In ELFHOLE is the devil’s byke.

‘Glossary: ‘Lochirmacus’ = Longformacus, ‘Dunse’ = Duns.

This old local rhyme includes some intriguing placenames, local to the Whiteadder area. Most of these, including Elfhole, are small settlements not far from Duns.

Dr George Henderson (1800-1864), who collected many local rhymes, stories and traditions in the 1800s, asks what anyone would, on hearing this placename: ‘Is Elf-hole, as the name denotes, in any way connected with the Fairy Superstition?’

Elfhole was a farmstead, occupied from medieval times until at least the 1850s. A nearby woodland plantation still has the placename Elphole. The world ‘byke’ means hive in Scots, as in ‘bee’s byke’. So what exactly was a hive of devilish elves doing at a farm just outside Duns?

Henderson’s theory is that the rhyme reflects superstitions relating to fairies. He doesn’t mean the pretty, bottom-of-garden fairies of Victorian children’s books, nor what he terms ‘good neighbours’ like the industrious brownies of Cranshaws. These elves were a subset of fairy that went out of their way to cause harm to humans; they were helpers of the devil. And not only that, there was a hive of them. In Henderson’s words: ‘sometimes they have shown such malignity towards the human race, that they may justly be called the ‘Devil’s imps’; hence a company of them in any place may be a hyke, or hive of the Devil’s emissaries.’

We can’t go back and ask them but it’s fairly safe to presume that whoever wrote this rhyme was not a big fan of the residents of Elfhole. Elfhole now appears as ‘Elphole’ on maps.

Illustration of elves from Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Nights Dream', by Arthur Rackham. Public Domain.

Scotland’s Places lists Elfhole Farm and is a vast and useful resource for placename research:

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