of erosion make it difficult to judge whether this is a natural feature or not. It has been discussed as an important place of inauguration, where a king was required to stand as a symbolic gesture of territorial leadership. However, there is nothing recorded in Cornish folklore on this custom, but there is evidence elsewhere in Britain. The ancient seat of the Kings of Dalriada at Dunadd in Scotland had a tradition where the newly crowned king would place his foot into a “stone footprint” on the land to symbolise his rule, similarly with St Columba’s footprint at the Mull of Kintyre, and the footprints of Fergus Mór mac Eirc at Crinan Moss.
|King Arthur's footprint, Tintagel Island. The church of St Materiana can be |
seen on the opposite cliff
The Tintagel footprint story has been repeated often since 1889, when it was first suggested that King Arthur could step one stride across the sea from the island’s rocky footprint to the parish church on Glebe cliff, linking two very important sites. Another example of this amazing folkloric deed is found at the Carn Brea Neolithic hilltop settlement where we find giant Bolster standing with one foot on the summit and the other on the top of St Agnes Beacon. It is interesting to note that whilst Carn Brea is lacking a stony footprint, it does have a giant’s handprint on the top of one of the massive, weathered granite stacks. This is linked to the hill’s very own resident giant, known as John of Gaunt, and alongside his hand, we have his petrified stony head protruding from an outcrop at the eastern end of the hill. John and Bolster would throw rocks at each other, demonstrating their rivalry, and it seems that Bolster won this game, as Carn Brea is littered with rocks, whilst St Agnes Beacon is smooth and clear.
|The footprint of St Agnes (or sometimes ascribed to Giant Bolster) Chapel Porth. Pic: Rupert White|
The legendary holy woman, St Agnes has her own immortal footprint set into stone at Chapel Porth. Located in the valley, not far from the ruins of her old chapel and well, where in the early eighteenth century, local historian Thomas Tonkin recorded:
“She likewise left the mark of her foot on a rock, still called St. Agnes Foot, which they tell you will fit a foot of any size”
The St Agnes footprint is also sometimes ascribed to the giant Bolster. Interestingly there is another giant’s footprint at the rocky outcrop known as Creeg Tol in West Penwith.
Goss Moor lies in the heart of mid-Cornwall, and was once the home of King Arthur's Stone, which was recorded as having several indented hoofmarks, which were described as the prints of King Arthur’s hunting horse, which was kept at Castle an Dinas. This old folk narrative is perpetuated in a ghostly encounter, which states that Goss Moor is haunted by the shimmering apparition of King Arthur and his knights. Cornish historian Samuel Drew recorded one of the most impressive ghost sightings linked to Arthur. Around the end of the eighteenth century, King Arthur’s ghostly army was witnessed in the sky above Castle an Dinas, in a wild hunt. Around a century later, Henry Jenner recorded a story from an old man at the hamlet of Quoit, who had seen the ghosts of King Arthur's soldiers training at Castle an Dinas hillfort, and recalled the moonlight glinting and reflecting from their broadswords. Nearby can be found the remains of a Neolithic chambered tomb called the Devil's Coyt and this site maybe connected to King Arthur’s stone, as it also has the imprint of a cloven hoof on its surface.
On the south shore of the Duchy, lies the fishing port of Polperro, and it is here where we encounter our next stony footprint. The village is home to the Devil’s Hoofprint, which is also known as the Devil’s Doorway, where the Dark Horned One rides up from his eerie domain in a glistening black coach drawn by his enormous midnight stallion with glowing red eyes. The spooky tale informs us that as the Devil and his coach materialised from the egress in the rocks, Satan’s Stallion left a gigantic fiery hoofmark in the slate. This can still be seen today as a hoof-shaped pool, which is filled twice each day by the flood-tide.
In the far west of Cornwall, we have our final rocky footfalls. These can be found set into a large stone at Tolcarne, which rises to the rear of the fishing harbour at Newlyn. This rock, locally known as Bucca’s rock, is believed to show the Devil’s (or Bucca’s) footprints on the top, and around the base is the solidified print of a fishing net. The story tells us that in the year 1592, the Devil decided he wanted to go fishing. He stole some nets from the Newlyn fleet and headed towards the harbour. However, he was discovered by some of the choir of St Peter’s church, and they chased him away from the harbour, whilst chanting the Apostles’ Creed in the hope of exorcising him. The Devil strode out across the valley, trying in vain to escape, and finding that he could not flee, increased his body size to that of a giant, flapping his dark outstretched wings, he flew to the top of Tolcarne, uttering the words Bucca, Bucca, Bucca!
|The summit of Tocarne, Newlyn|
Article first published in Meyn Mamvro Vol, 2 No. 5. © Alex Langstone
With thanks to Jane Cox, Gemma Gary and Rupert White.
Saturday, 5 March 2022
My latest book, The Liminal Shore: Witchcraft, Mystery and Folklore of the Essex Coast is now available to buy on the publishers website: www.troybooks.co.uk/the-liminal-shore
The Liminal Shore is a brand-new work, seeking the spookiness of the isolated salt marsh and the hidden lore of the urban shore. Detailing and cataloguing some of the captivating cultural legends, myths, and folklore from the fascinating coastline of Essex and its eerie and brooding borderland. The author explores many remarkable old folk-narratives and traditional tales of marsh-wizardry, cunning magic, and sea-witchery, alongside some of the region’s most enigmatic spine-chilling ghost-lore. The peculiar calendar-customs and eccentric festivals are also investigated, bringing to life many of the old and often forgotten rituals of this interesting and enchanted coast. Discover such characters as Hoppin’ Tom, Mother Redcap, Cunning Murrell, Rollicking Bill and Jop Summers, who among many others form part of a rich and diverse folkloric history of this deliciously atmospheric, strange, and often unexpected coastline.
The book features illustrations by Paul Atlas-Saunders, and a foreword by David Southwell.
Sunday, 23 January 2022
The sixth annual edition of the Cornish Folklore periodical is now available. Published every February, each issue contains a wealth of original research, recorded lore and traditional folk narratives from across Cornwall. The journal regularly features some of the leading writers and academics specialising in Cornish folklore and culture, alongside classic reprints from the heyday of folklore collecting. Lien Gwerin aims to showcase the best in folklore, social history, myth, legend and culture from across the the rugged peninsula.
The Lark in the Morning by Merv Davey
Bizarre Beasts of Cornwall by Alex Langstone
T.F.G Dexter: Cornish Pagan by Rupert White
St Keyne’s Well by Robert Charles Hope
Gwithti an Pystri: A Cabinet of Folklore and Magic, reviewed by Alex Langstone
Industrial Drolls: The Sub-Genre of the ‘Cousin-Jack Story’ in Cornish Folklore by Alan M. Kent
Rambles and Ruminations around the inner life of the Fogous of Cornwall by Steve Patterson
The Stone Men of St Cleer by George Basil Barham
Donald R. Rawe and the ‘Night on Roughtor’ by Karen F. Pierce
Review: The Cornish Folklore Collection. Vol. 1
The St Allen Piskies by Alex Langstone
PLUS original artwork by Paul Atlas-Saunders, Tony Shiels and Harry Maddox
Tuesday, 4 January 2022
You can order a copy of The Liminal Shore here