Monday 18 May 2009

Duergars of Simonside

According to legend, there are dangerous dark dwarves lurking in the shadows of the Simonside Hills, in Northumberland. They are said to mostly appear at night, when they prey on lost travellers by showing a light to draw the traveller nearer, and then tricking them into a bog or luring them over the edge of a precipice.

An example of this can be found in Tibbit's English Fairy Tales (1902). He tells of a traveller who whilst wandering upon the moor saw a glimmering light and found a little hut containing the embers of a fire, two rough grey stones, and two old gate-posts. He sat down on one of the grey stones and was adding some brush wood to the fire when a small human shaped figure, not higher than his knee, came waddling in at the door and sat down on the other grey stone. The traveller remained silent so not to anger the creature, but he began to feel the cold so snapped a piece of wood over his knee and laid the pieces upon the dying embers. The strange intruder seemed angered by this and picked up one of the gate posts, likewise breaking it over his knee, and added it to the fire. The traveller, not wishing to anger his host further, permitted the fire to die away and remained silent. It was not until the dawn of the following day, when the dwarf and his house had disappeared, that the traveller realised the true extent of the danger he had been in. He found himself still sat upon the grey stone, but on the edge of a deep rugged precipice, where he could have easily fallen to his death with a single movement.

Another account of the Duergars of Simonside can be found in Tyndale’s Legends and Folklore of Northumbria (1930) and also on the Northumberland National Park website. It tells of a man who ventured into the Duergar's domain to prove that the stories were untrue, and found out quite the opposite when he pretended to have fallen in a bog and found himself surrounded by the Simonside Duergars:

"“Oh-o!” chuckled the adventurer, “they think I have fallen in and drowned myself, do they? But as he turned back he thought he would make just one more attempt. So again he shouted, “Tint! Tint!” This time three of the dwarfs appeared and began to chase him with lighted torches, and he turned and ran for dear life. Not far, however. For he soon saw that he was hemmed in on all sides by the repulsive little creatures, each carrying a lighted torch in one hand and a club in the other. They came nearer and nearer to him, waving their clubs as though they meant to attack in force. The only thing to do was to attack first. He charged at them with his heavy staff, and apparently knocked one down - though he did not feel as though he had touched anything solid. They all vanished, though, and he had a moment’s breathing space.

But it was not for long. The next moment they were back again with reinforcements, crowds upon crowds of hideous, menacing faces and murderous-looking clubs, till the sheer horror of the situation overcame him, and he sank senseless to the ground. There he remained until the morning light had chased the demons back to their dens. And then, at last, he was able to make his way home unmolested."
Not one to be scared of such tales (though wary enough to only venture there in daylight with a good supply of maps and a man who knows how to use them) I decided to investigate further and paid a visit to Simonside. There we found many stunning and beautiful views, mossy banks and tree stumps that would make fine dwellings for any faery, and although we did not meet any Duergars, we did discover this curious stone house with a grass sod roof, and the remains of a fire inside.

Is anyone brave enough to venture there after dark to find out who or what lives there?

Sources & Further Information:
English Fairy Tales, C Tibbits
Folk Tales of the North Country, F Grice
Myth and Magic of Northumberland, Sandhill Press
The Northumberland National Park Website

Monday 11 May 2009

The Fairies O' Rothley Mill

One of the first local folklore stories I heard when I moved to this area was the tale of the Fairies O' Rothley Mill. A History of Northumberland by John Hodgson (1827) describes Rothley Mill as the dwelling place of Queen mab and her fairies, and that the mill is their great council hall, and the eye of the kiln their kitchen, where they cooked pottage and burnt the husks of oat that the miller had laid out for drying. They considered this their payment for guarding and cleaning the mill, but the miller was none too happy and one day decided to disturb them:

"While they were preparing their supper one night, [he] threw a sod down the chimney, and instantly fled. The falling mass dashed soot, fire, and boiling pottage amongst them ; and the trembling fugitive, before he could reach the dingly verge of the glen, heard the cry - "burnt and scalded! burnt and scalded! - the sell of the mill has done it" and the old mother of the family set after him, and just as he got to the style going into Rothley, touched him, and he doubled up, was bow-bent and a cripple to his dying day!"
Some Sources claim that it was the miller's son Ralph who committed the offense, by dropping a stone down the kiln and into the fairy porridge. Folk Tales of the North Country by F Grice (1944) gives a more detailed description of the faeries:

"They were lovely to see, none bigger than daffodils, but beautifully formed, with long flaxen hair flowing over their shoulders. Their mantles were as green as the sycamore buds in March, and each rode on a dapper little horse, cream-coloured like a primrose, and beautifully harnessed. They had saddles, bridles, and reins, all neatly stitched and sewn, and from the harness hung little bells no bigger than a raindrop, and each chiming with a pretty sound."
A quick check on the Keys to the Past website confirmed that Rothley Mill is still well and standing, or at least a building of the same name is standing in the same location. So off we wandered to Rothley, the weather was warm, the birds were singing, and the nearby car park was filled with cyclists having some sort of cycling race and probably wondering what on earth we were up to wandering the streets armed with maps and rucksacks.

Below are some photos of the beautiful woodland glen where the story is said to have taken place. The area around the mill itself is private property so I could not take any closer photos or see if the kiln itself is still standing, but the rest is open to the public and can be reached by public footpath from Scots Gap.

Sources & Further Information:
History of Northumberland, Hodgson
Folk Tales of the North Country, F Grice
County Folk-Lore vol IV, Balfour & Thomas
Dictionary of British Folk-Tales, Briggs
Denham Tracts I