The Simonside dwarfs are a common tale around Northumberland. They apparently lure lost travellers to their doom on the moors near Rothbury.
And as I spent October looking at folklore around witches and witchcraft, for November I’d like to look at folklore closer to home!
So come with me to meet the Simonside dwarfs…
Let’s travel to the Simonside Hills
There’s a stretch of lonely moorland near Rothbury known as the Simonside Hills. And, like most wild places, the Hills are apparently home to a race of dangerous beings.
They’re sometimes called ‘fairy folk’ or the ‘little people’ but more commonly they’re the Simonside dwarfs.
But these are not the familiar dwarfs of Middle Earth. There’s no drinking, joking and singing for these creatures. (That said, TheFairyTaleTraveler.com has a good post on the link between the Simonside dwarfs and Tolkien!)
These dwarfs delight in leading unwary travellers from the path. Bear in mind this is moorland, and bogs are an ever-present danger if you leave the trail.
Carrying lights and scampering across the Hills, the dwarfs act much like Will O’ The Wisp. Their lights lead solitary travellers to their doom. In the tales, they always disappear at dawn.
They’re also known as duergar, which many think comes from the Old Norse word for dwarfs – dvergar. Alternatively it might refer to the regional dialect, since the words duerch and duergh both mean dwarf.
The dwarfs are also sometimes known as the Brown Men, or Bogles.
Sources note them for their strength and magical powers, but also for their links to the earth and nature.
The Morpeth Gazette even referred to the Simonside dwarfs in 1889, noting that “it was dangerous for the solitary wanderer to venture” among the “tribe of ugly elves and dwarfs”.
Beware the offer of shelter
One of the commonly told tales involves a man travelling to Rothbury.
The journey took longer than he expected. When he stumbled across a little hut on the moor, he gladly took advantage of shelter for the night.
Inside the hut, he found a dying fire, two stones, and two gateposts. He sat on one of the stones and added some wood to the fire.
Soon, a small figure waddled into the hut and sat on the other stone. The bewildered traveller kept quiet, but the fire began to die down. He snapped a piece of wood and added it to the embers.
The dwarf glared at him and took up one of the gate posts. He broke it over his knee and threw it on the fire. The traveller realised he’d angered his host. He remained silent and let the fire die out.
When dawn broke the following day, the man found himself sitting on a stone on the moor.
The dwarf, his hut and the fire had all vanished.
To his horror, he realised that the stone he sat on was right at the edge of a tall cliff. If he’d moved at any point during the night, he would have fallen to his death.
And don’t go looking for the Simonside dwarfs
Another tale describes a man who deliberately went looking for the dwarfs to prove they didn’t exist. He pretended to fall into a bog, but soon found himself surrounded by the Simonside dwarfs.
Each of them held a lit torch and a club.
The man finally realised the danger and actually charged at the crowd of dwarfs. He apparently knocked one down, but his staff didn’t appear to touch anything solid.
The dwarfs all vanished, and the man thought he’d won.
Nothing is that simple. They reappeared, this time with reinforcements, and the man fainted from shock.
When he woke at dawn, the dwarfs had disappeared and he could finally head home.
Whatever you do, don’t accept their food
A third tale actually takes place during the day – and sees two men encounter a dwarf.
Two young men travelled up to Rothbury from Newcastle to enjoy the shooting in the area. After a morning of hunting, they stopped to eat their lunch in a clearing among the heather.
A short man dressed in clothes the same shade as the bracken suddenly walked into the clearing. He asked the two young men if they knew who he was.
The younger man replied “the Lord of the Manor”, and offered to hand over the birds they’d shot.
The dwarf declined, claiming a vegetarian diet, but invited the two men to join him for a meal. The younger man wanted to accept but the older man refused (politely, of course) and hauled his friend back towards Rothbury.
Then they got back, they recounted the story to the landlord. The locals praised their decision to return. After all, the Simonside dwarfs enjoyed luring humans into their lair – before feasting on them!
There’s an obvious moral to all three of the tales. Don’t go wandering on the moors!
And if you do encounter a dwarf…just pray that dawn hurries up…and don’t accept any invitations!
Over to you! Do you think they may have existed, or are they just a warning to lone travellers?
If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with a friend! Or sign up below to get these folklore titbits in your inbox!
Nutty about folklore and want more?
Add your email below and get these posts in your inbox every week.
You'll also get my 5-step guide to protecting your home using folklore!