Sunday, 07 February 2016

‘A woman and half my lands to kill last wolf’

THERE has been talk since 1999 about the merits of bringing back the wolf to the British Isles as a way of controlling the deer population in Scotland.

The final Scottish wolf was killed in the 18th century but Humphrey Head, near Allithwaite on Morecambe Bay is claimed to be where the last English wolf met its end.

A romantic version of the hunt – including knights in armour and a wedding – is told in a late Victorian book called The Last Wolf by Mrs Jerome Mercier which was published by J Wadsworth of Main Street, Grange.

It transports its readers back to the 14th century when the Morecambe Bay sands were a highway for travellers and raiders from the North.

She notes: “Now, as the sands themselves were full of danger at low tide, so was the sea at high tide; for Scottish lords came over in their barques, glad to annoy and rob any of the subjects of the English king.

“To keep these lords in awe, castles were built along the Morecambe coast, and of these Arnside was one.”

Margaret, 15, of Arnside Tower, hears talk of a great hunt to slay the last wolf in England, one which has taken many sheep, and shares it with her friend Adela, an orphan niece and ward of Sir Edgar Harrington of nearby Wraysholm.

Adela – along with half the lord’s lands – was offered as the prize for the knight killing the wolf.

Along comes a stranger knight in armour, fresh from the crusades to the Holy Land on a milk-white Arabian horse who would not remove his visor or reveal his true identity before the hunt.

Could he be the estranged son of Sir Edgar and childhood admirer of Adela?

The knight, owner of the wooded Holme Island, gave his name as the mysterious John Delisle.

Tradition held that “Adela of Wraysholm was truly very beautiful. Her clear skin was of creamy hue; her brown hair lay soft as satin on either side of her sweet face.”

The hunt was to start from Wraysholm with the stranger knight’s main rival being the Knight of Leyburne on a Flemish horse.

The book notes: “With the first dawn, a horn was blown to arouse the slumberers.

“They started up, and all was soon life and bustle; the knights looking to their horses and harness, the cooks busily preparing an ample breakfast.”

The chase went on for many hours.

The book notes: “The grisly wolf, strong and cunning, led them over Kirkhead and Holker to Newby Bridge.

“There he plunged into the brawling Leven, and over it after him went pack and crewe.

“On through woodland glen and over wild hill they go, in clamorous dash, till the grey beast finds brief shelter in the recesses of Coniston Old Man.”

The hunters rested before the dogs picked up the trail and went by Esthwaite and the shores of Windermere to Gummers How.

It was all over at Humphrey Head, near Allithwaite, the tallest limestone cliff in Cumbria.

The stranger knight speared the wolf before removing his visor and revealing himself as the son of Sir Edgar.

The next stop was Cartmel Priory for an on-the-spot wedding ceremony by the Prior without any Hollywood trimmings.

Sir Edgar is supposed to have said: “And here is our old grey enemy, the last wolf in England, stone dead.

“King Edward will rejoice over his head.

“Our stranger knight has claimed his prize right gallantly, and the lady seems nothing loth.”


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