Monday, 20 July 2009

Brown Man of the Muirs - Part 1

According to Legend, in the moors surrounding the village of Elsdon, lives the Brown Man of the Muirs. A man of dwarven statue dressed in brown, with bright red hair, and a ferocious glare. He is said to be a guardian of the moors and protector of the wild beasties who live there, punishing those who hunt or harm them. A lady named Elizabeth Cockburn of Offerton told a tale of the Brown Man to Robert Surtees, who then shared the story with Walter Scott in about 1809.

"In the year before the great Rebellion, two young men from Newcastle were sporting on the High Moors above Elsdon, and, after pursuing their game several hours, sat down to dine in a green glen, near one of the mountain streams. After their repast, the younger lad ran to the brook for water; and after stooping to drink, was surprised, on lifting his head again, by the appearance of a brown dwarf, who stood on a crag covered with brackens across the burn. This extraordinary personage did not appear to be above half the stature of a common man; but was uncommonly stout and broad-built, having the appearance of vast strength; his dress was entirely brown, the colour of the brackens, and his head covered with frizzled red hair; his countenance was expressive of the most savage ferocity, and his eyes glared like a bull. It seems he addressed the young man: first threatening him with his vengeance for having trespassed on his demesnes, and asking him if he knew in whose presence he stood? The youth replied that he supposed him to be the Lord of the Moors; that he had offended through ignorance, and offered to bring him the game he had killed. The dwarf was a little mollified by this submission; but remarked that nothing coul,d be more offensive to him than such an offer; as he considered the wild animals as his subjects, and never failed to avenge their destruction. He condescended further to inform him, that he was, like himself, mortal, though of years far exceeding the lot of common humanity, and (what I should not have an idea of) that he hoped for salvation. He never, he added, fed on any thing that had life, but lived in the summer on whortle-berries, and in winter on nuts and applies, of which he had great store in the woods. Finally, he invited his new acquaintance to accompany him home, and partake his hospitality: an offer which the young was on the point of accepting, and was just going to spring across the brook (which if he had done, says Elizabeth, the dwarf would certainly have torn him in pieces) when his foot was arrested by the voice of his companion, who thought he tarried long, and on looking around again, 'the wee Brown Man was fled'. The story adds, that he was imprudent enough to slight the admonition, and to sport over the moors on his way homewards; but soon after his return, he fell into a lingering disorder, and died within the year."

We decided to begin our explorations of the locations of this myth on the moors to the north east of Elsdon. First choice would have been the Keeldar stone itself, where the Brown Man is said to live, but the terrain would be rather ambitious for my current fitness level so it'll have to wait a while! The moors, as shown in the photos above and below, would be the perfect hideaway for the Brown Man, with rocky crags and caves, and masses upon masses of bracken. There were far more sheep wandering around than were probably present when he first moved into the area, but there were signs of rabbits, deer, foxes, and we met a little lizard while stopping for lunch. One thing hasn't changed though, the abundance of whortleberries!

Sources and Further Information
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Vol 2, Walter Scott
The Memoir of Robert Surtees, George Taylor
The Lady of the Lake, Walter Scott
Poems and Legendary Ballads Vol 1, William Stuart

No comments: