A few over-grassed earthworks are all that remain of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle in the picturesque market town of Ellesmere (North Shropshire), stood on the banks of The Mere, the largest of a number of small lakes in the area. It is said that the lake was originally dry pasture, with a good well on it; but when, in a time of drought, the farmer (a wicked old woman – presumably a witch) who owned the field charged the townspeople a ha’penny for every bucket of water they drew, God punished her by causing the well to overflow, drowning the pasture and forming The Mere. Whatever the truth of its origin, The Mere is reputedly home to some very fay creatures.
Once, on a clear night of the full Moon, a fisherman caught an Asrai in his net. An Asrai is a water spirit, taking the form of a beautiful, green-haired, lithe-limbed woman the height of a child. He was entranced, staring at the Asrai where she lay in the bottom of his boat, entwined in the net, bathing her pale body in the moonlight (Asrai are said to feed on the Moon’s rays). Come sunrise, she became distressed and struggled to return to the water. The fisherman, determined to keep her, covered her with pond weed to protect her from the sunlight and rowed hard for the shore; but, once ashore, all that remained beneath the weed was his empty net and a pool of water.
Another denizen of The Mere is Wicked Jenny, a type of water-hag relatively common in England – others of her kin are Jinny Greenteeth, in Lancashire, and Peg Powler, in the River Tees (effectively portrayed as “Meg Mucklebones” in Ridley Scott’s 1985 film, ‘Legend’). Wicked Jenny lurks at the edges of the lake, waiting to sieze the unwary and drag them to the muddy bottom, where she devours them. Her favoured prey are children.
By rj krijnen-kemp