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.

spider

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.

 

ruin

 

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 week at Culloden

 

This week we have a guest post from our S5 work experience student! Hope you enjoy:

After spending a week completing work experience in the educational sector of Culloden Battlefield centre, I have broadened my understanding of this particular historical profession as well as enriching my knowledge of the battle that has deeply influenced the Highlands. Initially I was apprehensive but was immediately reassured by the friendly welcome I received from every member of staff. The atmosphere throughout the week was great and everyone I worked with was extremely positive and motivational; making me feel like the work I was doing was valued. With little knowledge of what happened at the battle when I began, I found that I learned so quickly by immersing myself in this environment.

Throughout the week I worked on a project in which I created a database cataloguing the handling objects that were being stored at the centre. Through this, I learned so much about the way of life of both the Jacobites and the Government soldiers and discovered some fascinating objects. This also gave me an insight into the nature of a curatorial profession.

I was also given the opportunity to shadow the volunteers who carried out presentations for the public. This was a very interesting experience and I was inspired by their fascination and love for the history of the site.

Throughout the week, there was also an archaeology workshop which I had the opportunity to observe, adding a more light-hearted element- yet still educational- to the day and showing me the versatility of a historical profession.

I also helped to find evidence in response to a research enquiry which involved the use of historical books which was extremely interesting and gave me an indication of the nature of historical research; something I will inevitably use if I study History at University. In addition to this, I researched a segment of the Jacobite army, the Royal Ecossaise, which was particularly fascinating for me as it referred to the involvement of French soldiers: I have French/British nationality. I created a summary of their involvement through the use of historical books for research.

Overall this week has hugely increased my knowledge of the battle, which was such a fundamental part of Scottish History, as well as developing my researching skills. However, the experience was dependant on the support and guidance of the members of the team whose passion and knowledge was an inspiration to me and has secured my ambition to continue studying history.

 

Blue Men, the Bean-Nighe and a Brownie….

We had a look at some of Scotlands mythical creatures earlier this year with our post on Kelpies & Selkies and it proved quite popular so, we thought we’d have a look at some more of this countries folk and fairy tales for you to enjoy.

Firstly, the Blue Men of Minch.

Also known as Storm Kelpies these mythological creatures inhabit the stretch of water between the northern Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland. Apart from their blue colour they look much the same as humans but have the power to create storms. It is said they search for stricken boats they can sink and drown the sailors. When they spot a ship they approach and shout two lines of poetry to the captain and challenge him to complete the verse. If the captain fails then the blue men will capsize the ship and drown all those onboard.

Little_Minch
Little Minch where the Blue Men of Minch are found

 

The Blue Men appear to be very localised and are largely unknown in other parts of Scotland. Some believe the men may have been part of a tribe of fallen angels that split into three. The first part became the ground dwelling fairies, the second became the blue men in the sea and the rest became the dancers in the sky creating the Northern Lights.

From the Blue Men of Minch to the Bean-Nighe.

Bean-nighe
The Bean-Nighe

 

Bean nighe is Gaelic for ‘washer woman’ and the Bean-Nighe is a woman who wanders deserted streams where she washes the blood from the grave clothes of those who are about to die. She is often small in stature, typically dressed in green and has webbed feet. She is seen as an omen of death and a messenger from the ‘Otherworld’. Those who see her are destined to die shortly after meeting her. Similar stories of a washerwoman at a ford appear in Wales and Ireland though not so much in England. Some believe the Bean-Nighe is the spirit of a woman who died giving birth and who is doomed to do this work until the day her life would have normally ended.

Finally, something slightly more cheery; the Brownie.

Brownie
Brownie

Brownies are considered to be good-natured, invisible brown elves who live in farmhouses and other country dwellings in Scotland. They are said to have rather flat faces with pinhole nostrils and are not very attractive overall but their happy smiles and cheerful character make up for this. They are known to be protective creatures and often become attached to a certain family. While the family sleeps the Brownie will perform tasks and help the family in their work. However, if they are offered payment for their services or if they are treated badly, they disappear and are never seen again. Children, with their innocent nature, are believed to be able to see brownies whereas disbelieveing adults will never even catch a glimpse. Interestingly, in the UK, the younger version of the Girl Guides are called Brownies after this creature due to their friendly, helpful ways.

Hopefully you enjoyed this foray into the mythical creatures again. As always please share, tweet, like, follow and if you have any special mythical creatures from your country please share them with us.

All the best, K & D

 

Two Little Gems of History

The great thing about working at Culloden Battlefield is discovering all the different connections people and places have to the site as it’s influence and story reaches across many different and unexpected places.

Today we’ve picked two little gems from a couple of properties nearby that show different aspects of the Culloden story. Firstly to Hugh Millers Birthplace just across the water on the Black Isle.

An exterior view of Hugh Miller's Cottage, Cromarty.
Hugh Miller’s Cottage

Hugh Miller was a well known geologist in the 19th Century but it is his grandfather who provides the connection to Culloden having witnessed the Battle of Culloden from the Hill of Cromarty when he was a boy of fourteen. His grandfather told of the day being drizzly and thick and when he climbed the hill he found many townsfolk already assembled. A little after noon a round white cloud rose from Culloden Moor and then a second beside it. He  talks of hearing the rattle of smaller fire-arms mingled with the roar of artillery. Then, after what felt like an exceedingly short space of time, the clouds dissipated and the rattle and roar was replaced with the sharp patter of musketry.

Miller also talks of another story told to him by a woman who on the day of the battle was tending sheep. She sat listening to the boom of the cannon in terror but talks of being still more scared by the howling of her dog who sat upright on his haunches the whole time the firing continued reportedly ‘looking as if he saw a spirit.’

Hugh Miller

During his life Miller also spoke with at least two soldiers who fought at Culloden, one on the government side, the other the Jacobite. The first, a forester, accompanied the government army to Fort Augustus and spoke of the atrocities he saw; some of which still made his blood boil seventy years later. He talked of scores of cottages in flames and droves of cattle brought in from Highlanders lands. At one point he mentions there must have been about twenty thousand cattle and groups of drovers from Yorkshire and the south of Scotland would come in every day to share in the spoil and buy the cattle at greatly reduced prices.

These accounts of the battle are incredibly special and show the impact the event had on the Highland that they were shared down the generations for years to come. Storied like these help give a personal insight to the battle and the events that took place here almost 270 years ago.

From accounts of the battle we now move to something more modern and to the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore.

Recently most people will probably have heard of this place in terms of Outlander as it featured in the TV series where they filmed the ladies ‘waulking the wool’. However, also on its grounds stands a Tin Tabernacle – ‘a temporary church’, in this case made from corrugated iron – that was previously situated on land that once formed part of Culloden Battlefield.

Leanach Mission Church

The building in question is Leanach Mission Church which was erected in 1907 to serve both the Church of Scotland and Free Church congregations. The church original sat in the crossroads beside the battlefield and was used by the local community. Originally supplied in kit form by Spiers of Glasgow, the church is listed as having cost £260 when it was first built. In the 1950s the services at Leanach Church were attended by 20 to 30 people, however, by the 1980s the church had become redundant and so was acquired by the Highland Folk Museum as the first of many ‘historical rural buildings’ to be re-erected on the museum’s site. The pulpit, organ and communion table have all been retained as original features in the wooden-clad interior of the church and it is great to have the original church kept safe as another point of history in the Culloden story.

These are just two short examples of the story and importance of Culloden being shared and preserved but there are countless more throughout the world. Hopefully we will share some more stories but for now we hope you enjoyed this little insight and as always please like, follow, comment, tweet and share your own Culloden stories.

All the best K & D