Tuesday, 4 June 2013

North Country Brags (NZ281531 & NZ282552)

The imaginings of our ancestors knew no bounds. Goblins are one such entity said to have haunted the lanes and backwaters of our countryside – and the North-East is no different to anywhere else in the UK. In this part of the world, though, they seem to have been known as ‘brags’, and were able to shape-shift at will, it would appear.

One of the most famous of these unearthly creatures is ‘The Picktree Brag’, which was said to have wandered the countryside around this tiny village between Chester-le-Street and Birtley. The most notable account is that given by a 90-year-old woman in the 1830s – as told to local noble Sir Cuthbert Sharp, who handily commited the tale to print.

As is so often the case, the ‘brag’ was never seen distinctly, but was more often heard or ‘sensed’ in the dead of night. “It sometimes appears as a calf … or a horse … whinnying every now and then. It also came like a ‘dickass’,” she was heard to say. Others, she exclaimed, saw it as ‘four men holding a sheet’, or as a naked man without a head. It would often accompany the midwife on her rounds in the shape of a horse – and if anyone tried to mount it it would throw them violently and run off, ‘laughing’ loudly.

Other northern legends refer to such spirits appearing as a man, an ox or a hound – but it was most often in the form of a horse or donkey, making a terrifying noise, that the ghostly beast would materialise. Strangely, the nearby village of Portobello (a little to the north) also harbours a similar legend. But I mean, come on, let’s be reasonable … it’s probably the same creature ‘doing the rounds’. Common sense, really.

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