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’.

 

river

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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A Kelpie, a Selkie and a Stoorworm…

Scotland is a treasure house of stories, from myths and legends to wee tales told to children at night. These strange and fantastical tales have inspired writers, artists and poets for centuries. Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson both recalled as adults the tales of ghosts, magic and witches they had heard as children. So, since it is National Storytelling Week we’ve hunted out a couple of tales of intriguing monsters and creatures to share with you all.

Firstly we look at the Stoorworm. This was a gigantic sea dragon which was said to demolish boats and even drag entire villages into the sea. The Stoorworm lived in the sea around Scotland and had to be destroyed. In the end a young lad, the son of a local farmer, killed the beast. He managed to sail into the heart of the beast where he set a fire. Eventually the dragon was in such pain he spat the lad out who struck the monster on his head with such force he apparently knocked him out for ten thousand years and a day.

The force of the blow knocked out the Stoorworms tongue and eyes and teeth. The tongue went east and landed between Scotland and Norway, which had been connected but were split apart from the force, creating the North Sea. The eye went west spinning round and round and created a whirlpool between Jura and Scarba which is now the Whirlpool of the Corryvreckan. The teeth fell one by one around Scotland and formed isles, islets and skerries which became the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands and the Hebrides. Meanwhile, the body went north and landed near the top of the world where the Arctic Ocean froze around it. The body still lies there below snow and ice as Iceland but every now and then when he is disturbed fire and smoke leaps up into the sky.

stoorworm
The Stoorworm?

 

Some more familiar creatures are kelpies and selkies. Kelpies are supernatural water horses that haunt Scotlands lochs and rivers. They appear as a lost pony, often grey or white, and would entice people to ride on their backs before taking them down to a watery grave. Luckily they are easy to spot due to their constantly dripping mane.

kelpie
A Kelpie?

 

Selkies meanwhile are creatures that can transform themselves from seal to human form and back again. In order to shapeshift selkies had to cast off their sealskins. Within these magical skins lay the power to return to seal form, and therefore the sea. According to legend if a man steals a female selkie’s skin she is in his power and can be forced to become his wife. However, because their true home is the sea, they will often be seen gazing longingly at the ocean. If the selkie finds her skin she can escape and return to her true home.

 

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Loch Ness Monster

Finally we just had to include Scotlands most famous creature, Nessie. The Loch Ness monster is a large dinosaur-like creature which makes its home in Loch Ness. Sightings of Nessie have reportedly occured since the 6th Century with the first recorded sighting of the monster nearly 1,500 years ago in 565AD.  It is said that an Irish monk, Saint Columba, was staying with some friends when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under. Columba sent one of his followers to swim across the river and the beast came after him.  Columba made a sign of the cross and commanded the beast not to touch the man and to go back at once.  The creature halted and retreated, and the Picts praised God for the miracle.

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The Real Nessie?

 

Hopefully you enjoyed these tales. As always please like, share, comment, follow and if you want to learn more come along to Culloden on 6th February for storytelling and crafts covering all these legends and more. http://www.nts.org.uk/Culloden/Visit/Events/

All the best, K & D

Jacobite Legends

Over the years the Jacobites have been romanticised and the stories of the times told and retold leading to some interesting legends that seem to be part fact, part fiction. So, we thought it only fair to share a couple legends and let you decide how much to truly believe.

Firstly ‘The Princes Flower’.

Before he reached Glenfinnan to raise the Jacobite standard in 1745 the ‘young pretender’, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, first arrived at the island of Eriskay. He had travelled on the French Frigate the Du Teillay. The weather was typical for the area and time of year and the small frigate was buffeted by harsh weather. Charles made the decision to land on the island and a small party rowed ashore.

The tiny boat made landfall at a small inlet which has come to be known as ‘Coilleag d’Phrionnso’ (The Prince’s Strand). As the Prince stepped ashore he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and a handful of flower seeds fell out. The seeds grew by the beach and  rare pink flowers grew at the spot not found anywhere else on the Hebrides. They have come to be known as the prince’s flower for this reason though are actually Sea Bindweed. It has been observed that when anyone tries to move the plants from the island to another location they never flourish.

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The Prince’s Flower

 

The Prince also brought something else with him which was more than welcome. When he met the MacKinnon’s of Skye he gave them a recipe for a whisky liqueur. This liqueur was Drambuie which has become famous all over the world.

 

This first legend is a nice one but the next I’m afraid is slightly gruesome and is known as ‘The Appin Dirk’.

It was June 1746, only a few months after Culloden, Government troops were still engaged in a frenzy of looting and burning as they carried out Cumberland’s orders. One such detachment was passing through Lochaber and Appin on their way to the barracks at Inveraray.

On one particular evening, as the troops moved through the Strath of Appin they encountered a young woman milking her cow in a nearby field. The sergeant who commanded the detachment leapt over the small wall into the field and with no warning shot the cow dead. With the cow dead he then advanced on the young woman – his intentions almost certainly dishonourable.

The young woman fought off the sergeant and ran off towards the Appin shore as he pursued her. In a last desperate attempt to make good her escape she picked up a good sized stone from the shore and hurled it at the sergeant with all her might. Whether by great accuracy or sheer luck the stone struck the sergeant square on the forehead, stunning him and knocking him to the ground. Her good shot gave her the few precious seconds she needed to make it to the shore where she knew a small boat lay moored. As the other soldiers tried to pursue her she managed to quickly row out of range and off to a small island where she sheltered for some time.

The sergeant was less fortunate, the blow had been more serious than the soldiers had at first realised. He was taken to a nearby place where they could stop for the night but as the evening wore on his condition became worse (some even said the stone itself had been cursed) and he eventually died from his wounds. The other soldiers decided to bury him in the nearby churchyard; the old churchyard of Airds and move on.

The local men were appalled that the man should seemingly contaminate their churchyard. As soon as the detachment had gone they stole into the churchyard and dug up his body. They carried him down to the sea but were stopped on the way by the brother of the young woman who had been attacked. He pulled out a knife and tore the skin from the arm of the wicked sergeant. This he took away with him. The corpse was then, with no ceremony cast into the sea.

The milkmaid’s brother dried and cured the skin and used it to make a sheath for his dirk and thus the Appin Dirk was born.

Legends of the ‘Appin Dirk’ spread around the area, becoming a symbol of the highlanders continued resistance to occupation. In 1870 the Rev. Alexander Stewart who was in the area was shown a dirk by a local man which he claimed was ‘The Appin Dirk’ He described the sheath as having a dark-brown colour, limp and soft in appearance, with no ornament except a small piece of brass at the point, and a thin edging of the same metal round the opening. Around the brass rim there was a small inscription. The initials D.M.C. and a date; 1747.

Hopefully you enjoyed these Jacobite tales and as always please like, share, comment, tweet and if you get the chance take a trip to see the Princes Flower yourself.

All the best, K & D