The Devil's Punchbowl, Childrey
25 October 2023
Follow the Ridgeway west past Letcombe Bassett and you will encounter a distinctive smooth-sided valley that for well over a century has been known as the Devil's Punchbowl.
How did the Devil's Punchbowl get its name?
The Devil's Punchbowl near Childrey is something of an enigma. Unlike so many similarly-named locations in England, there does not seem to be a tale recorded in local folklore as to how the valley got its name. Jeremy Harte points out that punch was an eighteenth century invention, so the name cannot have pre-dated that.
If we follow the pattern of similar names from around the country, we see that it is common for distinctive geographical features of unknown origin to be given the name 'the Devil's [something]'. These are typically used to suggest some normal object, blown up to gigantic size, for example the Devil's Armchair (Shropshire), the Devil's Frying Pan (Cornwall) and the Devil's Quoits (right here in Oxfordshire).
Other punchbowl's for the Devil
There are at least four locations in the UK that have been given the name of the Devil's Punchbowl. The most famous is the Devil's Punchbowl in Sussex, which has a much more satisfying collection of stories tied to its creation.
One of these involves the Devil attempting to flood the area but being disturbed by a cock crowing. The other confusingly mixes Christian and Scandinavian mythology by having the Devil scoop out chunks of earth to throw at the norse god Thor!
- 'Cloven Country: the Devil and the English Landscape' by Jeremy Harte (Reaction Books Ltd, 2022, ISBN: 9781789146509)
- 'The Veiled Vale' by Mike White (Two Rivers Press, 2016, ISBN: 9781909747173)
- The Devil's Punchbowl, Sussex (Wikipedia)