The Charred and broken bones of Selby's Cove and a Stunted Half Human. 1661

The black Simonside Ridge dominates the skyline above Rothbury. This is stunningly beautiful and serious walking country, but any rambler should be very aware that they will most likely survive the snakes and the sucking mud of the peat-bogs only to encounter the mischievous and deadly Simonside dwarfs, called Deugars, who live in secret caves. These guys take great pleasure from luring unsuspecting walkers to their doom.

It was on a chill autumn day in 1661, that James Hall, a Coquetdale shepherd, stumbled across a pile of charred and broken bones at a place called Selby’s Cove, below Simonside. At first he was not sure these were human remains as they were scattered and picked almost clean. But as he examined the debris more closely he found the upper portion of a skull. When he turned it over, the broken teeth and hollow eyes greeted him with a hideous grin. He dropped the skull back into the pile and saw it shatter into pieces as if it had been a discarded piece of pottery.

James recalled later that he began to shake and became breathless. It was only with determined resolution that he forced himself to stand in that spot. He looked feverishly around when his eyes located a smaller skull nearby. He would not pick it up, but already he knew what it meant.

Some weeks earlier a farmer from Rothley, who held grazing pasture on the high Simonside Moor, had mysteriously disappeared with two of his sons. James recalled that the youngest boy had been about seven years of age. James surveyed the scene but could find no trace of a third skull. What he did notice however were fragments of leather, bound closely around bones that perhaps had once formed the junction of an ankle and a foot. Later he spoke of the acid smell of burning peat that seemed to hang in the air around the hollow. He had heard accounts of tricks played by the vile hunchbacked dwarfs that brought a screaming death to their victims as they fell from the precipice. The corpses, he recalled, were slow roasted over a peat fire for the culinary delectation of the murderers.

Something made him lift his eyes to the crag above, and for a moment he was sure he caught sight of the disfigured shape of a stunted half-human creature as it bobbed between the rocks. He said later that he tried to scream but the sound would not pass his lips.

It was then the sound of a huntsman’s horn that heralded his rescue. Moments later, as if from nowhere, a pack of hounds surrounded him. Horrified he watched as they set upon the bones, cracking, chewing and fighting over the tastiest of them. It seemed an age before the huntsmen arrived to whip them away from the feast. Already it was impossible to say for certain what the origin of the remaining fragments of smoke blackened bone might have been.

What little remained was later gathered up by James and some companions from Rothbury. It is said that the men placed the sorry fragments in sacks and carried them to the village. Discreet arrangements were made for committal to consecrated ground.

This is only one of many tales of the Simonside Deugars. I’ll keep the rest for another day.

.... so there you go. For anyone brave enough to wild camp, I applaud you.... but let’s just hope you live to tell the tale.