The Phoenix Guide to Strange England, County by County : Hookland by David Southwell

Best experienced in the PDF zine

The Faery Fort, Sidley Hill, Blagden Bridge

Confusingly for visitors to Hookland, the county boasts four locations known to those who live near them as ‘the Faery Fort’. While the Faery Fortress of Summer Hill and the Faery Fort of Scar Hill regularly grace tourist brochures and occasionally even cross the place propaganda threshold to become postcards, Blagden Bridge’s Faery Fort is largely neglected. This may be because it is one of England’s smallest stone
circles, measuring just 15-feet in diameter. It may also be because it on the feral edges of Barrowcross or its ill reputation for high strangeness that extends from the thin memory of folklore right into the latter half of the 20th century.

Surrounded by the ancient birch copse crown of Sidley Hill, the Faery Fort, also known as the Seven Maids or Seven Hostages, is a late Bronze Age hengiform embankment measuring some 40-feet across. Sitting within the levelled centre is a complete seven-stone circle. Mapped by moss, each of the sandstones is around four-feet high. Outside the embankment, flanking the entrance cut into the earth are portal two stones eight-feet heigh known as ‘The Gatemen’ or ‘Greenkin Guards’ who give an impression of implacable nightclub bouncers, all thin-mouthed silence and scrutiny.

Almost too archetypal in appearance, a child’s dream of how a ring of faery stones should look, the Faery Fort repays the aching climb up the Sidley Hill with a peculiar prettiness that not everyone responds to. When Hookland artist Katherine Giddings was asked why she never painted it as part of her Long Lithic sequence of works, she replied: “It’s too damn twee. I’d be worried that Walt Disney would sue me for some infringement of his turgid films.” Other artists including noted photographer Paul Watson have talked of it being a poor subject, writing: ‘It feels stage-managed, a piece of landscape set-dressing. A doll-house scale thing trying to contain something inexpressibly dwarfing to humanity.’ *

Belying its tranquil appearance, local lore has the Faery Fort as a site of entrenched enmity, sealed by blood and loss. Traditional tales have the earth embankment as the remains of a Faery soldiers’ camp. It is said a party of knights from the Summer Court were sent into our world to retrieve either an errant elfin noble or a treasure stolen from the Queen of Faery herself. Needing a secure base, they spoke polite magics to the soil of Sidley Hill and it carved itself into its current shape. The seven stones of the circle are said to be maidens taken from surrounding villages as hostages to ensure people co-operated with their quest. When the villages came together and sent a war-party to retrieve the kidnapped women, several of the faery warriors were slain. The remaining knights were forced to flee back to their land, but before they left by jumping into the flames of the camp’s fire, they took revenge on their foes. They claimed the hill as forever faery, left two of their party behind to guard it and turned them and the maids into stone. A spring at the bottom of Sidley Hill, known as Mother Tears, is said to be a sympathetic
response from the land to the weeping of those whose daughters had been petrified.

Largely disregarded as having any historical veracity by most modern academics, several Hookland antiquarians, including Richard Moore and Edward Bliss, put forward the theory that the folklore of the Faery Fort recorded an actual historical conflict between Bronze Age tribes. C.L. Nolan was kinder to the idea, writing: ‘Folklore is often the long memory of the land. Its tales may be outlandish, but they are rarely hollow. We may not be able to say what or when, but something happened to scar the site, to make it a taboo that echoes to this day in mother’s forbidding their children to venture within it.’ * *

It is interesting to note that recent work on the site undertaken by the Radiation Laboratory at Mordant College, seemed to confirm one detail of local lore when it suggested that the remains of organic material burnt in the middle of stones dated to between 900-700 BCE.

The sinister nature of the site in local eyes was perpetuated in 1921 when a 10-year old Molly Lovell from Blagden went missing while disobeying her mother and playing at the Faery Fort. Despite extensive searching, poor Molly was never seen again. A decade later, visiting walkers discovered the decayed remains of human adult forearm within the circle. The origins of the grisly find were never fuller ascertained, though the theory adopted by detectives investigating at the time was that the arm had been dropped by foxes who dug it from a shallow grave – despite the fact no such burial site could be found within a five-mile radius of Sidley Hill.

A reporter for the Hookland Messenger recorded at the time: ‘Tavern talk in Blagden has taken an atavistic turn with murmurings of trade with elves, blood curses and who among them might be guilty of some resentful witchery.’

A sense of menacing oddity has clung to the Faery up to more recent times. In 1968, Arthur and Vera Tiniswood from Surrey were touring Hookland on their annual holiday with their teenage daughter Cynthia. Approaching Sidley Hill around noon, they decided to pull over their Bristol 407 and have a picnic lunch. While Arthur snoozed off sandwiches and tea, Vera gave permission for Cynthia to climb to the summit.

Initially delighted to reach the top and find the earthwork and circle hidden behind the trees, Cynthia’s mood soon turned to one of unease. Speaking to Strange Days Journal a decade later, she remembered: ‘It had been August’s full heat on the climb up and at first I liked the shade of the copse, seeing down on all the countryside below. I shouted out: “I’m the Queen of the Castle! You’re the dirty rascals!” When I entered in the circle itself, I began to feel chilly. Looking up the sky had become overcast and I decided I better get back to my parents before any rain started.

“When I tried to walk between the gap in the bank, I felt a spasm inside. Not just a muscle twitch, but something deep inside me. I found myself involuntarily turned around and walking back into the middle of the Maidens. I stopped and tried to walk out through the gap again, but the same thing happened. After several tries, I was panicking and so decided to try and climb over the bank. As I got to top of it, I felt an electric shock. It was as if there was a glass wall or some other an invisible barrier around it I began to walk around the bank, trying to feel for some gap on it, but I couldn’t find any way out at all.

“Even though it had only seemed like a few minutes, darkness had fallen. I will admit I was now hysterical. At one point I could hear voices calling my name, torches and lanterns moving amongst the trees on the other side of the barrier. I tried shouting to them, but they never seemed to hear me. Eventually I cried myself to sleep.”

Despite police and volunteer search teams scouring Sidley Hill for 48 hours and having entered the Faery Fort several times, Cynthia Tiniswood was found asleep in the middle of the Maidens nearly a full three days after she had disappeared when her mother had waved her off. Despite pressure from both the constabulary and her parents, Cynthia insisted her account of her missing days was entirely truthful. When the compiler for this Guide contacted her more than a decade later, she still held to her original telling of events at the Faery Fort.

“I know what happened, I just don’t know what it was or what it meant. I also know that you’d never get me up there again. There are some places we just aren’t meant to visit, places where the land takes trespass personally.”

* Ghost Currents, (Avalonia Press 1973)

* * C.L. Nolan On … Collected Radio Talks, (Horlick & Ward, 1938)

David Southwell is an author of several published books on true crime and conspiracies, which have been translated into a dozen languages. However, these days, he mostly writes about place.

Twitter:      Hookland     Repton

Wyrd Question Daze : Peter Verwimp

I’m Peter Verwimp, hailing from Antwerp, Belgium, Europe. I’m a musician, curator, producer and shamanic healer.

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Where did you come from and where are you going?

I was born and raised near Antwerp, just at the border with the Netherlands. At age 17 I moved to the city and have been living there for most of my adult life. It’s my home base from were I travel around the world. For the past 10 years i’ve been living in an old gentleman’s house where I have my recording studio as well. The plan is now to move outside of Antwerp to a more quiet and possibly more remote area, to be more close to Nature and away from the busy city life.

Musically and art wise I’ve been doing a variety of things in the past. I played in mostly heavy bands, I was part of a sound art multimedia collective for 10 years with which I traveled all around Europe, the US and Asia for 10 years. I did a radioshow for about 5 years on local radio station Centraal and I worked at the promo section of the now defunct Conspiracy Records for many years.

I`ve been curating concerts, book readings and exhibitions at my house for more than a decade now and used to organise the ‘Ceremony of the Ascension’ art and ambient festival in various locations around the city. Next to that I became involved with shamanism and do shamanic healings from time to time. The Shamanic element plays an important role in the way I live and make my art.

What preoccupies your mind these days?

I’m constantly working on music these days. Since the first lock down in 2020 I lost my job as a chef and have been struggling to keep my head above water. Luckily I have a home studio where I can record my albums, music for movies and art videos. Being a solo artist I love to collaborate with people from different art disciplines. I work with other musicians, with video artists, writers and poets, contemporary dance artists, fashion designers and the like. Collaborations bring different points of views to the fold and that works really inspiring for me. It gives me the possibility to share ideas with others and to get to know them through their work.

Throughout the years there have been some very intense, worthwhile and ongoing collaborations with musicians and artist from around the globe. I’ve been working with Grey Malkin (The Hare and the Moon) from Scotland for about 10 years now. We’ve released 3 albums together and are now also part of a bigger collective called The Black Swan Triad, alongside musicians Menalaeh and Vinlansraud from Norway and fellow Belgian musician Stratosphere, with who I’m also involved with other sound projects. I worked with Chtonia from New Zealand, with video artist Jutta Prior from Australia and Poet Lois P. Jones from the US. With sound artist Jim Wylde from Canada, Tim Holehouse from the UK, No One (Mark Neys) from Belgium, Modular synth wizard Onsturicheit (Belgium) with Farid Nahid, a traditional percussionist from Iran, working with vocalist Marko Neuman (Finland) with filmmaker Marco Laguna, Corona Barathri and Endsdomir from Russia, Onasander from Italy….and so many others.

Currently I`m rehearsing with Steve Hermit, a percussionist / drummer from Belgium, for a future release and live performances. And I’m involved with a new project that will bring together the poems of Ruben de Somer, drawings by Felix Bosschaert and music by myself and Alan Trench (UK, Temple Music)…plenty things to be busy with!

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell

Even though I have a sweet tooth I absolutely love the taste of sour things a lot, from the citric acid on candy to Thai Tom Yum soup, lime on a Taco, a Margarita cocktail….sour has a way of highlighting the other tastes, it makes them stand out more. I love the touch of wind on skin, the sound of bells, the smell of freshly ground herbs and spices (and coffee of course!). And I have a soft spot for rocks and stones, big or small, mountains or standing stones…they all have a profound sense of mystery to them.

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

A reoccurring dream / nightmare I had in my youth always started in a bar that I had only visited once in my waking hours. The bartender was the most friendly guy, even though later in the dream I saw he had hooves, which made it clear to me that he was the devil. He would invite me to his mysterious and antique house to meet his 3 bearded wives. They were most friendly too and showed me a very large book or manuscript they were working on. It was mostly about Botany and a special, spiky, Hedra Helix like plant in particular. The dream always started the same, but each time I dreamed it the story would unfold further. After some time, I’d gotten familiar with them and visited regularly, I was introduced to their beautiful daughter. The Devil and his wives were always dressed, but the daughter ran around naked all day. The last part of the dream was the union with their daughter that sprouted the plant to overgrow everything in it`s sight. The plant literally grew all around the world, on every object, every building and highway, bridges and towers…it took over everything on its way. After that I never dreamed that dream again, but the memory will always be vividly with  me.

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

Years ago I was doing a painting job at a retirement flat where the previous owner had recently died. It was a small appartement and there was the possibility for residents to call on a nurse via a button activating an alarm at the medical office in the building. After I had been at work there for about an hour there was a knock at the door. I openend the door and a nurse stood in front of me asking if everything was ok and why I pushed the button.

I did`t push the button, I said, not even by mistake because I was painting the other room in the appartement. Half an hour later the same thing happened and the nurse came to the door again. She thought of course that I was playing a game with her, but I assured her that was not the case at all. So she asked for an electrician to have a look at the wiring…turned out the alarm button was not even connected to their system anymore…

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

I`m not sure if a sense of place really has an influence on my work, but going for long walks in Nature certainly contribute to my inspiration and gives me fuel to go on in the crazy world we are living in right now. It brings me a sense of belonging. And when playing live, a place does have an influence on my improvisations. I`ve had the chance on several occasions to play in churches, in a forest or an old industrial plant and the feeling of those places does inspire me.

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

I think that this whole Pandemic thing the past two years has had a profound influence on me for sure. Being cut of from the world, friends and other collaborators, the conspiracy theories and propaganda from governments and media, the censorship of information and everything else that was going on was very inspiring. Tapping into the fear that could be felt all over, the dystopian state of the world… It has influenced me to make two albums that revolve around those themes and feelings.

Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke

For many years I had been wanting to play at the Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, Norway. Orryelle Defenestrate, an artist, filmmaker and musician from Australia that I had met through mutual friends had managed to get to rent the place for an evening of performances and he invited me along with Norwegian drone master Sysselman. My wife and myself where staying at a B&B  not far from the Mausoleum. Because it seemed like we could do this on foot quickly., we decided to go for that option instead of taking a cab. So to get there we used Mappy or some other app to get us there. Both loaded with suitcases and musical gear we went on our way.

Little did we know that the app was so accurate. Instead of leading us there by road, the app took us through a forest and bramble bushes, over a ramshackle old bridge over a waterfall and through muddy uphill meadows. I must say we were glad to have finally reached our destination, we had faced some danger but we had great laughs on our way too!

Wyrd Question Daze : Andy Paciorek

“We are the Dreamers of Dreams”
https://www.blurb.co.uk/user/andypaciorek
https://twitter.com/Andy_Paciorek
https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

Where did you come from and where are you going?

“There’s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Or which way the river’s flowing”

What preoccupies your mind these days?

“Nothing but desolate wastes
and fierce beasts.”

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell

“The snozzberries
taste like snozzberries.”

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

“Pink macaroons
And a million balloons
And performing baboons and…”

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

“Traveling in the world of my creation
What we’ll see will defy
Explanation”

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

“It can take you to any room by pressing
one of these buttons. Any button.
Press a button and zing!
You’re off.
And up until now,
I’ve pressed them all.
Except one.
This one.”

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

“Vermicious Knids”

Tell us a good story, anecdote or joke

“No touching, no tasting, no telling.”