Local storyteller, Janet Dowling, writes for the Herald on behalf of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group

As I walk along The Byes not only do I enjoy the variety of trees, plants and animal life, but each of them comes with a folk story. I have spent a lifetime researching and telling them, so I literally walk through a storybook!

Sidmouth Herald: Janet DowlingJanet Dowling (Image: Janet Dowling)

Here in Sidmouth we have some otters — you are more likely to see them in winter because there is less vegetation — but keep an eye out for them and stay still. It was not long ago that they were near extinction until the water quality improved and they were given greater protection. There was an older time when people thought that otters were sea people – otter in the water, human on land. They are always linked with salmon!

One of my favourite stories is when Odin, the King of the Norse Gods, and his trickster son Loki came to Midgard, our world. Odin spotted an otter eating some salmon it had just caught. Loki, always wanting to impress Odin, picked up a stone and threw it. The otter was killed instantly with the salmon in its mouth. “Look,” said Loki, “two for the price of one. We shall eat well tonight.”

They found a farmhouse. Odin asked if they could have a bed and promised to share their catch, there would be enough for six people. “Certainly” replied the farmer. But when he saw the otter and the salmon he gasped and left the room.

He found his two sons. “Your brother, Otter, will not be coming tonight. I have seen his dead body and the ones responsible are here. I will put an enchantment on them, and we can easily overcome them.”
Odin and Loki were soon tied up.
“You killed my son,” roared the farmer. “He was otter by day, when he hunted and brought home fish for us, and then by night he was a man. Now you will die in revenge.”
Odin was shocked. “If we knew he was a man and an otter, we would not have harmed him. We are sorry. Let us pay a ransom. What do you want?”

The farmer was angry. “No ransom will bring my son, Otter, back. But you will pay.” He turned to his other sons and told them to flay the otter skin.

“Now fill his skin with gold,” said the farmer, “and when you have done that, cover it with more gold so that no part, not even a whisker, is visible.”

Loki agreed to bring the ransom. He went to the elven caves, down into the tunnels until he came to a cavern with a pool. He threw a net into the pool, dragged out a large pike and commanded it to take its true form. Before him was Andvari, the dwarf miner. Loki made him hand over all his gold, including a magic ring on his hand. Andvari cursed the new owner of the ring.

Loki took the gold back to the farmer. The otter skin was filled, and then covered in more gold. The farmer inspected it and found a whisker uncovered. Loki took the magic ring and placed it on the whisker. “Is that sufficient?” he asked. The farmer agreed. “Then this gold belongs to you,” said Loki “as does the curse of Andvari that you will be destroyed.”

Regardless of the curse, the deal had been completed so Odin and Loki were released. The two made their way back to Asgard, little realising that they had set in place a chain of events that would change and influence the world forever. But that’s another story for another time – think Volsung saga, the Ring cycle and even Lord of the Rings. Every action has consequences even when it’s “just” the death of a single otter.

The otters on the River Sid have been very evident this year.
For more about the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group please visit http://sidvalleybiodiversity.org.uk