Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
Limlow Hill and the thorn tree
East of the road to Royston, just south of the village, is Limlow Hill (TL322417). Until it was destroyed in 1888, here stood a (possibly Roman) burial mound, also sometimes known as Limlow or Limbury. Local legend says that, from here, Robin Hood stood and fired an arrow. But at that point, tellings of the story diverge somewhat.
One source says that the arrow fell in the village chalk pit (now disused, at TL316418, a few hundred metres across the road from the hill), and there grew into a thorn tree. By 1811 an inn (which closed in 1910) in the village had been named the Robin Hood & Little John, supposedly after this legend.1
An earlier source, however, says that the arrow "fell on the Ermine Street, near where the tollgate used to stand, about a mile and a half away, a spot now marked by an ancient hawthorn bush". This tollgate used to be on the Old North Road (the modern A1198) in the parish of Kneesworth; but it could refer either to the tollgate once at TL346443, in place by 1714, or to the 19th century one further south at about TL349433. There's no suggestion in this version that the tree actually grew from the arrow.2
1. Magens De Courcy-Ireland: 'History of Abington Pigotts with Litlington' (De Courcy-Ireland, 1944), p.48.
2. W. M. Palmer, in 'The East Anglian, or Notes & Queries', New Series, (1896) Vol.6, p.28.
Beside the old trackway called Ashwell Street, and just north of the disused chalk pit mentioned above, there was a strip of land that had long been known as Heaven's Walls (TL314420). The spot was traditionally regarded with a supernatural awe, and local children wouldn't go near it after dark, for fear of meeting unearthly creatures. The odd name for the field gained an explanation in 1821, when men digging for gravel there came upon a wall made of flint and what seemed to be Roman brick. Later excavations revealed an extensive ustrinium, a walled Roman cemetery for inexpensive burials.
Source: A. J. Kempe, in 'Archaeologia' (Soc.of Antiquaries of London, 1835), Vol.26, part 1, p.369.
In the second half of the 17th century, a woman named Flora was said to have been shunned and reviled as a witch. A shambling, half-starved, homeless creature, she wandered the trackways and droves beside the newly-cut New Bedford River (or Hundred Foot Drain), being blamed for all the ills that befell the land. The final stroke came when she was blamed for the storm that caused the bank of the Drain to break open and flood the whole region. When the flood waters had flowed away, the locals dragged her to the breach in the bank and tied her there with ropes, leaving her to be buried alive in mud. This spot became known as Witch's Hole, and is said to be haunted by her wailing spirit.
Source: W. H. Barrett: 'More Tales from the Fens' (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), p.142-5.
A traditional tale says that, during the Middle Ages, a servant girl was sent out to pick wild mint beside Red Mere, a former lake that used to exist east of Littleport. After doing so she felt sleepy, so she sat down and slept by the wayside. But a lascivious friar who was passing leapt on her and tried to tear her clothes off. She was saved by a large bulldog that appeared and savaged the man to death; but with his last breath, he plunged a dagger into the dog, killing it. The locals threw the friar's body into the Mere, but buried the heroic dog reverently at the wayside, at the spot now named after it, Bulldog Bridge. At dusk in early Summer the ghost of the dog is believed to walk the road at the bridge before vanishing.
The exact location of Bulldog Bridge is a little puzzling. Most versions of this story derive from W. H. Barrett, whose editor, Enid Porter, adds a footnote that the bridge is now known as White House Bridge, which is on the A1101 (TL600863).1 However, there actually still is a Bulldog Bridge so named, again on the A1101, but 2.6 miles away - close to Shippea Hill, but also closer to where Red Mere used to be. To complicate matters, the writer Polly Howat places it at a crossing of the White House Drain (TL610878), apparently on the minor road from the A1101 to Little Ouse.2
1. W. H. Barrett: 'Tales from the Fens' (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), p.131-2.
2. Polly Howat: 'Ghosts & Legends of Cambridgeshire' (Countryside Books, 1998), p.67-9.
An old house known as 'The Manor' in Woodside (TL400663) is built around the 13th century manor house of the Cheyney family; but it has been suggested that it was the later Catholic Vaux family who may have been responsible for creating an underground passageway from the house to the vaults beneath All Saints church (TL399664), a little to the north-west.