Welcome to Dark Dorset
Welcome to the Dark Dorset website - Dorset's premier website devoted to local folklore, customs, mysteries and the unexplained.
Based on the publication Dark Dorset: Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror by Robert. J. Newland and Mark. J. North. and Dark Dorset Calendar Customs by Robert. J. Newland. This site is an online compendium of information relating to local folklore and mysteries that can be discovered in the county of Dorset.
Click on the menu on the left of your screen to explore the wonderful world of Dark Dorset.
The site is regularly updated, so I do hope that you come back soon!
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- Winter Soltice and Yuletide
The ‘Winter Solstice’ occurs on either the 21st or 22nd December and observes the lowest point of the sun in the sky at midday as well as the most southerly sunrise and sunset in the year. The Romans called it ‘Sol Invictus’, meaning, ‘the Undefeated Sun’.
Symbolically, it is the rebirth of the sun, and the chief gods in many religions are born at this time. The birthdays of the Babylonian ‘Queen of Heaven’ and ‘Osiris’, ‘Dionysus’, ‘Adonis’, ‘Mithras’,‘Balder’ and ‘Jesus’ are celebrated on 25th December, the old date of the Winter Solstice. All are associated with concepts of rebirth and eternal life.
The Solstice was played a huge part in the Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia (17th December). Riotous merry-making took place at home, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats and costumes danced through the streets.
The custom of mummers visiting their neighbours in costume, which is still alive in Dorset and the rest of Britain, is descended from these masked processions.
Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).
In northern tradition, the Winter Solstice is the feast of ‘Yule’, which means, ‘yoke of the year’, and is the midwinter festival associated with fertility and continuing life. Starting at the solstice Yule continues until ‘Twelfth Night’, 5th January, when the Christmas decorations are removed.
As it is also St. Thomas' Day weather lore states that if there is frost on this day, a bad winter is predicted.
"St Thomas divine, Brewing, baking, and killing of fat swine."
Towards the end of the last century many English villages had their Yuletide mummers. A number of young men would form themselves into a company, usually of five to eleven members, according to the size of the play. Some plays were much longer than others.
The Symondsbury Mumming Play is the most complete of any of these plays. This play has eleven characters, Father Christmas, Room, King of Egypt, St. George, St. Patrick, a Doctor, four warriors, Servant-man, Dame Dorothy and Tommy the Pony. The traditional dress of the warriors was usually a soldier's uniform, decked with ribbons, streamers and sashes. The head-dress was in the form of a helmet with ribbons falling to mask the face completely from view.
Symondsbury Mummers are still in existence today, their play being performed on New Year's Day every year in the car park of the local village inn The Ilchester Arms at around 8.00pm.
"In olden times Dorset had its full share in the gaieties appertaining to this joyous and festive season, and still in out-of-the-way corners of the county many scattered remnants of its former glory survive."
So wrote Dorset Folklorist John Symonds Udal, regarding the Christmas traditions and customs in Dorset.
- A Ghost Story for Christmas
Curiously perhaps, Yuletide has always seemed an appropriate time for spine chilling tales and ghost stories. Maybe it is because the festival comes in the depths of winter when the nights are longest. One of the most famous Christmas fables of all is a ghost story is Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' with its four reforming spirits.
But the spectres of most ghostly tales are far less benign. One classic Dorset ghost story for Christmas is taken from the Rev. W. S. Swayne’s, 1889 publication “History and Antiquities of Stalbridge”.
The Dorsetarian is an online journal featuring a selection of articles and stories on local folklore, mysteries and the unexplained submitted by visitors to this website.
- Folklore, Customs and Ghost Stories in Sherborne - Elisabeth Bletsoe of Sherborne Museum explores the folklore, customs and hauntings of this ancient Dorset market town.
- Well Dressing and Sacred Water - Dorset Archaeologist Chris Tripp, looks at the folk customs and traditions associated with water and how these ancient rituals still remain with us to this day.
- Folklore of William Barnes - We revisit an early article from the 1920s written by local Folklorist and Historian, John Symonds Udal. He discusses folklore of the county and how it influenced the writings and poetry of Dorset dialectologist Rev. William Barnes.
- Cerne Abbas - A brief history of the village with local Legends and Customs.
- Sea Dragons, Fairy Loaves & Serpents of Stone - Dr. Karl Shuker explores the folklore and proto-scientific beliefs attached to Lyme Regis's most famous fossils.
- Daisy Wheels and a Ritual Landscape in Dorset - Ric Kemp examines the strange, centuries-old religious symbols and carvings which can be found in churches in and around Dorset.
Drawing on historical and contemporary sources, 'Haunted Weymouth' by local ghost tour guide Alex Woodward, is sure to send a shiver down the spine of anyone daring to learn more about the haunted history of the area. Including many previously unpublished stories, this book will appeal to both serious ghost hunters and those who simply want to discover what frights lurk beneath the surface of this once royal seaside resort.
The Recollections of Rifleman Harris Audio CD is abridged from an 1848 first edition of this famous historical memoir of a Rifleman Benjamin Randell Harris, from the 95th Rifles, in the Napoleonic Wars. This CD production by Explore Multimedia is read by Jason Salkey, who played the character of ‘Rifleman Harris’ in the Sharpe TV Series and provides a brilliant complement to his Harris diaries DVD series. Sound FX are provided by The 95th Rifles Re-enactment Society. A musical score by Adam Wakeman adds to this excellent production.
The tale of the Black Dog of Bungay and the infamous attack on the church of St. Marys in 1577, has inspired and fascinated residents and visitors to the town for centuries along with tales of Black Shuck the Ghostly Dog of Norfolk.
To this day, sightings of the Black Dog are common through the region and form an integral part of local folklore and myth. At the same time, the history of the legend itself tells its own tale of the town of Bungay and how the community has responded to crisis through local folklore and myth.
This book, a collaborative effort between local historian Christopher Reeve and historian and anthropologist Dr. David Waldron, traces the rise of this story from its origins in the trauma of the English Reformation to the contemporary era where it has become a central part of Bungay’s communal and civic identity and a colourful and intriguing aspect of local folklore.
If you are looking for something different this summer, then ghost tours can provide some great entertainment, especially if they're ghost tours after dark. With Dorset having a lot of ghosts, it stands that there will be quite a number of ghost tours and haunted walks to be enjoyed.
We have gathered a collection of haunted walks, some permanent, some seasonal, which you can investigate.
PLEASE NOTE - Most of these guided ghost tours will require booking - and because of the nature of these ghost tours you should always at least contact the organisers (as they are NOT organised by Dark Dorset) to ensure there have been no changes to the plans as changes can occur at any time for many reasons.