As mist settled over Pendle,
And clocks chimed the midnight hour,
Came a rush of broomsticks heading
For desolate Malkin Tower.

Alice Nutter leading her brood,
Chattox and the other crones,
While all the good folk round about
Felt a chill strike to their bones.

Vipers’ venom, tongues torn from larks,
Dank water drawn from a mire,
Devilish brewing, foul doings,
Their cauldron set on a fire.

Round and around those witches danced
Widdershins, wildly shrieking,
Knarled and naked, faces twisted,
Their billowing breath reeking.

As Malkin Tower shook and shuddered
With all those wild hags inside,
Invoking spells and vile curses,
The door was thrown open wide.

Satanic revels ceased at once,
Witches cowering cold and grey;
The High Sheriff of Lancashire
Stood framed in Malkin’s doorway.

At his back a hundred troopers,
In his hands a legal writ,
“Damned we are!” thought all the witches,
“Drawn to where the judges sit.”

“Spare us,” they cried, “Rack and thumbscrews,
Confessions we freely make.
We repent, so don’t condemn us
To the scaffold or the stake.”

“Beowulf faced Grendle, “ he replied,
“And the mother of Grendle.
Now it falls to my duty to
Face the Witches of Pendle.

“But, do not fret or harbour fear,
You’ll be neither burned nor hung,
For business folk of Lancashire
Wish to have your praises sung.

“Art works, part works, witchy-start works,
Model witches astride brooms,
From Roughlee, Barley and beyond,
The trade in witchcraft booms.

“You have managed to conjure up
A vibrant business bounty
For authors, artists, shopkeepers
And trade throughout the county.

“So, from Chambers of Commerce and
The Lancashire Tourist Board,
I’ve come here to present to you
Our Gold Enterprise Award.”

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Through the great gorge of Cliviger,
That cold, abrasive winds scour,
In a ravine beneath Eagles’ Crag
Stood the ancient Bearnshaw Tower.

Stood Bearnshaw Tower for centuries
Tucked in the lea of a hill,
And within those venerable walls
There lived the Lady Sybil.

The Lady Sybil was renowned
For being beautiful and bright,
Throughout that dismal valley her
Wit was a radiant light.

A radiant light attracted
Suitors like moths to a flame;
While their ardour amused her she
Rejected them all the same.

Rejected them without favour
And yet there persisted one
Who was utterly entranced by her:
Poor Lord William of Hapton.

Poor Lord William had been usurped
By her love for wild moorland,
She’d climb up to the Eagles’ Crag
And there, in solitude, stand.

Stand there upon the Eagles’ Crag
Looking towards Pendle Hill,
Knowing the land around her was
Subject to her cunning will.

Subject to her will when she danced,
Barefoot in the full moon’s glow,
Over the moor then she pranced in
The form of a milk white doe.

As a milk white doe she chased and ran,
Possessed by wonderful power,
In the moonlight, over the hills
Above ancient Bearnshaw Tower.

Though Bearnshaw Tower was remote
And though her magic was strong,
There is neither spell nor distance
Can still a gossip’s tongue.

Gossips’ tongues wagged beyond Burnley,
Then Lord William came to hear,
“If she is not a witch, “ he said,
“Then she is bewitched, I fear.”

Bewitched or not, he would find out,
And followimg her one night:
He was dumbfounded to witness
Her frolics in the moonlight.

Her frolics in the moonlight as
Widdershins round she cantered:
An owl screeched, a fox cried, while she
Strange incantations chanted.

Strange incantations that confirmed
His love was doomed and gone.
Unless a witch undid a witch:
He’d see Old Mother Helston.

Old Mother Helston lived alone
In her cottage dark and foul,
A knarled, well-withered woman who
Possessed a bitter scowl.

Her bitter scowl she turned on him,
“Let me alone and be gone!
If your fine Lady would be a witch,
Why should I stop her being one?”

“Pray stop her being a witch,” he said,
“Show me how to break the spell
And rescue her from the Devil’s work,
Then I’ll gladly pay you well.”

“The Devil’s work,” sneered Mother Helston,
“Brings many pleasures in life.
But, the craft takes our very souls:
She’d be safer as your wife.

“She’ll be safe come Valentine’s Eve
If you ride out with your hounds
Over the moor in full cry till
A white doe before you bounds.

“Such a chase that white doe will lead,
Graceful, devious and fast,
She’ll try so hard to escape, but
You’ll catch up with her at last.

“A silken cord thrown round her neck
Will subdue her with its power.
Gently, ever so gently then
Lead her back to Hapton Tower.

“At Hapton Tower make her secure
And then you must take your leave
So I can be free to do my work
Upon Saint Valentine’s Eve.”

On Saint Valentine’s Eve he rode
And started a milk-white doe
Which set back her ears, then took off,
But his hounds were all too slow.

All too slow except one old bitch
Running hard on the doe’s heels,
Over the moor and down the moor
And across hoar-frosted fields.

Across hoar-frosted fields they chased
Led on by the strange bitch-hound
Looking too old and grizzled grey,
Yet so fleet over the ground.

Over the ground to Eagles’ Crag,
But, that was the doe’s last mile,
For once the old hound brought her down
A silk cord made her docile.

Lord William led the docile white doe
Towards Hapton Tower, but then
He sought the hound that brought her down,
But never saw it again.

And never would he see her tethered,
As if some burdensome beast.
He fetched the doe to his sitting room
Where she’d have comfort at least.

Comfort in a room with tapestries
And clear windows set with lead,
Persian rugs and quilted chairs where
He left her, and went to bed.

To bed exhausted and soon asleep,
But, quickly, he was awake
When ornaments started to fly
And the tower began to shake.

An earthquake shaking Lancashire?
The world was all aquiver,
Chairs tumbled and doors swung open,
Thick-set walls seemed to shiver.

Might Hapton’s thick-set walls tumble
As a gale began to blow?
And then Lord William remembered
The room with his milk-white doe.

Down to his milk-white doe he dashed
And ran into the room where
The doe was gone, and Lady Sybil
Sat calmly combing her hair.

Calmly, she promised to marry him,
Put behind her the Old Way,
Leaving the craft and Bearnshaw Tower
That Valentine’s to decay.

Yet, some say, come Valentine’s Eve,
With a full moon sailing slow,
There’s a chance, out by Eagles’ Crag,
To glimpse a young milk-white doe.

Prince-Bishop ordered his masons to build
A new church for Saint Mary the Virgin,
The very best builders within their gild
Who, with hammer and chisel and whin-gin,
Would sharp raise walls as true as a plumb-line
On the King’s Meadow, an isle in the Tyne.

By the first day’s sunset the footings were laid
And two courses of stone set into place;
A keel brought them to the camp where they stayed,
Sleeping soundly that night, covered with grace.
But, next day, when to the isle the boat steered
They found all their good work had disappeared.

They stood dumbfounded, aghast and confused:
Who could possibly have cleared the whole site?
It looked like the land had never been used,
The whole work of a day undone by night.
Where had it all gone? No one knew, until
Shocking news came from Quykham on the hill.

That morning the innocent village awoke
To find fresh footings where none were before,
With stacks of dressed stone and beams of best oak:
Surely the work of angels, or devils, or
Fairy folk. Then someone said, “You know,
There’s a church being built on the King’s Meadow.”

Every stone and truss was carted back down
And the builders undid what was undone.
Masons grumbled, their foreman wore a frown,
Especially at the setting of the sun.
A priest spoke up, “We must conquer our fears:
I require watchmen, two stout volunteers.”

A couple of men settled for the night
As dismal shadows gathered dark and deep.
They drank strong ale by the warm campfire’s light
And, despite their resolve, they fell asleep.
Both were awakened by the new dawn’s chill
To find all was gone, once more, up the hill.

The good folk of Quykham again returned
All the stones and beams back down to the isle.
Yet, what the cause was had still not been learned;
The priest thought it must be his sacred trial.
Angels? Devils? Or some troublesome elf?
He decided he would keep watch himself.
When a day’s work was done for the third time
And builders retired to their camp once more,
The prelate remained to frustrate the crime,
With bible and club to even the score.
Moon reached its zenith in star-littered skies
When a fantastic scene assailed his eyes.

Over foundations, by newly laid stones,
Around oak beams and the idle whin-gins
Shaking scaffolding like fragile old bones,
A cunning Green Man dancing widdershins.
As he cavorted and led his wild chase,
A smile! A scowl! Then anger twisted his face.

Quaking, the priest stepped out from the shadows,
Confronting the Green Man, who sneered with disdain.
Angered, the prelate delivered two blows
With his club, splitting the Green Man in twain.
Quite what had happened was beyond his ken,
For he found himself facing two Green Men.

He brandished before him the sacred Good Book
And unto the highest angels he spoke.
Out from the clear sky a lightning bolt struck
And the two Green Men became wreathed in smoke.
When the smoke cleared from the vicinity
There weren’t two Green Men, but a trinity.

One with a wicked smile! One with a scowl!
And one with anger gnarling its features.
Defeated, the priest pulled forward his cowl,
Then surrendered to the whim of those creatures.
As they danced widdershins around him there
The blocks and beams spiralled into the air.

Next morning Quykham woke to find once more
Footings for a new church they had not planned,
And at the centre, its progenitor,
The priest, bewildered, making one demand,
“The spirit moves in a mysterious way,
So, where the church now stands, there let it stay.”

In Quykham, for Mary, a church did grow
And for long generations it has stood,
Overlooking the Tyne flowing below,
Serving the good and the not so good.
On its north wall to mark how it began
Are ranged the three faces of the Green man.

He’s standing on the North Sea Shore,
Staring at the slate-grey main,
Wishing to wade into the waves
And never go home again.

No matter how chilled the waters
They couldn’t be colder than life,
And more willing to embrace him
Than his cold and distant wife.

Having walked out in the morning
He stalked the strand and dune,
Oblivious the sun had set,
Not seeing the rising moon.

By an isolated inlet,
Away from curious eyes,
He watched a seal slither ashore,
And, to his startled surprise,

It sloughed its dull pelt easily,
Exposing what was concealed,
A woman in her innocence
Fabulously revealed.

Her sea-coal black hair cascaded,
Skin pale as the moon on high,
Dark eyes silvered with a sparkle
Like bright stars in the night sky.

Then she sang such a sad lament
For the loves she’d lost at sea,
So broken hearted she sounded,
So in need of comfort he

Warily stepped from the shadows
Expecting she’d seek cover.
Instead, she smiled, “I can’t be your wife,
Yet I can be your lover.”

“Indeed you cannot be my spouse,
For I am already wed,
But, though man and wife are living
As lovers we are long dead.”

“That’s why I have come here,” she said,
“While the full moon rises free.
We can bring each other comfort
Till I return to the sea.

“I’ve ridden along on white horses
To this Northumberland strand.
All my lost loves are behind me,
Now as your lover I stand.”

On her lips he tasted the brine,
In her hair the salty breeze,
And wrapped only in moonlight
Each did the other one please.

He began to have a fancy
That when she settled to sleep
He might steal her seal skin away
Then she would be his to keep.

But, as the moon began to sink
And their passions had been spent,
He nestled in her warm embrace
And far away the world went.

Suddenly, he woke with a start,
To find himself all alone;
There was no sign of his lover
And the grey seal skin was gone.

Sadly he dressed and made his way
Back over the strand and dune,
He’d go back to his bleak home, but
Return come the next full moon.

Young Colleen of the Emerald Isle,
Was home alone and asleep,
When cautiously through her dark bedroom
The Sidhe did quietly creep.

Her skin was pale as soft fallen snow,
Her hair, all of a billow,
Was fiery as a winter sunset
Spilling across her pillow.

The Queen of the Sidhe had decided
Colleen would be her hand maid,
To this end intricate spells were cast
On the lass where she was laid.

They wrapped her in her own bed linen,
But even if she’d woken
None would have heard her cries for help with
Her being so softly spoken.

Swaddled as she was and hard asleep
They carried her out from there,
With graceful ease they rose from the ground
And flew with her through the air.

Once they had carried Colleen across
A lough or flowing water
She was lost to the world, forever
The Sidhe’s adopted daughter.

But, just before they could get so far,
As they flew out from the town,
There came the voice of one who loved her,
“In the Lord’s Name, set her down.”

The Sidhe are mightily powerful
And fear nothing in the land,
Yet, as much as they may wish, they can’t
Disobey the Lord’s command.

So they set her on a grassy bank
But before they flew away,
As one voice they cried aloud and said,
“We’ll return for her one day.”

So, to her home Colleen was restored,
Though to her own self, not quite,
She became a rather restless soul,
Unsettled after that night.

Fearing the Sidhe really would return
She was never left unseen,
Many eyes watched the flame-haired lassie,
The pale skinned, quiet-tongued Colleen.

Then came the night a fierce storm raged and
Many went to turn the flood,
But, when the danger had passed they found
Colleen gone, and gone for good.

Some say she simply ran away or
Was lost in the flood water,
Others said the Sidhe took their flame-haired
Quiet tongued and pale skinned daughter.

Wherever it was she was taken
Never again was she seen,
If it is true the Sidhe took her then
What fate awaited Colleen?

Upon an unassuming farm
Close by old Samlesbury Hall,
Old Sykes and his wife lived like paupers,
As if they’d nothing at all.

No friends it seemed, nor family,
To ask after their health,
But, what they lacked in kith and kin
Was made up for by their wealth.

Bequests had left a store of gold
Which had been complemented
By frugal living all their lives:
Their fortune represented

All they cared about, their pleasure
And their purpose amounting
To gathering it together
And, coin by gold coin, counting.

They’d close the shutters, bolt the doors,
Stop up all chinks and spaces,
Then, when secured, they’d go around
Their secret hiding places.

Under a flagstone in the floor,
Behind the range where they’d cook,
Above a beam in their bedroom,
Loose brick in the ingle nook.

Little leather bags they gathered
On their oaken table top
And once they commenced the counting
They couldn’t bring themselves to stop.

All through the night the gold coins clinked
As they stacked them score by score,
Over and over, but come the dawn
They’d hide them away once more.

They lived as happy harmless misers,
But, tragedy lay in store
As King Charles and his Parliament
With each other went to war.

Too many lives lost! Buildings burned!
The conflict was coming near
To the land around Samlesbury,
Where two misers lived in fear.

What if marauding soldiers came
Should proud Preston have fallen?
Their farmhouse would be ransacked and
Their precious gold coins stolen.

So, they sealed their wealth in stone jars
One night, when no one might see,
Then buried them in their orchard
Beneath an old apple tree.

Cavaliers and Roundheads fought until
The King was captured and tried.
On the day he was beheaded
Old Sykes and his wife both died.

Following the funeral their house
Was thoroughly searched all round,
Hiding places were discovered,
But not a single coin found.

Years passed by as decades do, then
Centuries had come and gone,
The house, passing owner to owner,
Didn’t settle with anyone.

At last a young man moved in to
Make the ancient house his own,
His greatest pleasure being to sit
In the old orchard alone,

Watching birds hop from bough to bough,
The chaffinch and the blue-tit,
Sombre blackbird perched up high like
A preacher in his pulpit.

One evening, as the sun went down,
Shadows stretched when darkness neared,
He felt he was no longer alone:
Then a vague figure appeared.

Quite feint but clearly visible,
Beneath an old apple tree,
In a gown from another age,
Stood a woman who couldn’t be.

Yet, there she was looking pale and drawn,
And not a word did she speak,
Just pointed at the apple tree roots,
Night after night for a week.

The young man made no sense of her,
His speculations ran rife,
Till a neighbour told him the tale
Of Old Sykes and his wife.

Next morning the young man dug deep
Looking for the Old Sykes gold,
As he worked the wraith stood by him
And he felt he was being told

To dig even faster and deeper
Until he struck with his spade
A horde of antique stone vessels;
The spectre began to fade.

As he lifted the jars one by one
Her expression turned to bliss,
Then, vanishing, she’s not been seen
From that day on to this.

Round Samlesbury Hall it’s whispered,
In Samlesbury Bottoms told,
The tale of a favoured young man,
Old Sykes, his wife and their gold.

Into the hills of Albion,
Where the golden eagles soar,
Went Arthur to seek special stone,
Red with mysterious ore.

Then deep into the dark forests,
Where old oaken branches fall,
He collected all the timber
Needed to make the charcoal.

Building up a fiery furnace
Till it was white hot, then he
Fed in the broken chunks of ore
And the molten iron ran free.

The iron cooled in a sandy mould,
But not for long left to lie,
Heat and hammer, heat and hammer
Making vivid red sparks fly,

Driving out the brittle demons
Through the strength of Arthur’s arm,
A sword blade began to take shape,
The smith being adept and calm.

Then there came the polishing and
The edge being honed razor keen,
Finally a handle fitted;
A sword where a stone had been.

Friends said, “This must be the devil’s work.”
“Or angels.” Thought a neighbour
“No need of them,” Arthur replied,
“This is the fruit of labour.

“From the dark earth I dug the ore
And fashioned it through my skill,
And at each stage my working made
It ever more precious still.

“I drew this sword out from the stone
By making my hammers sing,
From dross to precious artefact:
And in me labour is king.”

Balladear