The Devil's Dyke
From "Legends of the Fenland People"
Long, long ago, when the whole of East Anglia was a mighty forest, there dwelt in what is now the fen land, a race of giants, renowned alike for cunning, strength and ferocity. Of them the chief was Hrothgar, whose daughter Hayenna was desired by many, particularly by the fire demon. Oft-times, when her kindred went on hunting expeditions, the maid would be tormented by visions of her unwelcome suitor, in the guise of burning bushes, comets and thunderbolts. But Hrothgar told her to be of good cheer for the fire demon should never have her. Was not the water-god the sworn enemy of fire and his (Hrothgars) ally ?. So Hayenna lucked up courage and sacrificed two rams to the water-god as a propitiatory offering. Then, one night, Hrothgar had a dream in which the water-god appeared to him in the shape of an old man and bade him prepare for battle. "The fire spirit has allied himself with the tempest," said the apparition, "and all devils of the woods will flock to his standard. But fear not, for with my help you will overcome them." The vision then told him what to do and bid him summon his kin on the following day.
Accordingly all the giants of the forest assembled at the sound of Hrothgars horn and listened while he outlined his plans. First they set to work to hew down trees and uproot bushes and shrubs, till a plain trackway appeared. Then they dug deep into the ground with their hands, scooping out the soil and heaping it by the side of the pit. Thus they laboured for three days, and at the end of the third day they had constructed a trench, some eighteen feet deep and seven miles long, reaching from the river bank to the heights of Mount Dithon. But as they stood in the trench the demon of the air perceived their handiwork and sent a mighty east wind to blow down the trees of the forest on top of them.
And the storm-devil rode on the wings of the gale, bringing hail and sleet from the frozen north. Then did the giants reproach Hrothgar, saying that the gods were angry and that he should not have opposed the fire-demon. But he laughed and bade them wait to see the miracle, which the water-god would that day perform. As he spoke there arose on a sudden a cloud of smoke in the air and the rain ceased. Then did tongues of flame leap and dance amid the bushes and presently a great wall of fire advanced against the trench. Swift as the wind came the fire-devil, laughing at his enemies discomfiture and the giants ran trembling before the monsters onslaught.
But Hrothgar, obedient to his dream, leaped last from the stronghold and with his hairy hands tore away the strip of earth separating the dry dyke from the river. With a roar as of a thousand bulls, the water foamed into the chasm and thundered through the dyke to Mount Dithon, seven miles off. A broad shining channel barred the fire-gods path and from the safety of the barricade, the giants watched the defeat of their enemies. In vain did the tempest rage against that solid wall of water - in vain did the fire-devil destroy everything in his path up to the brink of the chasm. He was powerless before his mighty adversary. And Hayenna climbed to the topmost peak of Mount Dithon and praised the water-god for his miraculous intervention, while Hrothgar and his fellows stood amazed at the results of their handiwork. At length the fire died down and the tempest abated - nothing remained as evidence of the fire-demons malignity, sane a few charred stumps and the smoking carcasses of animals.
Then did Hrothgar swear a solemn oath to sacrifice daily to the water-god and to keep for all time that rampart between his people and the dangers of the forest. The second part of that oath has been preserved intact, for if you go to Reach Fen, where the River Cam meanders through the Cambridgeshire lowlands, you will see the great dyke as it was constructed by the giants in the dim ages before history begins. And you may trace the course of their labours for seven miles, to Mount Dithon, or as it is called at this time, Wood Ditton, three hundred and fifty feet above the river - the gem of upland villages.