A PAIR of young elephants, a male and a female, have been found living wild in remote woodland in the Esk Valley of North Yorkshire.

They are reportedly in good health and the woodland in question, whose location has been kept secret until the owners of the elephants are traced, appears able to sustain the elephants. It offers ample vegetation for food, a deep lake for bathing and a couple of caves that provide adequate shelter.

People are asked not to enter the woodland in pursuit of the elephants, especially when carrying or using flash cameras, as this may cause the animals to stampede and cause injury to themselves or to people who may be trampled. Enquiries are being made to an effort to trace their owners.

If I remind readers that this coming weekend is the time for April Fool jokes, and they will appreciate that this is nothing but a piece of fun, an April Fool joke that might convince some readers to go hunting those elephants, especially if there is a reward for finding them. The problem is, of course, that you might find some – it might not be an April Food hoax after all.

Down the years there have been some memorable April Fool jokes both on our TV screens and in our daily newspapers, not to mention schools, offices and other places of work. For a time, it was quite common for the newest recruit who joined a company as a career to be sent into town for a long stand, or a bucket of steam or even a pint of pigeon’s milk.

Another common joke was to send a youngster to deliver a letter to a named person but upon arrival, that person would say the letter was not for him and then nominate another recipient. The second person would do likewise and so the hapless youngster went from person to person trying to deliver a letter that no-one wanted.

When such jokes appeared in newspapers or upon our TV screens, we did take them seriously because they were perpetrated in ways that seemed completely true and lawful. I recall a serious TV documentary in which the famous presenter, Richard Dimbleby, discussed the spaghetti harvest along with strands of spaghetti hanging down from branches like a crop awaiting collection. It fooled a lot of viewers.

Another joke that had unexpected repercussions was a newspaper report that Whitby Abbey was going to be demolished to make room for a new large car-park to cater for the increase in traffic visiting the seaside. That caused uproar far and wide until readers realised the newspaper was dated April 1st.

It seems the custom of playing harmless practical jokes on April 1st began in Germany in the 17th century when it rapidly became a popular habit in other European countries. It is said the custom reached England in the 17th century where it rapidly spread and April 1st became known as All Fools’ Day. The people, adults and children alike, would play harmless tricks against each other like asking someone to go to the library on their behalf and borrow the biography of Eve’s mother.

In Scotland, an April Fool was widely known as a gowk, gowk means a fool or a cuckoo, and that term was used in Yorkshire in places as far apart as Skipton and Whitby. In some places, the fool was known as an April noddy. In most areas, the April Fool jokes had to be completed before 12 noon and one verse would go: April noddy’s past and gone You’re a fool and I am none.

A similar verse was sung in Swaledale and it was usually done so in the local dialect. It said, “April feul is past and gone, And thoo’s a feul for thinking on.”

From my own memories, it seems that April Fool jokes against individuals are not so common now as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. People seem to enjoy those perpetrated by TV, radio and newspapers or even in advertisements. I recall one famous car producer who depicted a splendid new model on April 1st, but it had evident characteristics.

I remember that in 1970, some Yorkshire children in Bradford put their school up for sale whilst in the same year, the BBC broadcast a tribute to a non-existent scholar and philanthropist and used eminent people to deliver the tributes. Another example is quoted in The Dictionary of English Folklore when, in 1977, the Guardian newspaper published a glowing recommendation for an island off our coast. But the island was totally imaginary and was called Sans Serif.

There are times when I wonder whether most of our folk stories are really based on jokes that were popular centuries ago. I am referring to tales of giants or monsters, stories of dragons and even Robin Hood! So just who or what can we believe?

Legendary tales

WITH reference to my foregoing comments, the Yorkshire Dales are rich with such stories. In common with other parts of this country, there are tales of barguests, giants, ghosts, bridges built by the Devil, nymphs in wells, dragons and other mysterious creatures. One of those long-lasting tales involves the Kildwick Lions. Kildwick is a village of sturdy stone houses and way back in 1982, it was voted the Best Kept village in West Yorkshire. It lies in Airedale some four miles south of Skipton and not far from the famous Ilkley Moor. One of its showpieces is a thirteenth-century stone bridge built by the Canons of Bolton Priory.

Kildwick Grange was the residence of the Prior of Bolton Priory and the monks are recorded as paying forty shillings and four pence for the salmon and trout that were to be consumed at the funeral of Robert de Stiveton or Steeton.

He died in 1307 and is buried in the nave of the pre-Reformation church at Kildwick.

Kildwick Hall stands on high ground above the village with extensive views across the Dale and it is said to have been built in the architectural style of 17th century country houses and halls in the Craven dales. It is now a hotel and restaurant.

This old house has become the focus of a strange legend involving two life-size stone lions that guard the gates of the Hall.

The story is that when these lions hear the church clock strike twelve, they take a break from their guard duties and potter down to the canal and then the river, where they enjoy a drink of fresh water.

When I visited Kildwick some years ago, I tried to find these famous lions but had difficult tracking them down. However, a local man happened to be walking past, so I asked him how I could find them.

“Oh”, he said. “The church clock has just struck twelve, so they’ll have gone down to the river for a drink.”

I never did find the famous Lions of Kildwick, but reckon it’s a very good story. It’s refreshing to find these old stories still being told especially when they are not April Fool jokes.