TERROR TALES OF THE COTSWOLDS ANTHOLOGY REVIEW
Recently, I’ve become hooked on the Terror Tales of… series of anthologies edited by Paul Finch. I previously posted reviews of both Terror Tales of the Seaside ( https://horrordelve.com/2018/05/07/terror-tales-of-the-seaside-review/ ) and Terror Tales of the Lake District ( https://horrordelve.com/2019/04/08/terror-tales-of-the-lake-district-anthology-review/ ). With the trip I’d scheduled to visit England for the first time canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I decided to dig into Terror Tales of the Cotswolds to go there mentally. I thoroughly enjoyed this batch of stories which had a distinctive folk horror vibe to most of them. As always, Paul has penned brief essays in-between each story detailing a wide variety of grim legends and lore pulled from the area’s rich, often macabre history.
If forced to choose, my favorite stories in this collection would be: “Hoxlip and After”, “The Scouring”, “The Silent Dance”,“The Horror Under Warrendown”, “The Cotswold Olympicks” and “The Lurker”.
1. “In The Quiet And In The Dark” by Alison Littlewood (2012) – After being forced to move in with her father after her mother met someone new and she no longer fit in with their plans, a shy girl meets two locals who befriend her. They like going to visit an ancient ring of standing stones called Rollrights. Legends say these stones were once knights who were transformed into immobile stones by a witch. It’s also said that no man can count them all three times and get the same number, but if they could then they would gain their heart’s desire. A thin but handsome young man named Kix begins showing up and flirting with her, but there’s something strange about him that she can’t quite place.
2. “Straw Babies” by Gary McMahon (2012) – Following the loss of her baby, a woman and her husband go to spend a week at a remote, rustic cottage in a frosted area of the Cotswolds. Inside they discover a secret trap door which contains an old, straw doll as well as some weird symbols. As the place was once home to a witch, they speculate it may be left from her time there. Things turn bad once they start being harassed by something stalking them.
3. “Charm” by Reggie Oliver (2012) – In this novelette, a couple rent a house in the Cotswolds called Stonehill from a peculiar old man named Roddy Foxe-Walter who claims to be a baronet and was once a minor celebrity attending all the local drink parties of the 70’s. An aloof braggart, he still has the ability to charm people with his stories. He lives in a house on the grounds of Stonehill and begins to infuse himself into their lives, taking particular interest in the wife. The house has a dark history attached to it in which Foxe-Walter was involved.
4. “Hoxlip and After” by Christopher Harman (2012) – While on vacation alone in the Cotswolds, Kevin reluctantly goes on a bus tour which stops at various locations. He becomes intrigued by one of the tour guides, an attractive woman named Kate. She talks of an old town called Hoxlip which somehow vanished from existence near a wooded area where they stop. Despite her eccentricities, such as the fact she always wears a sheepskin coat regardless of the outdoor heat, sews together creepy, stuffed “Cotswold Devils”, and has a very detached personality, Kevin pursues a relationship with her. I initially struggled with the writing-style of this tale, having to re-read some sections, but I ultimately became engrossed and found it to be an outstanding piece of folk horror fiction.
5. “The Shakespeare Curse” by Simon Clark (2012) – A woman becomes concerned after her rather childish husband discovers a secret door hidden in the bedroom of the house they’d recently purchased in Stratford-upon-Avon. The door has the phrase “Despair and die” painted on it (a quote from Shakespeare’s Richard the Third). What they find behind that door hints at something terrible that happened there hundreds of years earlier.
6. “The Scouring” by Thana Niveau (2012) – Still grieving the loss of her husband, a woman takes their young son to the Cotswolds. The boy becomes fascinated by the Uffington Horse, an ancient engraving of a giant horse on a hillside that has been filled in with white chalk, and begins drawing pictures of it, some presenting it as a monstrous creature. They learn from a local resident about a ritual called The Scouring which used to be held to satisfy a grim purpose. This is an excellent story with a great setting, well developed characters, and a very eerie plot.
7. “Wassailing” by Steve Lockley (2012) – A lifelong resident of a quiet country village in the Cotswolds welcomes an outsider from the city who has just bought a house in the area. The newcomer wants to revitalize the empty Orchard House and asks for advice. The resident advises him he should make sure he’s on the wassailing list for Christmas Day. He agrees but finds the local tradition to be more than he expected.
8. “The Silent Dance” by Joel Lane (2012) – After leaving the company he spent years with due to an ill-intentioned superior named Laura which he hated, Daniel learns she was found dead at work. He then begins to see bizarre instances of performances and songs linking him to her death in this brief, well-told tale.
9. “Waiting for Nicky” by Antonia James (2012) – While taking a vacation in the Cotswolds, Lillian’s abusive husband Nicky demands she climb a high stone locals call The Devil’s Chimney. Legend has it, anyone who climbs it must leave a penny at its peak in order to keep the Devil trapped below. Those who don’t come to regret it.
10. “The Horror Under Warrendown” by Ramsey Campbell (1997) – A traveling children’s book salesman agrees to drop off an acquaintance from the bar he regularly frequents at a remote village near the Cotswolds called Warrendown. The acquaintance says he must go there to meet up with a woman with whom he fathered a child but hasn’t gone to see. He seems fearful of going to the place, and once they arrive there it seems to be for good reason. The heavy scent of vegetables permeates the area and the denizens are unusually hairy. This is an excellently tale of Lovecraftian horror.
11. “The Lurker” by Gary Fry (2012) – A man and a woman who had both recently lost their respective spouses before starting a relationship with each other travel to the Cotswolds for a vacation. The man struggles with letting go of his deceased wife and their shared love of history. His new love shows little interest in visiting historical sites but agrees to go with him as they view the remains of an ancient Roman tower. He thinks he sees something stirring under its protective glass and later has a disturbing dream involving it. This is another strong, weird-horror tale.
12. “The Cotswold Olympicks” by Simon Kurt Unsworth (2012) – A photographer attends the peculiar Cotswold Olympicks, a real event that has taken place at various times throughout history which consists of games, unusual rituals and drinking. The photographer is offered a drink of the event’s special alcohol several times during the event by different women but consistently refuses them. While each woman is physically very attractive, there’s something off about them aside from how insistent they are that he drinks a toast with them. Once he’s shown what lies at the heart of these Olympicks, it’s too late to avoid his fate. This is an excellently creepy tale of ancient powers and the importance of appeasing them through honoring old rituals and ceremonies.
13. “A Taste of Honey, A Horror of Stone” by John Llewellyn Probert (2012) – When she has to make her husband stop on their way to visit his mother’s house in the Cotswolds, Sharon encounters a mysterious circle of large stones which she touches and seems to form a connection. From then on she begins having terrible nightmares and starts to see strange little creatures called Piskies. Her terror grows as she realizes her psychic connection with the stone circle spells doom for her and her family.
14. “Bog Man” by Paul Finch (2009) – Two students staying late in a museum to study the unearthed Bog Body of a man who they believe was ritually sacrificed centuries ago come to understand a terrifying truth about this ancient, preserved specimen.
Article by Matt Cowan