There are many places across Britain named after the Devil – often with their own stories as to how the name came about. Some of these places are man-made, whilst some are natural in origin. Here we feature some topographical features and rock formations that are named after Mr Evil himself.
Some of the most well known places associated with the Devil in Britain are valleys of one form or another. The Devil’s Punch Bowl in Surrey is a large natural amphitheatre, whose name appears to derive from the 18th century. There are various stories of its creation related to the Devil. In one of these, the Devil hurled lumps of earth at the god Thor to annoy him; the hollow out of which he scooped the earth became the Punch Bowl. An older story refers to two giants throwing earth at each other. Finally, there is story saying that the Bowl was created by the Devil landing as he jumped over from the Devil’s Dyke.
Which brings us on to the Devil’s Dyke, the deepest dry valley in England. There are many myths and legend as to how the valley was created. One legend has it that it was dug by Satan in a bid to wipe out Christianity by creating a channel through the South Downs and flooding the Weald. But he was foiled by St Cuthman and Sister Ursula [link to video on National Trust website].
Moving north, the Devil’s Beef Tub has been described as one of Scotland’s most striking landmarks. It is a deep and dramatic hollow in the mountains north of Moffat. The name may refer to the resemblance of the valley to a tub used for preserving meat. The association with the Devil is said to derive from the Border Reivers (or raiders), whose enemies referred to them as “devils”, and who used the hollow to hide stolen cattle.
Hills, mountains and caves
Not far from the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Surrey are the Devil’s Jumps, three small hills near the village of Churt. According one one tale, the Devil amused himself by leaping from the top of each hill to the next. This annoyed the god Thor who picked up a boulder and threw it at the Devil, causing him to flee. The boulder is said to remain at the Devil’s Jumps. There are also man-made Devil’s Jumps: a group of five barrows in West Sussex.
Another rather more pronounced hill – or rather a mountain – in Scotland goes by the name of the Devil’s Point. It gained this name when Queen Victoria visited. She was accompanied by her ghillie John Brown (who was depicted by Billy Connolly in the film Mrs Brown). Rather than tell her its actual name (in Gaelic it is the “Penis of the Demon”), he told her it was called the Devil’s Point.
Strangely enough, another natural feature had its name changed to avoid causing offence to Queen Victoria. The Devil’s Arse was the name of a cave in Derbyshire, so-called because of the flatulent-sounding noises from inside the cave when flood waters are draining away. When Queen Victoria visited in 1880, its name was changed to ‘Peak Cavern’.
Talking of water and rock, there are many coastal landforms around Britain that are associated with the Devil. There are natural sea arches called the Devil’s Bridge: one at Rhossili in Wales, and another in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. There is another sea arch called the Devil’s Frying Pan in Cornwall. This is because of the way that the spray splashes up in storms. Other coastal features include the impressive Devil’s Barn in Pembrokeshire and the equally impressive Devon’s Slide in Devon.
Talking of the frying pans, there is also a Devil’s Frying Pan – in the form of a rock feature – in Devon. The county of Devon seems to have its fair share of Devil’s rock features – there is also the Devil’s Cheesewring and Devil’s Gully.
Moving across into Dorset, there is Agglestone Rock, also known as the Devil’s Anvil. Legends says that the Devil threw the rock from the nearby Isle of Wight, with the intention of hitting Corfe Castle, but it fell short. Interestingly, ‘aggle’ is taken to mean ‘wobble’ in the old Dorset dialect, raising the possibility that this huge rock once wobbled.
Lastly, in Monmouthshire there is the Devil’s Table (see featured image at top), upon which the Devil and a giant called Jack O’Kent were said to have played cards and made wagers.
There seems to have been a healthy obsession with topographical features and rock formations named after the Devil in Britain. And Britain is not alone in this, many other countries are the same – the Spooky Geology website showcases several from North America for example. It may well be that many of these places were so-named in the last two to three hundred years, to explain anything strange or unusual, particularly if created by powerful forces of nature. Or perhaps little green men were involved – or more aptly, little red men. Whatever the case, the works of the Devil are many-fold.
- There are other Devil’s Punch Bowls in Britain, including a sinkhole in Norfolk.
- Devil’s Dyke has a man-made namesake in Cambridgeshire; there is also a Devil’s Dike in the Pennines.
- There are various watercourses (such as Devil’s Water and Devil’s Brook) named after the Devil.
- Other coastal landforms include Devil’s Study in Aberdeenshire and Devil’s Point, Plymouth.
- Other rock features and formations include Devil’s Bowling Green, Dumfries & Galloway; Devil’s Chair, Shropshire Hills; Devil’s Pulpit, Monmouthshire; Devil’s Pulpit, Scotland; Devil’s Kitchen, Snowdonia.
- As well as a couple of man-made Devil’s places already mentioned, there are of course lots of others, including the Devil’s Arrows in Yorkshire.