The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.
This is a story her father used to tell her to explain the ridges in the sides of hills in England.
“So, when I was 15, I went to England with dad, and my girlfriend Laurie came with us. And when we were driving along through England, it was all these various hills, and they all had sort of…what looks like rings going around the hills. Um, and I said to dad, “What causes those rings?” And dad goes, “Sidehill gougers.”
And I went, “What?” And he said, “Sidehill gougers. Haven’t you ever heard of Sidehill gougers?” And I said, “No..?” And he said, “Oh, of course you have.” And I said no. “Oh, well I’ll just have to tell you all about Sidehill gougers, then. Okay, so, Sidehill gougers are this unusual animal that are born with one side of their legs shorter than the other side. And as a consequence, they can only go one direction up a hill. And they go around and around the hill and as they climb up the hill, they eat their way up and as they get older and older and older. And then they die right at the top and that’s how the hill starts to grow up.”
Of course, my father’s story was a little more elaborate and went on for a lot longer. And occasionally, most Sidehill gougers have shorter right legs than left legs and are always going around the same direction. Occasionally, though, there’s a Sidehill gouger that may be born with shorter left legs than right legs, and then he’s going the opposite direction from all the rest of them and he ends up bumping into them and causing a big havoc. But a Sidehill gouger’s life is going around, and that’s what makes the rings on the hills is these Sidehill gougers as they make their way up slowly up the mountain as they’re aging, they eat their way up and as they slowly climb their way to the top of the hill, the Sidehill gougers.
I said, “Well what happens when they get to the top?” “Well, that’s where they die, isn’t it?”
And then the generation of Sidehill gougers continues. And the predominant ones are right head leg—right leg short side gougers, and left—and I believed him. I believed this story.”
Do you know if he learned that from someone else or if he made it up?
“I don’t know where he learned it from. I’m probably sure that someone would have told him but he was very good at making up stories as well. And he always did like to…he was a bit theatrical, so of course when he told this story it was very elaborate and very long, and very intricate on the whole lifespan of Sidehill gougers and how they developed.
And of course because of the elaborateness of the story I’ve quite shortened it, um, I believed the whole story and was asking him questions, and he was giving me answers you know, “Oh, are they all born with short right legs?” “No, some of them are born with short left legs and they have to walk the other way, and they cause all kinds of havoc. But they end up dying out in the long run because there aren’t as many of them.” So it was a big long process.”
The Sidehill gouger interests me because as a folkloric creature, it has a fairly small impact on humans in their everyday lives. Unlike fairies or leprechauns or other such creatures, all the Sidehill gouger does is walk around hills in circles. As a result, it seems more as though they are used to explain unusual geographic features, in this particular case, the ridges on British hills. I would be interested in collecting different versions of this piece of folklore to see if they have a larger roles in other contexts.