Water World as Another Home for the English Nation

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So this is a scetch or an outline of reasons explaining why our ancestors valued so much the rivers, lakes, seas of their land and it is worth mentioning that their land abounds in all that and why they respected the work of sailors, merchants or travellers. All this is important for the understanding of how it was becoming an unseparable part of their culture and how it is reflected in their culture. In this work we would like to pay close attention to just one aspect of the whole rich cultural inheritance, and that is folklore.


What is folklore? Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (1972) offers a staggering 22 definitions, running to half a dozen pages. In recent years definitions have tended to be all embracing in their simplicity: folklore is made up of the traditional stories, customs and habits of a particular community or nation says the Collins Cobuild Dictionary of 1987.

More specific definitions also abound; perhaps, folklore should be identified as the communitys commitment to maintaining stories, customs and habits purely for their own sake. ( A perfect example of this would be the famous horse race at Siena in Italy: the p a l i o attracts many thousands of tourists, yet if not a single outsider attend, the people of the community would still support the event year after year).

But what about those events or beliefs which have been recently initiated or which are sustained for reasons of commercial gain or tourism? Many customs are not as ancient as their participants may claim but it would be foolish to dismiss them as irrelevant. Some apparently ancient customs are, in fact, relatively modern, but does this mean they cannot be termed as folklore? The spectacular fire festival at Allendale, for instance, feels utterly authentic despite the fact that there is no record of the event prior to 1853. There are many other cases of new events or stories which have rapidly assumed organic growth and therefore deserve the status of being recognised as folklore.

Any work covering the question of folklore must be selective, but here we shall attempt to explore and celebrate the variety and vigour of Britains folklore concerning waterworld traditions, beliefs and superstitions. A wide geographical area is covered: England, Scotland and Wales with some reference to Ireland and other territories.

Entire books indeed, whole libraries of books have been written on every aspect of folklore: on epitaphs and weather lore, folk medicine and calendar customs, traditional drama and sports and pastimes, superstitions, ghosts and witchcraft, fairs, sea monsters and many others. While trying to cram much into little work I have avoided generalisation. Precise details such as names, dates and localities are given wherever possible and there are some references to features that still can be seen - a mountain, a bridge, a standing stone or a carving in a church.

Classic folklore belongs within the country to the basic unit of the parish. Most parishes could produce at least a booklet and in some cases a substantial volume on their own folklore, past and present . It would be a mistake, however, to think that rural customs, dance and tale were the whole picture, because there is a rich picture of urban and industrial folklore as well from the office girls prewedding ceremonies to urban tales of phantom hitchhickers and stolen corpses.

In this age of fragmentation, speed and stress, people often seem to thirst for something in which they can take an active part. There is a need to rediscover something which is more permanent and part of a continuing tradition. By tapping into our heritage of song and story, ritual and celebration, our lives are given shape and meaning.

In some cases all we have to do is join in with an activity which is already happening; in others it will perhaps mean reviving a dance or a traditional play. But however we choose to participate, as long as we continue to use, adapt and develop the elements of our folklore heritage it will survive.

So this work may be regarded as an attempt to encourage us all to seek out the stories and customs of country, county, town, village, to understand and enjoy them and to pass them on.


Not a single town or village in England is situated more than a hundred miles from the sea, except for a few places in the Midlands, and most of those in Wales and Scotland are nearer still. The coastline lies for thousands of miles, with a host of off-shore islands ranging from Scilly to Shetland and Wight to Lewis. It is hardly surprising then that our long and eventful maritime history is complemented by a rich heritage of nautical stories and superstitions, beliefs and customs, many of which continue to affect our daily lives even oil rigs, very much a twentieth century phenomenon, have tales of their own. Inland water, too, are the subjects of stories which echoes the folklore of the coasts and seas.

: 20/10/2006