Musings & Life

The Spirit of Dark & Lonely Water

Barnard Castle, Durham 1827 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

I’ve been on a bit of a Brontë/Gothic Romance/Costume Drama kick trying to tide myself over until Crimson Peak comes out.

Watching films set in the moors always makes me reminisce about trips to Durham & North Yorkshire to see my Dad’s family. Tramping through moors, castles, old viking towns, ancient abbey’s, and cemeteries in the UK was a regular occurrence growing up.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized how spoilt we were to have been able to experience these historical sites first hand so early on in life. Other North American kids didn’t summer near old castles and watch medieval re-enactments (nor likely traumatized by screwed up Punch & Judy shows either).

Trips to Europe weren’t cheap, and I think the only reason we were able to go as much as we did was due to my Dad’s work. He had business trips to Europe often, and at the time was able to trade in a business class ticket for 4 economy flights, dropping us off at my grandparents while he continued on selflessly for work.

There’s so much I didn’t take in as a child while there, and I find myself wanting to go back, as I spent most of my time while living in the UK down south (and of course pining for Canada).

Jenny Greenteeth by Dora MitchellImage by: Dora Mitchell

So an innocent search query inevitability leads me down a rabbit hole: the River Tees – where we’d spend hours catching minnows or picnicking – has some interesting folklore behind it, triggering memories of being told stories of ‘Peg Powler’.

“The River Tees has its sprite, called Peg Powler, a sort of Lorelei, with green tresses, and an insatiable desire for human life, as has the Jenny Greenteeth of Lancashire streams. Both are said to lure people to their subaqueous haunts, and then drown or devour them. The foam or froth, which is often seen flaoting on the higher portion of the Tees in large masses, is called “Peg Poweler’s suds;” the finer less sponge-like froth is called “Peg Powler’s cream.” Mr.Denham tells us that children are still warned from playing on the banks of the river, especially on Sundays, by threats that Peg Powler will drag them into the water; and he pleads guilty to having experienced great terror whenever, as a boy, he found himself alone by the haunted stream”

From: ‘Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders’ By William Henderson, p.265

Given my propensity to wander and having almost drowned several times in childhood, my family was no doubt using Peg Powler, like many a grown-up before them, as a way to keep me in check and wary of the water. Meg MucklebonesIt worked, especially with a vision of Meg Mucklebones from Legend fresh in my mind, I did not stray.

So whether Grindylow, Peg Powler, Jenny Greenteeth or by any number of names, I find it interesting how effective those folklore stories were in frightening me to behave.

Growing up in 1980’s Canada, Fairy Tales didn’t have the bite they once did. British folklore however was something all together entirely different. So entrenched in an areas subconscious identity, you even find youth theatre companies devising productions around local tales such as that of Peg Powler, as seen in the video below.

And totally unlike this Canadian PSA from the 80’s (which scared the hell out of many of us), the following 70’s British PSA  ‘Lonely Water‘ is terrifyingly dark and evokes folklore horror. Utilizing the idea of a water entity lying in wait to drag you under to the murky depths below, it plays on stories that already would have been familiar to many children, reiterating the message to be mindful of water.

Growing up did a particular folklore story stand out to you? Or as an adult do you find yourself drawn to certain ones now?

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