Local Folktales

Usually, during National Storytelling Week we would be working in schools and in The Sill to tell some traditional Northumbrian tales, and explore different ways in which we can create our own stories that are inspired by the landscape.

This year we have to do things a little differently, but we still wanted to celebrate the week, and share with you some local folktales that have been performed, read, and told in Northumberland for many years.

What are folktales?

Folktales are traditional stories or legends that people from a particular group or place repeat amongst themselves. Quite often, these stories weren’t written down, and were simply passed on from person to person by word of mouth, though today you can find some of them recorded in books or online. Because they weren’t written down, the stories could easily be changed, either by accident or on purpose, and so sometimes you might find a few different versions of the same story.

There are different types of folktales, such as tales of magic, tales of romance, heroes and villains, ghost stories, or religious stories. They often feature a brave hero, a magical creature, or an unsolved mystery.

Sunset over Hadrian's Wall and Crag Lough, Northumberland, England
Sunset over Hadrian's Wall and Crag Lough, Northumberland, England

Some tales from Northumberland

Have you heard of the deurgars of Simonside? These mischievous creatures are said to live in the Simonside hills, a place where the remains of ancient Iron Age settlements can be found. Be careful if you see a deurgar – local stories tell of travellers being lured away from the paths only to be left stranded in a muddy bog or balanced on the edge of a cliff.

Sewingshields Castle, near Hadrian’s Wall, is heard in many folktales, in connection to the legend of King Arthur. There are many different tales of farmers and shepherds finding secret rooms within the castle, and blowing on a magical horn to send the King and his knights to their rest.

The tale of the Knocking Lady, or Nelly the Knocker, is heard often in the south of Northumberland. The ghost of a lady was said to be seen every night, knocking against a large stone in the middle of a field. In one version of the story, the local farmers sons remove the stone and found gold hidden in the ground underneath.

Summer heather on the slopes of Dove Crag

Why not write your own folktale?

Think about the following ideas if you would like to write your own folktale. It could be based on a local story you know, or an interesting place you have visited.

  • Characters: Will there be a hero and a villain? Will there be ghosts, talking animals or magical creatures? What will their names be?
  • Setting: Where will your story take place? Try and think of an interesting place local to where you live. It could perhaps be a woodland, a beach, a hill, or a village.
  • Will there be a mystery or problem that your characters have to solve?
  • Will there be a special phrase the characters use, or some magic words?
  • Will your folktale have a happy ending?

We would love to see any stories you create. With an adult to help, you could share your folktales with us online. Head over to Twitter and tag our page @NlandNP.