THE Hedley Kow was a bogie, mischievous rather than malignant, which haunted the village of Hedley, near Ebchester. His appearance was never very alarming, and he used to end his frolics with a horse-laugh at the expense of his victims. He would present himself to some old dame gathering sticks, in the form of a truss of straw, which she would be sure to take up and carry away. Then it would become so heavy she would have to lay her burden down, on which the straw would become "quick," rise upright, and shuffle away before he; till at last it vanished from her sight with a laugh and shout. Again, in the shape of a favourite cow, the sprite would lead the milkmaid a long chase round the field, and after kicking and routing during milking-time would upset the pail, slip clear of the tie, and vanish with a loud laugh. Indeed the "Kow" must have been a great nuisance in a farmhouse, for it is said to have constantly imitated the voice of the servant-girl's lovers, overturned the kail-pot, given the cream to the cats, unravelled the knitting, or put the spinning-wheel out of order But the sprite made himself most obnoxious at the birth of a child. He would torment the man who rod for the howdie, frightening the horse, and often making him upset both messenger and howdie, and leave them in t road. Then he would mock the gudewife, and, when her angry husband rushed out with a stick to drive away the "Kow" from the door or window, the stick would be snatched from him, and lustily applied to his own shoulders.
Two adventures with the Hedley Kow are thus related. A farmer named Forster, who lived near Hedley, went out into the field one morning, and caught, as he believed, his own grey horse. After putting the harness on, and yoking him to the cart, Forster was about to drive off, when the creature slipped away from the limmers "like a knotless thread," and set up a great nicker as he flung up his heels and scoured away, revealing himself clearly as the Hedley Kow. Again, two young men of Newlands, near Ebchester, went out one evening to meet their sweethearts; and arriving at the trysting-place, saw them, as it appeared, a short distance before them. The girls walked on for two or three miles; the lads followed, quite unable to overtake them, till at last they found themselves up to the knees in a bog, and their beguilers vanished, with a loud Ha! ha! The young men got clear of the mire and ran homewards, as fast as they could, the bogie at their heels hooting and mocking them. In crossing the Derwent they fell into the water, mistook each other for the sprite, and finally reached home separately, each telling a fearful tale of having been chased by the Hedley Kow, and nearly drowned in the Derwent.
Surely this Northern sprite is closely akin to Robin Good-fellow, whom Ben Jonson introduced to us as speaking thus:
"Sometimes I meete them like a man,
Sometimes an ox, sometimes a hound,
And to a horse I turn me can,
To trip and trot about them round.
But if to ride My backe they stride,
More swift than wind away I go:
O'er the hedge and lands,
Through pools and ponds,
I whirry laughing, Ho ho ho!"
1 William Henderson, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, p. 270.