Monday, 4 July 2011

Fairy Dean, Melrose

Not far from Melrose is a green mossy woodland that hides a gently flowing stream, dappled with sunlight and sprinkled with ferns and nettles. It's name? The Fairy Dean. Sir Walter Scott writes this of it in The Monastery (1830):
"Another, and even a more familiar refuge of the elfin race, (if tradition is to be trusted,) is the glen of the river, or rather brook, named the Allen, which falls into the Tweed from the northward, about a quarter of a mile above the present bridge. As the streamlet finds its way behind Lord Sommerville's hunting-seat, called the Pavilion, it's valley has been popularly termed the Fairy Dean, or rather the Nameless Dean, because of the supposed ill luck attached by the popular faith of ancient times, to any one who might name or allude to the race, whom our fathers distinguished as the Good Neighbours, and the Highlanders called Daoine Shie, or Men of Peace; rather by way of compliment, than on account of any particular idea of friendship or pacific relation which either Highlander or Borderer entertained towards the irritable beings whom they thus distinguished, or supposed them to bear to humanity.
"In evidence of the actual operations of the fairy people even at this time, little pieces of calcareous matter are found in the glen after a flood, which either the labours of those tiny artists, or the eddies of the brook among the stones, have formed into a fantastic resemblance of cups, saucers, basins, and the like, in which children who gather them pretend to discern fairy utensils."
The Fairy Glen is also mentioned in 'The Home Life of Sir David Brewster' by Mrs Brown (1881) 3rd edition, it states that
"On the banks of the Elwand water, which runs into the Tweed about two miles above Melrose, there is a picturesque glen called the Fairy Dean, which has become a favourite place of resort, from it's association with the incidents in the Monastery by Sir Walter Scott."
"When the Waverley Novels were not acknowledged by their author, facts or incidents to which they referred were always welcome subjects of conversation at Abbotsford ; and on one occasion when I happened to mention that singular stones were found in the Fairy Dean, Sir Walter Scott expressed a desire to see them, and to know how they were formed. I accordingly sent some young persons to search for them in the bed of the rivulet, and I was fortunate in thus obtaining several specimens of great variety, and singular shape, and showing, very clearly, the manner in which they were formed."
Some examples of these fascinating stones are held by National Museums Scotland, and a photo of them can be found here.

After lots of driving around in circles and getting buried under the crisp white sheets of Ordinance Survey maps, we looked for somewhere to park that would hopefully lead us to the Fairy Dean. Perhaps there's an easy way into the glen, but if so, we couldn't find it! We managed to park up on a country lane and after a walk across field edges and wading through nettles, we came to a beautiful little green oasis hidden among the roughly ploughed fields, the Fairy Dean or 'Nameless Dean' to those who speak with caution and hushed tones when speaking of the fae.

Also worth a mention is the poetically named 'Fairies Bowling Green', a hill not far from the Fairy Dean. In the photo below you can see the hill peaking out over the hedgerow. Unfortunately I haven't managed to find any information on the naming of the hill, but I'm sure there's a very interesting story behind it!

I happened upon a beautiful poem titled 'Beside the Tweed' by Mary Cherry, published in Lyrics of the Open (1914):
Beside the Tweed the Gala mills
To heaven smoke,
Yet, all the way to Eildon Hills
Are fairy-folk.

From Abbotsford to Glendearg Peel
And Lauderdale,
To Leaderfoot from Ashiesteel,
Rings many a tale.

From Huntly-Burn and Rhymer's Glen
To Melrose fair,
The braes are full of fairy-men
And magic there.

Here, every oak a dryad holds,
Each burn a sprite,
And on the hills are fairy-folds
For folk at night.

Among the woods of Avenel
Tradition hides,
And all along the Elwand dell
Romance abides.

Below "The Fairies' Bowling-Green,"
The wee folk play,
And dance along the "Fairy-Dean"
Beside the way.

A mystic music haunts the air
Pan's oaten reed
And memories linger everywhere
Beside the Tweed.

Sources & Further Information
The Monastery, Walter Scott
The Home Life of sir David Brewster, Mrs Gordon
Denham tracts Vol 2, Denham
Lyrics of the Open, Mary Cherry
Fairy Stones, National Museum Scotland

Ettrick Forest Brownie

There was once a large forest in the Scottish Borders called Ettrick Forest, it was a Royal forest and the favourite hunting ground for many of the Scottish kings. It was also home to all manner of faery folk including helpful brownies and wild fearsome shellycoats. Sadly most of the forest has since been cut down and little is known of the creatures who once dwelt there, but the story of the last brownie was recorded and the legend is still told around the area. Gentleman's Magazine, volume 129, published 1821 tells this version of the tale:
"The last Brownie who haunted a wild and solitary spot in Ettrick forest, was banished by the mistaken religious notions of a foolish old devotee, who presented him with a milk porringer, and a piece of money. The parting sprite was heard to howl and cry the whole night, 'farewell to bonny Bodsbeck'."
For those who don't know, brownies are among the most helpful of faery folk and are most often encountered in farmhouses and little old cottages. Once upon a time, nearly every house had it's own brownie, who worked hard and took pride in maintaining a clean and tidy house. But when given an item of clothing, or a coin or two for their work, they vanish most suddenly and refuse to return. Some say that they take offense at the gifts, others say that brownies with money to spare and finery to wear are far too elegant for housework and leave to seek better things.

That said, brownies do have their tricksy moments and have been known to play many a practical joke on neighbouring villagers. According to Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1869 edition) the Ettrick forest brownie once disguised himself as a Shellycoat and played a practical joke on two men on the banks of the river Ettrick:
"Two men, in a very dark night, approaching the banks of the Ettrick, heard a doleful voice from its waves repeatedly exclaim - "Lost! Lost!"- They followed the sound, which seemed to be the voice of a drowing person, and, to their infinite astonishment, they found that it ascended the river. Still they continued, during a long and tempestuous night, to follow the cry of the malicious sprite; and arriving, before morning's dawn, at the very source of the river, the voice was now heard descending the opposite side of the mountain in which they arise. The fatigued and deluded travellers now relinquished the pursuit; and had no sooner done so, than they heard shellycoat applauding, in loud bursts of laughter, his successful roguery. This spirit was supposed particularly to haunt the old house of Gorrinberry, situated on the river Hermitage in Liddesdale".
The story of the Ettrick forest brownie was perhaps fuelled by the release of a book on border life called 'The Brownie of Bodsbeck and other tales' published by James Hogg in 1818 and set in the 17th Century. In this story the Brownie of Bodsbeck was thought to be a monster haunting Chapelhope, but a plot twist reveals all is not as it seems. Hogg was good friends with Walter Scott, and was also very interested in local legends, so his fictional story probably did carry true notes of local folklore. 

In 1826 Robert Chambers published his Popular Rhymes of Scotland, which included a story of a brownie that lived in a farm house in Bodsbeck. The brownie worked hard both in and out doors at the farm and Bodsbeck became the most prosperous farm in the whole district. The brownie took payment for his labour in the form of a small moderate quantity of meat when he required it. During a time of very hard working, when the Brownie had worked even harder than usual, "the goodman took the liberty of leaving out a mess of bread and milk, thinking it but fair that at a time when some improvement, both in quality and quantity, was made upon the fare of the human servants, the useful brownie certainly deserved to share in the blessing. He had calculated, however, without his guest; for the result was, that the brownie left the house for ever, exclaiming,"Ca, Brownie, Ca' A' the luck O' Bodsbeck away to Leithenha." and it is said that the brownie settled in a neighbouring farm house called Leithenhall was never seen again at his previous dwelling.

Whilst visiting the Scottish Borders I paid a visit to the Ettrick Forest area. The forest once stretched for many miles and covered a lot of this area, but now only small areas of forest remain, and these were most likely planted more recently. Magical areas are plentiful though, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are still brownies in the woods seeking new houses in local farmhouses, or instead choosing to live in the woods among the elves and gnomes.

Beware the trees with eyes....

I spotted this ball of furry roots at the side of a path, and couldn't help but imagine it growing some arms and legs and some eyes peering out between the rooty hair!

Sources & Further Information
Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 129, 1821
Minsrelsy of the Scottish Border, Walter Scott
The Brownie of Bodsbeck and Other Tales, James Hogg
Popular Rhymes of Scotland, Robert Chambers
Study of Hogg's Brownie of Bodsbeck

Cauldshiels Water Bull

A faerie location with a difference can be found at Cauldshiels Loch, south of Melrose in the Scottish Borders. Sir Walter Scott once took Washington Irving there, who wrote about the visit in his book 'Abbotford and Newstead Abbey' published 1835. He wrote:
"The most interesting circumstance connected with it, however, according to Scott, was that it was haunted by a bogle in the shape of a water bull, which lived in the deep parts, and now and then came forth upon dry land and made a tremendous roaring, that shook the very hills. This story had ben current in the vicinity from time immemorial:- there was a man living who declared he had seen the bull, - and he was believed by many of his simple neighbours." 
The water bull also gets a mention in 'The Gold of Fairnilee' by Andrew Lang, 1888. It seems to be a fictional book rather than local history, but as many folk tales end up later being seen as fictional fairy tales, I see it as worth including.
"Had not her own cousin, Andrew Tamson, passed the Cauldshiels Loch one New Year morning? And had he not heard a dreadful roaring, as if all the cattle on Faldonside Hill were routing at once? And then did he not see a great black beast roll down the hillside, like a black ball, and run into the loch, which grew white with foam, and the waves leaped up the banks like a tide rising? What could that be except the kelpie that lives in Cauldshiels Loch, and is just a muckle big water bull? "And what for should there be no water kye, if there's land kye?"
Kye is a Scottish word for cattle. The water bull seems to be a close relative of the kelpie, but possibly less dangerous, though it's best not to assume such things just incase. It definitely sounds like a faerie creature of some form, especially as it is described as a bogle taking the shape of a water bull, this sounds similar to local Northumbrian legends including the Dunnie of Hazelrigg, a sprite that takes the form of a cow and plays tricks on the locals. It is certainly not uncommon in folklore for fae creatures to take on animal form to play pranks on humans. That said, the water bull at Cauldshiels does not seem to interact with humans in the stories told of it, making it somewhat of a mystery.

Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Voulume VI, by Campbell (1890), contains further information on water bulls, and claims that "there is a water-bull in nearly every Scotch loch of any note" and that Loch Ness is full of them. He says that the water bulls breed with farming cows, who give birth to "'corcach', short eared, a cross between the water-full and a land-cow. They are easily known. no one has ever seen a water-cow." He also tells of a story where a water-bull saves a young lady from a water-horse. The full story can be read online at the Sacred Texts website and is also found in Brigg's Dictionary of Fairies. 

James Mackinlay has included some water bull tales in his book "Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs" (1893). He writes that the calves of water-bull can be identified by their "unusual size and pendulousness of their ears and the wide aquatic spread of their jet black hoofs; the foals, in their clean limbs, large flashing eyes, red distended nostrils, and fiery spirit." One tale in this book states that water bull can only be harmed by silver, and he tells of "a farmer who employed his sons to search a certain stream for one of these creatures, while the farmer himself carried a gun loaded with sixpences to be discharged when the monster appeared, silver alone having any effect on such beasts". He gives MacCulloch, the author of 'A description of the Western Islands of Scotland', as the source for this very strange story that suggests not all water bulls are entirely docile.  

So along I went to Cauldshiels Loch, hoping to catch a glimpse of the water bull, though from a very safe distance of course. The Loch is surrounded by beautiful woodlands and rolling Scottish hills, and the shape of the landscape does lead to somewhat of an echo near the loch, the noise of the cattle on the hill was a lot louder than you'd expect to hear, so perhaps this partly explains the thunderous roaring the water bull is said to make.

There stood a lone cow at the side of the loch, perhaps a calf of the water bull hoping to catch a glimpse of their father.

Sources & Further Information
Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey, Washington Irving
The Gold of Fairnilee, Andrew Lang
Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Campbell
A Dictionary of Fairies, Katharine Briggs
Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, Mackinlay
Cauldshiels Loch, Get-A-Map Website