When the Fairies Left England

It’s a strange place, Badstall Lane. The old country tales say that it’s haunted by a man who was accidentally killed by his wife.  Returning to the house one evening after digging up some veg, she thought she saw a wolf trying to get at her baby in the cradle. Taking her husband’s bow, she fired an arrow into the shades – killing what turned out to be her husband.

Because some said he hadn’t just looked like a wolf – maybe he had actually been one – he wasn’t buried in the churchyard. Instead, they carried his body up Badstall lane, and buried him where the footpath to Woodby still crosses it – a stake through his heart, in that quaint rural way, to stop him wandering. There’s the ploughed-out remains of a bronze-age barrow nearby, and some said it was the fairies that lived there that gave him the wolf spell.

Of course, when I say the old local tales, I don’t mean Old Jed told this story round the firelight at the Hanged Man, as the rain drew in on a wild night. Oh no – the Hanged Man is a sanitary, safe, brightly-lit gastro-pub, with only the lads playing Aunt Sally in the garden to remind one of the old days.

No, I had to read the tale of Jan the Wolfman in the book of “Tremlett tales Old and New’, which I bought from the Church bookstall.

Nobody believes those old tales anymore. And the claim that Badstall Lane seems unusually cold in all weathers – well, the locals wouldn’t know. They generally tear up the lane in their 4x4s, and would never notice the difference. It’s only a few romantics would care about the old stories. And they’re of no use in these bright, technological days.

It used to be said that every generation put the death of the belief in ghosts and fairies at about their grandparents’ childhood, or just before – a hundred years previously. And I’ve always gone with that. Through the publication of books of folklore, that’s now where the stories will always live – just out of the memory of the oldest people alive, preserved in a book – or on the ‘net – when the Fairies left England.

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