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Weird Norfolk: The great stone of Lyng

PUBLISHED: 10:52 15 December 2017

The old stone that stands in a grove beside a path in woodland near Hase's Lane, Lyng. Picture: Ian Burt

The old stone that stands in a grove beside a path in woodland near Hase's Lane, Lyng. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2017

A haunted wood, a strange stone that bleeds and a host of legends that link it to a martyred Saint, a ruined nunnery and ritual sacrifices.

In the dark, dark wood, there’s a dark, dark path and by the dark, dark path there’s a mysterious stone that has guarded this deep grove in Breckland for centuries.

The great stone of Lyng is quite literally off the beaten track – a large erratic boulder left by the glaciers of the last ice age, many believe the rock resembles a large, squatting toad, which has been a silent witness to life in this quiet part of the village for centuries.

As with many glacial remains which sit incongruously in the landscape, like chess pieces in a game played by giants, the stone has attracted its fair share of folklore: some say that birds can’t be heard singing near it (our photographer confirmed this was the case on the day he visited) others that can be seen to bleed, while another story links it to buried treasure.

Curious and inexplicable to our pagan ancestors, who knew little of ice ages or geology, such stones were important markers on the landscape which were often venerated and put to use as boundary points, meeting places, preaching stones, way-markers or even as the place where courts were held.

An article in the EDP on March 13 1939 recounted how the boulder was the focal point of ‘The dark legend of The Grove’. On certain nights – it doesn’t say which - the stone is said to bleed if pricked with a pin. The blood in the stone was perhaps absorbed after its use as a sacrificial altar by Druids, or following the bloody battle between King Edmund and the Danes.

Many years ago, the Reverend E. C. Weddall, the Rector of Lyng, told of a regular custom at the village school which saw the children allowed home 20 minutes early.“This was to allow them time before darkness fell to get past a certain mysterious spot on the road,” continued the 1939 article, “an unused highway, a curious boulder, and a shapeless ruin were responsible for the mystery and the fears of Eastaugh school children. Half a mile out of Lyng the road to Eastaugh and Weston intersects an ancient and green drove.

“The track plunged into a small wood or coppice on the other side. It was soon hidden in the darkness of the trees, many of which were hollies. After passing this wood and the crossing of the track you hurried up a sudden, short hill, Hogsback Hill, and from its summit could see, of a dark afternoon or evening, the safe lights of the hamlet of Eastaugh, a mile from Lyng, and could continue your journey at a quieter pace. It was the wood that gave people, even in Queen Victoria’s reign, an unexplainable feeling of dread.“Even in these days there is something curious about the Grove. A housewife living not far off tells you that ‘on a Sunday afternoon’ you get a queer feeling walking there.”

Locally, the wood was known as The King’s Grove due to a battle which is said to have been fought there in which King Edmund, the martyred Saint and King of the Angles, battled the Danes with one side trying to scale the escarpment fortified by the other, the dead strewn along the Grove and the spirits of the slain left to haunt the woods.

Another legend has it that there is treasure under the stone – a landowner once tried to move it with a dozen horses in order to test this theory, but only succeeded in further securing it to its secluded spot – while another story links the stone to a former convent which was nearby. Road excavations on Hogsback Hill several generations ago unearthed skeletons – perhaps the nun’s cemetery, perhaps those of King Edmund’s soldiers.

When the nuns abandoned their convent, the bells that had once called them to prayer where thrown into the nearby Wensum and it is said , can sometimes be heard to ring at night from under the water. Little wonder the children of Lyng hurried past this most haunted of places as darkness fell in wintertime.

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