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Skirrid history and legends

The steeply sloped mountainside at the Skirrid with a walker in the distance traversing the footpath
The steep mountainside footpath at The Skirrid | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

There are many intriguing myths and legends around the Skirrid and surrounding area. Read on to discover how the Holy Mountain got its name and how a giant formed the Skirrid.

What’s in a name?

The name ‘Skirrid’ is derived from the Welsh ‘Ysgyryd’, which means to shake or tremble. It’s easy to see where this name came from, with the massive landslide on the hill’s northern tip. The Skirrid is still prone to small mud flows and landslides today. The word ‘fawr’ translates as big or large.

St Michael's Chapel

The now ruined chapel of St Michael’s perched on the top of the summit of the Skirrid was used by Roman Catholics during and after the Reformation. Services were held at the chapel until at least 1680, when John Arnold of Llanvihangel Court said he had seen ‘a hundred papists meet on top of this hill called St Michael’s Mount where there is frequent meetings, and, eight or ten times in the year, sometimes sermons are preached there’.

The Holy Mountain

The Skirrid is known locally as ‘the Holy Mountain’. This may have come from two sources. The first is the now-ruined chapel of St Michael’s on the summit, which was used by Roman Catholics after the Reformation.

The second is from a popular legend, which tells how the dramatic landslide on the north of the mountain was caused by an earthquake or lightning strike at the moment of the crucifixion of Jesus.

There was a local tradition that earth from the Skirrid was holy and especially fertile, and it was taken away to be scattered on fields, on coffins, and in the foundations of churches. Pilgrimages were made to the summit, especially on Michaelmas Eve.

A pile of rocks marking the summit of the Skirrid with far reaching views across to the peak of Sugar Loaf mountain beyond
View of the Sugar Loaf mountain from the summit of The Skirrid | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Jack O'Kent the giant

A local story tells of a giant known as Jack O’Kent who had an argument with the Devil over which was bigger, the Sugar Loaf or the Malvern Hills across the border. Jack’s argument that the Sugar Loaf was bigger proved to be right.

In his disgust the Devil collected a huge apron of soil to tip over the Malvern Hills to make them higher. But just as he was crossing the Skirrid the apron strings broke, dumping the soil on the Skirrid and forming the tump at the northern end.

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