Simonside is a heck of a good hill to climb on a sunny day. It would be awful in wet weather. However if you got trapped in a sudden mist, away from the path,you could take cover in one of the rock shelters and wait it out. I wouldn't reccomend it though, as many clefts have only enough vegetation to hide them from view, not enough to stop you from disappearing. In all, not a place to go near dark on a rainy day, only go if it's sunny, or if you're very nimble. especially so if you intend to leave the path.
The path is needlessly wide, due to heavy erosion, but that does make it easy to follow, if a bit covered in the kind of loose stone that gives you a bad time no matter what the weather.
But once you get up to the top of the ridge, 360 deg views, madly eroded patterns on rocks, possible rock art, rock shelter type overhangs, cairns, even a pool at the bottom of The north side of Simonside proper.
The south side of Old Stell crag has a fantastically sheltered cranny with exellent views, but is toatally sheltered, ideal for a rest and a ponder.
Note of caution from a pleasantly unexpected encounter, there are adders, and they ain't scared of humans or dogs.
Park at Lordenshaws car park for the easiest route, i.e that with the shallowest incline.
[The previous poem's description] of the Duergar corresponds exactly with the following Northumbrian legend, with which i was lately favoured by my learned and kind friend, Mr. Surtees of Mainsforth, who has bestowed indefatigable labour upon the antiquities of the English Border counties. The subject is in itself so curious, that the length of the note will, I hope, be pardoned.
"I have only one record to offer of the appearance of our Northumbrian Duergar. My narratrix is Elizabeth Cockburn, an old wife of Offerton, in this county, whose credit, in a case of this kind, will not, I hope, be much impeached, when I add, that she is, by her dull neighbours, supposed to be occasionally insane, but, by herself, to be at those times endowed with a faculty of seeing visions, and spectral appearances, which shun the common ken.
"In the year before the great rebellion, two young men from Newcastle were sporting on the high moors above Elsdon, and after pursuing their game several hours, sat down to dine in a green glen, near one of the mountain streams. After their repast, the younger lad ran to the brook for water, and after stooping to drink, was surprised, on lifting his head again, by the appearance of a brown dwarf, who stood on a crag covered with brackens, across the burn.
This extraordinary personage did not appear to be above half the stature of a common man, but was uncommonly stout and broad-built, having the appearance of vast strength. His dress was entirely brown, the colour of the brackens, and his head covered with frizzled red hair. His countenance was expressive of the most savage ferocity, and his eyes glared like a bull.
It seems he addressed the young man first, threatening him with his vengeance, for having trespassed on his demesnes, and asking him if he knew in whose presence he stood? The youth replied, that he now supposed him to be the lord of the moors; that he offended through ignorance; and offered to bring him the game he had killed. The dwarf was a little mollified by this submission, but remarked, that nothing could be more offensive to him than such an offer, as he considered the wild animals as his subjects, and never failed to avenge their destruction. He condescended further to inform him, that he was, like himself, mortal, though of years far exceeding the lot of common humanity; and (what I should not have had an idea of) that he hoped for salvation. He never, he added, fed on anything that had life, but lived, in the summer, on whortle-berries, and in winter, on nuts and apples, of which he had great store in the woods.
Finally, he invited his new acquaintance to accompany him home, and partake his hospitality; an offer which the youth was on the point of accepting, and was just going to spring across the brook, (Which if he had done, says Elizabeth, the dwarf would certainly have torn him in pieces,) when his foot was arrested by the voice of his companion, who thought he had tarried long: and on looking round again, 'the wee brown man was fled.' The story adds, that he was imprudent enough to slight the admonition, and to sport over the moors on his way homewards: but soon after his return, he fell into a lingering disorder, and died within the year."
Having been informed by Mr. Geo. Turnbull, the farmer at Great Tosson, that there was a very large cairn on the northern slopes of Ravensheugh, just below two standing stones, called by the country people "Kate" and "Geordie,"* under his guidance, we proceeded to the spot, and found an enormous pile of stones on a projecting ridge, having a steep declivity in front with the hill rising behind. The cairn measured 27 feet from E. to W., and 30 feet from N. to S.
Their digging uncovered a cist, and a stone with possible cup-marks was found near the centre of the cairn. Well, he thought it might have them anyway, comparing it to 'the markings on the rocks at Lordenshaw's camp'. You can see a picture here.
From 'Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland: its history, traditions, folk-lore and scenery' by D D Dixon (1903).
*elsewhere in the book he says the stones 'probably got their names during the hundred years the Donkins ruled at Tosson'.
In Myth and Magic of Northumbria, Coquet Editions 1992
There is a tale of a man who decided to dispel the myth of the mischevious dwarfes who inhabited the Simonside hills and waylaid strangers by spending a night in the hills.
He wandered about for some time and saw nothing and so decided to pretend he was lost and in the local dialect shouted "Tint! Tint!".
Immediately he saw a light in front of him.
To cut a long story short he found himself surrounded by ugly dwarves, each carrying a club and a torch, their evil faces twisted with menace. The man falls unconsious and lays until dawn. When he awakes the dwarves had gone.
More on the Duergar of Simonside, from Katherine Briggs's 'Dictionary of Fairies':
'Northumberland Words' doesn't give them very good PR, claiming there were 'the worst and most malicious order of fairies'. Luckily they are mostly solitary, as shown by this story, which I've retold from F Grice's 'Folk-Tales of the North Country'.
A stranger was making his way over the hills to Rothbury, but it was getting darker and darker, and as he didn't know his way and the ground underfoot was pretty treacherous, he thought it best to camp down for the night. He was just about to make himself comfy under an overhanging rock when he spotted a faint light a little way away. Feeling hopeful he fumbled towards it and found a rough stone hut, with a fire smouldering away inside. There was a stone on either side of the fire, a pile of kindling and two great big logs. He was so relieved that he wouldn't freeze to death on the hillside, so feeding the fire with a bit of kindling he sat down on the right hand stone.
He'd hardly sat down when a strange figure burst through the door. It was no taller than his knee, but well built and strong looking. It wore a lambskin coat, moleskin trousers and shoes, and a mossy hat decorated with a pheasant's feather. The traveller realised it was a duergar so he sat quietly, not wanting to upset it. The duergar scowled and stomped over to sit down on the other stone.
The fire was steadily burning down, and eventually the traveller couldn't help but put the last of the kindling on the fire. The dwarf looked at him with disdain, leaned down and picked up one of the logs. It was thicker than his body, but somehow he snapped it across his knee as though it was matchwood. The fire blazed for a bit, but when it died down the duergar stared at the traveller as if to say 'Why don't you get on with it and put the other log on?' However, the man felt suspicious of the duergar's motives and sat tight.
Eventually the faint light of dawn began to appear, and a cock crowed in the distance somewhere. Suddenly the duergar vanished, and the hut and hearth too. The traveller saw that his own seat was the topmost peak of a steep crag. Ah yes, if only he'd stepped over to pick up the other log, he'd have tumbled down into the ravine and been killed.
A useful and instructive story supposing you should ever get caught overnight on Simonside.
Similar to Hob's 'Duergar' there is this story from the Monthly Chronicle 1891, noted in Tegner's 'Ghosts of the North Country' (1991), and summarised by me:
Local people said that travellers daring enough to cross the Simonside hills at night were bound to be led astray by the lanterns of demonic looking little men who dressed in dark green and brown. A sceptic decided to prove the tales wrong, and set off to spend a night in the hills. When darkness fell without incident he felt a bit smug, but just as he started to relax he saw a flickering light in front of him - and then another, another.. The better part of valour being discretion, he packed his things away quickly and took flight for home. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was being followed - noone was behind him but when he turned back again his way was barred by a group of little men holding lighted brands. Understandably terrified he fought his way through them with the aid of his stick, but it was all too much for him and he fainted away. He only came to when dawn finally broke.
Tales recorded in the 19th century, but possibly of much older origin, mention the "dwarf-like inhabitants of the darker recesses of the hill".
These entities are known collectively as the 'Duergar', a term which is allegedly confined to Simonside. The Duegar apparently were serious tricksters, with a penchant for leading the unwary over precipices in the mist.
See references to the writings of D.D. Dixon in Paul Frodsham's 'Archaeology in the Northumberland National Park' CBA, 2004.
From National Park leaflet:
"Legends and nameless shadows hover around Simonside as surely as the mists that cling to its heather-clad summit. If Simonside 'has its hat on' most people in Rothbury expect rain. A few also half-believe stories of dwarfs and will-o'-the-wisps, and are reluctant to set foot on the hill whatever the weather.
Recent archeological research suggess that there has always been something special about Simonside. Prehistoric flint arrowheads, bronze swords and axeheads, pottery and ornaments have all been found here. In the bronze age the lower slopes were farmed but Simonside itself was not; instead it was a place for cairns and barrows, for spirits and remembrance."
"Hidden in the forest there are burial cairns and cists, carved stones and ancient pathways. There are also dozens of rock outcrops with caves and overhangs..."
Visited this fascinating site today and just thought i'd add some tips for anyone else wanting to visit it. The coordinates were pretty much spot on I think, just don't make the mistake we made and approach the site from the top of the hill, it's far easier to find when you're walking up the hill!
Park up in Lordenshaws car park and take the path that heads straight up Simonside hill. When the hill starts leveling out, head to the right towards the scattering of rocks on the flat area. Thompson's Rock is easy to spot, it's the biggest there.
The trial stone is another large rock, to the east of Thompson's Rock. The deepest hole of the trial stone is near to the ground and gets covered with plants so might take a bit of spotting.
This holed boulder is shown in this month's 'Fortean Times' and I see it's been mentioned on this website before (I took the grid reference from Gavin Douglas's post here.) The 'observations' page has some photos of the sun shining down the hole through the stone. Perhaps it really is aligned, perhaps some prehistoric people wriggled it round until it was facing the right way. Whatever, it's a pretty curious object with that hole right through it. It surely deserves some weird folklore (Richard Cox in the FT makes a comparison with the Stone of Gronw in the Mabinogion). But being off the beaten track maybe it's been lying low for a few tens of centuries, there on the flank of mysterious Simonside.
Bob Pyle's Studdie might well be a 'natural rock feature' - it's a large sandstone boulder - but it's deemed worthy of Scheduled Monument status. A 'studdie' was a local word for an anvil, and Bob Pyle allegedly a blacksmith who lived in Rothbury in the 19th century*. It's on the western slope of Simonside.
This is all mentioned on the Northumberland National Park website, which also suggests that the boulder could have had significance for those bringing animals up the holloway onto the hilltop. There are a number of Bronze Age cairns around here too.
But an anvil on a hill.. oh how I would like this to belong to someone a bit more legendary and supernatural, with lightning bouncing off it when they thump it. Maybe Mr Pyle was quite a legend. Or maybe he was just the latest person for the anvil to be associated with? (ever hopeful) And might not a duergar have a use for an anvil?