The April blog is late (so late that it is almost the May Blog), but we have a good excuse. The workforce at Secret Scotland has just been increased from 2 to 3 with the addition of Logan. We are still training Logan and it may take quite a while before he gets up to speed as he has yet to master some of the basics such as bladder control and walking.
Logan’s arrival did force us to put our travel plans on hold for a month, so I was struggling to think of something to write about as we didn’t have any new discoveries to share with you. And then inspiration hit me for what the blog should be about… Scottish Fairytales & Legends!!! I’m not sure if anyone has written a childrens’ bedtime storybook with this theme, but maybe I’ll do that later… if I ever find the time!
Now everyone I know (with one exception) says that Fairies don’t exist, but everyone likes to hear these stories and a good story always makes a place more interesting (would anyone fuss about Loch Ness if it wasn’t for the legend of “Nessie”!?). So I’m always interested to hear the folklore no matter how improbable it sounds. As my friend who believes in fairies would say “What sounds sillier: little people living in the forest, or a man with a big white beard floating around in the clouds?”. She sort of has a point!
So with a view to compiling Logan’s book of Fairytales, here are some examples of Scottish Folklore that might be suitable for inclusion.
Probably the most famous fairy story in Scotland is that of the Fairy Flag of the MacLeod’s of Dunvegan Castle on Skye. The flag is still on display in the castle, but it is now a rather tattered and shabby looking remnant of cloth. There are 2 stories behind why the MacLeod’s were given the fairy flag. In the more interesting version, one of the chiefs of clan fell in love with a Fairy Princess and they had a son together. Now fairies, as I’m sure you know, can only stay in human form for so long. So eventually the day came when the Fairy Princess had to return to her own world. The couple had a tearful parting of company at the Fairy bridge (which you can visit as it just off the B886), but the Fairy Princess returned one more time to attend her crying child and to bring him a gift of a silk blanket with magical properties.
That silk blanket was the Fairy Flag and, in the best of fairy traditions, it came with 3 wishes. According to the legend, the flag may be waved at times when the MacLeods are in trouble and need the assistance of the fairies. The flag has already been used twice to save the Clan from defeat at the battle of Glendale 1490 and Trumpan in 1580. The flag did come with some terms and conditions, there has to be an interval of a year and a day between wishes, and it should only be used for worthy causes.
Belief in the powers of the flag is such that little squares of the fabric have been cut away during WWI and WWII so that MacLeod soldiers could take them into battle as good luck Talismans. In addition to the Fairy Flag and the Fairy Bridge, Skye also has the Fairy Glen. There aren’t any stories associated with the glen that I am aware of, it just takes its name from the unusual geology which looks like a miniature landscape of mountains and lochs. The features have been created by deposits of moraine left by the retreating glaciers, but it does have an atmosphere where you can imagine that you are being watched by “little people”. You might recognise the glen from the picture below as it was used as a setting for the film “Stardust”.
Scottish Fairy stories also occur in more modern times. As recently as 2005, a building development in the pretty Perthshire village of St Fillans was halted because of local protests that it would harm the fairies. According to local legend, the fairies live under a large rock which would have been moved had the builders got their way. Clearly the locals of St Fillans are pretty hard set in their beliefs as the village takes its name from an early Christian Missionary who set up camp here in an attempt to convert the Picts from their pagan beliefs. Seems like he didn’t quite stamp it all out.
Not quite a fairy story this time, but the Eagle Stone of Strathpeffer has superstitious beliefs surrounding it that have continued to the modern day. In the 17th century the famed prophet Coinneach Odhar, also known as the Brahan Seer, predicted that ships would be able to moor by the Eagle Stone if it should ever fall over 3 times. This prophecy sounds like he may have anticipated global warming, but the locals are taking no chances and the stone now sits in a concrete base! The Brahan Seer has been accurate with quite a few of his forecasts so it is wise to err on the side of caution with this one.
Conventional Fairytales usually have damsels locked away in towers awaiting rescue by a gallant knight in shining armour. In Scotland it doesn’t quite work out with quite so much chivalry, but the Scottish version is at least credible. Just outside of Perth there is the well preserved Huntingtower Castle. The castle was originally 2 separate tower houses just 3 metres apart that were built for the two sons of William Ruthven (it is also known as Ruthven castle). At a latter date, the gap between to the towers was bridged by an extension that made the building one whole entity.
So where am I going with all this background detail? Well, according to legend (and there seems to be historical fact to support the story) the daughter of the castle owner was secretly visiting her lover in the opposite tower when she heard her mother climbing the stairs to the lover’s bedroom. Terrified about being caught “in the act”, she made a daring leap from the ramparts of one tower to the other. If you visit Huntingtower, you can see the spot where she would have made the leap. It looks feasible, but you would really have to be scared of your mother to want to risk it.