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