Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Devil comes to Cley Hill, Wiltshire

The looming bulk of Cley Hill dominates a large area of Wiltshire. Its summit is topped by ancient earthworks and is now in the care of the National Trust. As befits such a prominent landmark and ancient site, Cley Hill has attracted a fair share of legends.

It is said that many years ago the Devil himself came to Wiltshire. Striding across the landscape from Somerset the Devil was heading for Devizes. The people there had turned their back on the evil one and embraced Christianity, and now the Devil was out for revenge. He carried over his shoulder a huge sack of earth with every intention of dumping this on the town that had so angered him.

As he walked the Devil met an old man coming the other way. The Devil asked the man how far it was to Devizes. Suspecting the Devil was up to no good, the elderly farmer replied “Why, it is a great distance. I left there when I was a young man and look at me now.” The Devil looked. Deciding he did not dislike Devizes enough to travel for years to get there, he dumped the soil where he stood. And so Cley Hill was formed.

The link with the Devil may indicate that this hill was a stronghold of the old pagan religion. The obvious conflict with Christianity in the tale makes this supposition more likely.

Lying on the side of the hill is a great sarsen stone, the same sort of stone used to build Stonehenge and Avebury. Local legend has it that the face of the Devil is carved on the underside of the stone and that great misfortune awaits who ever turns the stone and reveals the evil one. Perhaps sensibly, nobody has turned the stone.

A final legend is less laden with doom. This concerns the ancient burial mound which stands on top of the hill. This barrow is said to be the home of the guardian spirit of local livestock. It is this spirit which presides over the nearby Hog’s Well, water from which is said to be a sure cure for sick pigs and will also ease sore eyes in humans.

The spirit itself has been seen on occasion. He takes the form of a dwarf who lurks on the summit of Cley Hill around dusk. If you encounter such a phantom it is probably best to check it out for horns and cloven hooves before speaking to it. Cley Hill is not the sort of place on which to make a mistake.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Wiltshire by Rupert Matthews.

No comments:

Post a Comment