THE TRAVELLER'S GUIDE TO FAIRY SITES: The Landscape and Folklore of Fairyland In England, Wales and ScotlandBy Janet Bord, published by Gothic Image at £12.99. 296pp. ISBN: 0-906362-64-4
Any new book by Janet Bord is to be warmly welcomed, and this one is a real treat. In recent years Gothic Image have published a number of guide books specially written to meet the needs of the spiritual tourist in the UK and Ireland, and this latest addition to the range is excellent.
The eagle-eyed reader will no doubt have noticed that Ireland is not mentioned in the book's subtitle, and indeed has been excluded from the book. Maybe a future volume will be devoted to the Emerald Isle but in the mean time there's plenty to occupy us elsewhere.
The book is divided into three sections and then into regional subsections and contrary, I suspect, to most readers' expectations, the section on England is significantly larger that those on Scotland and Wales, despite the deeper popular association of those ”Celtic” parts of the UK with fairy lore and traditions.
As Bord points out, many reports of fairy encounters take place in remote areas or are generally vague in detail such that it is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint exactly where they took place. This is not much use in the case of a guidebook, and the author stresses that the entries she has chosen to include are all ones where the site of the encounter is well recorded or reported, such that a visitor today can find and stand on the spot quite easily too. Each entry provides a summary of the details of the encounter or site, such as helpful domestic brownies (not to be confused with little girls questing for badges), lakes from which fairy cattle emerged, places reputed to be entry points to fairyland, encounters with dancing fairies and all the rest of the places where our ancestors met with the fairies. Each is also accompanied with directions and, where possible, exact grid references for the site as it really wouldn't do to risk being led astray in places where the fairies hang out, would it now?
One of the advantages of pulling so many accounts together in one book is the opportunity to discover patterns in the types of encounters reported and to that the differences between English fairy lore and that of “Celtic” Scotland and Wales are not as great as one might imagine. The fairies danced all over the country and their cattle inhabited lakes and meres more or less everywhere it seems, with the exception of the North Downs and East Anglia and the fens. One is tempted to suggest that in the latter case perhaps they didn't like getting their feet wet, but the old fens, before being drained and tamed in the 17 th century, were precisely the sort of impenetrable and secret fastness that fairies are supposed to prefer. But there's no accounting for taste.
Like the other volumes in this series, this is a tall, narrow book ideal for slipping into a rucksack or for keeping in the glove compartment. It's illustrated with photographs of sites and with 19 th and early 20 th century black and white artwork, most of it rather less twee than one might have feared.All in all, I have no hesitation in warmly recommending this book.