Discover the Dales

Legends of the Dales

Semer Water Lake

The Legend of Semer Water

Semer Water, close to Hawes in Wensleydale, is the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire (the largest being the Malham Tarn in Malahamdale). The lake encompasses 100 acres and is half a mile long.

Although geology of the Yorkshire Dales would indicate that Semer Water is a natural lake, evolving over thousands and thousands of years, an ancient local legend says it was created by an angel…

Semer Water was once the location of a thriving city. Within the city there was a homeless man, who was hungry and thirsty. He walked the streets of the city begging for the kindness of the folk he passed, yet no one came to his aid with neither a drink nor food. He knocked door to door but still had been shown no compassion; instead they shunned him and turned him away.

He continued on his search and ended up on the outskirts of the city. He knocked on the door of poor, humble couple. They welcomed him in explaining that they do not have much but he is welcome to what they have. They offered him some freshly baked oatcake and a glass of milk from their very best cow.

The old man was ready to leave he said farewell to the couple that had shown him such great kindness where no one else did. He stepped out of their house and turned to face the city. As he did so he morphed from the old man in rags into a beautiful, bright angel. He grew higher and brighter, and then brighter still. So bright the elderly couple had to turn to shield their eyes form his intense glow.

As he rose he cursed the city and all that were in it – “Semerwater rise, and Semerwater sink, And swallow the town all save this house, Where they gave me food and drink.”

The moment the angel uttered the cure the Semer Water Lake rose from the ground flooding the city and all its inhabitants. The only house left standing was that of the kind couple who had fed him and gave him a drink.

The Legend of Semer Water was the basis for a poem written by Sir William Watson. The poem was called ‘The Ballard of Semer Water’.

The Ballard of Semer Water

Deep asleep, deep asleep,
Deep asleep it lies,
The still lake of Semerwater
Under the still skies

And many a fathom
Many a fathom
Many a fathom below,
In a king’s tower and a queens bower
The fishes come and go

Once there stood by Semerwater
A mickle town and tall;
Kings’s tower and queen’s bower
And the wakeman on the wall.

Came a beggar halt and sore:
“I faint for lack of bread!”
Kings tower and queen’s bower
Cast him forth unfed

He knocke’d at the door of eller’s cot,
The eller’s cot in the dale.
They gave him of their oatcake,
They gave him of their ale.

He cursed aloud that city proud,
He cursed it in its pride;
He has cursed it into Semerwater
There to Bide

King’s tower and queen’s bower,
And a mickle town and tall;
By glimmer of scale and gleam of fin
Folk have seen them all.

King tower and queen’s bower,
And weed and reed in the gloom;
And a lost city in Semerwater,
Deep asleep till Doom.

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