The amount of legends that are found in Scotland’s folklore is inimaginable. Scotland’s landscapes, alongside its history, have induced the creation of fairy, monster, and ghost stories.
The ruins of Duntulm Castle can only inspire ghost stories. It is said that the castle was abandoned after the chief’s son, while under the care of the babysitter, fell from a window and died when crushed against the rocks below. As punishment, the babysitter was sent adrift to the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat. Legend has it that the babysitter’s ghost still wanders around the castle screaming disturbingly.
The Lost Valley (Coire Gabhail) is a high valley hidden between the mountain range of Bidean nam Bian, known as the Three Sisters, which is located at the south of Glencoe. This valley was used by the clan MacDonald in order to hide the cattle they stole from the Campbells. The enmity between both clans is famous because of the Massacre of Glencoe, which took place in 1692. The story tells that the Campbells killed many MacDonald after having accepted the hospitality of their house and land. A common story explains that that was the end of the dispute the clans had for the cattle theft by the MacDonald and the land occupation by the Campbells.
However, this episode is actually related with the conflict between the king William III and the House of the Stewart. The MacDonalds had to oath to the new king, William III, in order to be forgiven for their Jacobite uprising. Nevertheless, because of some complications, the clan MacDonald didn’t bend the knee until five days after the end date. Although apparently for the officials and the sheriff of Argyll it wasn’t a crime, the Campbells took the justice by their own hand.
The ruins of Kilchurn Castle are located on a protrusion surrounded almost totally by water, at the north-east of loch Awe. The highest tower was struck by a lightning in the mid-8th century.
The castle was built by Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, a crusader. Legend has it that Sir Colin Campbell, being in Palestina, had a strange dream which wasn’t able to understand. So, she consulted a monk, who recommend him to go back home immediately, since only his presence could prevent the disaster that was about to happened on his family.
Sir Colin Campbell did well in getting back to Scotland because during his absence, Baron MacCorquodale had convinced Lady Margaret, Sir Colin Campbell’s wife, that her husband had died in the crusades and persuaded her to marry him. The same day of the wedding, Sir Colin Campbell arrived disguised as a beggar. Then, he was asked what he wanted, to what he answered: “To have my hunger satisfied and my thirst quenched”. He ate as much as he was given, but he only wanted to drink from the woman of the house’s hand. So, Lady Margaret approached and offered him a goblet. Sir Colin Campbell drank the content and returned the pan with his wedding ring inside. Lady Margaret knew that object well and recognise it. Therefore, the wedding was never celebrated.
In the west of the isle of Skye there is a path named “Sligaghan” that goes up along the edge of the river, from the valley of Glen Brittle to the Black Cuillins. However, this path is more known as Fairy Pools, since the river forms little pools of crystalline water along its course. Local stories tell that fairies usually bath in these cold natural pools when no one is watching. However, one must be cautious with these creatures also known on the Scottish folk as “samall people”, since they are as kind as rude. It’s important to be careful not to offend them or they could take revenge. The belief in fairies in Scotland goes back to thousands of years ago, especially in Skye. Always related with nature, with the arrival of Christianity they began to be considered as wicked and mischievous creatures capable of kidnapping babies and fooling wise people.
According to a tradition, this castle was founded by Edwin, a Pict king, contemporary to Jules Cesar. However, the dimensions of the castle that there was in the 5th century weren’t comparable to the ones it had from the 13th century on. Dunstaffnage Castle was the seat of Scottish princes for some time and the prison of Flora MacDonald after she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape disguised as a servant under the name of Betty Burke.
Captured by Robert the Bruce in 1309, the castle passed from the McDougall to the Campbells. In this castle has lived more than one spirit. One of them is a Glaistig who answered to the name of Siannag. She lived there until the castle burnt in flames in 1810. Another spirit that wandered the castle several times was Bodach Glas (old grey man in Gaelic). He was once a man who helped a Campbell of Dunstaffnage in a mugging. After the attack, they were chased until Bodach Glas, scared, decided to abandon the loot he had stolen and flee. Dunstaffnage, driven by his anger towards such a treachery, stabbed him. While dying, Bodach Glas told his killer that Dunstaffnage would die that same day and he (Bodach Glas) would appear and exult over the death of the rest of the family for ever. Dunstaffnage was captured hours later and murdered by his pursuers. Since then, Bodach Glas appears when any member of the Dunstaffnage family dies to rejoice.
Many stories tell about brave bagpipers who get to the heart of deep caves never to return. One of these stories is the legend of “The Cave of Gold” (Uamh an Oir). Black Lad was a boy who lived in the Trotternish peninsula. Son of the MacCrimmons, the boy would become the best of the bagpipers and his clan would be recognised by that. Yet as a child, he could hardly play at all and felt as a disappointment for his father. However, one day his luck changed, because while practicing with his father’s bagpipes, called “The Black Gate”, a Banshee appeared and asked him which he would prefer, success without skill or skill without success. MacCrimmon answered that he rather has skill but not success. Then, she pulled a hair out of her head and told the lad to tie it round the chanter.
The years went by and he became the King of the Pipers, until one day, he decided to enter the Cave of Gold, since his notes could calm any creature. He ventured into the cavern playing a lament, whose melody could be heard from outside until, suddenly, a terrible wail was heard. The beast jumped upon him and the echoes of the music continued for a long while, but in the end there was silence.
Dunollie castle was built during the 15th century and was the seat of clan MacDougall. A local legend tells that in this castle lived a Glaistig. At dusk she could be seen heading for the house where she washed the clothes and swept at night. Yet, the Glaistig was moody and she sometimes put dust in the inhabitants of the castle’s meals, except to the fool’s, who was her favourite person from the castle.
Isle of Mull
In the isle of Mull grows a hard to find plant called St John’s wort, which found without being sought or wanted has magical powers. It is said that this wort tied at the neck, avoids the premonitions to those who have the ability to see the future.
A little local story tells that Callum, a young man, was walking with his dog around the hills of Mull when he found that plant. He took it and kept walking until she arrived at a river, where she took an advantage of it to bath his swollen feet. When he looked up, he realised that on the other side of the river, there was a very ugly woman with no nostrils resting. The woman asked him for a bit of the wort to let him cross the river, but the boy refused to do it. So, she offered him to make snuff with the St John’s wort and give him some in exchange. But Callum replied her why did he want snuff if she had no nostrils and then he moved away from the river. That night, Callum didn’t get home and all his family started looking for him everywhere until they found him sleeping next to a small hill. When the boy woke up, he thought he had hardly slept, since the sun was almost in the same position as when he had gone to sleep. However, when he found his dog laying behind with no hair on its body, he understood he had been sleeping for a whole day and that his dog had tried to protect its master from the fairies, but al last, the fairies had took the St John’s wort.
In Spain lived a princess who fell in love with a man she saw in a dream and knew he must be sought for in another country because she could not understand his language. She sailed to Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and, finally, Scotland. Her plan was to have a dinner on board the ship and invite every gentleman from the area she had stopped. Finally, she arrived at Tobermory, a small village in the Isle of Mull, where she found her man, Mr MacClean of Duart. They didn’t even begin to have dinner that fell in love at first sight and spent some days together. Unfortunately, there was a Mrs MacClean and no sooner had she found out her husband’s affair than she set off to Tobermory and employed a servant to blow up the Spanish ship, killing everybody on board, including the princess.
MacLean, who was in love with the princess, buried her in Morvern. Later, he had a vision of her beloved asking him to get her body back to Spain. Therefore, MacLean disinterred her bones, cleaned them and took them to the king of Spain, the princess’s father. Nevertheless, when the father realised that there was a little finger left, he sent two of his best frigates to Scotland and command to destroy the isle of Mull and MacLean. While the frigates were getting closer to Duart, MacLean asked nine witches, known as Doideagan or Dodags, to help him to defeat the frigates. They began to control the wind which moved the ships ashore, but the Spanish captain was skilled in the Black Arts and struck back. Some Dodags, in the shape of crows, started to fly around the ships, but the captain kept fighting, since he was only scared of one witch, Gormsuil. No sooner had he thought that than Gormsuil appeared as a cat. When the captain saw her, he lost all hope and, eventually, the frigates sank, and no sailor could do anything to prevent it.
An old story tells how the Loch Awe was born. The creation of the lake was Cailleach’s negligence’s fault. She was the guardian of a fountain on the top of Ben Cruachan. Every evening, when the sun set, Cailleach was responsible for covering with a stone the fountain and uncover it at dawn. However, one day, tired of leading the cattle along Connel, she fell asleep beside the fountain before having covered it. The water began to flow down the mountain and flooded the valley. The noise of the water woke the girl up, who was so terrified of what she had done that she tuned into stone.
In the early days of the Celtic Christianity, a priest was sent to the isle of Skye. He was walking through the woods that were located near the current village of Broadford, when he left his walking ash stick beside him and sat to eat. Not long after, he was surrounded by tiny people. The priest cleared his throat and asked them who they were. An old man knelt in front of him and told him that they were fairies who were repented of their sins and wished to ask forgiveness. The priest pitied the man, but he had been taught that the fairies were the fallen angles that the very same God had casted out of heaven. So, he couldn’t do anything to forgive them. Then, a woman knelt beside the man and with a soft voice said: “There’s more joy in heaven over one repented sinner than for one thousand righteous men”. The priest, disturbed for his impotence, replied that sooner would his stick become a tree than God would forgive them. Therefore, he stood up and continued his way leaving his ash stick standing behind, while he could hear the fairies moaning.
Some time went by until one day the priest went back to the forest clearing where he had found the fairies. This time weren’t fairies what he found, but a big and strong ash tree. He knew what that meant, so he settled in the forest as a hermit and prayed every single day for all the fairies until the fallen angels’ wailings vanished. That day, the priest was found dead with a wide smile on his face.
Dunvegan Castle is the seat of Clan MacLeod, to who has always belonged the castle. Built mostly in the 13th century, this castle keeps three valuable objects behind which a legend is hidden: the Horn of Rory Mór, the MacLeod’s Fairy Banner and the Fairy Cup of Dunvegan.
The Horn of Rory Mór is an ox’s horn with its point covered in silver. Story has it that Malcom MacLeod (1296-1370), third chief of the MacLeods, was returning from a date with the clan Fraser’s chief’s wife. That night, Malcom found a bull that scared all the inhabitants. Armed with only a dirk, he killed the animal, pulled one of its horns out and took it to the castle as a trophy. Before the bravery of Malcom, the Fraser’s wife left her husband for Malcom MacLeod. The horn became a drinking horn that, in order to become a chief, had to be drunk entirely of a single gulp.
Regarding the Fairy Banner, it is said that it has supernatural powers, and when unfolded, assures the victory in any battle. However, it can only be used three times. Rumour has it that it has already been used three times, but some think that it has only been twice because if it had been used a third time, the fairies would have already come to take it away. About its origins, they aren’t clear, since three different stories tell its origin. One of the stories tells that a chief of the clan MacLeod was betrothed to a fairy, but after some time she flew away leaving the flag to him as a souvenir. Another story recounts how a fairy entered the castle, wrapped the chief’s baby with the flag while singing a lullaby that was remembered for many years and sung by every nurse of the MacLeod. Nevertheless, the most accepted legend tells that the banner was won by a MacLeod in the Crusades in Palestine. He was going to cross a river when a fairy appeared and denied him to pass unless he fought against her. The crusader confronted her and when he defeated her, the fairy gave him the flag as an offering.
The Fairy Cup of Dunvegan is an oak and silver goblet. Some tell that it was stolen from an Irish chief named Niall Glúndub (Niall of the Black Knees). Nevertheless, other believe that the cup had belonged to the fairies. Legend has it that a MacLeod of Harris man was leading the cattle and saying to the cows to stop when a voice answered: “Ho! Ho! Stop here! A save return for you and a save journey for you!» Yet, the man continued walking until he arrived at a small and green hill with an open door on the top of it. When he approached, a beautiful woman invited him to enter and in the inside an old man offered him a cup full of whisky to drink. Then, the woman told him that once he finished drinking the fairies would take the cup and he would be trapped for ever. So, he got closed to the door and when only a few drops were left in the cup he ran away down the hill with the fairies behind him until he reached his house. It is said that a Macleod of MacLeod heard about the cup and bought it, giving the seller a farm in exchange.