The Mystery of Janet’s Foss, Malham

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The stunning waterfall located close to Malham village gets its name from a local folk tale that claims that the small cascade is home to Janet, Queen of the Fairies. Over the years the picturesque site has been used for numerous things, from sheep dipping to wedding ceremonies, all conducted with the enchanting air of the legend.

But amid those visiting the magical scene in search of Janet, there are tales from those who claim to have encountered something different: a malevolent entity that feeds off of the life force or aura of anyone unfortunate enough to come face to face with it. Often described appearing as a green mist floating out of the water at the foot of the falls, this rare phenomenon is thought to be that of a wraith.

There are numerous theories surrounding the legend of the wraith; some claim that she would have practised black magic in life and this eternal damnation is her punishment. Others claim that she was a green lady, similar to the legend in Settle, but she became so vengeful, so aggressive over the years, that she turned into a creature much worse.

Generally speaking, wraiths are not thought to be ghosts or demons, but rather a strange entity somewhere in between the two, similar to poltergeists but much more powerful when appearing as a full-bodied apparition.

There have been many alleged sightings at Janet’s Foss over the years, and people thought the phenomenon to be Janet herself, which begs the question: did people spot the wraith in times gone by and assume it to be an enchanting fairy?

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“Mysterious entity”

The Brothers Grimm tales that speak of fairies and such like are in fact dark stories that have been adapted to children’s tales over the years. Is the same principle occurring at Janet’s Foss in North Yorkshire?

I rummaged amid the ambiguous accounts, before finally meeting two people who claimed to have come face to face with this mysterious entity in recent years. The first was a lady called Joan Potter, a 72-year-old grandmother, visiting the falls with her grandchildren in the autumn of 2014 when an enjoyable family day out took an unexpected turn. This is Joan’s account in unedited form:

We were walking along the footpath towards the falls. It was a beautiful sunny day and I remember the faint smell of garlic was still floating across the air from wild plants in the woodland.

My granddaughters were seven and nine at the time. They’d run on ahead to see the waterfall, and my husband and I were wandering along the path towards them. Suddenly, we heard them shouting to us both excitedly, eager for us to join them. They were screaming that they’d found the fairy in the water and we both smiled at one another as we hurried along the path to the falls. Of course, we assumed they were just excited at having found the waterfall, but we wanted to share the memory with them nonetheless.

As we arrived at the water, we looked on, a little bewildered as a strange green mist floated over the surface. Every few seconds it seemed to gather and attempt to rise up, before blanketing over the water once more. We weren’t scared at all, as we believed it to be something to do with the atmosphere, the water and the tufa deposits from the calcium perhaps. My grandchildren wanted to paddle and swim, but we asked them not to, for fear of anything in the mist that might be harmful, even though we were confident it would have been fine.

The strange thing happened when my husband wandered over to the side of the water. The mist gathered in the centre, before moving over in his direction and floating upright by him. The children and I thought it was a magical sight, but my husband had a cautious look on his face before he turned and said we had to leave.

He grabbed the children, who were screaming to remain at the falls, and marched off back along the path. I followed, asking him what the matter was, but he wouldn’t say. Over the next year he hinted that he’d seen something in the mist, but he never actually gave me any details. Sadly, he passed just over a year after our trip to Janet’s Foss and despite my curiosity, I’ve never returned since. My husband was a kind, loving man and it wasn’t like him to be spooked by anything, especially a little mist on a waterfall. For that reason, I do believe he saw something at Janet’s Foss that day, something that only he encountered.

janet's foss malhamdale malham cove waterfall

“I was petrified”

Intrigued by Joan’s story, I set about finding any other accounts that could coincide with her tale, and I was introduced to Adam Wilt, who visited the area with his partner Sarah two years after Joan. This is Adam’s account:

Me and my partner, Sarah, went for a trip to Janet’s Foss as we’d been dating for over a year and I’d decided to propose to her. The beautiful location just seemed like the perfect place. We wandered the woodland, spotting different things along the way. We each put a coin in the money tree and made a wish – mine was of course that she’d say yes to my question.

Shortly afterwards, we arrived at the falls and sat for a while, soaking up the sunshine and admiring the stunning scenery. I remember feeling incredibly nervous at the time and I kept going over in my head how to pop the question. As I’d just finally plucked up the courage, she laughed and pointed over to the water where a strange green light was flickering above it – it reminded me of the old fireflies you’d see on children’s cartoons.

Sarah stood up and, after removing her shoes, stepped into the cold water and watched the strange light anomaly. It seemed to spread out whilst losing its glow, before essentially covering the water in a strange green tone. I told Sarah to get out, but she was so engrossed, she ignored me. The green mist then collected in the centre of the water in a kind of ball, before rising up. After a minute or so, it was floating above the water almost like an old statue, covered in moss, I really don’t know how else to describe it.

At that point I was petrified, but Sarah just stood there watching on, as the green figure floated over the water towards her. I knew it was time to go, so I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out onto the bank. The strange thing happened the second her feet stepped out onto the grass: she became hysterical with fear and we rushed away as quickly as we could.

She later told me that the glow was so beautiful and welcoming whilst she was in the water but, as soon as she stepped out, it was like a mask being taken off of the figure and she saw a horrific looking old woman. I didn’t see any of this myself, but I believed her.

Adam’s story intrigued me, so I set about finding Sarah, who had sadly gone her separate way in life. She was reluctant to speak about the incident but when I read Adam’s account to her, she agreed that it was correct to the word and gave her permission for the story to be used.

janet's foss malhamdale malham cove mystery

“Phenomenon”

Both accounts are interesting but give cause for concern when analysed. The young man may have been affected by his excitement on the day, or his sad memories of times gone by with a woman he clearly wanted to spend his life with. Throughout his tale, he repeatedly referred to Sarah as his partner, despite their separation. He also longingly looked on as he recounted one of many precious memories with her.

Joan, on the other hand, was understandably distraught at her husband’s passing, and therefore it’s possible that her account has been subjected to more details due to confabulation, the term given for people who remember certain details, but for whom the mind creates images and memories to fill in the blanks; a theory often used when people claim to have past life memories. It’s interesting that both accounts were not first hand. Could they have been distorted as such?

There are so many other accounts of this phenomenon that it remains an interesting tale. Of course, it may well be nothing more than people imagining fairies, the reason for many a visit. It could also be simple science, the vapour from the water carrying dust from the nearby woodlands creating the image that many people claim to have encountered.

Whatever the reason for these strange tales, Janet’s Foss is truly an enchanting place to visit and enjoy – but tread carefully, as you might venture out in search of Janet, Queen of the Fairies, but instead stumble upon an entity far more dangerous.

Article taken from ‘Haunted Yorkshire’ by Nick Tyler, published by The History Press, £12 paperback

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