Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Loch Venachar Kelpie

Loch Venachar, or Vennacher as it's also known, was once home to a terrible beast, said by the locals to be a Waterhorse or Kelpie. The exact date of its first appearance seems to be unknown, but Graham wrote of it in 1806 in his book 'Sketches descriptive of Picturesque Scenery on the Southern Confines of Perthshire'. He wrote:
"Every lake had its kelpie, or water-horse, often seen by the shepherd, as he sat in a summer's evening, upon the brow of a rock, dashing along the surface of the deep, or browsing on the pasture ground, on its verge. Often did this malignant genius of the waters allure women and children to his subaqueous haunts, there to be immediately devoured. A most disastrous event of this kind is still current in tradition concerning the waterhorse of Lochvenachar. Often did he also swell the torrent or lake, beyond its usual limits, to overwhelm the hapless traveller in the flood."
The Each Uisge is was also written of by John Leyden when he visited the area in the year 1800. He wrote the following in his book 'Journal of a tour in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland in 1800':
"Our guide informed us that the people of the vale had been a good deal alarmed by the appearance of that unaccountable being the waterhorse (Each Uisge) during the spring, which had not been seen there since the catastrophe of Corlevrann, the wood of woe, when he carried into the loch fifteen children who had broken Pace Sunday. I made enquiries concerning the habits of the animal, and was only able to learn that its colour was brown, that it could speak, and that its motion agitated the lake with prodigious waves, and that it only emerged in the hottest midday to be on the bank."
A quick google search revealed that 'Pace Sunday' usually refers to Passover (or sometimes Easter), though I can't find any references to the phrase 'broken Pace Sunday. Perhaps it means that they ate leavened food during Passover when they weren't supposed to? If someone recognises this phrase I would be intrigued to know.

Leyden refered to the kelpie incident as the "catastrophe of Corlevrann, the wood of woe", but I cannot find any place with that name nearby. However, there is a place on the Ordinance Survey map on the northern shore named Coille a' Bhroin. According to Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1896 edition), "A wooded bank on the N shore bears the name of Coillebhroine ('wood of lamentation'), from a legend of a malignant water-kelpie". Coille a' Bhroin also appears on a map dated 1866 on the Old Maps website. So it does seem that the Coille a' Bhroin on the OS maps is the location of the woods where the kelpie incident occurred.

'The Enchantment of the Trossachs' by Stott (1992) claims that the kelpie "seized some young children who bathed in the Loch. To this day, the wood at this point is called the wood of lamentation." So it appears that the wood was named in memory of this tragic event. It is sad that it lies forgotten in modern times and that there are no signs relating the story to those who park in the carpark opposite, unaware of the tragedy that happened only a few steps away, and the danger that lurks beneath the waves lapping at their toes.

Sources & Further Information
Sketches descriptive of Picturesque Scenery on the Southern Confines of Perthshire, Graham
Journal of a tour in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland in 1800, Leyden
Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, Groome
The Enchantment of the Trossachs, Stott
The Lore of Scotland, Westwood & Kingshill
Historical Perspective for Venachar, Loch
Old Maps Website, Loch Venachar

The Fairy Hills of Strathyre

Not far from Balquhidder is the picturesque village of Strathyre, with Beinn an t-Sidhein towering above, also known as the Faery Mountain. According to the In Callander Website, "Strictly speaking, Beinn an t-Sidhein is only partly a faery hill, despite the name. It has a knoll-shoulder on the south side called An Sidhean which is the faery hill and which is part of Beinn an t-Sidhein."

The fairy hill also gets a mention in Margaret Bennett's essay 'Balquhidder Revisted' from 'Good People, New Fairylore Essays' (1991) by Peter Narvaez. The author spoke to a 90 year old local lady, named Mrs Macgregor in the essay, who mentions Beinn an t-Sidhein as a fairy hill. She fondly recalls the days when it was bare of trees, before the Forestry Commission covered it in trees, a move that seems to have been unpopular with the locals.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any stories as to how the hill became associated with the faeries, but would love to hear from anyone who can shed light on this matter. Below are some views of Beinn an t-Sidhein, taken from the village.

On the opposite side of the glen can be found another faery hill, Cnoc an t-Sidhein, also known as the Faery Knoll. This little wooded knoll is now the site of the village war memorial, but tucked away behind the knoll is a beautiful little stream with mossy banks, perhaps the original site of the fairies. When you reach the fork in the path, take the right fork to venture up the Faery Knoll, or the left path to the river....

There is another fairy hill marked on the Ordinance Survey maps for Strathyre, 'Sidheag'. It is located along the river below Beinn an t-Sidhein but I'm not sure where exactly as the contours of the landscape are hidden deep beneath the trees and braken. I think Sidheag is somewhere around here though!!

As with my previous entry, I haven't managed to find much information about these hills, but hope the information I have given is correct and that I have taken photos of the right hills! Unfortunately I lack multiple sources to check the information against and only have the Ordinance Survey map to go by on this entry, so please feel free to add a comment if you have any further information or have spotted a mistake! :)

Sources & Further Information
Balquhidder Revisited, Margaret Bennett
Good People. New Fairylore Essays, P Narvaez
In Callander Website, Fairies and Fairy Knolls and Hills

Tom-nan-Aingeal, Balquhidder

I'm taking a brief pause from my updates on the faeries of Dartmoor, to write of my adventures this past week in Aberfoyle and the surrounding Trossachs area. I hope to finish writing up my Dartmoor adventures soon though, I still have a few stories left to tell, I just haven't finished the research yet! So this past week, my partner and I have been wandering around the very rainy and autumnal Trossachs. The main reason for my wanderings was to visit Tom-nan-Aingeal, the Knoll of Fire, on one of the two days of the year it was seen as most special and magical, Samhain. The other being Beltane. Elizabeth Beauchamp explains more in 'The Braes O' Balquhidder' (1981), she describes it was a landmark traditionally associated with the pre-Christian days, and writes:
"In early days, and, it seems, right up until perhaps the beginning of the 19th century, twice a year, on the first of May and the first of November a fire was lit on Tom-nan-Aingeal. All other fires in the village were put out and up the folk went to the knoll of the fire to receive new fire to rekindle their hearths. This knoll probably had Druid associations."
The exact date given for the Balquhidder Samhain celebrations does seem to vary, with some sources saying the Samhain celebrations were held on the 31st October, and others saying 1st November. As you might have already guessed, the Knoll of Fire is also associated with the fairies. Balquhidder itself is described by some as a 'thin place', where the veil between this world and the otherworld is particularly thin, perhaps allowing the faery folk to pass between worlds. It is also worth a mention that the Reverend Robert Kirk, writer of the 'Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies', was minister of the church located next to Tom-nan-Aingeal, and in his manuscript wrote:
"There Be manie places called Fayrie hills, which the mountain people think impious and dangerous to peel or discover, by taking earth or wood from them; superstitiously beleiving the souls of their predecessors to dwell yr. And for that end (say they) a Mote or Mound was dedicated beside everie Church-yard, to receave the souls, till their adjacent Bodies arise, and so became as a Fayrie-hill. They using bodies of air when called abroad."
He does not mention the Tom-nan-Aingeal mound at Balquhidder where he was once minister, but as that mound is located a short way behind the church and is said locally to be a fairy hill, perhaps it was this church and mound he had in mind while righting this, we can only speculate. For more information on Robert Kirk and the Fairies, please see my previous entries on Balquhidder, Aberfoyle Church, and Doon Hill.

The main source for information connecting the knoll with the fairies is an essay titled 'Balquhidder Revisted' written by Margaret Bennett and published in 'Good People, New Fairylore Essays' (1991) by Peter Narvaez. Margaret talked to the people of Balquhidder and collected their stories, including those of local children, and a 90 year old lady, refered to in the essay as Mrs MacGregor. She said that she believed that Robert Kirk would go out there to the fairy hill near the church in Balquhidder, and to Strathyre as well. The author, when visiting the local school, was told by a child that "I heard that there was a fairy mound up the back behind the church... it sounds hollow there, like it's empty inside." Other children agreed and said that it is "different to other places" which don't have the same hollow sound when you tap it, and that it is "very special.. where the fairies live". The children described the fairies as small, the size of your finger or thumb, and like themselves but smaller, and looking like ordinary people but wearing kilts. Interestingly, Robert Kirk himself described the fairies as "Their apparell and speech is like that of the people and countrey under which they live: so are they seen to wear plaids and variegated garments in the high-lands of Scotland". One child goes into further detail and describes them as wearing the local MacLaren tartan and suggests that perhaps the fairies are the spirits of the MacLarens who once lived in the area. Which also seems eerily similar to theories written by Robert Kirk. Further information is given in this essay, but it would be unfair of me to quote too much of it, and I encourage those interested to purchase a copy of the book.

The book contains a photo of the fairy knowe, but until I visited the mound myself I was unsure of the actual location. Tom-nan-Aingeal has a very obvious gravestone on the top, of a past reverend of the church, and this did not feature in the photograph in the book. But once at the mound I came to the conclusion that the photo is taken from near the gravestone and looking towards the river, though it's difficult to be sure as there are no obvious landmarks in the photo. It was a very damp day when we visited, and I did gently tap the hill a few times but it was so covered with damp leaves that it was hard to tell if it did indeed seem hollow or not. Hopefully I've jumped to the right conclusion and this is indeed the fairy hill refered to in local stories, but if any locals are reading this and can confirm or correct me, I'd be very grateful for your input and comments!

Sources & Further Information
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies, Robert Kirk
The Braes O' Balquhidder, Elizabeth Beauchamp
Balquhidder Revisited, Margaret Bennett
Good People. New Fairylore Essays, P Narvaez
The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex, Brian Walsh