Friday, 3 April 2015

Dorset's Myths and Legends

Corfe Castle (photo by Seb Perrotin)
The county of Dorset is steeped in history, and with history come myths and legends - stories of fairies and witches that will delight the kids and dark tales of torture and betrayal that will have the adults in the family enthralled.  

Here are just a few of the places and landmarks you should visit during your holiday in Devon if you want to immerse yourself in the local folklore.

The Cerne Abbas Giant

This ancient chalk hill figure is one of the largest in Great Britain, measuring 180 feet in height. It is also the most controversial, thanks to its rather obvious male parts.

There are a number of theories as to when and why it was created. The most widely believed explanation is that it is a depiction of Hercules and was carved from the chalk bedrock during the reign of the Emperor Commodus, who believed he was a reincarnation of the mythical hero.

Local legend has it that sleeping on the phallus of the so-called 'Rude Man' can cure a person of infertility. Rather interestingly, figures show that women in North Dorset have the highest birth rates in the country, with an average of three children each.

Corfe Castle

The ruins of this 6,000-year-old castle on the Isle of Purbeck are the ideal place for ghost hunters and history buffs, as it is brimming with tales of treachery, treason and mysterious apparitions.

Its most famous ghostly resident is the Woman in White, who appears headless in a white nightgown and is said to haunt the castle's boundaries. She is thought to be the spirit of a young lady who betrayed the castle to Oliver Cromwell's troops during the English Civil War.

Corfe Castle is also the location where, in 978, King Edward was assassinated on the orders of his stepmother so that her own son could ascend to the throne.

St Catherine's Chapel

This 14th century chapel, which sits on a hill overlooking Abbotsbury Abbey, was built by monks as a place of pilgrimage and retreat. It should be high on any visitor's list of places to see thanks to its fantastic views alone. But there's more to it than the scenery.

Until the late 19th century it was common for young women to go to the chapel to seek the help of St Catherine, the patron saint of virgins, in finding a husband. They would put their hands and knees in the holes in the south doorway and say a prayer.

Tyneham Village

While there are no reports of ghostly goings on in Tyneham, this Dorset village definitely has a spooky air about it, having been completely deserted for more than 70 years.

It was evacuated in 1943 during the Second World War, with locals given 28 days to leave so that the area could be used to train soldiers. They hoped one day to return, but sadly this never happened and today only the empty buildings remain.

In the school room you'll find a fascinating display, in which the days of the 1920s have been painstakingly recreated. There are open school books and names above the clothes pegs. It's almost as if the children left the building just minutes ago.ADNFCR-1734-ID-801772472-ADNFCR