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Weird Norfolk: The Faines 'animals the size of calves with saucer eyes which frequented Hethersett'

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:34 29 June 2019

Did saucer-eyed creatures prowl the footpath to the village pit at Hethersett. Photo: Bill Smith

Did saucer-eyed creatures prowl the footpath to the village pit at Hethersett. Photo: Bill Smith

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The udderly terrifying tale of the ghost cows of Hethersett which once roamed the village, their saucer-eyes glowing in the dark.

Hethersett, winner of the over 5,000 category in the EDP Pride in Norfolk awards.  Photo: Bill SmithHethersett, winner of the over 5,000 category in the EDP Pride in Norfolk awards. Photo: Bill Smith

Think of saucer-eyed beasts roaming across Norfolk and any fan of the paranormal will instantly bring to mind hell hound Black Shuck - but Hethersett just outside Norwich has a far stranger claim to fame: the Faines, calf-sized animals with abnormally large, glowing eyes.

On the excellent Hidden East Anglia website, under a section about creatures related to Black Shuck, there is a strange little snippet that raises far more questions than it answers.

"The Faines: These were animals the size of calves with saucer eyes which frequented Hethersett," it says, "one of them kept on the Mill Road and the other, which my informant met 25 years ago, the Gravel Pit Lane. He was coming home late one night when he met it and felt a little 'gusk' of wind, which took him off his feet, but he lit behind it on his feet.

"He saw it going away shedding a light right and left like a bicycle lamp. The mother had seen it lots of times. When she was walking with her husband she used to 'scringe' to him to give it room to pass."

This information, Hidden East Anglia reveals, is from Walter Rye's Recreations of a Norfolk Antiquary, published in 1920. As far as Weird Norfolk can establish - and we would love to be proven wrong - this is the only account of the Hethersett Faines. Faine is a word that has long-since died out and used to mean temple, or holy place (and the Norfolk speakers amongst us will know, but for those that don't, 'scringe' means to cringe or shrink away).

Mill Road is still in Hethersett and is now filled with houses, but in the late 1800s when the Faines stalked the area, it was sparsely populated. Close by is the site of an old gravel pit which was worked before the First World War and which was later used as a dump.

Bill Morton, on the Hethersett at War website, recalls: "In the gravel pit there was a hermit living in a shanty he had put together. If we boys would go down there he would hide and would not speak to us."

The saucer-eyed creatures from Hethersett bring to mind Hans Christian Andersen's famous Tinderbox story, in which a poor soldier returns home from war and on his way, meets a witch who asks him to climb into a hollow tree to retrieve a magic tinderbox. His payment is that he can remove anything else he finds in the chambers inside the tree.

Once inside, the soldier finds a room filled with precious coins guarded by three monstrous dogs, one with eyes as big as teacups. The tale is based on a Scandinavian folk tale, The Spirit in the Candle, in which a soldier acquires a magic candle with the power to summon an iron man to do his bidding.

And of course South Lopham in Norfolk boasts a fairy cow, which magically appeared during times of great hardship in the village and disappeared when things improved, but there was no mention of saucer-eyes or a suggestion that the cow seemed anything other than red-blooded and 'normal'.

Could the curious creatures be part of a larger number of wide-eyed beasts that roam the East Anglian countryside alongside the infamous Black Shuck? In Katherine Wiltshire's book Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside from 1973, she claims that she knew of Norfolk witches who could 'create' saucer-eyed creatures by the power of concentrated thought alone…

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