Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Fairy Women of Llyn Barfog, North Wales

I've been a very lucky lady and have spent a sunny week in beautiful North Wales in search of the Tylwyth Teg, the Fair Family of Wales. This first entry concentrates on a beautiful secluded loch known locally as Llyn Barfog. John Pughe in an article in Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol IV (1853) describes the Llyn as "one of the many communications between this outward world of ours and the inner one of Annwn - the unknown world - the dominion of Gwyn ap Nudd, the mythic king of the fabled realm, peopled by those children of mystery, Plant Annwn.

Pughe paints a beautiful picture of the magic of the Llyn, relating information passed to him by Thomas Abergraes, a "shrewd old hill farmer" well skilled in local folklore. He told the author:
"In years gone by, though when, exactly, he was too young to remember, those dames [Gwragedd Annwn - fairy women of lakes] were wont to make their appearance, arrayed in green, in the neighbourhood of Llyn Barfog, chiefly at eventide, accompanied by their kine and hounds, and that on quiet summer nights in particular, these ban-hounds were often to be heard in full cry pursuing their prey - the souls of doomed men dying without baptism and penance - along the upland township of Cefnrhosucha. Many a farmer had a sight of their comely milk-white kine ; many a swain had his soul turned to romance and poesy by a sudden vision of themselves in the guise of damsels arrayed in green, and radiant in beauty and erace; and many a sportsman had his path crossed by their white hounds of super-natural fleetness and comeliness, the Cwn Annwn; but never had any one been favoured with more than a passing view of either, till an old farmer residing at Dyssymant, in the adjoining valley of Dyffryn Owyn, became at last the lucky captor of one of their milk-white kine."
"The acquaintance which the Gwartheg y Llyn, the kine of the lake, had formed with the farmer's cattle, like the loves of the angels for the daughters of men, became the means of capture; and the farmer was thereby enabled to add the mystic cow to his own herd, an event in all cases believed to be most conducive to the worldly prosperity of him who should make so fortunate an acquisition. Never was there such a cow, never such calves, never such milk and butter, or cheese, and the fame of the Fuwch Gyfeillion, the stray cow, was soon spread abroad through that central part of Wales known as the district of Rhwng yddwy Afon"
But alas his wealth had gone to his head and he soon forgot the importance of his elfin Cow, and fearing that she was now becoming too old to be of profit to him, he fattened her up to send to the butcher. A beautiful fat beast she became and at last the day of slaughter came and neighbours crowded from miles around to witness the slaughter of such a magnificent beast. The butcher bared his arms and raised the knife, but before he could harm the beast his arm became paralysed and the knife dropped from his hand and fell harmlessly to the floor.
"The whole company was electrified by a piercing cry that awakened echo in a dozen hills, and made the welkin ring again; and lo and behold! the whole assemblage saw a female figure clad in green, with uplifted arms, standing on one of the craigs overhanging Llyn Barfog, and heard her calling with a voice loud as thunder:-
"Dere di velen Einion,
Cym Cvveiliorn - braith y Llyn,
A'r voel Dodin,
Codwch, dewch adre"
"Come yellow Anvil, stray horns.
Speckled one of the lake,
and of the hornless Dodin,
Arise, come home."
"And no sooner were these words of power uttered than the original lake cow, and all her progeny to the third and fourth generations, were in full flight towards the heights of Llyn Barfog, as if pursued by the evil one. Self-interest quickly roused the farmer, who followed in pursuit, till breathless and panting he gained an eminence overlooking the lake, but with no better success than to behold the green attired dame leisurely descending mid-lake, accompanied by the fugitive cows and their calves formed in a circle around her, they tossing their tails, she waving her hands in a scorn as much to say, "You may catch us, my friend, if you can," as they disappeared beneath the dark waters of the lake, leaving only the yellow water lily to mark the spot where they vanished and to perpetuate the memory of this strange event."
The author tells that the greedy farmer soon became impoverish, and few felt pity for such a greedy man who so quickly forgot the wonderful and magical favour he had once recieved from the fairies.

Pughe also tells of further legends of the Llyn, including the Arthurian legend of the Afanc y Llyn, which some believe to have taken place here at Llyn Barfog. There is said to be a rock here that bears the hoof print of Arthur's horse as it dragged the beast from the Llyn. More on this story and directions on finding the Llyn can be found on the Glyn-yr-Aur Website. It is also said to be unlucky and perilous to "let the waters out of the lake".

So off we (My partner and I and a waterproof OS map!) wandered to find this beautiful and mystical Llyn, tucked away and hidden from the world. Unfortunately the weather wasn't in our favour and we got half way up the hill when the skies opened up and poured what felt like the entire contents of the Llyn on our heads! I managed to sneak a few photos between showers though, and although I didn't spot any fairy cattle there were no shortage of sheep at the edges of the Llyn, so perhaps the fairies are keeping sheep these days instead! :)
 Sources and Further Information
Gwragedd Annwn, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol IV, John Pughe
British Goblins, Wirt Sikes
Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx , John Rhys
Glyn Yr Aur Website, Llyn Barfog
Mysterious Britain Website, Llyn Barfog

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Broadford Fairy Knoll, Isle of Skye

Beauty can sometimes be found in the most unexpected of places, and the same can definitely be said of fairy sites. Within a couple of minutes walk of the busy town centre of Broadford can be found a grassy and magical little knoll, covered in delicate wild flowers and wildly knotted blackberry vines. Beneath the knoll hides a deeper secret, that of the ancient dead. 'The Gentleman's Magazine' of 1841 gives further details of this fascinating site...
"The discovery [of chambers inside] was made by a poor girl, who related the circumstance to me as follows. One day, when she was sitting on the Cairn, some of the earth near her suddenly gave way, and fell in; presently a large stone followed, -- revealing, to her great surprise and alarm, a dark hole, and showing that the Cairn whereon she had been sitting was hollow. She ran and communicated her discovery to some men; who first threw some stones into the cavern, and then descended."
(Drawing from The Gentleman's Magazine of 1841)

Descriptions of what they found inside the tomb seem to vary but most seem to agree that human bones were found, together with the remains of a stone coffin. According to the young girl she also saw an amber bead, and the sign near the cairn mentions a green stone archer's wristguard but the Gentlemen's magazine seems to suggest that this was found at another cairn.

No mention of fairies was made in this article, but MacCulloch does mention in 'the Misty Isle of Skye' (1905) that several places in Skye are noted as haunts of the fairy folk, including "a fairy knowe close by the Inn at Broadford." Swire also mentions the fairies in 'Skye: The Island and It's Legend' (1961) and writes that "fairy music used often to be heard in Broadford, on the fairy knoll near the hotel. On the little promontory where Sutherland's garage now stands, fairies could be seen dancing. Whether they still do so, in and out of the petrol pumps, is not known."

Whether all sources are speaking of the same grassy knoll I'm not entirely sure, but the Liveras chambered tomb has an undeniable atmosphere of mystery about it. Although the knoll is relatively small, the dense vegetation and clambering blackberry vines make exploration very difficult, and no matter which direction you approach from and which path you try to follow, you never seem to find yourself any further up the hill! I hope the photos below manage to capture the wonder of this beautiful place...

Sources & Further Information
The Misty Isle of Skye, MacCulloch
The Gentleman's Magazine, 1832
Skye: The Island and It's Legend, Swire
The Modern Antiquarian, Liveras Chambered Tomb

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Loch nan Dubhrachan Water Horse, Isle of Skye

Now for something a little more chilling. In modern times Kelpies and Water Horses are often portrayed as beautiful and kindly creatures, but in days long past their reputation was not so pleasant. These creatures were greatly feared and their sightings brought terror and horror to local people, who would hide their children indoors lest the Kelpies took them away forever. They had the powers to rise from the water in human form, and some would seize their prey and drag them beneath the waves, and others would prey in human form and drink the blood of their victim. Some disguised themselves as old women and would knock on the door of a lonesome bothy, pleading for shelter from the cold. If a young maiden was foolish enough to let the old woman in it is unlikely she would ever wake the following morning. Some Kelpies would disguise themselves as a handsome young man, so young maidens were warned to never go near a man with seaweed or shells in his hair, lest he drag them to their doom.

Loch nan Dubhrachan is a dark and brooding loch close to the road side between Isle Ornsay and Knock on the Isle of Skye, and was once said to be tenanted by a water-horse. According to MacCulloch's 'The Misty Isle of Skye' (1905) the water-horse had a perchant for pretty girls, but they did not like his attentions. This creature caused so much fear that in 1870 it is said that an attempt was made to catch the beast and end it's reign of terror. An account of the hunt was published by Alasdair MacGregor in 'Somewhere in Scotland' (1935). The entire account can be found here on the Comann nan Each-uisge Website. Another account can be found in MEM Donaldson's "Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands (1920), and can also be found on the Comann nan Each-uisge Website. Swire gives name to the beast in "Skye: The Island and it's Legend" (1961), refering to it as the 'Beast of the Little Horn'.

According to folklore great provisions were made for this hunting of the Waterhorse, with children being freed from school for the day, and people coming from far and wide to join in with the hunt. According to Donaldson's account vast quantities of alcohol were consumed too, which could explain a lot! He tells that two boats were brought along and a net was stretched between them to be dragged along the loch, but the net caught in a snag and "the majority of the spectators, thinking that the water-horse was indeed enmeshed, in terror rushed for their houses and carts or fled precipitately from the scene. Beside the snag, all that was caught on this occassion was two pike, so that the fisherman who aspires to a catch out of the common still has chance of the water-horse."

MacGregor's account published in 1935 comes from a man named John MacRae, who as a boy witnessed the hunt for the water-horse. He tells that the hunt began after a cattleman and his wife observed a small, black object on the shore of the loch. At first the cattleman thought it to be one of a farmer's cows that had drowned and washed ashore but as he neared the beast it "swam out with his head below water, putting little waves ashore." MacRae tells how the people were terrified and believed it to be the 'each-uisge' so Lord MacDonald said he would dredge the loch, and hence the hunt began.

After a short scramble through overgrown bushes I came across the loch, a dark and forboding place. The water appears dark and brooding, and the undergrowth is brittle and skeletal. No flowers bloomed or birds sung, this is not a welcoming place. We didn't stay long.

Sources & Further Information
Skye: The Island and it's Legend, Swire
Somewhere in Scotland, Alasdair MacGregor
The Misty Isle of Skye, MacCulloch
Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands, Donaldson
Comann nan Each-uisge

An Sithean, Isle of Skye

I apologise for the very long delay in putting any new blog entries up, I haven't stopped my adventuring, I just found a new job so the adventuring has been a little less often and nearer to home lately. I did however make it across to the Scottish West coast in April to celebrate my 30th Birthday, and visited many fairy sites over that lovely sunny week, so i'll try and update my blog with those photos over the coming weeks and maybe we can try and convince the sun to come back out again :)

I'll begin with a lovely green grassy knoll on Skye known as Aant Sithe or An Sithean. According to Swine's "Skye: The Island and it's Legends' (1961): "This, as it's name implies, is a fairy place. On clear moonlight nights the fairies can be seen dancing on the grass that surrounds the central stone and anyone approaching quietly and with a receptive mind may hear the wonderful strains of fairy music issuing from the ground. What the mound was before it was a fairy dwelling is something of a mystery. In the centre of the summit stands a large stone, perhaps once a 'standing-stone' but not closely resembling a broken tooth. Round it is a ring of grass, and then a ring of stone much overgrown."

There are a great many magical places on Skye, but there are few more magical and mysterious than here. The scattering of grey rocks and boulders appear random, but have the definite feeling of a purpose about them, though long forgotten apart from on the OS map where it is marked as a 'chambered cairn'. I listened very carefully and peeked beneath the rocks but unfortunately didn't manage to catch a glimpse of fae, or hear any whispered notes of fairy songs. As I left a hooded crow took perch upon the central stone, a fitting guardian indeed for such a magical place.

An Sithean is easy to find, sitting just off the B8083 heading out from Broadford. The chambered cairn remains sit at the base of the hill marked on the OS map as 'An Sidhean', with the top of the hill being set much further back from the road. However from Swine's description it seems that the rocky part with the standing stone was once thought to be the fairy hill itself, so i'm not entirely sure which part the fairies are said to live in. The photos above cover the cairn hill itself and the surrounding stones and area.

Sources and Further Information
Skye: The Island and it's Legends, Swine (1961)
The Modern Antiquarian, An Sithean

Friday, 27 January 2012

Sad news

I've just heard the very sad news that Thomas Samoht, author of the Westcountry Folklore blog, has sadly passed away. He will be sorely missed by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him in the folklore community. His blog has been such an inspiration and a wonderful source of knowledge, and his passion for folklore truly brought his tales to life, and he certainly had plenty of strange and fascinating westcountry tales to tell! Thomas was always happy to lend a hand and share his knowledge whenever I had trouble finding a source or tracking down the origins of a story, and without his help I wouldn't have found nearly as many interesting faery places to visit in Dartmoor last summer!! You will be missed Thomas, and the Faery Folklore of the UK group won't be the same without you. My thoughts are with his wife, daughter, and family at this very sad time.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Corrie of the Urisks, Trossachs

"By many a bard, in Celtic tongue,
Has Coire-nan-Uriskin been sung;
A softer name the Saxons gave,
And call'd the grot the Goblin-cave,

Gray Superstition's whisper dread
Debarr'd the spot to vulgar tread;
For there, she said, did fays resort,
And satyrs hold their sylvan court."
- Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott
Located next to Loch Katrine and situated at the side or base of Ben Venue, can be found the Corrie of the Urisks. It goes by many names, Coirre nan Uriskin, Coire na Uruisgean, Coir-n'an-Uriskin, Cove of the Goblin, Cove of the Satyrs, Cove of the Fairies, Den of the Ghosts, Den of the Wild Men, The Goblin's Cave, the names are quite possibly endless. To add to the mystery, the location of the site itself also seems to vary, with some refering to it as being at the base of Ben Venue, others saying it can be found on the side of the mountain, some say it is a cave, and others say it is a cove formation in the rocks. To add to the confusion even more, there is a sign post on the walk along the edge of Loch Katrine that points out some rocks that are also home to Urisks, and it's completely on the opposite side of the loch to where the Ordnance Survey map marks the cove as being. The sign refers to the corrie as being "near here" but gives no further directions.

'An historical account of the settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America prior to the peace of 1783' by John MacLean (1900) includes an illustration of the Coire-nan-Uriskin that can be seen here and describes the cove as being "situated near the base of Ben Venue", and a sketch of Coire nan Uriskin drawn in 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner can be seen here on the Tate Collection website.

Most agree that the habitants of the cove are Urisks, usually said to be furry goat-like creatures, similar to Brownies. Patrick Graham describes the cove in his 'Sketches of Perthshire' (1806):
"Ben Venue is rendered venerable in the superstition of the natives, by the celebrated Coirre nan Uriskin (the cove or recess of goblins) situated on the northern side of the mountain, and overhanging the lake in gloomy grandeur. The urisks were a sort of lubberly supernaturals, who, like the Brownies of England could be gained over by kind attentions, to perform the drudgery of the farm; and it was believed that many families in the Highlands had one of their order attached to it. They were supposed to be dispersed over the Highlands, each in his own wild recess; but the solemn stated meetings of the order were regularly held in this cave of Ben Venue."
In William Wilson's 'The Trossachs in Literature and Tradition' (1908) he quotes a 'Mr Ferguson' who offers a theory for the naming of the cove:
"The Urisks, I think, were the remnants of the Druids, driven into the wilds and persecuted by a rival religion, the Fingalian. The Urisks would be clothed in sheep or goat-skins, hence their 'hairy appearance, having a figure between a goat and a man.'"
William Stirling, in 'Notes, historical and descriptive, on the priory of Inchmahome' (1815) traces the Urisks back to the story of the Fairies of Menteith, writing that " in recompence of their Herculian toils, unfinished as they were, gave them a grant of the northern shoulder of one of his mountains, Ben-Venu. We are thus enabled so far to trace the history of the Urisks, previous to their settlement in this romantic district of the Monteath estate." (Blog entry on the Monteith Fairies coming soon!).

When in the Trossachs, we viewed the Corrie of the Urisks from the opposite side of Loch Katrine. However, Stott's 'Enchantment of the Trossachs' (1992) tells that you can reach it by a rough footpath from the Loch Achray Hotel, but alas we ran out of time and didn't get a chance to attempt that walk.

Before reaching the Corrie we came across this well illustrated Urisk information display...

According to the sign, Urisks still live under these rocks....

We walked further around the loch until we could finally see the Corrie of the Urisks. I can't be sure that the location I've interpreted as the Corrie is correct, and would be happy to receive any feedback on this, I've identified it using the location given on the Ordinance Survey map, and believe the corrie to be the rock valley formation in the side of the hill, or possibly a cove at the base, from this distance it was difficult to see too much detail in the rocks. Of this however I'm sure, there's definitely no shortage of rocks and crevices for Urisks to hide between!

Sources & Further Information
Lady of the Lake, Walter Scott
An historical account of the settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America prior to the peace of 1783, John MacLean
Sketches of Perthshire, Patrick Graham
The Trossachs in Literature and Tradition, William Wilson
Notes, historical and descriptive, on the priory of Inchmahome, William Stirling
Enchantment of the Trossachs, Louis Stott

Loch Chon, Trossachs

I hope you all had a wonderful winter, and I apologise for the delay in adding the rest of my Trossach adventures! If any of you happen to use facebook, i'd like to invite you to join the 'Faery Folklore of the UK' group, a wonderful and friendly place to discuss fairy folklore, share stories and photos, and chit chat about folkloric things. Open to all, everyone welcome!

Next on my journey in the Trossachs was a visit to Loch Chon. It is perhaps best known for its resident kelpie or water-monster, but according to one source there are more faeries living at Loch Chon than anywhere else in the world! Well worth a visit then.

Louis Stott writes in 'Enchantments of the Trossachs' (1992), quoting Robertson's 'Selected Highland Folk Tales' (1961), and relates "a macabre folk-tale about a water-monster in Loch Chon, the dog loch. The story is about the murder of a young boy by a tinker who threw the lad into the loch where he was taken by a monster shaped like a dog." Stott continues, "A recent visitor to the spot had a vision of the same incident."

Further on in the book, Stott tells of how the loch became home to the fairies after they were banished from Menteith (blog on Menteith coming soon!), he writes that "some crossed over to the west of the River Forth, others went to the north, to live in the solitude of Balquhidder and Lochearnhead. The rest moved into the upper reaches of Strathard, which is why there are more faeries living at Loch Chon than anywhere else in the world."

Loch Chon is well sign posted and has it's own carpark, with a gravel track leading further into the trees and towards the loch. The path seems to vanish rather quickly and you're left with a few muddy paths to follow, some leading to the edge of the loch and others into the wooded areas.

We arrived at the loch approaching dusk, and found an eerie misty fog floating above the lake. The silence was extraordinary, not a sound for miles, and the loch was deathly still.

The shores of the loch are scattered with circles of rocks and burnt driftwood, the remains of camp fires. Deserted and forgotten, it's such a lonely place at dusk.

As time was getting on and dusk approaching, we bid farewell and returned a couple of days later when light was more plentiful. We decided to wander further into the wooded area, and found an enchanting abundance of fungus and mosses, all delicate and pretty...

.... and some less pretty, and more slimy and rather strange looking....
We found a mossy green tree throne, or the king of the mossy trees, it definitely had an air of royalty about it!

And lots of mossy green trees, that seemed to be paying respectful attention to the mossy green tree throne!
We spotted a grassy mound sprinkled with bracken and moss, with a definite feel of faerie about it, and lots of lovely mossy logs covered with mushrooms and tiny delicate lichen.

As with many locations associated with the fae, it's hard to know whether the place was once scene to a folkloric story or whether the association with the fae comes purely from the beauty and enchanting atmosphere, created by carpets of moss and gnarled old trees. I would love to hear from anyone who can point me in the direction of any other sources connecting Loch Chon with the fairies, as i'm very intrigued to know why there are said to be more fairies living at Loch Chon than anywhere else in the world!

Sources & Further Information
Selected Highland Folk Tales, Robertson
The Enchantment of the Trossachs, Stott