Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Fairies Return

Mr Phelps' photograph of a water fairy

THE Lake District's fairies are back.
For centuries this part of the world seemed to be awash with fairy-folk. At Ambleside, they would happily mingle with humans at the weekly market. And Fleswick Bay, near St Bees, saw the fairies of Saltom Rock dance the summer evenings away with human folk from nearby villages and the harbour town of Whitehaven.
But the 20th Century saw the arrival of the motor car, two world wars, television and many other distractions. And crag-rats (tourists) also started to swarm over the fells previously inhabited by boggles, elves, pixies, hobthrushes, sprites, brownies, wag-on-the-wa's and the like.
Apart from a burst of Lakeland fairy encounters by Geoffrey Hodson in the 1920s, there's been no fairy sighting in the county for two or three generations (although they are known to visit Gelt Wood each summer).
But now 76-year-old Terry Phelps has stepped forward to reveal he photographed what appears to be a fairy at Swinedale Beck in the east of the county in September 1998.
He recalls: "It was a beautiful day. Seated close to a waterfall, I noticed that the small rowan tree above it had mysteriously grown sideways across the fall, and thinking this rather strange I took this photograph. I then became aware of experiencing a curious inner warmth which accompanied a sudden elevation of spirit, together with a dramatically increased awareness of the beauty of the place. This joyous experience was sudden, unusual and intense."
This was in the pre-digital age of course and it was only after he had his photographs developed that he noticed a curious 'light' above the waterfall.
He said: "There was no similar feature on the other photographs which I had taken that day, and it wasn’t in any of the photos taken before or after this event either. 
"I did not, I should add, see any ‘light’ when I took the photograph.
"A few days later I went back and took 14 more photographs, all of which I still have: all are unremarkable, i.e. show no ‘light’."
He submitted both the photograph and the negative to Kodak but they were unable to explain the ‘light’. Terry points out that it is not central to the photograph, and that it cannot therefore be ascribed to a flash malfunction.
He added: "It is vivid on the negative, which I still possess, and both pictures are sharper and clearer in the original print than in these scanned versions."
Mr Phelps, who lives in London, points to the work of Geoffrey Hodson in the 1920s who reported his fairy sightings in the Lake District in his classic tome, Fairies At Work And Play. He notes that Hodson identified one particular type of fairy - the undine - which favoured living near waterfalls.
Hodson wrote: "The undine belongs to the element of water and, so far as my experience goes, is never to be found away from river, stream and fall. She is definitely female in form and is always nude; she does not usually have wings, and only rarely wears any kind of adornment. Her form, whether diminutive or of human stature, is always entrancingly beautiful, and all her movements are perfect. The waterfall is her favourite haunt, and there she is to be seen disporting herself, generally with a group of her sisters, enjoying to the full the magnetic force of the fall."
And Mr Phelps points out that even fell-walking hero Alfred Wainwright  admitted he "often sensed the presence of fairies in Lakeland"*.
So did Mr Phelps encounter an undine near Haweswater? Is this evidence of the return of the fairies? We can only hope.

 * Wainwright in the Valleys of Lakeland (See Part Three, The Western Valleys, Ennerdale)
* My book Fairies of the Lake District is available as an ebook from Amazon or as a real book from my online shop.