A hunchbacked hag is how most of us imagine a witch. She is always ugly, a woman with a bent walking stick and black cat using sorcery or casting spells on anyone who gets in her way. In my home county of Lincolnshire we have no witches today, or if we do I’ve never seen one! But in days gone by there were those who are said to have ridden on broomsticks, flying around causing havoc among the fenland living folk. Of course, the aforementioned Lincolnshire folk told tall tales of such women, these stories and songs have passed into popular culture. Ethel Rudkin of Willoughton in Lincolnshire was a dedicated collector of folklore ephemera which she was collecting in the mid 1920’s and 1930’s she was an expert in this field. Her book Lincolnshire Folklore was self published in 1936, the information in it taken directly from the people in the villages of Lincolnshire. Of witches she writes
“In the presence of a witch, so she shall be powerless against you, clench both your fists with the thumbs inside and under fingers”
“If you pluck straw from the thatch of a witches house and hold it in your hand she cannot harm you”
Maybe this is where the saying clutching at straws originates?
On a sunny day out two summers ago my husband and I stopped at a lovely little cafe for a cup of tea at the village of Byard’s Leap and found, to my amazement, that it was the site of the origins of a local legend about a wicked witch and a horse. Byard’s Leap is a civil parish in North Kesteven one of seven districts in the County of Lincolnshire. Within this tiny hamlet there are a number of different legends one is the story of a horse named Byard.
Meg chased Byard, but the soldier soon gained control of his horse by the time they reached the village pond, turning, and with one swipe he thrust his sword right into her heart where she fell into the pond and drowned.
Today, we can still see the spot were Blind Byard landed after Meg sunk her talons into him. The site is marked by four horseshoes and a commemorative stone.
Bayard is in general folklore a ‘magic horse’ usually a Bay which is renowned for its spirit and has the ability to adjust its size according to the size of its rider. Bayard appears in many medieval romances and first appeared as belonging to one Renaud de Montauban in a twelfth century tale. This horse was able to carry Renaud and his three brothers and hold a decent conversation in French at the same time! Later in the story Bayard is punished for some misdemeanour by having a large stone tied around his neck, but Bayard is strong enough to smash the stone and escapes to live in a mystical wood.
"Though you search afar, you shall never find it; Be you as bold as Bayard the blind, that blunders forth and perceives no peril.”
By the time of the thirteenth century Bayard had come to represent the exploits and daring do’s of any remarkable horse and no longer is associated with magic, in fact from the end of the thirteenth century Bayard is now often found as a fool of a horse in English literature.