The Legend of Ippikin by Kate Innes

One of the highlights of our Hygge Day on 26 November was the cosy candlelit story sessions with stories by Tove Jansson, Garrison Keillor and others. Local author Kate Innes chose the local legend of the giant Ippikin as the theme for her session. She read a section of her book The Errant Hours in which a version of Ippikin appears and also shared the story below which she had written especially for the occasion. Enjoy!

The Legend of Ippikin

A traditional legend retold by Kate Innes

Eight hundred years ago, in the Long Forest that reared up between bee-loud Ape Dale and sun-lit Corve Dale, in this beautiful land, a ruthless and evil man made his home.

This man, by the name of Ippikin, was the second son of a Knight, a soldier out of work after the end of the Welsh War. His strange appearance and fiery temper often caused trouble.  After he returned home from the war he had a quarrel with his neighbour. The man made some choice insults about Ippikin’s very long and pointy chin. So Ippikin drew his knife and slit the man’s throat wide open.  Then he calmly wiped his knife on the man’s tunic, walked into the forest and was not seen for weeks.  For this murder he was outlawed and so could not live in his family’s land. With no land and no income, he had nothing left to lose. 

Ippikin was used to inspiring fear, and now he used it to gather a band of villains around him. Men with even fewer possessions, but willing to do anything to get more. Men who weren’t known for their intelligence, but who would do as he said. Soon there was a ruthless gang of them, and they made a camp in the long forest. An overhanging cave in the friable limestone cliff not far from the village of Easthope gave them good cover and shelter. Ippikin lit his fire there, and sent out his men like dogs after hares, to bring down passing quarry.

There they lived, knowing every inch of the forest and all its tracks and bolt holes; breaking the rules of the Forest Law daily, felling trees to burn, killing rabbits, deer and men. Uncaring, they accosted, attacked and murdered travellers for their coin and goods, and soon they were living very well indeed. 

None of the nearby landowners wanted to risk their men to flush Ippikin out. So people began going miles out of their way on foot and horse to avoid that part of the Forest.

One September night, Ippikin sat alone, not wanting the smell and noise of his men around him.  In the entrance to the cave, just under the shelter of the overhanging rocks, out of the rain, he stretched out his legs in front of him and scratched his long hairy chin. The night was wild and stormy, and in the distance lightning cracked the deep blue of the sky. The boom of thunder came like a wave over the valley. 

Wind blew Ippikin’s ragged hair and beard across his face.  But he looked behind him and smiled. The cave was piled with clothes from the many travellers that they had killed. Outside, tethered to the trees were mules and horses, fine mounts and old nags, but all of some worth. There was ham and deer meat hanging from rods across the cave roof, there were even barrels of wine.  And buried underneath it all, a hoard of gold and silver coins and jewels wrenched from the hands of men and women.  Only he knew exactly where.  Thrown in one corner were the pewter saints badges, the holy amulets and ampullae filled with holy water that had not protected any of the travellers from his greed. 

Ippikin felt more satisfied than he ever had in his whole life. He had all he needed and more, and even more could be taken, without the interference of family or lord or church.

“I have command of this road and no wayside saint’s badge can stop me.” he gloated. “The fools will keep coming and I will keep taking what I please. Those idiots going to and fro with their wealth, gambling with their lives because they’ve said their prayers. I may let some go, if they beg enough. I’m getting tired of dealing with the bodies. But only if they beg me and not their saints. Saints are useless.”

Then as if the heavens had heard, and perhaps even St Michael the Archangel had ridden on the wind with his lance and struck the devil in Hell, a crack of lightning hit the outcrop of rock above the cave. Immediately a large boulder fell on to Ippikin pinning his legs and crushing his torso. And then as quickly as drops of rain, more rocks fell down into the cave, hitting his men, knocking some of them senseless and then burying them under rubble and dust. The horses’ screaming whinnies could be heard above the crashing as the whole cliff fell on top of the band of men.  

But not a single horse, or donkey or mule was killed or harmed.

In the morning when the good people of Easthope came cautiously, and looked down on the place where the cave used to be, they saw the horses, their bridles tangled, huddled in a group, and beyond them - a chaos of stone, with two large leather boots emerging from under the largest boulder.

They knew they were Ippikin’s, and they would not touch them. But as they began to take away the horses, they heard tapping, and moaning. A man or men, maybe even Ippikin himself, was still alive inside the rock fall. The people of Easthope stared at the cliff, which was still moving with little dustfalls, and then at each other. 

And then they silently untangled the ropes and reins and led the horses away. 

 Ippikin's Rock on Wenlock Edge © Copyright Richard Law and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 Ippikin's Rock on Wenlock Edge © Copyright Richard Law and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

No one returned to the site for years. The villagers always told their children to avoid it, for the ghost of such a man must be powerful. Ippikin’s spirit would be unquiet, and woe betide anyone who said words against him, or his ugly, long and exceedingly pointy chin. He might make the rocks of the cliff move so that they fell and the fool who had come to the site looking for the buried treasure would die, like Ippikin, upon the rocks.

So when you are up on Wenlock Edge looking over the beautiful valley of Apedale, across the treetops and fields to the Wrekin, you must never ever say:

“Ippikin
Ippikin
Keep away with your long chin!”