Galley Hill and the Hangman's Gibbet
Late last year I started writing ‘Forever Raven’. It’s a tale I started as a short story, but which quickly grew into a novel. Still early in its creative process, I really enjoyed the writing of it and it's a piece I will be editing in 2018. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed writing it so much is I was inspired by the local countryside close to where I live. It breathes easy for me, taught me things I never did know until the writing. I will explain.
And so it was Sutton with its ford (in Bedfordshire) was chosen as a starting point for a tale. I love the feel of the village with its 11th century stone bridge, ford, old church and the sound of running water. It has the magic feel of stepping back in time as soon as you’re there. I had the idea of a main tale in my head, a girl saved by a monster, and so I explored and stumbled upon something I didn’t know.
In between the village of Sutton and town of Potton...
*** Do not call Potton a village – it’s a town and all locals will be quick to point this out! ***
...is a hill.
It's called Galley Hill. I'd never really noticed it before. It's heavily wooded, dark and of twisted trees; unseen it stands tall alongside the main road into Potton. On the liminal borders of the John o' Gaunt golf course. I doubt many do notice it and that in itself is a strange thing; even I have to remember to look for the hill or else it passes quietly by unseen. And yet when you do see it one wonders how you might ever miss it. I have come to think it hides on purpose.
Ashamed of a dark past.
You see, Galley Hill derives from Gallows Hill.
A hill where the guilty of ancient crimes were taken and hung by the neck until dead. Left there to rot as an example to others. Perhaps some were killed using more infamous means. A man hung, drawn and quartered during the anarchy of Stephen; innocent women burnt as witches by the Witchmaster General.
A place I’ve walked by and never seen without this knowledge.
Imagination runs wild.
I’m sure exactly who and how many people died there might be sourced using parish records, local tales and the like, perhaps I’ll investigate in time, but as a writer of fiction the feeling of place is more important to me. Suddenly there’s a dark to this little corner of Middle England that I’d never noticed before. A place truly luminal, where ghosts haunt and Fae do watch. It has new meaning, and so it worked its way neatly into my story. Here is a place where my heroine might be taken to enter the Otherworld.
A place of life and death, magic and mercy.
The story tells itself. The characters tell me.
Writing is a strange thing.
And so it is, I learned, the case for most hills named Galley Hill in England. Unseen knolls dotted in and around the landscape where criminals, witches, the guilty and innocent, died cruel death. Quiet places with an ugly past that are forgot now by most. They stand unseen and unheard, with primary schools named after them; I’m sure the kids would love to know the gruesome history that lies about their feet.
Creak of wood and snap of rope; screams.
Crowds that gather to watch; laugh, cheer.
A smell of smoke.
Cruel times in a cruel world,
And these unseen hills the cruellest of all those places.
So the next time you pass a place called Galley Hill, take a moment. Look and see, take note. Darkness.