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