In his book Welsh Folklore, published in 1887, Elias Owen mentions the following story from Llandrillo in Denbighshire:
Nearby was a little valley called Cwm Pennant, after the river which ran through it, and the valley was believed to be the home of fairies. One day, two men were otter-hunting in this valley when they saw a little red creature run across a field and hide in some tree roots on the riverbank. They were doubtful that this was an otter, as to their knowledge otters were never red, so they decided to catch the animal alive, so they could examine it. One of them covered one hole under the tree roots with a sack, whilst the other poked a stick down another hole, until at last something rushed out of the first hole and was caught in the sack.
The men began to carry the sack home but were very surprised when they heard a little voice saying “My mother is calling for me; oh, my mother is calling for me!” In their surprise they dropped the sack and out of it came a little man, dressed in red – obviously a fairy – and he ran away.
I was thrilled to read this tale, because a very similar story can be found in Lancashire – in two different places. The first story is set in Hoghton, in an area where the old and well-used rabbit warrens were once home to many fairies. Once there were two poachers who knew this area well, but they had been caught poaching once too often and their dogs and their nets had been taken from them. Undeterred, they went rabbit-hunting again, with only a ferret and a couple of sacks in which to store their booty. They knew the best place to hunt and so it wasn’t long before their ferret had rooted out the inhabitants of a warren and with their sacks over the entrance holes, it was a simple job to catch their quarry. However, they could not see exactly what they had caught.
They were walking home, with the sacks slung over their shoulders, when one of them heard a voice from his sack calling out, ‘Dick, wheer artta?’ At once another voice called out from the other sack; ‘In a sack, on a back, riding up Hoghton Brow!’ Shocked, the poachers dropped their sacks and ran away.
Next day, they retraced their steps and found their abandoned sacks, neatly folded by the side of the road. And that was the end of their poaching days; the sacks were used for potatoes and the men went back to earning an honest living with their weaving looms.
And here’s the same story, set in Barley. A pair of poachers once caught a couple of fairies. One night, they had crept to a rabbit warren, put their sacks over the rabbit holes and left them there until they could tell by the feel that they had caught something. They tied the necks of their sacks, slung them over their backs and set off for home. Walking back up the steep hill to Barley, they remarked to each other on the noise their catches were making and then were even more astonished when the squeaking noises coming from their sacks turned into little voices! One voice called out, ‘Where arta? Where arta?’ And the other answered, ‘Here I am, in a sack, going over Barley Brow!’ The poachers dropped their sacks and ran.
Isn’t that marvellous? I am quite used to finding the same story told in towns which are just a few miles apart, but to find this one in Lancashire and then hundreds of miles away in Wales, brings me great delight. I can only hope you find it just as interesting!