Legendary Origins

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2003-2010


  1. The Origin of the Wrekin (England).

  2. Bomere Pool (England).

  3. The Origin of Tis Lake (Denmark).

  4. The Origin of the Island Hiddensee (Germany).

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The Origin of the Wrekin


Long, long ago, in the days when there were giants in the land, two of them were turned out by the rest and forced to go and live by themselves, so they set to work to build themselves a hill to live in. In a very short time they had dug out the earth from the bed of the Severn, which runs in the trench they made to the present time, and with it they piled up the Wrekin, intending to make it their home.

Those bare patches on the turf, between the Bladderstone and the top of the hill, are the marks of their feet, where from that day to this the grass has never grown. But they had not been there long before they quarrelled, and one of them struck at the other with his spade, but failed to hit him, and the spade descending to the ground cleft the solid rock and made the "Needle's Eye."

Then they began to fight, and the giant with the spade (for they seem to have had only one between them -- perhaps that was what they quarrelled about!) was getting the best of it at first, but a raven flew up and pecked at his eyes, and the pain made him shed such a mighty tear that it hollowed out the little basin in the rock which we call the Raven's Bowl, or sometimes the Cuckoo's Cup, which has never been dry since, but is always full of water even in the hottest summers.

And now you may suppose that it was very easy for the other giant to master the one who had the spade, and when he had done so, he determined to put him where he could never trouble anyone again. So he very quickly built up the Ercall Hill beside the Wrekin, and imprisoned his fallen foe within it. There the poor blind giant remains until this day, and in the dead of night you may sometimes hear him groaning.

There is another and a better-known legend of this famous Wreken:

Once upon a time there was a wicked old giant in Wales who, for some reason or other, had a very great spite against the Mayor of Shrewsbury and all his people, and he made up his mind to dam up the Severn, and by that means cause such a flood that the town would be drowned.

So off he set, carrying a spadeful of earth, and tramped along mile after mile trying to find the way to Shrewsbury. And how he missed it I cannot tell, but he must have gone wrong somewhere, for at last he got close to Wellington, and by that time he was puffing and blowing under his heavy load, and wishing he was at the end of his journey. By and by there came a cobbler along the road with a sack of old boots and shoes on his back, for he lived at Wellington, and went once a fortnight to Shrewsbury to collect his customers' old boots and shoes, and take them home with him to mend.

And the giant called out to him. "I say," he said, "how far is it to Shrewsbury?"

"Shrewsbury?" said the cobbler; "what do you want at Shrewsbury?"

"Why," said the giant, "to fill up the Severn with this lump of earth I've got here. I've an old grudge against the mayor and the folks at Shrewsbury, and now I mean to drown them out, and get rid of them all at once."

"My word!" thought the cobbler. "This'll never do! I can't afford to lose my customers!" And he spoke up again. "Eh!" he said, "you'll never get to Shrewsbury -- not today nor tomorrow. Why look at me! I'm just come from Shrewsbury, and I've had time to wear out all these old boots and shoes on the road since I started." And he showed him his sack.

"Oh!" said the giant, with a great groan. "Then it's no use! I'm fairly tired out already, and I can't carry this load of mine any farther. I shall just drop it here and go back home."

So he dropped the earth on the ground just where he stood, and scraped his boots on the spade, and off he went home again to Wales, and nobody ever heard anything of him in Shropshire after. But where he put down his load, there stands the Wrekin to this day; and even the earth that he scraped off his boots was such a pile that it made the little Ercall by the Wrekin's side.

Bomere Pool


Many years ago a village stood in the hollow which is now filled up by the mere. But the inhabitants were a wicked race, who mocked at God and his priest. They turned back to the idolatrous practices of their fathers, and worshipped Thor and Woden. They scorned to bend the knee, save in mockery, to the White Christ who had died to save their souls.

The old priest earnestly warned them that God would punish such wickedness as theirs by some sudden judgment, but they laughed him to scorn. They fastened fish bones to the skirt of his cassock, and set the children to pelt him with mud and stones. The holy man was not dismayed at this; nay, he renewed his entreaties and warnings, so that some few turned from their evil ways and worshipped with him in the little chapel which stood on the bank of a rivulet that flowed down from the mere on the hillside.

The rains fell that December in immense quantities. The mere was swollen beyond its usual limits, and all the hollows in the hills were filled to overflowing. One day when the old priest was on the hillside gathering fuel he noticed that the barrier of peat, earth, and stones, which prevented the mere from flowing into the valley, was apparently giving way before the mass of water above. He hurried down to the village and besought the men to come up and cut a channel for the discharge of the superfluous waters of the mere. They only greeted his proposal with shouts of derision, and told him to go and mind his prayers, and not spoil their feast with his croaking and his killjoy presence.

These heathen were then keeping their winter festival with great revelry. It fell on Christmas Eve. The same night the aged priest summoned his few faithful ones to attend at the midnight mass, which ushered in the feast of our Savior's nativity. The night was stormy, and the rain fell in torrents, yet this did not prevent the little flock from coming to the chapel. The old servant of God had already begun the holy sacrifice, when a roar was heard in the upper part of the valley. The server was just ringing the Sanctus bell which hung in the bell cot, when a flood of water dashed into the church, and rapidly rose till it put out the altar lights. In a few moments more the whole building was washed away, and the mere, which had burst its mountain barrier, occupied the hollow in which the village had stood.

Men say that if you sail over the mere on Christmas Eve, just after midnight, you may hear the Sanctus bell tolling.

Here is another variant of the same legend, related to me by a lady in the parish of Condover, 1881:

In the days of the Roman empire, when Uriconium was standing, a very wicked city stood where we now see Bomere Pool. The inhabitants had turned back from Christianity to heathenism, and though God sent one of the Roman soldiers to be a prophet to them, like Jonah to Nineveh, they would not repent. Far from that, they ill-used and persecuted the preacher.

Only the daughter of the governor remained constant to the faith. She listened gladly to the Christian's teaching, and he on his part loved her, and would have had her to be his wife. But no such happy lot was in store for the faithful pair. On the following Easter eve, sudden destruction came upon the city. The distant Caradoc [a hill] sent forth flames of fire, and at the same time the city was overwhelmed by a tremendous flood, while the sun in the heavens danced for joy, and the cattle in the stalls knelt in thanksgiving that God had not permitted such wickedness to go unpunished.

But the Christian warrior was saved from the flood, and he took a boat and rowed over the waters, seeking for his betrothed, but all in vain. His boat was overturned, and he too was drowned in the depths of the mere. Yet whenever Easter eve falls on the same day as it did that year, the form of the Roman warrior may be seen again, rowing across Bomere in search of his lost love, while the church bells are heard ringing far in the depths below.

The Origin of Tis Lake


A troll had once taken up his abode near the village of Kund, in the high bank on which the church now stands; but when the people about there had become pious, and went constantly to church, the troll was dreadfully annoyed by their almost incessant ringing of bells in the steeple of the church. He was at last obliged, in consequence of it, to take his departure; for nothing has more contributed to the emigration of the troll folk out of the country than the increasing piety of the people, and their taking to bell ringing. The troll of Kund accordingly quitted the country, and went over to Funen, where he lived for some time in peace and quiet.

Now it chanced that a man who had lately settled in the town of Kund, coming to Funen on business, met on the road with this same troll. "Where do you live?" said the troll to him.

Now there was nothing whatever about the troll unlike a man, so he answered him, as was the truth, "I am from the town of Kund."

"So?" said the troll. "I don't know you then! And yet I think I know every man in Kund. Will you, however," continued he, "just be so kind to take a letter from me back with you to Kund?"

The man said, of course, he had no objection. The troll then thrust the letter into his pocket, and charged him strictly not to take it out till he came to Kund church, and then to throw it over the churchyard wall, and the person for whom it was intended would get it.

The troll then went away in great haste, and with him the letter went entirely out of the man's mind. But when he was come back to Zealand he sat down by the meadow where Tis Lake now is, and suddenly recollected the troll's letter. He felt a great desire to look at it at least. So he took it out of his pocket, and sat a while with it in his hands, when suddenly there began to dribble a little water out of the seal. The letter now unfolded itself, and the water came out faster and faster, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the poor man was enabled to save his life, for the malicious troll had enclosed an entire lake in the letter.

The troll, it is plain, had thought to avenge himself on Kund church by destroying it in this manner; but God ordered it so that the lake chanced to run out in the great meadow where it now flows.

The Origin of the Island Hiddensee


When in the ninth century the monks of Corvei were attempting to convert the heathens of Rügen to the Christian faith, one of the missionaries traveled to Hiddensee. Late one evening he stopped at the door of a hut in a fishing village and asked to be allowed inside. The woman of the house rejected him as a beggar, sending him away with harsh words. He then turned to her poor neighbor, where he at once received shelter and nourishment.

The next morning he thanked the poor widow, then departed from her with these words, "I have neither gold nor silver to pay for the lodging, but the first thing you do today shall be blessed!"

Thinking nothing of these words, she began to measure a little piece of linen that she had woven. But it had no end. She measured and measured throughout the whole day, until the sun went down, and thus filled her entire house with linen. Remembering the words of the apostle, she revealed the source of her good fortune to her envious neighbor.

The latter remembered the words exactly, and when, some time later, the missionary once again knocked on her door, she received him with the greatest eagerness.

The next morning, after the guest had departed saying the familiar words, she decided to immediately count the money she had saved in a jar. However, first of all she had to go outside to answer an unexpected call of nature. Suddenly the holy man's blessing took effect, and with such force that the land was flooded and became separated from Rügen.

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Revised March 22, 2013.