The Legend of Simmerdale: An English Folktale Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Legend of Simmerdale: An English Folktale

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King's tower and Queen's bower,
And weed and reed in the gloom;
And a lost city in Semmerwater,
Deep asleep till Doom.

- 'The Ballad of Semmerwater' by Sir William Watson

A lake called Semer or Simmer Water near Askrigg1, Wensleydale is said to cover the site of the lost village of Simmerdale (sometimes referred to as Old Bainbridge), submerged as a judgement on the wickedness of the inhabitants, according to old Yorkshire folklore.

The Tale Unfolds

A weary traveller, who was really a disguised angel (or Jesus Christ, or St Paul, or Joseph of Arimathea, or a gypsy, or even a witch in other versions) went from house to house in the rich and flourishing village of Simmerdale2, begging for food and shelter. Everyone there refused to give the beggar anything, except one poor widow in the last cottage who offered him a mug of ale. The traveller was so overcome with the lack of human kindness in the village that he uttered the following curse;

Simmerdale, Simmerdale, Simmerdale, sink.
Save the house of the woman who gave me a drink.

The valley then filled with water, drowning all the houses but that of the widow. On a fine day it is said that the ruins of Simmerdale can still be seen under the lake. The widow's cottage no longer stands, as it is rumoured that bricks from the house were used to make the Semer Water Bridge.

A Familiar Story

The old folktale has similarities to the biblical stories of Sodom & Gomorrah and the great flood that encouraged Noah to build the Ark, or even the Epic of Gilgamesh and the ancient accounts of the lost city of Atlantis. Legends of cities, towns and villages being flooded completely is a common theme running through history, such is the fear of this natural disaster. However, there may be some truth to the legend of Simmerwater, as in times of drought when the lake water has receded, the remains of an old Bronze Age town have been found.

Visiting Semer Water

Semer Water actually means 'the lake pool' in Old English, and it has a rare beauty once captured in paintings by JMW Turner, than can only really be appreciated by visiting the area. If you fancy trying to catch a glimpse of the legendary submerged village, you can reach Semer Water by taking a minor slip road off the A684, southeast of the town of Hawes, Upper Wensleydale (Yorkshire Dales).

Part of the Semer Water Nature Reserve and maintained by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the area is also a haven for water birds (such as herons and buzzards) and other marine wildlife. Semer Water is a delightful spot to visit in the spring or summer, either for birdwatching, picnicking, 'rambling' or just an escape to the country.

1Setting for the TV series All Creatures Great and Small.2Again, it is sometimes referred to as Semmerdale.

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