A Spider and a Shellycoat – more Scottish Folk Tales

One thing that has always been a big part of Scottish culture, and that continues to intrigue both visitors and natives alike, is the myriad of utterly unique legends and stories that Scotland has to offer. Some of these legends, such as the Loch Ness Monster, are famous all around the world, whereas others remain known to just a few; some were originally told as moral lessons, to warn, frighten or, as with the case of Robert the Bruce and the perseverant spider, to serve as inspiration, whereas others were told solely to entertain. Below is a small selection of the various tales and legends born and bred on Scottish soil:

King Robert the Bruce and the Spider

Mentioned above, this tale in particular tends to strike a chord with many of those who hear it, due to it serving as a metaphor for carrying on through the struggles of life, which is something with which everybody can identify. It is also of note because there is absolutely nothing to stop it from being true; parts of it, such as the number of attempts made by the spider and the precise location of Bruce vary from source to source, conjectured to fill in the gaps that being passed down through the centuries can sometimes bring, but the gist of the tale being historical rather than mythological remains a strong possibility.

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The most famous version of the story goes that in the early 14th century King Robert the Bruce, who was fighting the English for Scottish independence, was on the run, and found himself seeking shelter in a cave. As he sat in the cave he despaired over what was the best thing to do for his people and for the future of Scotland. Should he give up? Should he continue to fight King Edward I? He was there, dejected, when a spider suddenly caught his attention. It was attempting to climb up its web, and Bruce watched as it repeatedly tried and failed to get to the top. Six times it tried, and six times it failed, but it persevered, and on the seventh attempt it finally succeeded. This gave Bruce a much-needed morale boost; he carried on with his mission, and the Scottish went on to defeat Edward I’s son Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Robert the Bruce’s image, along with a little spider, is on many Scottish bank notes today, serving as a reminder to everyone that, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’.

 

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The Shellycoat

A mischievous rather than evil figure in Scottish folklore, albeit with quite a cruel sense of humour, the Shellycoat can be found in creeks, lochs and streams, looking for innocent people to trick. It is an ugly monster with a coat of large rattling shells, which it shakes in an effort to distract passing strangers. It gets a great deal of amusement out of confusing people, wasting their time and seeing their faces as they fail to find out what is making the noise. This is harmless enough, but it is claimed that the Shellycoat also creates the sound of someone drowning and laughs at the commotion it causes. Despite this unpleasant side to the Shellycoat, it never physically harms anyone, and so it is not warned against in the same way that other monsters, such as the Blue Men of Minch, are.

 

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The Redcaps

Redcaps (also known as Dunters or Powries) are some of the most evil creatures in Scottish folklore. According to legend, they dwell in ruined castles near the border, particularly those with an especially dark history, and murder strangers who happen to stumble into their home. Redcaps are grotesque-looking stooped little monsters, with red eyes, pointed teeth and long sharp claws. In spite of their heavy iron boots and large pikes, they are remarkably quick, and it is thought to be impossible to outrun a Redcap once it has set its sight on someone! Sometimes they roll boulders on top of unsuspecting strangers’ heads from high up in a tower; other times they bite and scratch their victims to death. It is then that they drink some of the blood, before dipping their caps into it, an important step, for if the cap dries up, the Redcap immediately dies.

We hope you enjoyed these tales, this week brought to you by Jodie, who is currently gaining experience with the Learning Team here at Culloden. As always please like, share, tweet, comment and keep on coming back for more.

All the best, K & D

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Peter Grant – The Last Surviving Jacobite

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In 1824 the last known survivor of the ’45 Jacobite rising died aged one hundred and ten. This man was Peter Grant, also known as Auld Dubrach, and today we’re taking a little look at the life of this interesting man.

Born in 1714, Peter Grant was the son of a crofter and grew up in his families croft at Dubrach near Braemar. When he was old enough, and had received a basic education, he became an apprentice to a weaver and tailor in the small village of Acuhindryne. From this he would later become a tailor in his own right.

Peter would only have been a baby during the 1715 Jacobite Rising but at the age of thirty one he was certainly ready for the start of the ’45 Rising when Prince Charles Edward Stuart raised the Jacobites again. Peter soon enlisted with the Jacobite army joining Monaltries regiment. As part of the Jacobite army he most certainly saw various action but it was at Prestonpans that Peter was recognised for his bravery and he was raised to the rank of Sergeant-Major.

At Culloden Peter survived the battle but was captured by the Government and was taken prisoner. Initially he was held in Inverness before being transported south to Carlisle. Here he awaited sentencing. It would not have looked good for Peter; many Jacobites were being sentenced to death, deported or dying from the poor conditions of the prison. It seems that Peter though had other ideas and he found a way to escape the prison. It is possible he managed to find a route over the walls but it is not certain. However he did it though he made his escape and seemingly made his way north back into Scotland, where he was forced to remain hidden as a known Jacobite.

During his years in hiding Peter was never recaptured, despite there being a price on his head. Finally, after many years he was able to return to a relatively normal life and he was able to come out of hiding. He returned home and took up his trade as a tailor once again. Eventually he married a local woman, Mary Cummings, who was seemingly much younger than himself, some say it was Peter himself who had made her christening gown. He returned to Dubrach and had six children, three boys and three girls.

Later Peter and his wife moved into a small cottage on his sons farm in Angus and it is here he sadly lost his wife in 1811 when she was 65. Little is known about Peter for many years and it is not until a decade later that his story reemerges with an intriguing turn. Already well past a hundred years old two walkers met Peter and were fascinated by his tales of the Jacobites. The walkers began a petition which was given to King George IV when he visited Edinburgh in 1822.

There is a story that says Peter was then presented to the King. When they met the King supposedly said ‘Ah, Grant, you are my oldest friend’ to which Peter replied ‘Na,na, your majesty, I’m your auldest enemy’. The story is certainly a great tale but whether it is true or not is under debate. There are no clear records of Peter having met King George IV and it seems more likely that just the petition was delivered. Regardless of whether Peter met King George IV or not what is true is that King George IV awarded Peter with a generous pension.

Two years later on 11th February 1824 Peter passed away, aged 110, at his sons home. His funeral was one of the largest the village had ever seen and was attended by some 300 people. It is said that roughly four gallons of whisky was consumed before the coffin was laid down to rest in the cemetery at Invercauld beside Braemar Castle. A stone tablet was erected at his grave site which was inscribed with the words ‘The old, loyal Jacobite was at peace. he had kept faith with those whom he thought were his rightful Monarchs all of his life, a hero and a man of honour to the last.’

We hope you enjoyed this insight into the ‘last Jacobite’ and as always please like, share, tweet, comment and we will do our best to keep finding more interesting stories for you to enjoy.

All the best, K & D

The MacGillivrays at Culloden

As you walk the battlefield here at Culloden you pass the memorial cairn and many clan graves, but you  also pass the ‘Well of the Dead’. This small spot on the battlefield stands at the point where the Chief of the MacGillivray clan supposedly fell during the battle and, as we are often asked about this spot, we thought we’d take this chance to look a little at the MacGillivray’s during the time of Culloden.

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Stone at the Well of the Dead

 

The MacGillivray’s were strong followers of the Jacobites and came out to support the cause in both the 1715 and the 1745 Risings. They are a part of Clan Chattan, which was essential an alliance between several clans including MacGillivray, Mackintosh and Macpherson. In 1745 Clan Chattan the majority of Clan Chattan followed Prince Charles Edward Stuart in his cause.

However, an interesting exception to this was the chief of Clan Mackintosh who was serving with the Black Watch in 1745 and thus was unable to raise his men for the Jacobites. Thus it was left to his wife, Lady Anne Mackintosh to raise Mackintosh’s for Prince Charles. She herself could not lead the men in battle and so she appointed Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass, the chief of Clan MacGillivray to help lead the men of Clan Chattan at Culloden. MacGillivray was a strong choice as he was a respected leader and fearsome warrior, standing some 6ft 5in tall.

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Clach an Airm

 

Before the battle the stories say that Clan Chattan gathered to sharpen their swords at the Clach an Airm, an ancient stone which rested near the battlefield. Here the men queued in line to sharpen their blades on the four foot high stone, ensuring that their weapons were sharp and ready for the battle to come.

In battle it was MacGillivray who began the Highland Charge with Clan Chattan, making the first moves towards the Government men. The charge, lead by MacGillivray, was a ferocious effort to try and claim a Jacobite victory. MacGillivray led the clan against the Government cannons, grapeshot and musket fire and the Chattan clans were remarkably able to break through the first line of the Government army. They breached the Government men but unfortunately could not make any further progress. The Government ranks from behind moved forward and surrounded the Jacobite soldiers with heavy musket fire and ultimately forced them to withdraw.

MacGillivray himself was gravely hurt in the attack but managed to stumble back a little way before he began to succumb to his wounds. There is a story that tells of MacGillivray as he lay dying. A young drummer boy was moaning for water and MacGillivray, in his last act, was able to lead him to a spring in the moor. The spring is now known as the ‘Well of the Dead’ and is said to mark the point where MacGillivray died.

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Well of the Dead at Culloden

 

After the battle MacGillivray was apparently buried in a mass grave with many other men who had fallen in combat. The graves were supposedly guarded by Government men for six weeks before the MacGillivray’s men were able to go and exhume his body. They then took him to the nearby kirk of Petty where he was given a proper burial.

As a consequence of joining the Jacobite cause the MacGillivray’s forfeited their lands for several years before they were able to regain them. Unfortunately bit by bit the lands had to be sold of to pay various debts. With life in Scotland proving tough many clansmen emigrated overseas to America and Canada. Included in these men was a Lachlan MacGillivray whose son, Alexander, would go on to become High Chief of the Creek Indians in Alabame and William MacGillivray who would become the superintendent of the North West Trading Company of Montreal and after whom Fort William in Ontario is named.

So, there you go, a bit more information about just some of the many men who fought here at Culloden. We hope you enjoyed it, as always please like, share, tweet, comment and next time you walk past the Well of Dead you’ll know the story behind it’s importance.

All the best, K & D

 

Ready for a new adventure?

The National Trust for Scotland is lucky enough to have thousands of people volunteering with us to help conserve properties, artefacts and landscapes in our care and help provide fantastic experiences to all our visitors.

However, you may not be aware just how many ways you can volunteer with the Trust. So, if you’re looking for something new to try this year why not take a look at how you can support the National Trust for Scotland.

Firstly, check out the Thistle Camps. These are essentially working holidays. The National Trust for Scotland recently launched its new list of Thistle Camps for 2017 and they are a great opportunity to volunteer, gain skills and have a bit of a fun whilst discovering somewhere new at the same time. There are lots to choose from and you can help with archaeology projects, discover drystane dyking techniques, spend some time kayaking or help create and maintain footpaths on some of Scotland’s most beautiful mountains. (The evenings off aren’t too bad either!) The camps are fantastic fun and very popular so be sure to get in quick to grab your top choice as they fill up fast. Thistle Camps

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Drystane Dyking in Threave

 

If you love the outdoors then definitely consider becoming a Conservation Volunteer. Here you can help the Trust by joining various projects across the country. This could be helping in the garden of a castle, building footpaths on a gorgeous mountain, or contributing to woodland management. You get to experience the wonderful countryside we help protect across the country, meet new people and fit in some exercise. Not only that but there are also training opportunities and lectures which you can attend to learn more skills and build on your knowledge of our wild and beautiful landscapes. The only thing we can’t guarantee is the weather, it is Scotland after all. Conservation Volunteers

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Footpaths Repaired by Conservation Volunteers

 

Probably our best known volunteers are our property volunteers. If you want to help a property then we are always happy to hear from you. Here at Culloden you can join our learning team sharing the knowledge of the battle to people from across the globe and running object handling sessions. If castles tempt you you can become a room or tour guide at many of our properties and our gardens are always looking for those with green fingers to come along. Many of us starting life as a volunteer, including myself as a tour guide at Brodie Castle. It’s easy to fall in love with a property as you discover all its secrets and it is incredible to be able to then share these stories with visitors and make their visit to Scotland even more special. Volunteering

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Volunteer Demonstrations at Culloden

 

With over 3,000 amazing and supportive volunteers we have a brilliant volunteering community throughout Scotland. If you want to join us and help support the National Trust for Scotland, what are you waiting for? Check out the links above, stop by your nearest property and get started on a new adventure. Volunteer with us

All the best, K & D