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


KayJay said...

I have been told they are most active in April, so you missed high season by a month! A friend told me of something that happened to a man he knows, several years ago - he swears it's true...

There were accounts of a witches' coven that used to go up to Simonside in the seventies, and the rumours were that they danced naked round a fire - all very scandalous. So after a night of boozing in the pub, this local man decided to go up there and spy on them. He saw lights in the distance and snuck up on the small group, but as he got closer he was terrified to see their faces were ugly and mangled and far from being young, nubile women, they were in fact, dwarves. They saw him and gave chase, he ran for all he was worth and made it back to his car. As he struggled to get his key into the ignition in the dark, all he could hear was the scraping of long fingernails on the car windows...he lived to tell the tale, however.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story KayJay! It's good to hear that the Duergars are still active, that's the first sighting i've heard of them in many many years! So sorry for not replying to your comment sooner, this is my first attempt at blogging and I thought I would get email notifications if anyone left a comment but oops it looks like I forgot to set email notifications up, so I only just noticed I'd had a comment :) I'll have to revisit Simonside in April, still a bit too spooked to visit after dark though just incase!

The Faery Folklorist said...

A note for anyone researching the Duergars. I have since found both these stories in an earlier source, Richardson's Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Division, Volume 1. Published in 1843.

JD said...

KayJay's story is interesting. I lived in Thropton as a boy in the late 1950s, early 1960s. We were often told we should cross to the Simonside of the river after dark becuaes the little people might come down by Little Tosson and get us.
I always put this down to stopping us wandering too far, but now I wonder. We were also told of people dancing in the dark in strange ceremonies.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks for sharing that JD, I love hearing from people who actually lived in the areas and heard the stories first hand! So were the little people said to live at Little Tosson rather than on Simonside? Would love to hear any other stories you remember!

Anonymous said...

Little tosson is a farm steading on the side of the simonside hills.

Ken Patterson said...

Here’s my Duergar ballad based upon Grice’s Folk Tales of the North (1945).

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks for sharing your Duergar ballad Ken, great version of the Duergar tales, most impressed! :D

James Tait said...

I live in the heart of Rothbury and have always been fascinated by stories of the Duergar of Simonside. It is a lovely place and I am very fortunate to have been brought up there. I am a self-employed musician, teacher, composer and dialect poet. Recently, I published a fairy-tale I wrote about the Duergar of Simonside, wherein I invented a backstory for them, explaining how they got to be the nasty little tricksters, etc. The story deals with their corruption and eventual redemption, through the power of music, which is rife in this area. The story began as a dialect musical I wrote for local schools to perform, funded by the community foundation. Not an awful lot has actually been written about the Duergar, and we are indeed left to guess what they are all about, etc. You will find my story here:

The Faery Folklorist said...

That sounds like a wonderful story James, thanks for sharing about it!