When I have time on my hands and I’m not researching cancer, coaching other people or recovering from chemo I explore local folklore and legends to gain more of a sense of the history and beliefs in the region I now inhabit.
We’re situated in a very rural area where many of the settlements date back to the Iron Age. There are a few houses, some farms and two pubs. We have no mains gas or drainage, no street lighting and no superfast broadband – fibre will never reach us. In stormy weather we have no electricity or water and if it snows we are cut off from the rest of civilisation. We have amazingly beautiful countryside, diverse wildlife, very funny local farmers (two pubs and nothing else for miles may well be responsible for the rampant joviality out here) and plenty of folklore.
There are many ancient stories some of which are more far-fetched than others and there are also a number of antediluvian rituals that continue to this day. These include orchard wassailing and the crowning of the mistletoe queen and holly prince which takes place in early December. It’s an interesting part of the country and vastly different to the life I led for 30-odd years in major cities.
My nearest city is Worcester where there is evidence of a number of witch trials, torture and burnings. But an even more bizarre tale concerns the original door to the cathedral. The story goes that during the 1000’s Danish vikings frequently invaded Britain and one such raid took place in Worcester. The vikings were vicious pillagers and ransacked the town as well as the cathedral. Anything of worth was stolen including chalices and decorative items belonging to the church. Not content with this sizeable hoard, one greedy viking decided to steal the sanctus bell from the bell cot. The sanctus bell was heavy and cumbersome and the viking became separated from the rest of his group.
Thinking the raid was over, the townsfolk came out from their hiding places and found the lone viking attempting to make off with this sacred artefact. Angry at the desecration of the church, the thefts and the damage caused to their homes, the people of Worcester captured the viking and flayed him alive. His skin was pinned to the door of the cathedral as a warning. The original door has been conserved and testing revealed the skin pinned to it is human and dates from the correct period; some fragments are preserved in the cathedral crypt.
I like Worcester, it’s a small city with some very old buildings, unique shops and a fascinating past. The residents no longer flay vikings and although theft happens, it isn’t rife. Here’s a collage of the cathedral for you to enjoy, I haven’t included the skin!