Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Robert Kirk - Part 3 - Doon Hill

Finally, on my trip to investigate the life of the Reverend Robert Kirk, I come to Doon Hill. It is said that while ministering at Aberfoyle church, Robert Kirk enjoyed taking regular strolls up Doon Hill, known locally as a 'Dun Shi' or Fairy Hill.

One evening however, Robert Kirk did not return from the hill as usual, infact he never returned at all. His body was found dead on the hill, but it is said that his soul was stolen away by the faeries, who were angry at him for revealing their secrets in his book. The following extract from 'Sketches of Perthshire' by the Reverend Patrick Graham (2nd ed. 1812) tells the story:
"He was walking, it is said, one evening in his night-gown, upon the little eminence to the west of the present manse, which is still reckoned a Dun shi'. He fell down dead, as was believed ; but this was not his fate:

"It was between the night and day,
When the fairy king has power,
That he sunk down (but not) in sinful fray,
and, 'twixt life and death, was snatched away,
To the joyless Elfin bower."

Mr Kirk was the near relation of Graham of Duchray, the ancestor of the present General Graham Stirling. Shortly after his funeral, he appeared in the dress in which he had sunk down, to a mutual relation of his own and of Duchray. "Go," said he to him, "to my cousin Duchray, and tell him that I am not dead ; I fell down in a swoon, and was carried into Fairy-land, where I now am. Tell him, that when he and my friends are assembled at the baptism of my child, (for he had left his wife pregnant) I will appear in the room, and that if he throws the knife which he holds in his hand over my head, I will be released, and restored to human society." The man, it seems, neglected, for some time, to deliver the message. Mr Kirk appeared to him a second time, threatening to haunt him night and day till he executed his commission, which, at length, he did. The time of the baptism arrived. They were seated at table; Mr Kirk entered, but the laird of Duchray, by some unaccountable fatality, neglected to perform the prescribed ceremony. Mr Kirk returned by another door, and was seen no more. It is firmly believed that he is, at this day, in Fairy-land."

So up the faery trail I ventured, to the summit of Doon Hill. As I strolled along the pathway the sunlight twinkled through the tree branches, and mushrooms glistened with the morning dew...

Up we go, further up the hill... past the faery washing line...

As you reach the top of the hill the pathway leads through 2 trees, as is often the case when entering the land of faery, and before you stands a large imposing figure of a tree, a solitary pine. The Minister's pine.

I love the photo below with the light shining through the branches of the Minister's Pine. My camera has this lovely habit of sticking random blue and green lights in photos when it feels like it, I've been told it's something to do with light reflecting off the lense and bouncing off the camera goblins that lurk in the dark spaces where the film would go in normal cameras.

A quick note: I'm not sure how other people feel about this, and I don't mean to offend anyone, but I feel a little sad at the amount of man made materials left at fairy sites. I'm sure the fairies would much prefer natural offerings like pretty stones and shells, feathers, or perhaps some hazelnuts they can share with the squirrels. Plastic ribbons and bags will take an age to decompose, and might get eaten by wildlife and make them very ill, so please take care and don't make the fairies angry.

Sources & Further Information
Sketches of Perthshire, Reverend Patrick Graham (2nd ed. 1812)
Walk Highlands - Doon Hill
Site of Scientific Interest - Doon Hill & Fairy Knowe

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Robert Kirk - Part 2 - Aberfoyle Church

The following day I wandered to the remains of the church in Aberfoyle, where Reverend Robert Kirk settled after leaving Balquhidder. His father, Reverend James Kirk, was also previously a minister of the church. It is said that the Reverend enjoyed taking walks up nearby Doon Hill, said to be a local haunt of the faeries. In the photo above you can see the back of Robert Kirk's grave, looking towards Doon Hill in the background.

Below, some photos taken around the church and graveyard. Unfortunately the church where Robert Kirk ministered has long since gone, though it was replaced by a new church in 1744 but that has since fallen into disrepair and the roof is no longer present, but this does allow for a lovely variety of plant life to grow nestled inbetween the fallen bricks and graves.

Just incase you were wondering, the large coffin shaped pieces of metal outside the entrance below are mortuary weights. These were placed on fresh graves to stop thieves stealing the bodies to sell to scientific research. Charming!!

It's still a very magical place, and it's easy to see why Reverend Kirk chose Doon Hill as his favourite place to ramble in the mornings, with it being so nearby and watching over him every day whilst he worked in the church.

Next, a trip to Doon Hill....

Robert Kirk - Part 1 - Balquhidder

The Reverend Robert Kirk (c.1644-1692) was a student of theology and perhaps more importantly, the seventh son of Mr. James Kirk, the minister of Aberfoyle. Due to being the seventh son he was said to be gifted with the highland second sight, and is famous for his fascination with the faery and for writing down his findings in the 'Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies'. His book is said to have been written in 1691, though it is thought that it remained unpublished until discovered by Sir Walter Scott, who printed 100 copies in 1815. He also provided the first translation to Gaelic of the book of Psalms. I have long been fascinated and intrigued by the life of Robert Kirk, and perhaps more fascinated with the mysteries surrounding his death, but i'll speak more on that later.

First on my list of places to visit to learn more about the Reverend Kirk was Balquhidder. It was here that Kirk was said to have first met the faeries. Balquhidder has long been seen as a very magical place and some say it is a "thin place" where the boundaries between this world and the other world meet. The first church was built there after St Angus visited in the 8th or 9th century, but it wasn't until 1664 that Robert Kirk arrived and took his place as Episcopal minister. The church where he ministered was built in 1631, but has since fallen into disrepair and now sits as a mossy ruin with some splendid yew trees growing inside.

In the graveyard lies the grave of Robert Kirk's first wife Isobel Campbell, whom he married in 1678. Unfortunately Isobel passed away only a couple of years later. It is said that Kirk decorated her gravestone himself, though unfortunately the stone is very weather worn now and difficult to read, as shown in the photograph below (the grave in the centre of the photo, set flat into the ground).

The photograph below shows 'Tom nan Aingeal', the hill of fire. Located just above the kirk and graveyard, it was here that fires were lit during the Beltane and Samhain celebrations in the hope that the ancient gods would bring warmth and light. The grave on the hill belongs to the Reverend Eric Findlater, who ministered in the area for forty years.

If you follow the path leading to the hill above the kirk, past the mossy covered walls of the graveyard, you will come to a bridge across an enchanting waterfall. According to leaflets at the current church, a ghostly wild hunt is said to ride through these parts.

Finally I include a photo of the bell hanging in the modern day church next to the site of the old kirk where Robert Kirk ministered. This bell was donated to the kirk by Robert Kirk.

The Reverend Robert Kirk left Balquhidder in 1685 to return to Aberfoyle, where I will visit in my next blog.

Sources & Further Information
Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies, Reverend Robert Kirk
Sacred Texts - Online version of Robert Kirk's famous book
Information Leaflets at Barquhidder Church

Thursday, 9 September 2010

My next adventure...

I apologise for my lack of blog updates this year, I've been moving house and my weekends have been taken over by gardening and decorating! All settled now though, so there'll be more blog posts soon I promise. Though if anyone happens to have a house brownie looking for a new home, I'd be more than willing to offer all the milk and butter he can eat, in exchange for some help with the housework! :)

Next week will be an exciting week for me, i'll be visiting somewhere i've been meaning to go for a long time... Doon Hill! Off in search of the Reverend Robert Kirk and the mysteries surrounding his disappearance all those long years ago. I'll be doing my best not to offend the faery folk, but should I not return then can someone kindly throw an iron dagger over my apparition should they see me passing by?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Netherwitton Fairies

If there's one village in Northumberland that's full of fairies, it's Netherwitton, and after visiting it I can see why the faery folk are so attracted to this lovely little village. Infact it doesn't seem to have changed much in the past hundred years, with it's charming old cottages, little stream winding through the village centre, and lovely little wooded areas creeping in at the edges. The first of the Netherwitton fairy stories is about a milk maid, and took place in the time of George the third, so somewhere between 1760 and 1801 to be precise.
"Many years ago, 'ere George the Third was king', a girl who lived near Nether Witton, returning home from milking, with her pail on her head, saw many fairies gambolling in the fields, but which were invisible to her companions, though pointed out to them by her. On reaching home, and telling what she had seen, the circumstance of her power of vision being greater than that of her companions was canvassed in the family, and the cause at length discovered in her weise [a circular pad worn on the head to save it from the pressure of the pail, made from stocking, or a wreath of straw or grass] which was found to be of four-leaved clover: persons having about them a bunch, or even a single blade, of four leaved clover being supposed to possess the power of seeing fairies, even though elves should wish to be invisible; of percieving in their proper character evil spirits which assumed the form of men; and of detecting the arts of those who practised magic, necromancy, or witchcraft."
Our second story set in the village of Netherwitton, like the above story, can be found in the Local Historian's Table Book, Volume 3 of the Legendary Division (1846):
"A cottager and his wife, residing at this place, were one day visited by a fairy and his spouse, with their young child, which they wishes to leave in their charge. The cottager agreed to take care of the child for a certain period, when it had to be taken thence. The fairy gace the man a box of ointment, with which to anoint the child's eyes; but he had not on any account to touch himself with it, or some misfortune would befal him. For a long time, he and his wife were very careful to avoid the dangerous unction; but one day, when his wife was out, curiosity overcame his prudence, and he annointed his eye, without any noticable effect; but after a while, when walking through Long Horsley fair, he met the male fairy and accosted him. He started back in amazement at the recognition; but instantly guessing the truth, blew on the eyes of the cottager, and instantly blinded him. The child was never more seen."
I didn't spot any fairies or meet any milkmaids on my wander around Netherwitton, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find them in this magical village. Perhaps I should return with a four-leaf clover tucked under my hat next time!

Sources & Further Information
Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Division, Volume 3
Dictionary of British Folk-tales, Katharine Briggs
The Fairy Mythology, Thomas Keightley

The Hurl Stone, Chillingham

Around Chillingham are some interesting old stones, and each seems to be hiding a mystery. Perhaps the most well known is the Hurl Stone near Newtown, said to be a favourite haunt of the fairies. As you might remember from my Cateran Hole blog entry, there is said to be an underground passage running from Cateran Hole to Henhole, another favourite site of the fairies.

According to an article by George Tate (1863), as explorers were passing along this passage and under the Hurl Stone, they heard fairy harp music and the pattering of tiny feet dancing, and shrill sweet voices chanting:
"Wind about and turn again,
And thrice around the Hurl Stane."

"Round about and wind again,
And thrice around the Hurl Stane."

The explorers of course headed home, they were sensible folk and knew not to disturb the fairy folk, especially when they were merry-making.

According to Curiosities of Northumberland (1970), "The name is probably a corruption of 'Earl's Stone' although some say it was given that name by people who believed in giants and explained that it had been hurled there by one of their race". Some believe the Hurl Stone to be the remains of an ancient cross, and that it was moved to the hill from a roadside location, some say that part of the stone was struck off by lightning.

Unfortunately there are no public footpaths leading to the Hurl Stone and it is on private land so I could only admire it from a distance. The larger tower seen next to it in the above photo is a more modern folly, the Hurlstone Tower, built by the landowner.

Also of interest as it may also refer to the Hurl Stone, is a story of a mysterious stone located somewhere between Lilburn and Middleton. According to 'Legends Respecting Huge Stones' by James Hardy (1844) in Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Divison, Volume 2, here rests a stone "which in the suggestions of the "Religio Loci" is not to be removed while the present system of things maintains its stability". According to legend, two locals decided to dig for treasure under the stone, ignoring the often repeated tales of demonic watchers slumbering beneath, when "all at once, one of them heard a low fluttering as of something struggling to get free, come from beneath the stone". But his companion was not scared easily, and they resumed their work, when suddenly, "the stone commenced moving up and down with violent commotion, - and out there issued from under it - and the earth quaked to let it forth, - a creature all in white - in figure like a swan - that "flaffered and flew," and made such strange and hideous outcry, that the horror-struck delinquents, casting down their implements, hurried off, each in the direction his terrors prompted him, would farthest carry him, from the grasp of the evil thing, which his unhallowed doings had evoked from the invisible recesses of the earth, and whole rage no human power might avail to appease".

Unfortunately no one seems to know which stone in the Lilburn area the legend is attached to, or what the creature was, be it demon or faery. The legend could refer to the Hurl Stone itself, though that seems to be on the other side of Lilburn rather than the side near Middleton, or it could refer to the prehistoric standing stone at the base of Ewe Hill, but again that isn't in the direction of Middleton. There have also been a number of burial cairns discovered in the area, and the remains of old settlements, so unfortunately it's difficult to know which stone the legend refers to, we can only hope that the swan-like creature is still slumbering below!

(Above: Ewe Hill Standing Stone)

Sources & Further Information
Northumberland Legends, George Tate
Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Division, Volume 2
Curiosities of Northumberland, Armstrong, Graham & Rowland
The Modern Antiquarian
English Heritage Pastscape

Fairies Caves, Cullercoats

Most of the places I blog about require lots of trawling through old books, a bit of internet research, maybe some library visits, and at least 20 minutes of being buried under Ordinance Survey maps. However, this entry is about a place I stumbled across completely by accident! Though some would say there are no accidents.

There's a little costal bay in Cullercoats, home to a lifeboat station, old watch house, a marine laboratory, and some mysterious caves. I live in a town further up the coast and have been to Cullercoats on many occassions and wandered around the caves, but until a random glance at the tourist board one Spring afternoon in April, I had no idea they were known locally as the Fairies Caves!

I've never come across any fairy legends about the caves while reading local folklore and history books, so I imagine any stories that gave the caves their name were told verbally among the locals, rather than being written down. If anyone has any further information I'd love to hear it though.

In an interview on the Tyne & Wear Museums website a lady recalls her memories of old Cullercoats, she tells "I never ventured very far into the caves, but the caves were there, you know, there was the Fairy's Cave and there was the Smuggler's Cave, and so on". This suggests that the caves have been associated with fairies for some time, and the name wasn't invented purely for the tourist board. Perhaps the name was originally given to the smaller caves that are too small to be used by humans, and would have been perfectly sized for use by the local fairies!

There's no shortage of mysterious caves along this stretch of coast, including a cave full of goblins and infernal demons at Tynemouth, i'll save that for a future blog though!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Whittle Dene Fairies

After two months of hiding indoors wrapped in warm blankets, drinking hot chocolate, and wishing Spring would hurry up and make an appearance... finally, i'm out in search of faeries!

Whittle Dene, near Ovingham in Northumberland is said to be a favourite haunt of the fairy folk. The earliest reference i've managed to find so far can be found in Volume 3 of the Local Historian's Table Book, Legendary Division, published in 1846, which states:
"Among the romantic thickets, the projecting rocks, and the deep whirling pools of the sequestered ravine of Whittle Dean, near Ovingham, Northumberland, spots are still pointed out by the neighbouring villagers, as the favourite retreats of harmless fairies and weeping lovers."
A more recent reference to the fairies can be found in Northumbrian Heritage written by Nancy Ridley and published in 1968:
"Local legend says Whittle Dene is inhabited by fairies, who perhaps by now, have driven out the evil spirit of Long Lonkin."
Long Lonkin was said to be a local villain who, together with a maid servant, robbed the master of Welton and murdered his family. Visit for further information on this local legend. I'm sure the local fairies would not have approved!

The Whittle Dene Fairies seem to be a little shy and I haven't managed to find much more written about them, but it's easy to see why the area is associated with fairies, with it's old overgrown mill ruins, gnarled old oak trees, and curious benches and knotted branches!

Sources & Further Information
Local Historian's Table Book Legendary Division Volume 3, MA Richardson
Northumbrian Heritage, Nancy Ridley