Hundreds, possibly thousands, of innocent, decent folk wander across the Simonside Hills every year. The upland trails to the south of Rothbury carry the rambler through a varied landscape rich in ancient history (cup and ring marks, et al), but what most don’t realise is that they are trespassing on the land of the Duergar, a breed of malicious dwarf which roam thereabouts with the sole aim, it seems, of leading the likes of us astray and, possibly, to our doom. You don’t hear much of them nowadays, but until Victorian times the annals are scattered with references to these pesky little critters – and none of the stories are especially happy affairs.
The word ‘Duergar’ comes from the the old Norse word Dvergar, meaning dwarf. And the particular breed which inhabit the Simonside Hills are a troublesome lot. At about half the height of a human, they pop up at night, or in the gloaming, when a hiker is beginning to tire and may possibly be lost. They are dressed in earthy colours – brown and/or green – and always seem to be in a distinctly grumpy mood, as if the unsuspecting human is trespassing on their land. There will then be an awkward encounter, during which the victim will be variously teased and lured into danger, before some distraction (or the returning daylight) causes them to evaporate into thin air, leaving the traveller nonplussed.
One tale has two hunters encountering just such a creature whilst resting near a brook. A red-eyed, angry little personage popped up on the opposite bank and berated them for encroaching upon his patch. When offered the fruits of their hunt as recompense, the dwarf became yet more incensed as he never fed on living creatures. In time, the little man tried to entice one of them home, but on the call of his colleague a few yards distant, the duergar vanished.
Another yarn has a weary traveller struggling home over the moors when he comes upon a little campfire and decides to sit next to it to warm his bones. Up springs another of those pesky duergars who grumpily plays the role of reluctant host across the flickering flames. In time, the dwarf gestures to the man as if to urge him to throw a nearby log onto the fire, but he resists and stays put. They sit opposite one another, somewhat uncomfortably, until dawn begins to break. A cock crows in the distance… and the ugly little host suddenly disappears, along with the rest of the cosy scene. Then the man sees that if he’d leant over to retrieve the log he’d have toppled over the side of a ravine…
Occasionally, a gang of duergars would emerge from the shadows and set about some poor individual, sending them running and flailing for their lives. Shepherds of old would regularly bear witness to their comings and goings, too. A common feature is the presence of alluring lights – the duergar appearing as will-o’-the-wisp-like characters, but always disappearing as dawn breaks, or when the ‘spell’ is broken by some other sudden event.
Anyway, I just thought I’d warn you.