The Piper in the Mill

As followers of the blog will know, I do love bagpipes and storytelling, (it's Tom writing this post), and there is no shortage of traditional tales featuring pipers.  Having just discovered that demons in mills in the night are common in Serbian folklore just as they are in Britain, I'm prompted to share my version of fairies and a piper in a watermill at night.  This is my retelling of a tale found along the Wales/England border and which I always enjoyed telling at Stretton Watermill in Cheshire.  The picture is myself and Joan Rogers of FayrePlay, piping there to start our Cheshire events for the first ever International Bagpipe Day a few years back.

Well, if you don’t like, don’t listen, but there was this miller see, and he would be sitting in his cottage, just across the lane from his watermill, and when it got to the edge o’night he would hear the wheel turning and the gears rumbling inside the mill. But he weren’t afeart, he’d known it all his life and same had happened in his father’s time and his grandfer’s afore that. He was wiser than to go inside the mill, mind, he knew it was the little folk who were about their milling during the night. And each morning all would be clean and tidy, they’d caused none trouble.

This one evening the miller was sat at the corner table in the alehouse with the blacksmith and a bagpiper and he chanced to tell about the little folk in the mill. “Well now,” says the piper, “you shunner let them grind their meal without paying as others mun do.” But the smith and the miller insisted it was foolish to interfere with the ways of the little folk. “Fairies be beggared!” says the piper, “I’m not so tickle-stomached as you. I’ll bet you tha new green weskit I can spend the night playing my pipes to them, I’ll get them dancing to my tune, I will, thump!”

Now the miller and smith were about telling the piper not to be such a maggot-pate, that he never knew what would happen if he went in the mill that night. But after another tankard of ale, their minds had altered, see, and were for letting him get agate his piping. So, here’s all three setting off down the pad-road across the field to the mill. The wheel was turning and there was a dim light at the window. And here’s the piper striking up his bagpipes and making his way into the mill. Well, the miller and the smith, they listened a while, then off they went back to the alehouse. After some more beer they were thinking on how the piper had been away a pretty tidy time and was most likely he’d returned home.

The next morning the miller made his way into the watermill. It was the same as ever, not a thing out of place, but no sign of the piper. He set off to the piper’s tumbledown cot, but he wasn’t there, and the hearth was cold. And the smith and the miller never did see the piper again, but if they ever walked past the tump at the end of the lane as it was fetching dark, both of them reckoned on how they could hear the sound of pipes under the ground.

So it’s a queer thing isn’t it, but that’s as I heard it, so take from it what you wish and give the rest back to me.