Tag Archives: corpse roads

Corpse Roads Again: Walking the Dead

Today on greydogtales – where to take your dead bodies, some traditional songs and some cool photographs. We’ll explain. If you grow up between the North Sea and the North York Moors, you have thoughts. We’ve written about some of those thoughts before, especially in connection with the sea and the whale-roads. But the moors have their roads as well, long stretches of bleakness where the sky clings to the land, punctuated by steep drops down into forgotten dales. Imagination and a good gear-box will take you many places.

mardale-shap, c. alen mcfadzean
mardale-shap, c. alen mcfadzean

Last time we revealed the new Folk-Horror Revival book Corpse Roads, and before we wander off into related matters, we should probably remind people what a corpse road is. There are plenty of other resources on the subject, but in brief, it was the route by which small and isolated communities took their dead to a consecrated burial place. Coffin-road and course-road are the same thing. Similar tracks are the German geisterwege (ghost road) and totenwege, and the Dutch doodwegen (death road).

There were two main reasons for such processions. The first was that a collection of farms and outlying homesteads had no church at all in their vicinity. The other was that only one local church was able to provide full burial rites. In either case, the corpse road developed over years or centuries as the route for that last journey.

mardale-shap, c. alen mcfadzean
mardale-shap, c. alen mcfadzean

Some were little more than worn tracks, others were paved and cleared enough that a cart could be used to convey the dead. In cases where a cart couldn’t be used, the corpse road might have large stones every so often on which the coffin could be rested and the bearers could have a quick cigarette or a swig of fortifying drink.

Anyhow, on Tuesday we mentioned the Lyke Wake Dirge, which is where we are heading today. This is a song deeply rooted in the Yorkshire of our childhood. Unlike many re-inventions of the Victorian period, it’s generally agreed that this dirge is a genuine relic of earlier days. Versions are known from at least the 1600s, and it may even be a Christianised version of folk ritual. It’s essentially about the passage of the soul from life to death, and the consequences of your actions.

The Lyke Wake Dirge

THIS ae nighte, this ae nighte,
—Refrain: Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
—Refrain: And Christe receive thy saule.
When thou from hence away art past
To Whinny-muir thou com’st at last
If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Sit thee down and put them on;
If hosen and shoon thou ne’er gav’st nane
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane.
From Whinny-muir when thou may’st pass,
To Brig o’ Dread thou com’st at last;
From Brig o’ Dread when thou may’st pass,
To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last;
If ever thou gavest meat or drink,
The fire sall never make thee shrink;
If meat or drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;
This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
—Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
—And Christe receive thy saule.

‘Lyke’ is the corpse, as in lychgate, a sort of covered entrance to a churchyard where in older times the corpse was rested before proceeding to the grave. You can also see it in the Northern European term leichenweg (corpseway), ‘leichen’ coming from the Saxon word for corpse. For fantasy and games fans, lich comes from the same root.

The meaning of ‘fire and fleet and candle-lighte’ is debated. It seems most likely that it refers to the basics of home or hospitality – either hearth, floor and light, or possibly hearth, salt and light (taking fleet as a mistaken corruption of selt/salt). The other interpretation, that fleet is a mis-spelling of sleet, doesn’t quite fit. ‘Whinnies’, by the way, are thorns.

There are a number of melodious recordings of the dirge set to music, but we prefer the direct version by The Young Tradition:

What isn’t certain is whether or not the Lyke Wake Walk, which crosses the moors from Osmotherley in the west to Ravenscar on the Yorkshire coast, actually follows any of the moors corpse roads.  The walk was created in the fifties, but it does join up many ancient paths.

We live nearer the Dales nowadays, and the nearest definite corpse road is probably the Old Course Road in Calderdale, a track which winds around the Heptonstall hillside. Some of this one is paved, and would take a coffin-cart.

There are other good examples of corpse roads across Dartmoor and in Cumbria and the Lake District. It so happens that we know a great site which has covered the Mardale corpse road, and as it’s not your usual folk-lore or weird fiction site, we’ll give you the lowdown.

mardale-shap, c. alen mcfadzean
mardale-shap, c. alen mcfadzean

Alen McFadzean is a walker of extraordinary energy and adventurousness, seeing as we think a stroll across the relatively flat Baildon Moor with the longdogs is quite enough nowadays. His website, Because They’re There, covers many of his long-distance adventures, and some of the photographs are stunning.

We’re with him today though because of his excellent post on the Mardale to Shap corpse road in the Lake District. Not only has he posted superb shots of the route, but his article also considers the corpse road history and concept, so it’s well worth a look. Alen has allowed to use a few photos here, but you’ll find many more, and lots about the subject, in the article here:

because they’re there: mardale to shap

For more on the theme and Dartmoor,  you can do worse than visit the Legendary Dartmoor site, here:

dartmoor corpse roads

And because we can, we end with a bit more music pertinent to the subject, a beautiful song by the folk group Show of Hands.

north york moors, c. stephen horncastle
north york moors, c. stephen horncastle

Time and space are now closed, as we need to write things that pay money. Join us soon for weird stuff, horror, art and lurchers…




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On Corpse Roads Bound…

Hello, dear listener. Today we celebrate the release of the ace Folk-Horror Revival book, Corpse Roads. Firstly because it’s an amazing 500 plus pages of poetic and photographic goodness; secondly because we’re interested in corpse roads, and thirdly, because it’s what we do. We even have some of the poetry from within to share with you.

CirqMRyW0AA5o_I.jpg large
© Andy Paciorek

The Revival’s first book, Field Studies, was one of those great dip-into books with everything you needed to know about Folk-Horror – its roots, ancient lore and its use in media and contemporary works. This new book focuses on poetry, with numerous photographic illustrations to intensify the feel. We don’t want to spoil it, so what we’ve done, with the publisher’s permission, is to show you some shots of the book to give you the overall feel, and reprinted eight poems from within, classic and contemporary, which hint at why you might want to get your own copy.

The term ‘corpse road’ always triggers two vaguely connected thoughts for us. One is the Lyke Wake Dirge, which we’ll mention more in a later post (we grew up by the North York Moors).

urra moor, c. mick garratt
urra moor, c. mick garratt

The other is the film adaptation of one of Clive Barker’s short stories, Book of Blood (2009). The latter is because of a particularly evocative refrain used in the film:

‘The dead have highways. Highways that lead to intersections, and intersections that spill into our world. And if you find yourself at one of those intersections, you should stop and you should listen, because the dead have stories to tell.’

There are many such stories, in verse form, in the tome in question, so here we go. ALL IMAGES ARE CLICKABLE FOR MUCH LARGER VERSIONS. Please note that 100% of sales profits from this book are charitably donated to The Wildlife Trusts.


© Dan Hunt


From the introduction:

‘Long before our first book, Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies, was
completed, the eyes of our minds were looking further down the path, gazing into the gathering mist, trying to define shapes from the shadows, wondering, ever wondering at further possible tomes to come.

‘There were many other lonely paths, wooded avenues and wind-beaten causeways to explore. There were songs to be sung, stories to be told, flickering images to be seen, and our intention holds fast that in the time that will come all too fast, we will mark mention of these in ink upon paper.

‘In traversing the borderlands between this and other worlds, other murmurs fell upon our senses, of that liminal terrain that lies between tracks and tales, between stories and song ~ the world of poetry.

‘So in order to collect the lyrical words of the dead, down Corpse Roads we trod, taking note of the territory we passed through, for it is the landscape that fed the inspiration of these past word-smiths.’

© Emily Jones

The book is divided between sections such as Poetry of the Dead, Poetry of War and Poetry of the Living, with separate chapters being given to particular poets who have contributed.


Amerind around the eyes
Cheekbones which speak to the past,
When I was wild.
My soul still knows
In my heart beats an animal;
A feral beast
And an eagle flying free.

© Erin Sorrey

© Hugh Williams + © Ellen Rogers

Speak of the North: A Lonely Moor

Speak of the North!
A lonely moor
Silent and dark and tractless swells,
The waves of some wild streamlet pour
Hurriedly through its ferny dells.
Profoundly still the twilight air,
Lifeless the landscape; so we deem
Till like a phantom gliding near
A stag bends down to drink the stream.
And far away a mountain zone,
A cold, white waste of snow-drifts lies,
And one star, large and soft and lone,
Silently lights the unclouded skies.

by Charlotte Brontë

© Erin Sorrey

The Garden

There’s an ancient, ancient garden that I see sometimes in dreams,
Where the very Maytime sunlight plays and glows with spectral gleams;
Where the gaudy-tinted blossoms seem to wither into grey,
And the crumbling walls and pillars waken thoughts of yesterday.
There are vines in nooks and crannies, and there’s moss about the pool,
And the tangled weedy thicket chokes the arbour dark and cool:
In the silent sunken pathways springs a herbage sparse and spare,
Where the musty scent of dead things dulls the fragrance of the air.
There is not a living creature in the lonely space arouna,
And the hedge-encompass’d quiet never echoes to a sound.
As I walk, and wait, and listen, I will often seek to find
When it was I knew that garden in an age long left behind;
I will oft conjure a vision of a day that is no more,
As I gaze upon the grey, grey scenes I feel I knew before.
Then a sadness settles o’er me, and a tremor seems to start –
For I know the flow’rs are shrivell’d hopes – the garden is my heart.

by H. P. Lovecraft

© Andy Paciorek

All Nature has a Feeling

All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal: and in silence they
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;
There’s nothing mortal in them; their decay
Is the green life of change; to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal in its stay,
And with the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.

by John Clare (1793 – 1864)

At Crossroads

Bury the head in the east road, the body in the west.
Stuff the mouth with garlic.
Take the wrong path, lose your life.
Choose: Odin, Mercury, Hecate, Mephistopheles.
Oedipus met his destiny here.
Faust summoned his.
Nothing confuses a devil like choices.
Know that you can save your soul if you are cunning.
Some gathered in the moonlight, sacred grounds.
Others built gallows, dug graves.

© Sandra Moore Colman

© Erin Sorrey

Dream Stag

And I dreamed of a deep snowed field, and a black stag,
And a man that was almost me, hunted with a black spear,
Snowfall unmaking footprints, as shadow hunted shadow,
Each waiting for the other to fall prey to hungers hollow.

© Rich Blackett


She lays out wishbones, boiled and polished,
or painted gold with leaf-green ribbons
at each empty sitting. Soon they will snap
like twigs, like innocence, teaching the power
of will, and dominion over bird and beast,
a feast for winter.
Upstairs, the tooth fairy,
black-mouthed at the window, sucks dreams
scented with violets and mothballs from a room
bare of all but stripped beds and damp pillowcases.
And outside, splints pitch from coarse loam,
catching pale moonlight. Sleep, little one, sleep:
the night is big and lonely, your garden’s growing

© Oz Hardwick

© Erin Sorrey


I have kissed corpses,
at the breaking of day,
half buried in bushes,
flesh rotting away.
For the greener the moss,
the greater my hunger,
where there’s well nourished soil,
the lost are there under.
I feed on the remnants,of life gone before,
crawling through forests,
feasting on gore.
A tree or a rambler,
just something past living,
join the circle of life,
their goodness they’re giving.
So pluck my fruit from me,
and devour with knives,
the recycled bodies,
of all the lost lives.

© Katrinia Rindsberg

© Erin Sorrey + © Cobweb Mehers

Special thanks to Andy Paciorek and Folk-Horror Revival for letting us have full access to the book.

(We have a number of Folk-Horror related interviews on the site which might also interest you, including a huge two-parter with artist, writer and editor Andy Paciorek, plus artist Cobweb Mehers, writer/photographer David Senior and artist Paul Watson. You can start here: folk horror interviews or click Folk Horror in the tag cloud, left)

That’s us done for today. You may notice that we now have a separate section for Occult Detective Quarterly news (top right) – click the text or the image up there to find out more. – and subscribe if you want to be kept up to date. See you again soon, we hope…




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