This pub had seen better days. I ordered my pint of beer and was greeted by the landlord with a grunt. The only customers, two old codgers with a red setter dog, were in a corner huddled over their pints playing dominos. Surely the local pub, The Castle Hill, would be a good place to pick up some information. And those oldens in their mufflers and cloth caps looked as though they’d been in this pub every evening for the last fifty years.
I walked over to their table and laid my ruck-sack and case with my metal detector onto the stone flags.
“Can I join you?” I asked.
“Aye,” nodded one suspiciously.
“Aye,” the second concurred. “Nah then wha’ brin’s tha’ to Castle Hill then lad?”
“Well I’m hoping you might be able to help me. I’m trying to find out some information – about Castle Hill fort.”
“Aye, well tha’s come t’ reet people. An’ wha’ maht tha b’ wanin t’know?”
“I’ve been doing some research online and in the local library. I’ve heard about the legend of the Golden Cradle associated with this site and I’m trying to find any local people who know anything about the story. You see, I’m a professional treasure hunter.
Their eyebrows rose; I thought that might capture their attention.
“I’ve heard of the legend and in my experience many myths have some basis in fact. So, I’ve come to find out more and do some exploration and see if it’s worth a serious search.”
“Aye, t’s true, I know legend o’ golden cradle. Tha tale’s bin passed on for centuries. I remember mi granpa telling mi baht it when I wor lad. ‘E spok o’ sight so wondrous and beautiful t’wer magial i’ were. He said that ‘oo ever saw it their lives were changed, tha lost tha ‘eds and t’wer never same again.”
“The owd fowk’s say,” the other old man continued, “tha in ancient times babies were sacrificied in’t by t’ Ancient Britains t; get ‘elp o’ gods in battles agin t’ Romans.”
“Others that bodies o’ dead young ‘uns were put int’ golden cradle and taken awa t’ after life.”
“Aye, t’b sure, golden cradle exists,” they both nodded in affirmation.
This all sounded very encouraging. Before I could ask if they knew where it was one of them continued.
“T’ treasure’s protected by dragon y’know.”
“Aye, legend speaks o’ serpent tha’s guardian over i’.”
“A dragon!” I laughed, “I’m sorry I can’t believe that.”
“A’ tell e’ it’s true”
“So, are there any rumours about where the golden cradle is hidden,” I asked, “any hint from stories from the past might help me know where to start looking.”
“Nay, can’t ‘elp ‘e there lad. Seek and ‘ll find it.”
I downed the dregs of my pint, thanked the two old men and stepped out of the pub. The weather on the top of the hill had changed dramatically and a deep impenetrable fog had descended over it. I didn’t know what had possessed me to come up here at this time of the year, on the first of February of all dates, but there was just some gut instinct that drew me here. The visibility was non-existent. Should I try to find the path to where my car was parked or head for the beacon on the top of the hill and wait for the mist to lift. I decided on the latter course.
As I approached the beacon I suddenly felt weary. My legs became leaden, every step was an effort and my head started to spin. I sat down on the damp ground and rested my back against the iron mast of the beacon and fell into a deep sleep.
When I awoke the mist had cleared and dawn breaking over the land. Had I really been asleep all night? Imagine my shock when stood over me was a mysterious girl wrapped in a green cloak. At first, dazzled by the light of the rising sun, all I could see was her glowing red hair, illuminated by the sun’s rays as they emerged above the horizon. But as she leaned forward and held her hand out to me to help me up her features came more sharply into focus. Her red hair, green eyes and sharp features were striking. Her smile, as she grasped my hand and pulled me up, was enigmatic.
“You are a treasure seeker?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. But how did she know? “I’m a professional treasure hunter. I’ve heard of the legend of the golden cradle and I’ve come to Castle Hill Fort to search for it. Do you believe it exists?”
“Oh yes, it definitely exists,” she smiled.
“Can you take me to it,” I asked excitedly.
I couldn’t believe my luck, “You mean you know exactly where it is? I’ll share anything I make from it with you once I’ve dug it up,” I added guiltily.
“There is no need for that,” she replied quietly. “All I ask is that you spend the day with me and follow the path I have set out for you.”
“Yes, of course, but I’ll get to see the treasure at the end won’t I?”
“Yes, I promise you.”
I bent down to pick up my metal detector.
“You will have no need of that. Come, stand with me and watch the sun rise.”
I stood alongside her and watched the sun as it hung over the horizon reflecting layers of pink and red on the clouds above the golden orb as it hung on the sky-line. We both stood looking to the east in reflective and companionable silence. It was a magnificent sight
“Follow me and watch carefully.”
I followed the young woman as if in a dream and, as I did, the mists parted like a curtain leading me through a series of scenes as we wound our way around the top of the hill.
I saw a group of hunters clustered around a camp fire with stone tipped spears feasting on a wild boar.
I saw a vision of an earthwork enclosing the top of the hill and wooden pallisade within it.
It occurred to me that the whole history of the hill was unfolding before my eyes and I’d been transported back to Neolithic and Iron Age times.
I marvelled at the magic this powerful and mysterious young woman could invoke. In the midst of all this, so captivated was I by the scenes that opened up before me, I forgot about my main purpose; the golden cradle and the hunt for treasure. I became lost in a magical world as the lives of our ancestors on this place were revealed to me.
“Watch now,” she whispered, “do you see her? She is Cartimanuda, the Queen of the Brigantines.”
As the hazy mist parted for me I looked upon a raging conflict between two warring British tribes. At the centre was a female figure in battledress, her bronze shield shining in the sun, her sword raised in battle.
“Yes, she is an awesome figure isn’t she? She is also my sister in spirit. Cartimanuda has allied herself with the Romans. The Castle Hill has been made her stronghold and she is fighting a civil war with her husband Venutius, who has rebelled against her.”
The mist closed around us only to part again and reveal another scene. A leader of the Britons, clearly a war lord of great standing, sat at the head of a round table.
“Do you not recognise this scene?” the girl asked.
“But surely that can’t be King Arthur of the round table?”
“Yes indeed it is. It is the fifth century and that is Arhwys of Elmet. You may have heard of the King of the ancient Britons. Legend holds that Castle Hill was the site of his stronghold – no fairy tale castle, but a British fortress.
“I’ve heard the legend, but surely it can’t be true?”
“What do your eyes tell you…?”
The scenes continued to unfurl before us as we circled our way around the hill.
There was a vision of a castle with its solid Norman keep and earthworks surrounding it. Riding out from it was a Norman baron, his retinue and accompanying hunting dogs following him, the colours and heraldic shield of the De Laci family blowing in the wind.
There was a fire beacon lit on the top of the hill warning the surrounding countryside of the imminent threat of the Spanish Armada.
Now crowds of unruly men gathered around the top of the hill placing bets on a cock fight.
Then a massive crowd of working men and women spread all around as far as the base of the hill listening intently to a speaker. Banners fluttered in the air, “One Man One Vote”, “No Power Without Representation.’
“A Chartist meeting?” I enquired and was met with a nod of approbation.
Then there was another crowd; this one joyous with waving Union Jacks. I recognised this from the presence of a new stone tower on top of the hill. This was 1899; the celebration of the opening of the tower to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond jubilee.
The final scene was a man in an ARP tin hat, binoculars round his neck peering anxiously at the sky listening to the hum of German bombers heading to shed their deadly load on the cities of the West Riding.
The young woman turned to me, “Do you not now begin to understand the true meaning of this site and its connection with our ancestors?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied.
“Then now is the time. Are you prepared to seek the golden cradle o’ treasure hunter?”
I was hesitant. This I believed to be the purpose of my journey, but the things I had seen and the mystical encounter with this red haired girl had made me doubt my purpose.
Nonetheless, I answered, “Yes, I want to find the golden cradle. Seeing all that you’ve shown me I can only imagine the legends are true and this hill hides a treasure of untold riches.”
“Then you must first face the serpent that guards the treasure.”
I was fearful now. Surely there could not be a real dragon; that must be the stuff of myth. How could I possibly fight a dragon, I had no swords, no weapons – only a metal detector. What use would that be against a fire breathing serpent?!”
Thick black clouds gathered around and the sky darkened. In the surrounding gloom all of a sudden fires lit themselves and the top of the hill was illuminated in the red glow of furnace like flame.
The young girl transformed into a serpent before my eyes. It was a wondrous and terrifying sight to behold. She wrapped her scaly frame around my legs and wound her way up and around my body until I was enslaved in her coils. Trapped in her grip, I was frozen with fear. So, it was true, the golden cradle was protected by a serpent just as the two old men had warned. Had I been lured here to face a dreadful penance for my greed for treasure? The serpent looked me in the face, her eyes burning like coals as her forked tongue hissed at me.
“I am the serpent Queen; it is I who is the guardian of the golden cradle. My name is Goddess Bride but I go by many names such as Brigid or Bridget or Brigantia. I am the Celtic Brigantine Goddess who guards over the hilltop fort. I am the Goddess of fire. I am the Goddess of high places and this is my domain. When the beacons are lit and my perpetual sacred flame burns that is a symbol of my power over these lands. Cailleach, the crone Goddess of winter imprisons me in a mountain each winter, but I am released on 1st of February on Imbolc to welcome the turning of the seasons and the coming of spring. So, do you still desire to see the golden cradle?”
“Yes, I’ve come so far on this journey I could not return without seeing it, if its guardian will permit me.”
“Then stand by my side and you will see. You have sought treasure and I will show it to you.”
The serpent transformed back into a girl and stood by my side. By now the sun was setting and we looked across the south-western horizon from the top of Castle Hill towards the moors beyond Holmfirth to Metham Moor. At this point a giant saddle feature forms between the two hills and the sun was setting between the two points. The golden orb of the sun nestled inside the bowl. The sun balanced in the saddle of the hills like the eternal flame of Goddess Brigid putting the sun to bed in its cradle.
Then it struck me like a revelation. The golden cradle. This was the golden cradle. Goddess Bridget acknowledged my flicker of recognition with a nod.
Smiling, she turned towards me, “Do you understand now?”
“Yes I do,” I replied, “you are the golden cradle – the landscape and the sun are the golden cradle.”
“And do you still seek treasure, o’ treasure hunter?”
“No, thank you, I’ve seen all the treasure I need.”
“Then Goddess Bridget’s work is done. Great truths have been revealed to you today – about your ancestors, about yourself, about your place in the universe. Keep hold of them and remember them.”
“I will. Thank you. The old men I met in the pub said seeing the golden cradle would change me. They were right. I see what they mean now.”
“Farewell, my friend and never forgot your battle with the serpent, your encounter with Goddess Bridget.”
“No, I promise I won’t”
With that she turned and with her back towards me lifted her hand in a gesture of parting and disappeared, enveloped in the swirling and shifting mists at the top Castle Hill.
Suddenly I was alone and disorientated. I felt uplifted but bereft all that same time. Great joy, but tinged with sorrow, knowing that I may never see Goddess Bridget again.
I had seen the treasure of the hill and I was more than content. There was no glittering gold metal to be found here, but much greater riches. I had been on the hill a night and a day and it was time to go home. If I could find the pub then from there I could trace my way back to my car. There was a man walking his dog. I stopped him and asked the way to the Castle Hill pub. He looked at me curiously.
“The Castle Hill. You’ll be lucky. That pub was demolished years ago.”
“But, I had a drink there last night!” I exclaimed.
He looked at me strangely. “I don’t think so. You’re standing on the site where it used to be. You must have made a mistake.”
I smiled. No, it was no mistake.
[Author’s note: Castle Hill is a hill top fort in Almondbury near the town of Huddersfield in the UK. There is evidence of settlement there for at least 4,000 years. It is regarded as one of Yorkshire’s most important early Iron Age hill forts. The summit of Castle Hill is a prominent landmark in the area. The Hill has been a place of recreation for hundreds of years. The remains of past occupation have made it a subject for many legends including the one of the golden cradle, which has been transformed into this story.]
[Nano Skald is an author, archivist and local historian. He lives in the English town of Beverlac where he enjoys walking in the ancient druidic woods near his home and finding out about the pagan sites in the local area. He is an active member of the Leodis Pagan Group and regularly contributes to the story telling sessions at their moot. He has contributed to Eternal Haunted Summer before and, under a different pen name, is also a published author of erotica.]