Brown Man of the Muirs

brownAccording to Legend, in the moors surrounding the village of Elsdon, lives the Brown Man of the Muirs. A man of dwarven statue dressed in brown, with bright red hair, and a ferocious glare. He is said to be a guardian of the moors and protector of the wild beasties who live there, punishing those who hunt or harm them.

The village of Elsdon today

The village of Elsdon today

Walsingham mentions a story of an unfortunate youth, whose brains were extracted from his skull during his sleep by this malicious being. Owing to this operation he remained insane for many years till the Virgin Mary courteously restored his brains in his head.

Another tale of the Brown Man of the Muirs comes from a lady named Elizabeth Cockburn of Offerton who told a tale to Robert Surtees, who then shared the story with Walter Scott in about 1809.

“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 supposed him to be the Lord of the Moors; that he had 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 coul,d 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 an idea of) that he hoped for salvation. He never, he added, fed on any thing that had life, but lived in the summer on whortle-berries, and in winter on nuts and applies, 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 young 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 tarried long, and on looking around 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.”

Another version of this story goes:

Two friends went hunting on the moors for wildfowl. One of them strayed into some woodland where he had seen some birds descending. He thought he saw a movement in the distance, certainly not a bird but possibly a deer, and he walked towards it through the trees. Pausing at the bank of a stream, he saw a figure emerge from the trees on the other side of the stream. A man it was, and yet like a wild animal. He seemed to be composed of the very things of the woodland itself, of moss and bark and leaf-mould.  He was not so much seen as experienced by other senses than sight, sound and smell, although all of these senses were stimulated by him. So his voice, when he spoke, was harsh and strong:

“What do yer mean by coming here after the animals I have care of?”

His voice was terrible and yet it was enticing.

”Come over here and I’ll tell yer how to behave in my woodland.”

It was as if the hunter had no choice but to put down his gun and cross the stream. Just then he heard his friend’s voice behind him and turned around. When he looked back the figure across the stream could not be seen.

“Did you see that?” he asked. But his friend had seen nothing. When he told him what had happened, his friend was fearful.

“Oh, it’s lucky I came, if you’d crossed the stream he would have torn you apart! It’s only that water that saved you. We’d better go and forget hunting for today.”

But as they were leaving a bird flew up from the undergrowth. The hunter lifted his gun and fired, bringing down the bird. But as he did so his arm froze and the chill never left it. It was said that he was cursed by the ‘Brown Man of the Muirs’ and he pined away and died soon after.

About Amanda Moffet

I run with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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