Zombie Sheep, Grey Wethers and Things that go Baa in the Night

I love old words. Old Anglo Saxon and Celtic place names are scattered across the downs and further afield. Old words survive in conversation. One such word is wether meaning sheep. Sheep have grazed on the downs since the Iron Age. Pubs in the area have names like The Wool Pack, The Lamb, The Shoulder of Mutton, The Shears. There is a floor made of sheep’s knuckle bones at the Stiles almshouses in Wantage.

Sarsen stones lie about in the fields. These large stones are called grey wethers.

grey wether

When sheep and sarsens occupy the same field it can be difficult to tell wethers from grey wethers at first glance. It is even more difficult in mist or at night.


There are all sorts of folk tales based on this confusion. One story of the Grey Wethers on Dartmoor describes how a shepherd was tricked into buying a stone flock. In another tale a shepherd and his sheep were turned to stone by the god Hu. There are also stories of people being turned into stone, for example the Merry Maidens in Cornwall, the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. All in all there’s a certain uneasiness about sheep and stones.

I was talking this over with one of the family. He described a visit to the Piper Stones in Wicklow. According to legend this stone circle is supposed to be a piper and dancers, petrified for violating the sabbath. The visit was at night, always atmospheric. He had difficulty finding the stones because the night was misty. Eventually he spotted a stone in a field at the right location. He went towards it. To his horror the stone moved. He stood firm (I would have fled at this point). He finally realised that the ‘stone’ was a cow, the real stones were nearby.

In spite of the legends I love to walk on the Ridgeway in the evening and at night. Sunsets are spectacular and the night sky is a wonder. On one walk recently we began to feel that there was someone or something nearby. There was a strange scuffling noise in the darkness. We looked behind and there they were. Zombie Sheep. We ran.

zombie sheep

If at night you cannot sleep,
Beware, beware the Zombie Sheep,
They’ll eat your flesh,
They’ll crunch your bones
And turn you into zombie clones,
Or stones………….
1234 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture Myth Legend, History, Legend, Local, Nature

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4 Comments on “Zombie Sheep, Grey Wethers and Things that go Baa in the Night”

  1. Ciaran O'Driscoll Says:

    Love the grey wethers and the zombie sheep!

  2. Thomas Davis Says:

    Ahhh, what a land of history and allusion you live in. Much like this area where every mountain has a history in legend, but yours are more literary and thus dear to my heart and spirit. Wethers and zombie sheep!

  3. twilark Says:

    Yes, we are very close to the past. You are lucky to live in an area with such distinctive cultures.

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