The Njugl

Shetland Islands

The njugl was a fabled animal corresponding to the Scottish water kelpie and the Old Norse nykur. In appearance it very much resembled a horse, although sometimes said to have a head like a human. It was generally seen near lochs [lakes] and burns [streams], and also frequented meadows and wet marshy ground. Sometimes it would appear very tame and docile, and it was then that weary travelers had to be on their guard. Should anyone mistake it for a horse and mount it, that person was undone. It would instantly start off at a terrific speed and rush for the nearest water, and there was no escape for the luckless rider who was certain to be drowned.

There was once a belated traveler in Waas who chanced to encounter the njugl one dark night. It tried to waylay the traveler, but he knew that it was the njugl, and so its overtures were unsuccessful. The man carried a gun, and he tried to shoot the njugl, but the weapon always missed fire. At last he took a silver coin and bit it until the coin could go into the barrel of the gun. After that the firearm no longer refused duty, and the njugl vanished in a blue lowe [flame], and with a noise like thunder.

The njugl was a source of much trouble and annoyance to people grinding at the watermills. Those quaint little buildings were once a familiar sight at the burnsides. They were of rude masonry and low-built with turf roofs. At one end was a rough platform on which the millstones were placed. Above these was a hopper suspended from the roof. The building consisted of an "upper hoose" and an "under hoose." The latter contained the tirl, an upright barrel-shaped contrivance, having slanting wooden blades. The tirl was connected with the upper millstone by means of an iron spindle, and was revolved by the water descending through a shoot underneath the mill.

Some nights when everything was working smoothly, and there was music in the water as it splashed from the tirl blades, then Without warning, the mill would stop. The person in charge of the operations would hurry to adjust the lichtnin tree (appliance for regulating the pressure), but without success. Then he would know what the trouble was. The njugl was in the under hoose, and had taken hold of the tirl. Fire was the only remedy. He would take a half-burnt peat and drop it cautiously into the under hoose. Instantly there would follow a roar as of thunder, a blinding flash of bluish flame, and the mill would restart grinding.

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Revised October 20, 2004.