Quest of the Ring – Chapter 4: Janet’s Foss and the Faerie Queen (04.02.07)

Monday 2 April 2007
:: Malham, England – Yorkshire::

Early to rise … our fine adventurers stumbled down to the hostel breakfast buffet to fill their bellies for a 7-9 mile hike around Malham, it’s scars, and many waterfalls. ‘Tis also the morning they set out to meet the Faerie Queen of Janet Foss in hopes that she’ll grant the spell to remove the enchantment placed on Lady Vanessa’s ring. Vanessa’s bunkmate, a Lady Marion of Salsbury near Stonehenge, came down and joined the delvers for breakfast. Very nice warm woman – geographer and former geologist. She would have joined the adventurous party, but she had already made plans to do a different route – though thoughts were that the paths might cross through the day. The adventurers also had a very dangerous scramble they would need to scurry up after Janet Foss. The adventurers packed light, the hostel supplied them with sack lunches, and Sir Ingo the Great relentlessly volunteered (well since he had the smallest and lightest pack) to carry the lunches and the gear so Lady Vanessa of the Rhine, and Sir Thomas Leaf could have their hands free. Many thanks to Ingo the Great!!!

Lady Vanessa and the Path to Janet’s Foss

The adventurous trio set forth out of town, following the river as their map dictated, through more fields of newly born lambs, down a gravelled footpath that was very well trodden. They were soon to enter the magical landscape that inspired such fantasy films such as “The Dark Crystal” and “Harry Potter”. The path then went soil and moss covered as they found their way into a very garlic scented lush woods hidden in a magical valley that wound its way through the limestone bluffs to the legendary Janet’s Foss. The wild garlic covered the lush gully wall to wall, floor to foot. Sir Thomas Leaf, being a botanist, was in his own personal bliss. He had an insatiable urge to gather up the herbs to take home with him, but given the explorers were on a several day backpacking adventure, it didn’t make sense. He just had to enjoy its beauty and scent as a memory of his passage into this magical gully. He could picture the bushels of garlic to be teeming with life of faeries and flower sprites busy at work cultivating their crop. Onwards to the Queen …

gully wall to wall garlic – definitely guaranteed to keep werewolves, vampires, and blood suckers from this magical gully!

Along the path appeared a tree trunk … that looked very strange indeed …. Sir Thomas Leaf froze in his tracks with the deepest sense of curiousity he had ever felt. Here before him was a tree trunk with hundreds upon hundreds of pennies hammered vertically into the wood.

What in the Faerie Goddess’s name is wrong with that trunk?

Then they came across another – and another – and in a fallen tree. All leading up to Janet’s Foss. Sir Thomas Leaf, purportedly very knowledgeable about folk practices and beliefs, faerie lore, and superstitions, could only guess these “money trees” were offerings for the Faerie Queen. But he wasn’t sure. He’d expect it of the Irish certainly, just not the English. This was too overwhelming for him. He had to know the truth. Had he not been so brain stunned by these amazing elements of lore on the path, he would have thought that he too should have paid tribute in such a way as the tale shall soon tell. However, with “faeries” representing “nature” … he really couldn’t understand why the hammering of human-made metal coins into a fine dead tree would be pleasing to the fae?

Penny offerings for good luck and as gifts to the Fae

As it turned out, these “wish trees” or “money trees” are quite common throughout this part of England, especially in the Yorkshire Dales. According to Sir Thomas Leaf’s research and ethnographic queries with the local folk, the hammering of these pennies and coins was a common practice similar to that of throwing coins into a well – for wishes. Others stated it was an offering for safe passage. Romans would always offer a coin to the Gods before crossing any water. Others saw it as a tithing or offering to the tree spirits as an apology for human intrusion and destruction of the woods, or for impeding on a fairy path. Coins are sometimes used, hammered deep into the tree trunk, or in other parts of England and Ireland – the practice of tying pieces of cloth to the tree may also qualify. The tying of a cloth to a branch were however more often associated with nearby clootie wells as they are known in Scotland, Ireland, and Cornwall and weren’t found here. It is likely that these were made as an offering to the Faerie Queen or the local tree spirits, ‘hedging’ their bets and effectively making an offering to both of them. A rare example of such a “wish tree” can be found at Ardmaddy House in Argyle, Scotland which is a hawthorne traditionally linked with fertility as in its ‘may blossoms’ and having its trunk and branches covered with hundreds of coins driven through the bark into the wood. The local tradition is that a wish will be granted for each of the coins so treated. Queen Victoria noted in 1877 of an Oak Wish Tree on the isle of St. Maol Rubha or St. Maree in Loch Maree, Gairloch of the Highlands was, as well as its surrounding trees, festooned with hammered coins near the healing well of St. Maree to which votive offerings were made. It was on that spot, archaeologists reported that bulls were sacrificed on site openly up until the 18th century. This practice was not only common for wells but sacred springs, waterfalls, and other foss such as this one. Faerie lore dictates that these “offerings” to the faeries was done for hundreds of years, starting out as financial bribes to the pixies who would take the money off travelers and given them invisibility to protect them against the giant serpent that lurked in the waters. The coins were never however to be removed, for if one picked a coin from the tree, it would anger the pixies and you would be in danger of their wrath …

entering the enchanted gully …

Distracted long enough and prompted onwards by Sir Ingo the Great and Lady Vanessa of the Rhine, the adventurers were back on course to meet the Queen. They continued along the path and walked around the limestone bluff overlooking this magical little grove of money trees. The gully was teeming with life and the adventurers felt like something was watching them. Sir Leaf noted in his journal that someday in the future he must come here at night for the place must be amazing and filled with fire flies and will-o-wisps.

The brave knights …

Sir Leaf has had previous encounters with the fae, including seeing will-o-wisps at night in a forest glen. He said you can tell the difference between them and fireflies by the fact they are larger and not flashing or pulsating, but keep a continuous glow, sometimes blue or green, dancing in the woods. Other fae he had encountered was a sighting of a mermaid off a boat when he was young, a gremlin dressed like a pirate sneering at him and waving a sword creeping along his dresser when he was about 6, and the so-called “imaginary friend” (parent’s label) he had named “Poe poe” who claimed to be an elf and was as troublesome as “Fred” in the 80’s flick “Drop Dead Fred”. Some ghosts, poltergeist activity, shadow beings, and a omnipotent “eye of a beholder” that appeared in his bedroom’s ceiling waking him from a sleep. He did have quite a few people he had encountered around the world who told him they were fae, most notably ‘changlings’, but they all looked and acted quite human to him. So this was really Sir Leaf’s first quest to actually find and meet a faerie. His mind was overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement that just around the corner could be such a meeting. The scientist aspect of his personna however flooded in doubt about such ridiculous things. It was just then that the explorers spied Janet’s Foss … excitement quickly built in them all. Would the solution to their dilemma now be solved? They only hoped.

Approaching Janet’s Foss, Yorkshire Dales, England

The waterfall, or “foss” was quite enchanting and luring. The party approached it with respect and admiration. Sir Leaf was definitely in bliss, as he for the first time felt like he had actual confirmation that the world of faeries actually existed. He couldn’t wait to get up to it, but took his time, absorbing the radiance, beauty, and magic of the pool and view.

Janet’s Foss (can you see the Faerie cave?)

Legend has it, the Faerie Queen lives in a cave behind the waterfall. The adventurer’s saw the cave to the right. “Oh that must be it” stated Sir Leaf. Simple enough he thought. Sir Leaf skirted the sacred pool up to where the cave was, trying not to fall into the water and getting soaked. Sir Leaf and Sir Ingo made their way up into the cave and walked on it. No one was there. No finely dressed woman of royalty sitting in a throne ready to greet the weary travelers. Just a overhang and great little shelter that one could have a fire in and secure place to camp for the night. Where was this mysterious woman? Should they have offered pennies to the “money trees” they passed in order to have gained passage? or to have been awarded a meeting with the Queen?

Sir Thomas Leaf in the wrong cave – a false faerie cave to distract faerie hunters from the real cave …

Sir Leaf peered out from the cave back to the foss and pool, pondering what did they do wrong? Did they miss a step? should they go back and hammer in a coin? should they have brought a gift? done a ritual?

The naive adventurer had a lot to learn about “faerie” ways. “Faeries” love to place “decoys” and distractions in order to lead one astray. Sir Leaf knew this, but for some reason he didn’t clue in. For right behind the waterfall was another cave.

The real faerie cave behind the waterfall …

Just as they climbed out of the cave and were making their way back around the pool, a shimmer caught his eye, and there he saw the ‘true’ cave. There was even a branch laying in the entrance pointing the way. Sir Leaf got excited and quickly tried to scramble up the ledge and into the cave. Lush and beautiful, only fit for faeries. He immediately without thought, set off to hop stone by stone and attempted to go into the cave without pre-thought or most importantly, permission from the Faerie Queen … and to his fate learned his lesson quite quickly ….

Unfortunately, no matter how hard he tried, he could not get up in it, and felt like he was being pushed out. Obviously the Faerie Queen was not ready to meet him nor was willing to admit him into her lair. One foot up to climb into the cave and …. whoooosh!!! a quick slide tumbling down into the pool he went, inches away from it being quite a tragic fall either wounded on the stones or completely submerged in the pool. Sir Thomas sprang up cold and wet … he realized he could not make it up into the cave. It was not to be. His mind played tricks, he thought he heard a beautiful woman whisper in his ear … “go to the mighty all-knowing at Avebury …” He shook his head. Did not know what it meant. There was no means to go to Avebury or Stonehenge on this journey. Too far away and not in the budget or the ability of these travels.

The muddy butt

It was ever soo much an enchanting grotto and gully. Never before did Sir Thomas Leaf in all his travels visit a more magical waterfall, pool, cave, and place. You could feel the faeries watching. Laughing. playing. In front of the waterfall, facing it, across from the pool, was a carved limestone throne. There was the crystal clear pool. The mesmerizing falls. The cave to the right. The cave behind the waterfall. Wild garlic everywhere. There is even a sign telling all about the Queen and the Foss. Of course, there was also Sir Thomas Leaf with his wet boots, shoes, and butt. Much laughter from the Lady of the Rhine and Sir Ingo the Great.

Sir Leaf was hurt and discouraged, and retreating with a muddy butt. This was not the time. This was not the solution to their dilemma. This frustrated Sir Leaf as now he had to figure out how they were going to break the enchantment on the ring. What could be done? He was so sure that the Faerie Queen was the one to remove the enchantment. :: Sigh:: he muttered and back on the path the adventurer’s went …

    “ON THE EDGE of the National Trust’s Malham Tarn Estate, Janet’s Foss is a unique site of particular conservation importance. Foss is an old Scandinavian word for waterfall or force. According to legend, Janet (or Jennet) Queen of the local Faeries, lives in a cave behind the waterfall. The cave was formed by limestone bedrock being dissolved and eroded by the action of water and then re-deposited on mosses growing at the lip of the fall. This has caused the remarkable but fragile tufa screen, which reaches to the plunge pool below.

click to read the sign

Photos from the journey:

sheep fields/ countryside

baby lambs along the path

“Follow me to Janet’s Foss …”

“Should I, me lady???”

Enter the gate …

The wild garlic path …

Sir Thomas Leaf the Cartographer and Lady Vanessa, of the Rhine

On to Gordale Scar

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