The South West of Britain has many striking geological features – The rivers Severn and Avon, the Avon Gorge not least among them. As with many of such wonders there are myths aplenty surrounding their creation (nothing as mundane as ice – ages, glacial flow and tectonic movement). Giants were a common creature often blamed of tasked with the creation of these natural phenomena, and if the amount of myths about them are anything to go by the giants were plentiful, drunken and of a mind to fighting.
Here is the tale of Goram and Ghyston-Vincent – two brother giants who have left their legacy in the culture of Bristol, if not, in fact the scenery.
Goram and Ghyston (Vincent)
The most widespread version of this myth claims the Giant brothers Goram and Ghyston (later known as Vincent) were both enamoured of the lady Avona (who bears the name of the local river – the Avon – which is a story in itself). Avona offered herself to whichever one could drain the lake which once existed between Bradford-on-Avon (neighbouring county of Wiltshire), and Bristol.
Taking up the challenge Goram decided to dig a channel through the limestone hills via Henbury, and Vincent opted for a route just south of Clifton.
Goram, (in one version) finding the work hard and hot downed prediguos quantities of ale (did he take it with him? Do Giants have public houses or make their own?) and fell asleep in his favourite stone chair.
Ghyston-Vincent – the better planner – paced himself and completed his channel – leaving is with the narrow gorge at Hazel Brook, and the Avon Gorge, through which the River Avon now flows. On completion the waters roared into the Severn, leaving only a trickle for the Hazel Brook.
Upon waking the Giant Goram, was upset at losing the affections of the Lady Avona, and stamped his foot in a pit – leaving the Giant’s Footprint in the woodland above the Henbury Gorge, in what is now the Blaise Estate. He was so upset he threw himself into the Severn Estuary, leaving behind Steep Holm island (his head) and Flat Holm island (his shoulder).
Goram’s lake, near Henbury, was supposedly created when Goram stamped his giant foot, and the smaller lake is Goram’s Soapdish. Goram’s Chair is comprised of two flat topped walls of solid rock sticking out from the cliff-face – they look a lot like the arms of a comfy chair.
It’s not surprising he lost – it sounds like he’d been busy creating these other features as well as wooing the ladies.
Ghyston-Vincent wed Avona and named the gorge after her.
In some versions Goram was lazy and stopped for drinkies…
Other versions of the tale
A second version of the legend says the brothers were working together and Goram fell asleep and was felled by an accident blow from Ghyston-Vincent’s pickaxe. A variation of this says the giants were sharing a pickaxe for the work, and Goram was slain when he was resting when his brother threw him the axe. Giants throwing tools and rocks to or at one another are common British myths to explain monoliths.
Ghyston-Vincent then completed the work alone, going on to complete other stone-works such as the Stanton Drew Stone Circles in remorse and later returned to his cave and died from grief and exhaustion.
Yet another version states only Goram built the Gorge and there is no mention of Vincent. Goram, having completed the work fell over an iron-age barrow and plunged into the Severn Estuary.
A similar legend tells of a giant named Gorm threw rocks at his rival, and one particularly large one fell short, thus becoming Druid Stoke.
Goram was buried beneath the barrow tumulus at Charnborough Hill – although there is not much left of the barrow now.
Transmission of the legend
The oldest version known is found in Britannia (1586) by William Camden, later reworked by Thomas Chatterton writing as Rowley the monk. Another version appears in Robert Atkyns History of Gloucestershire) in 1712.
The name Vincent may reflect that at the narrowest point of the Avon Gorge there was an ancient hermitage and chapel dedicated to St Vincent. In another version of the story Vincent is known as Ghyston, which is the name of the whole cliff-face of the Avon Gorge from at least the mid-fifteenth century. Vincent’s cave is also known as Ghyston Cave, or the Giant’s Hole.
The name Goram may have come from Iseult’s father, the King of Ireland, in the early romance of Tristran and Iseult. ‘Gorm’ is Irish for blue or ‘dark-skinned.
‘Vincent’ as a first name arrived in about the 13th Century, and became popular as a result of St Vincent the Deacon, however it is unclear whether the Clifton hermit was called Vincent and became associated with the saint, or that St Vincent became known in Bristol due to trading links with Portugal and Spain (St Vincent is the patron saint of Lisbon and vintners).
Legacy of the Legend
Blaise Castle and Estate use the legend of Goram widely, including hosting a funfair bearing Goram’s name. There is a Giant Goram pub in the area, a smokehouse restaurant called the Goram and Vincent, and even an Enterprise level E-commerce company bearing the name.
There is also a website and collection of kids’ books about Goram and Vincent/Ghyston.
There are walking tours and other tourist attractions based on the myth.
There is a carved Giant’s head at Ashton Gate, and in the Middle Ages a turfwork portrayed Ghyston’s head. Ghyston’s Cliff is in Avon Gorge.
A bit about the area
The Avon Gorge is a mile and half long and runs through a limestone ridge about 1.5 miles west of the centre of Bristol. It’s been used in the defence of the city. It is spanned by the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The gorge spanned 700 feet wide and 300 feet deep.
The gorge is mainly limestone and sandstone – it is believed to have been caused by glaciation during the Anglian Ice Age, and the limestone carries fossils from the Carboniferous Age 350m years ago. The Iron Age Dobunni tribe are believed to have dwelled in the area and there are the remains of three Iron-Age hill forts. (A variation of the myth held that the Giant Ghyst built the forts).
There are over twenty rare plant species that grow in the gorge and two unique species of trees, the rare peregrine falcons have returned to nest there since the 1990s. Much of it is a Site of Scientific Special Interest.
Check out the post from Anthony Adolph – broadcaster who gives a wonderful account of the stories. https://anthonyadolph.co.uk/somerset-giants/