Telling Tales: 7 Fascinating English Myths and Legends

Selwicks Bay in East Yorkshire is home to the legendary Robin Lythe Cave
Selwicks Bay in East Yorkshire is home to the legendary Robin Lythe Cave | © Mike Kipling Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Judy Cogan

English folklore has woven a rich tapestry of magical and mysterious stories, which have been passed down through generations for centuries and take in some the most beautiful corners of the land. King Arthur’s Legend of the Sword and the brave antics of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men are two of the most famous tales, but there are lesser-known yarns spun about vengeful queens, haunted forests and fluffy fairy steeds. Here are seven of the most fascinating myths and legends from England.

Robin Hood’s secret hideaway

The story of Robin Hood — the outlaw who robbed the rich to give to the poor while outwitting the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham — dates back to the 14th century and still thrives in popular culture today. He infamously claimed Sherwood Forest as his home, but did you know that Robin and his comrade Friar Tuck regularly used Lud’s Church in the Peak District as a hideaway? This deep, moss-lined chasm held many dark secrets. In the nearby hills of The Roaches, Doxey Pool is said to have played a role in the narrative. Locals claim the relatively small pool is still home to an evil mermaid called Jenny Greenteeth, who kept Robin’s enemies at bay all those years ago.

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Lud’s Church is a mysterious rocky chasm in the Peak District woodland

Why you won’t find any flowers in Green Park

The smallest of London’s Royal Parks was created in 1660, when King Charles II made plans to walk from Hyde Park to St James’s Park without leaving royal soil. He acquired land between the two parks – thought to have been a burial ground for lepers in the Middle Ages – and called it Upper St James’s Park. In 1746 it was renamed Green Park, because it is the only Royal Park without any flowers. Legend has it King Charles’ wife discovered her husband had been picking flowers here for a mistress. Seeking revenge, the Queen ordered that every single flower in the park be pulled up and no more planted. There are still no formal flowerbeds in Green Park today.

Corgis were once fairy steeds

When you think of corgis, the first thing to come to mind might be Queen Elizabeth II. Britain’s reigning monarch has owned more than 30 of the pooches – specifically, the high-energy breed known as the pembroke welsh corgi – over the course of 70 years. However, corgis, which mean “dwarf dog” in Welsh, have another claim to fame. Legend dictates woodland fairies used to ride the dogs into battle as their trusty steeds. Even today, the darker patch of fur under their shoulders is sometimes called the “fairy saddle”.

The pembroke welsh corgi is the breed of choice for Queen Elizabeth II

The legend of Robin Lythe Cave

A cave sits at the gapping mouth of Flamborough Head, a dangerous stretch of rugged white cliffs that jut out from East Yorkshire into the North Sea. Robin Lythe, a well-known smuggler in the 18th century, used this cavernous 15-metre (49-foot) high cave to store his contraband – mostly French spirits and tobacco. It is thought local fishermen found Robin’s body washed up on the shores near the cave. Visit at night and you may catch a glimpse of Robin – a disheveled man heaving a wooden barrel of cognac over the white rocks – before he disappears into thin air.

The hellhounds of Wistman Woods

Step inside Wistman Woods in Dartmoor, Devon and you’ll find a wonderful maze of twisted and stunted oak trees covered in lichens, and mossy boulders – but do so at your own peril. The name itself comes from an ancient dialect word for “eerie”, and the wood is well-known for being home to a pack of hellhounds who are led by a dark-robed figure that threatens to steal the mortal soul of anyone stupid enough to enter the woods. A hellhound is a supernatural dog with mangled black fur, glowing red eyes and super strength. Anyone who sees or hears a hellhound can expect a brutal and sudden death.

Moss-covered oak trees can be found in Wistmans Woods in Devon

The birth place of King Arthur

The stories of King Arthur, his wife Guinevere and his Knights of the Round Table have achieved mythical status in Britain, capturing imaginations for centuries. The legend of the Sword in the Stone is the probably the most famous tale of them all. Magician Merlin placed a sword in a stone called Excalibur and whoever was able to pull it out was the rightful king of England. Spoiler alert: Arthur was the only man who could do it. These days, visitors flock to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, a dramatic ruin on the coastline that is said to be the birth place of King Arthur and the location of Merlin’s cave.

The legend of Pendle Hill

Pendle Hill is surrounded by stunning Lancashire countryside and rises above an ancient hunting ground, once the home of wolves and wild boar. It is also the location of Britain’s biggest witchcraft trial that took place over 400 years ago. The 12 Pendle Witches – all local women – were charged with the murders of 10 people by the use of witchcraft. The witchcraft trial was documented in an official publication, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, by the clerk of the court, Thomas Potts and has remained a well-known part of England’s folklore and history to this day.

Clitheroe Castle is situated under the brow of Pendle Hill
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