Kai digs deep into Yorkshire’s rich folklore

Kai Roberts who has written a book on Folklore of Yorkshire
Kai Roberts who has written a book on Folklore of Yorkshire

There was the savage hound that lived in a ravine in the Yorkshire Dales and slaughtered the man, fortified by a few pints of beer, who tried to confront it.
There was the ghost of Sir Walter Calverley who rode a headless steed and hunted down unwary travellers passing through Bradford.

And there was the huge brute with ‘legs like elephants’ who used a tree as a club and plagued the residents of the Vale of York, eating small children and livestock.

According to Brighouse writer Kai Roberts’ new book, ‘Folklore of Yorkshire’, the region was fertile territory for all manner of hauntings, apparitions, weird happenings and terrifying spectres.

It’s easy to get the impression that the county was over-run by phantom hounds, marauding beasts, spiteful sprites, giant serpents, visitations by the Devil and accusations of witchcraft.

Superstition and rumour were rife, ancient beliefs and customs persisted and the region’s bleak moors and deep valleys provided an atmospheric backdrop for the legends and folk-tales which maintained a grip on the popular imagination down the centuries.

Kai, who lives at Elland Road, grew up listening to folk tales and visiting historic sites with his father, Andy. He is a keen collector of ghost stories and tales of the unexpected, the unexplained and the downright ‘weird’.

In the new book he looks at the history behind many of the ancient stories and traditions and the grip they held on contemporary society - and still continue to hold.

“A lot of the tales were an attempt to explain the unexplained,” said 30-year-old Kai.

“If the milk went sour or livestock went missing or someone started behaving out of character, people tried to look for an explanation - and that was often found in the supernatural or in witchcraft.

“At the same time, when communities were isolated and travel was difficult, strangers were regarded with suspicion and mistrust. A belief in folklore provided a common bond.

“We like to think we are more sophisticated these days but modern urban myths have a similarity with folk tales. There are a lot of modern myths around immigration and ‘stranger danger’, for example.”

In a county rich in legends and traditions, it’s no surprise to discover that the Calder Valley has an enduring folklore heritage. Kai is particularly interested in the link between folk tales and landscape and the Calder Valley’s moors and valleys provide plenty of food for thought.

There is the story, unique to West Yorkshire, of the wager the Devil made with God that he could stride across the Calder Valley from Stoodley Pike to Blackshaw Head. If he won the bet, he could claim the souls living in the dale below.

But, as Kai recounts, fortunately for the people of Hebden Bridge and the neighbouring towns, the Devil lost his footing and tumbled down the valley side. As he fell his hoof nicked the face of the gritstone buttress known as Great Rock - and the cleft can still be seen on its surface today.

Similarly the ancient highway over Blackstone Edge, now thought to be Roman in origin, was believed to be the work of the Devil and 18th century folklore claimed that a Bronze Age burial ground on the edge of Midgley Moor in Calderdale was haunted by the restless spirit of a Hebden Bridge miller who committed suicide.

Kai himself doesn’t believe in ghosts in the ‘things that bump in the night’ sense but he does accept that ancient sites, old stones and some historic places retain a distinctly unsettling atmosphere.

Kai went to Brighouse High School and studied at Edinburgh University - a city specifically chosen for the rich variety of myths and legends that surround it.

He has compiled a blog on reported ghost sightings around Brighouse and written books on Robin Hood’s Grave at Kirklees Hall and Haunted Huddersfield.

He is also in demand to give talks to local history societies and will be signing copies of his latest book at Waterstones in the Kingsgate Centre, Huddersfield, on May 25 from 11am to 2pm.

l ‘Folklore of Yorkshire’ by Kai Roberts is published by The History Press at £16.99.