Silent and lonely, the ancient road pursues its course over height and into hollow : now stretching away in a generous curve sharply defined by a bank on either side, now scarcely to be distinguished from the surrounding turf. At intervals are earthworks that guard it and barrows that keep watch.
Round one of the latter, familiarly called the "Knob," not a few curious legends have gathered. Some distance below the old road there runs, also from east to west, a military ditch and vellum, and the story goes that the devil, having a fancy to turn ploughman, cleft this mighty furrow along the hillside. When he arrived opposite the spot where the barrow now stands, his ploughshare became clogged; he halted to clean it, and the soil which he scraped off he tossed over the Ridgeway in a heap to be known henceforth as the Knob. There is a lavishness about this proceeding which can only be properly appreciated by those who have seen the mound and the Devil's Dyke.
Illustration L Leslie Brookes
The tale was told to me by a native of the district who had heard it when a boy, from the older labourers working on his father's farm. Local opinion however, differed on the subject. While some people believed the Knob was due to His Satanic Majesty's industry, others possessing more education, maintained it was a genuine tumulus raised above the body of Cwichelm, king of the West Saxons; and yet a third party claimed that it was composed of the bodies of this king's soldiers, slain hereabouts in some great battle. So prevalent was this last belief that the owner of the land, who was a thrifty soul, cut into the mound and drew off several hundred loads of soil under the impression that it contained valuable fertilising qualities. The informant to whom I am indebted for the above traditions, well remembers seeing the farm carts coming and going on their foolish errand, and the sensation created in the neighbourhood by this wanton destruction of the barrow. Its poor remains can still be viewed a monument no longer of a dead chieftain or his forgotten host, but of man's credulity and ignorance."
5 adventure ideas around the Wych-helm* Barrow:
- A giant (or perhaps demon) has been spotted ploughing up the highlands (perhaps armed with item 3 below). Afeared of an invasion by giant-kind, the adventurers are hired by the local villagers to get rid the land of him.
- Haunted by spectral visitations of long-dead kings, the greedy Landowner hires the adventurers to protect him and release him from his curse.
- The Landowner hires the adventurers to protect his wagons carrying the magically fertile soil cut from the Barrrow after some 'unfortunate accidents' and 'mysterious disappearances'. Undead soldiers begin to arrise from the accursed soil and wreak vengeance upon the living for the desecration of their grave.
- Guarding a merchant caravan down an ancient road, the adventurers have an unnerving feeling of being watched, passing by "The Knob" they are approached by a soldier in ancient uniform and told they cannot pass.
- Rumours of ancient kings and devils-work surround the Barrow, is this just the idle talk of half-drunk yokel halflings? may there be a Kings ancient treasure hoard beneath the mound or is it truly just the lair of a Giant MoleTM?
- Soil of the Ancestors - this is a wax-sealed jar containing cursed soil from the Wycheshelm Barrow, placing the soil on the ground will summon 2D6 -4 (there is a chance of failure) skeletons, who will proceed to attack the nearest living creature.
- Blood of the Land - this is a wax-sealed jar containing blessed soil from the Wycheshelm Barrow, placing the soil on the ground will cause any living plants to grow to twice its natural size in 1D6 days.
- The Ploughshare of His Satanic Majesty - this is an immense, rusted iron blade as tall as a man and as wide as a dwarf. Encrusted with peculiar signs and symbols wield-able only by those of Ogre size or greater strength. Upon the weapon lays a curse, anyone attempting to wield it will be forced to walk 100 miles and plough an acre of land. Once the land is tilled, and grain sown upon it, next growing season a crop of gold will arise (1 acre = 2000gp). The gold will bring ill fortune to any that keep it. If molten down, up to 23 swords may be forged from the original ploughshare, each will be +1 cursed, berserk inducing, intelligent blade until the first 100 souls are claimed whereafter the swords will revert to a normal one of its type.