The origin of today's Object of the Week is shrouded in local folklore and mystery.

LOCAL legends and superstitions surround today’s Object of the Week, a natural feature to the south of Darlington evocatively named Hell’s Kettles.

The ponds, beside the A167 between Darlington and Hurworth Place, are supposedly bottomless (modern science says they are 22ft deep) and it is said that on a clear day you can see the body of a farmer, eternally swirling, as punishment for blaspheming on St Barnabas’ Day (also known as June 11).

Henry VIII’s inspector is said to have painted a cross on a duck and dropped it in one of the kettles. It was sucked down by the Devil and ended up swimming by Croft bridge on the nearby Tees.

“A man of colour”, a diver from the Far East, came to investigate. He took the plunge into Satan’s pit, and was drawn along a subterranean passage into the River Skerne.

Strange stuff, if maybe not entirely true – although Daniel Defoe was not impressed. Riding by in 1727, he said: “Tis evident they are nothing but old coalpits filled in with water by the Tees.”

He was wrong. Today the two remaining Hell’s Kettles – a third was filled in when the A167 was widened in the 1950s – are a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It was designated for its biological interest as the only site in County Durham where there is a body of water fed by springs.

The larger ‘Double Kettle’ is filled with dark brown surface water, but the southern ‘Croft Kettle’ looks very different – a greenish-grey – as it is fed from an underground calcareous spring.

It forms the only saw-sedge swamp in Durham – more usually found in the fenlands of East Anglia – and its chara hispida (bristly stonewort) and chaetophora pisiformis (green algae) are saved for the nation in the Natural History Museum.

But how were the pools created?

According to Brompton, the Abbot of Jervaulx, writing in 1328 in Latin, the crucial moment was at Christmas 1179.

He reckoned that when “the ground rose up on high with such vehemence that it was equal to the highest tops of the mountains and towered above the lofty pinnacles of the churches”.

But, he claims, at sunset it fell “with so horrible a crash that it terrified all who saw that heap, and heard the noise of its fall, whence many died from that fear, for the earth swallowed it up, and caused in the same place very deep pits”.

The deep pits filled with water, he added, and the pools remain as “a testimony unto this day”.

Terrific use of language, but nobody really knows how the pools were created.

Mining is unlikely and English Nature merely says that they “originated in 1179 due to natural subsidence”.

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