I’m not a fan of ‘dark’ tales, of Gothic literature (not even Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley) though I did have a teenage period when I was crazy about Dennis Wheatley‘s occult novels (anyone remember The Devil Rides Out, his first, and the first I read?) – not quite the same thing but certainly scary. (The film ‘The Exorcist‘ cured me of that, sometime in the ’70s I think, and I’ve never watched or read the like since). However, as the meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, was a few days before 31 October we were set to write a ‘Halloween story’. I dislike what ‘Halloween’ has become too so I said I’d prefer to write around a real English tradition, a November 5th story.

Last year I did attempt a ‘dark’ story so I asked one of our newer members (Jo Campbell) to read it and give an opinion as she’s a fan of Gothic literature and writes ghoulish tales. As she is a relative newcomer to blogging I was delighted that about a week ago she extended her sparse blog to include things like her story (not ‘dark’ at all) for our ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, which has to be my favourite from the night. Her blog is here.

As she liked my tale from last year (suggesting one amendment, which I’ve made) I decided to try another. This is below. Last year’s, Hallow’morrow, is under the ‘Short stories’ menu.


Guy was puzzled. Forks in the road, with signposts clearly indicating the way to his destination, never seemed to get him there. In fact, it was just one fork and the third time he’d arrived at it. He was feeling ever more cold though wearing warm cycling gear and it was not yet winter, being only the beginning of November, the 5th of November to be precise.

He’d set off from his flat in Gillygate in York, close to where St. Peter’s School had been when attended by the best remembered gunpowder plot conspirator, with the idea of visiting the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy; there was a ruined church, parts of which were medieval, and really old gravestones, which were particularly interesting to him.

He didn’t take his road bike as he’d decided to take a cross-country route from the still populated village of Wharram le Street rather than the usual advertised walk from the English Heritage car park. However, the gear change on his off-road bike had been playing up recently so he decided not to go directly via Malton but to make a detour to Easingwold and call in on bikeWright to see if they could fix the gear problem. 

The Easingwold shop had repaired the gear change but it took far longer than he’d planned. By the time he arrived in Malton the light was already fading and a typical November mist was thickening. He debated with himself whether it might be better to go directly home from Malton but he had excellent lights on the bike, chosen for riding off road in the dark, and a powerful flashlight in his backpack so, thinking a tour of the ruined church with no-one else around might be fun, he continued. He set off down the B1248 and was soon in Wharram le Street. Having taken Station Road as he remembered from the map, it was not long before he’d reached the fork with a signpost to Wharram Percy, though he almost missed it in the deepening gloom.

When he first set off down the narrow lane signposted to Wharram Percy there was still a little light so he was surprised when he seemed to arrive back at the fork. He had not seen any turning, signposted or not, since leaving the spot. “I must have missed it in the gloom,” he muttered and set off again.

On the second visit to the fork he recalled catching a glimpse of a billboard announcing that Catesby Estates had acquired a field near the fork for a new estate. “Many people would be scared to go out at night in such an isolated place,” he thought, “Strange how the notice has disappeared – maybe it was further back than I remember, maybe it’s just the mist is a lot thicker now.”

He began down the lane for a second time, cycling very slowly, looking carefully to left and right. Finally he come to a fork with a sign post to Wharram Percy.

But it was the same fork. Of that he was sure.

Was someone or something trying to tell him he shouldn’t go there? Should he give up and carry straight on, to Stamford Bridge then home to York?

“Damned if I will,” he said aloud. “”I’ll give it one more go!”

He set off again. There was little light now but enough, he thought, to make finding the church worthwhile. The lane soon became something he did not recognise, trees on either side making it ever darker but the broad beam of his headlight picked out ruts and large stones to be avoided. “This isn’t bad,” he thought, “if only it were not getting so damned cold.” He shivered, despite the effort required on the rough track.

A large dark mass emerged out of the gloom without warning; it took him a moment to realise he was only a few yards from the church, the broken tower reaching out to a moon filtered by mist, a few dark clouds recalling scenes from a Hammer horror film. Spooky.

Then he saw them, a small group of figures, men.

“Damn!” he exclaimed softly. He had hoped to be alone.

“Must be some kind of event, or rehearsal for one,” he thought, noticing now that the figures were in cloaks, pointed hats and carrying flaming rush torches, not flashlights.

Laying his bike down he approached them but before he could say a word one of the group said loudly “Thither he is. Alloweth not him receiveth hence.”

The group surged forward, one grabbing his arms, another swiftly tying his wrists behind his back.

“Hey, I don’t know who the hell you think I am but I’m not part of your play or whatever it is. I just came to see the church.”

“Thou art Guy aren’t thee?” The question came from the man who seemed to be leader of the group.

“Yes but –“. His answer was cut off with a glare and a slap in the face, a hard slap. “Bid us, bid us, who is’t they wast.” He didn’t understand and the accent was one he didn’t recognise.

He must have been slapped very hard as the faces in front of him kept fading in and out, even disappearing for a few seconds. “He’ll not bid, Sir William;” said one. “Rack him!” shouted another.

He felt himself being bundled forwards, then up stone steps in the tower, his increasingly desperate protests: “This is crazy! I’m not who you think, I’m just a visitor, and it’s bloody dangerous to climb up here,” were ignored.

The group ceased pushing him upwards. There was now only a glimmer of light. He strained to refocus on what was directly in front. Some rope, a loop of rope. A hangman’s noose. Instinctively he took a step to the side to avoid putting his head in it.

A dog walker (Wharram Percy is a favourite place for dog walkers early morning) found him at the base of the church tower. He clearly had a broken neck. “The idiot must have tried to climb the tower in the dark,” the dog walker said to himself as he pulled out his mobile phone.


Wharram Percy is probably the best known deserted medieval village in Europe as a result of all the excavation and research which has been done there. It’s now an English Heritage site.

Did you pick up the clues ‘hidden’ in the story? Not difficult. A bit of self-indulgent fun on my part. Guy Fawkes avoided the hangman’s noose for his part in the 1605 plot to blow up the House of Lords, with the king, either by jumping or falling from the scaffold (it is not known which) and breaking his neck.

Advertisements
'Slices' of parkin on a plate

Cut but to be wrapped in foil for about three weeks before eating

Last year I was a bit late making parkin. It improves with age and though most recipes say leave it a couple, or a few, days before eating, I think it’s much better left for two or three weeks, tightly wrapped or in an airtight tin. I don’t have a suitable tin so I wrap in it non-stick baking paper then foil.

This year I’ve managed to fit in making it before going to ‘do my thing’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival. I’ve decided not to read my fairy story as I was not happy reading a cut up version. Read all about it, with the fairy story, tomorrow morning.

It’s not difficult to make, in fact very easy; the biggest problem is resisting the temptation to eat it before 5th November, for which date it is traditionally made. The other traditional foods are potatoes baked in the fire, and ‘plot toffee’, made by boiling dark sugar, and perhaps molasses,  with butter until it will set hard when cooled, and ‘toffee apples’ – apples on sticks dipped in the toffee when liquid.

Guy Fawkes

For non-British readers who may not know the significance of 5th November, we ‘commemorate’ the failure of Guy Fawkes, a Yorkshireman (what else?), to  blow up parliament with the king in 1605 (if you want to know more just Google ‘Guy Fawkes’ and Wikipedia has it).

Traditionally we have a bonfire, the children make an effigy of Guy Fawkes, go with it from house to house calling “Penny for the guy”, the money collected being spent on fireworks. Now it’s more usually adults who spend ridiculous amounts of money competing to see who can make the largest ‘bang’. Nevertheless, many communities still have a bonfire and fireworks.

The tradition is gradually being replaced by a massive money-making event five days before, where supermarkets and other shops sell trashy ‘scary’ costumes and kids come asking ‘trick or treat?” Halloween – a corruption imported from the USA of another tradition. It’s horrible.

Parkin recipe.

I won’t give the recipe for ‘proper parkin’ here as I did that last year. You’ll find it in the post of 27 October last year. This year I changed it slightly, putting 50/50 medium oatmeal and pinhead oatmeal as I like the latter.

'Slices' of parkin on a plate

Cut but to be wrapped in foil for several days before eating

It’s a bit late for me to make Yorkshire parkin for 5th November, the traditional ‘cake’ to eat on ‘plot’, or ‘bonfire’ night as it improves if left to mature, to get the vital moist stickiness. The eight days left now is less than I would usually leave but it’s enough.

I couldn’t remember the quantities of each ingredient but having gone onto internet and seen recipes from various ‘celebrity’ chefs, I didn’t find one who truly understood what makes a ‘proper’ (thus the word in the title of this post) Yorkshire parkin. There are three essential ingredients: oatmeal (not porridge, or rolled, oats); ginger (not mixed spice) and bicarbonate of soda (not baking powder). These three ingredients, including the bicarbonate, are what gives Yorkshire parkin its unique taste and texture. I think also you should use dark brown sugar, not light brown as suggested in several recipes.

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

I took the quantities for a 9 inch (22.5cm) square tin from a BBC recipe, doubled them as I was using a much larger tin (a roasting pan, as used by my grandmother), and where necessary changed the ingredients to bring into line with the comments above.

Recipe (for 9 inch square tin)

200g butter, plus extra for greasing
1 large egg
4 tbsp milk
200g golden syrup
85g black treacle (molasses)
85g dark brown sugar
100g medium oatmeal (I substituted a little pinhead oatmeal to make even ‘nuttier’)
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tbsp ground ginger

Method

Butter a 9 inch cake tin (or line with baking parchment).
Set oven to 140degC fan (160degC/gas 3)
Gently warm the butter, sugar, golden syrup and black treacle in a pan until the sugar is dissolved.
Mix together very well the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the melted ingredients and mix again very well. Add the milk, mixing well again, and finally add the lightly beaten egg and mix till very well combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the oven until firm (about 50-60 minutes – it was longer from my larger parkin).
When cool turn out, cut into squares and wrap in nonstick paper then foil (or put in an airtight tin). Try not to eat it for a few days; I prefer a couple of weeks.

By the way, it makes a great pudding; just warm it and pour over a generous helping of custard.

Other parkins

I should say that there are other parkins, notably from over the Pennines in Lancashire. I’ll leave it to others to argue about where it originated.

Other traditional foods for plot night are baked potatoes (in the bonfire, not the oven – taste quite different), and plot toffee (basically parkin without the dry ingredients, boiled till it will set hard).

I was horrified to hear an advertisement for Heinz mustard claiming that hot dogs are traditional bonfire night food. Bull****.