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Introduction | Reviews | Garajonay | Marshland Myths | Here be Spatial Anomalies


Marshland Myths

You cannot trust a marsh. It is a betwixt-and-between place, neither land nor water, sometimes beautiful but often treacherous. Beyond that glowing haze of sun-kissed mist, beneath that velvety green surface that looks like it could bear your weight, the marsh waits to swallow you whole. It is landscape as shapeshifter, and a hungry one at that.

Riisa Bog, Estonia, © Ivo Kruusamägi
Riisa Bog, Estonia, © Ivo Kruusamägi

No wonder so many myths and folktales haunt the fens and marshlands.

Many places tell of will-o’-the-wisps, Jack-o-lanterns, hinkypunk, lantern men – mysterious bobbing lights sometimes seen late at night. If anyone is unwise enough to follow the light, assuming it is the lantern of another traveller, it may lure them into a treacherous bog, or suddenly vanish, leaving them in pitch darkness on the verge of a precipice.

Das Irrlicht, Arnold Böcklin
Das Irrlicht, Arnold Böcklin

Beware of fine-looking animals wandering loose in lonely wetlands or near deep water. That shape in the mist might look like a stray calf, or a donkey that has escaped its owner. It’s tempting to follow the beast, so that you can capture it and take it home, isn’t it? But it may be a braag or bargyest, a shapeshifter that is luring you deeper into the marsh.

And that beautiful black horse with no bridle may be a kelpie, a water-dwelling creature with man-eating teeth hidden inside its innocent-looking, horsey muzzle.

Kelpie engraving

In Lincolnshire there are tales of the Tiddy Mun. He is said to look like an old man, but is the size of a child of three. He dwells in the marshes, has a laugh like a peewit, and protects homes from flooding when he is in good humour.

But when dykes were built across his precious marshes in the 17th century, the Tiddy Man was not in good humour. He took his revenge through pestilence, until the locals all went to the dyke with ladles of water to placate him, begging him to stop.

I have taken strands from all these tales, and changed them before weaving them into Unraveller. What if the man-eating horses of the Wilds could be bought for a single human eye, at moonlit markets where the land meets the sea? What if the dancing light seen through the mist were a lantern burning captured souls? What if mankind had once tried to drain the marsh-woods, then regretted it when the Wilds struck back?

The marsh is a wild, unpredictable thing. And wild things are sometimes dangerous when angry…

Castlemorton church with mist over Longdon Marsh, © Bob Embleton
Castlemorton church with mist over Longdon Marsh, © Bob Embleton