Hergest Ridge - Black Vaughan & Ellen the Terrible
Kington is a tiny town sitting right on the border between England and Wales. Situated as it is on the Offa's Dyke path it is known as a “walking centre” and with the ruggedly beautiful Hergest Ridge rising high above the town it's hard to argue with this.
Hergest Ridge itself is probably famous to most as the title of Mike Oldfield's followup to Tubular Bells. After the unexpected worldwide success of his debut he retired to a cottage outside Kington and based the entire concept of his next album on his walks and horse rides over the Ridge. It is indeed an atmospheric place once the ground levels out along the top with magnificent views over to Hay Bluff and into Wales. Ancient tribes regarded Hergest Ridge as a place of reverence, evidenced by the mysterious burial cairns spaced out around the summit and the Whetstone, a solitary megalith. Wild ponies run around free and it's easy to momentarily slip back in time when you realise the view 2000 years ago would have been little different.
Back down in Kington the tower of the Church of St Mary dominates the skyline. It is the final resting place of Sir Thomas “Black” Vaughan and his wife Ellen “The Terrible” Gethin. Sir Thomas was a landowner based at Hergest Court and was killed in 1469 fighting for the king at the Battle of Edgecote Moor near Banbury. He was carrying on a tradition here as his father was actually killed at Agincourt decades earlier. His headless body was returned to Kington and interred within the original structure of the church.
Before long sightings were reported of bizarre and terrifying apparitions around the Hergest and Kington area. The headless figure of Sir Thomas Vaughan was seen standing still in the churchyard and beyond, and a huge black dog roamed the hills. It is known that Vaughan did indeed keep a big black hunting hound, with it's own room at Hergest Court, and it was assumed this was it's ghost. A spectral black bull took to suddenly appearing in the town, and even bashed it's way into the church itself, terrifying the assembled congregation. Flies the size of apples were soon added to the ghostly menagerie, and these spawn of Beelzebub were said to drive horses and cattle alike insane with their torments. It was as if the whole area was in the grip of a haunting the like of which we have only seen in horror movies, and drastic action was called for.
A team of twelve priests arrived in Kington and made their base at St Mary's. After first calling on the spirit of Black Vaughan to show itself, they waited, holding vigil, ready to intone the litany of exorcism. Midnight arrived, and the air chilled. A strong wind howled around the church, and the holy company began walking in procession towards Hergest Court. They stopped halfway, then as fog descended the ominous sound of heavy footsteps was heard approaching. The headless figure of Sir Thomas Vaughan in armour clanked slowly towards them, it's feet lost in a swirling mist, his glowing eyed black hound by his side. With each step closer the priests began to lose their nerve, until one by one they fled in terror. Four, three, two, now just one brave cleric stood strong in his faith. The litany was bellowed out three times while holy water was flung at the apparitions, forcing the hound to run off. Eventually the priest got the better of Black Vaughan, fixing him in place, then it is said he forced the ghost into a silver snuff box. Running down to a lake known as Hergest Water the exorcist hurled the silver box in as far as he could throw, issuing a final command for the ghost to remain there as if drowned by Moses in the Red Sea.
The exorcism appeared to be successful, with no further reports of spectral men or animals around the area, but the hound lived on. It was said to appear from time to time on land around Hergest Court, always heralding an imminent death in the family. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later stayed at Hergest Court and was regaled with tales of the black hound. The Baskerville dynasty were a big deal around this area for some centuries so it's not hard to see where the idea for the Hound of the Baskervilles came from.
So what about Ellen “The Terrible” Gethin? Information about Vaughan's wife is scarce but legend tells of her resolving to avenge the murder of her brother by her cousin. The lady disguised herself as a hooded commoner and entered an archery contest, when it was her turn to shoot she span round and shot her arrow at the cousin, killing him instantly. However, a local man I chatted to insisted she was trapped at a castle under siege and, disguised as a man, volunteered to use a bow from the ramparts. Once armed she wasted no time in killing her cousin under cover of the chaos.
A magnificent alabaster effigy of the pair resides now in St Mary's, it's studious detail and design looking good today despite some malicious carvings and Vaughan's sword being deliberately broken. Some say these damages were all related to locals trying to keep the pair at rest. This fine church is well worth a visit now places of worship have limited access, but Hergest Court is unfortunately very much private now and not to be confused with the nearby Hergest Croft. The Court itself went on to become a repository of bardic songs, poetry and knowledge of Wales which attracts modern druids. The Red Book of Hergest is a world famous source of Welsh mythology and legend. Brace yourself for the essential hike up to Hergest Ridge though. As Mike Oldfield said at the end of Ommadawn - “So if you feel a little glum, to Hergest Ridge you should come, in summer, winter, rain or sun, it's good to be on horseback” - but a hike is just as good.
The Vaughans rest in peace
Thomas "Black" Vaughan and Ellen "The Terrible" Gethin
The Church of St Mary, Kington
The Whetstone on Hergest Ridge
Burial cairn on Hergest Ridge
From the high plateau of Hergest Ridge looking down
Hergest Court today