Legend Of Fairy Rock

Located just north of the Saltom Pit is Fairy Rock. Now barely visible due to a tremendous storm some 140 years ago. Saltom Rock was a tourist attraction even without the fairy legend that became associated with it. The rock was actually a huge pile of freestone, of a peculiarly black and scorched appearance. It was about 20 feet high and stood jutting out into the sea near Saltom Pit where it seemed to have been hurled by some tremendous convulsion of nature.

It was the common belief that no-one could visit the Fairy Rock from any part of the world without finding the initials of his name among the many hundreds that covered its surface.

Local legends say that the grottoes in Fairy Rock were once the homes of fairies that were human-sized but left no impression of feet where they stepped or stood. They wore white robes and danced in the moonlight, and were known to invite handsome young men to their dances.

According to a 17th-century legend, one such man pledged everlasting devotion to a fairy, supposedly the Queen of the fairies, promising to spend half his time in her world. The fairy said he must only come when the moon was full, that she would guide him to the cove on such nights. This he pledged as well. When he tried to visit when there was no full moon, a deep moan came from the sea and a terrible storm arose. He was killed, and it is said that such a voice can still be heard as a storm approaches by those standing on the part of the cove where his body washed ashore, the part where he had made his vows to the fairy.

The last fairy seen on Fairy Rock was reportedly in the form of a calf flying across the sea. When the witness exclaimed, “G-d! weel loppen, cofe!” as the fairy reached him, it disappeared.

The Legend Of Fairy Rock, Whitehaven
The Legend Of Fairy Rock

The Legend:

A great many years ago – for such accounts are never very exact with regard to dates – the delightful coves and grottoes which were known to exist far under the Seabrows in the vicinity of Saltom were inhabited by a race of fairies – the most exquisitely beautiful creatures that eye ever beheld or imagination ever conceived.

So well disposed were they towards the people, and so exceedingly familiar, that they were frequently to be seen threading the mazes of the dance, which they only broke off when the people approached too near to the charmed circle; and more than one handsome young fellow – if their own report was to be credited – had not only been permitted to join in their moonlight feast, but had even been admitted into the interior of their grottoes, which was furnished with splendour and magnificence.

They were invariably clothed in the robes of the purest white, but though tall almost as the ordinary race of women, their tread left no impression upon the grass, nor, as they floated gracefully through the dance, did they brush even the glistening dew from the frequent harebells. In short, they were an amiable and a harmless race of beings, whose chief delight appeared to consist in singing their sweet songs and dancing their rounds in the clear moonlight, and everybody loved them.

But this happiness was not destined to be of long continuance; affliction finds its way even into Fairyland. The affection of the fairy race for mortals has ever been an article in the populus creed, though there are few instances on record in which such connections have ended happily.

The Saltom race of fairies, as already stated, were exceedingly familiar, and it so happened that the queen of the tribe – known from her handmaidens by her taller stature and superior charm – was fated to form an intimacy with a young student of St Bees, named Julian Mandeville; but how that intimacy commenced – when, where, or by what accident they first met – can never be known. The commencement of the connection must, for ever, be hidden by the veil of obscurity; but not so its progress and fatal termination.

For some time the lovers met secretly – generally by the side of the rock, in the shade of which they would sit for hours, he encircling her slender waist with his arm, and pouring out his vows into an ear that was but too ready to listen. At length, however, he was admitted into the fairy caves, where it was generally supposed his loved one became his bride.

Certain it is that vows of eternal consistency were exchanged between them; and it was agreed that Julian should pass one half of his time in the delightful mansions of his beloved and the other half at St Bees. He was to come to the cave in his own boat and alone, on the first night of every new moon, and remain till the full, nor was this arrangement on any account to be departed from. If the night was dark she undertook to light a beacon on the rock; but if once he mistrusted the truth of her who had plighted her troth to him, or came to the caves any night previous to the time appointed, he was given to understand – and his fairy bride wept as she spoke the words – that something fearful, if not fatal, would be the consequences.

This kind of intercourse continued for a considerable time. Still, on the first night of the new moon the astonished neighbourhood saw a light lambent flame ascend from the summit of the rock, bright and brilliant as the beams of the sun, but ever disappearing as it was approached; and still, at the appointed hour, the boat of Julian Mandeville shot into the Saltom Bay, and he was soon after conveyed into the fairy caves by the attendant maidens.

Still again as the moon completed her round was Julian seen to take his departure, rowing slowly, as if loth to leave a place of so much endearment; while the beautiful object of his affections stood upon the very pinnacle of the rock, waving her snow-white arms, that glanced brightly in the moonlight until her lover was hidden from her view by the envious headland.

It is not to be supposed that the repeated and protracted absence of Julian from his studies passed without observation. In fact, he had not only been questioned by his superiors, but rallied by his comrades. The former he easily found means to satisfy, for discipline in those days was not of the strictest; but to get rid of his comrades was not so easy a matter. He bore up, indeed, most heroically against their raillery; but when his bosom friend taxed him with want of confidence he was not proof against that.

The reproach touched him to the quick, and in an evil hour, he disclosed to his friend the whole secret of his love and connection with the fairy.

Unfortunately, the person to whom this disclosure was made was one of the very last to whom such a secret ought to have been entrusted. He treated the whole affair with the utmost levity, and even insinuated to Julian that the injunctions were nothing more than the wise precautions on the part of his lady, who might find it inconvenient to be intruded upon while entertaining another lover!

Stung to the soul by this cruel remark, and opening his mind to all the torturing doubts and suspicions engendered by jealousy, the unhappy Julian determined that, be the consequences what they might, he would pay his next visit to the caves on the night previous to the one appointed.

That night at length came, and brightly the stars shone, and merrily their reflection danced on the surface of the waves, as Julian launched his boat and shot swiftly along the coast. But as he proceeded, large black clouds began to rise and spread over the face of the sky with astonishing rapidity. The sea began to heave and to swell, and the wind to blow in short and angry puffs, and from the bottom of the ocean arose that deep moaning sound which is a sure sight of a coming tempest. Julian observed these ominous changes attentively; but, determined to persevere in his fatal purpose, he bent steadily to the oars, hoping to round St Bees Head before the storm burst in its fury, and then he fondly expected he would have the beacon to guide him.

But on rounding the headland – a task which he accomplished after incredible toil and difficult – no beacon was to be seen. He had broken his plighted troth to his fairy bride, and the light was extinguished for ever!

The storm now burst in all its horrors. The great sea, lashed into fury by the hurricane, flung the trail boat from its bosom as though it had been a feather.

In short, so terrific a storm had not for years been known on the Cumberland coast, and when the inhabitants of the district hastened next morning to the beach they heard a faint melancholy wailing throughout the whole of the fairy caves, and found the body of Julian thrown by the sea to the very foot of the rock, beneath the shade of which he had first plighted the faith he had so rashly broken.

From that time fairies have never been seen in the vicinity of the Saltom. A heavy fall of the declivity has long since covered the entrance to the caves; but ever (it used to be said) at the approach of a storm and after it, a sound was heard on the beach, at that particular spot, which bears a strong resemblance to the low melancholy wailing of deep female affliction as heard at a distance.

Saltom Pit At Night
Saltom Pit At Night - Fairy Rock Sits Behind The Old Building


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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