Mythical creatures, legendary beasts, supernatural, and mystical beings have fascinated us since ancient times. They have filled folk tales, songs, and works of art. Sometimes living animals or fossils have inspired these mythological creatures. Some, such as the Eachy of Bassenthwaite or the Woodwose, continue to be witnessed and sought out. While the origins of fabulous creatures are varied, and often disputed, they have played significant roles in human society, and have served to stimulate the imagination and desire that is ingrained in human nature to experience more than this physical world. Whether they truly exist in physical form is indeed secondary to their existence in the minds of so many people.
Mermaids have been described as able to swim up rivers to freshwater lakes and pools, and this maybe be the origin of the Jenny Greenteeth tale, the “river hag”, often described as green-skinned, with long hair, and sharp teeth, who lures children and the elderly to the water’s edge, to drown them. There is the tale of Jenny Greenteeth inhabiting the flooded mine works in Plumpton Woods, Ulverston.
Ginger Beast & Sale Fell Ape
A couple walking their dog came face-to-face with a “tall, hairy, ape-like creature, with glowing red eyes”. This ‘ape’ was moving slowly towards them, but they fled in fear. Are the Ginger Beast and the Sale Fell Ape a woodwose? A wildman, or wildman of the woods depicted in verse and art as being covered with hair, or a Yeti-like creature?
Giant’s Cave, near Eden Hall is associated with the giants Tarquin and Isir. The pair lived on a diet of human flesh, a practice that probably lost its appeal when Sir Lancelot slew Tarquin in battle. The Giants Grave in Penrith is the resting place of Sir Ewain Caesarius “in old time, a famous warrior of great strength and stature” said to be 17 feet tall.
Girt Will o the Tarns is a tragic tale from the mid 18th Century. Will was a ‘gentle giant’ of 9 feet tall who fell in love with the daughter of the Laird of Coniston Hall. This love not reciprocated, he abducted the girl. The Flemings of Coniston Hall gave chase, and caught up with the pair at Kernel Dub at Yewdale Beck. Tragically the girl fell into the water and was swept away to her death. They caught up with Will, he was killed, and was buried where he fell. The long, narrow mound beside the beck has thereafter been called The Giants Grave.
In folklore, giants are beings of human appearance, but are at times enormous in size and strength. The word giant derived from the Gigantes of Greek mythology. Giants often evoke terror and remind humans of their body’s frailty and mortality, they are often portrayed as monsters and antagonists, but there are exceptions, some giants intermingle with humans in friendly way, and can even be part of human families, with their offspring appearing as regular humans.
Vickery, R. 1983 Lemna Minor and Jenny Greenteeth
Holman, T. 2007 Lake District Miscellany
Topham, I. 2018 Mysterious Britain and Ireland
McGrath, A. 2017 Beasts of Britain
Didsbury, N. 2005 Giants Grave, Penrith
Weinstock, J.A. 2016 The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters
Atkinson, P. 2017 Folk Tales of North East England
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