Monday, 4 July 2011

Cauldshiels Water Bull

A faerie location with a difference can be found at Cauldshiels Loch, south of Melrose in the Scottish Borders. Sir Walter Scott once took Washington Irving there, who wrote about the visit in his book 'Abbotford and Newstead Abbey' published 1835. He wrote:
"The most interesting circumstance connected with it, however, according to Scott, was that it was haunted by a bogle in the shape of a water bull, which lived in the deep parts, and now and then came forth upon dry land and made a tremendous roaring, that shook the very hills. This story had ben current in the vicinity from time immemorial:- there was a man living who declared he had seen the bull, - and he was believed by many of his simple neighbours." 
The water bull also gets a mention in 'The Gold of Fairnilee' by Andrew Lang, 1888. It seems to be a fictional book rather than local history, but as many folk tales end up later being seen as fictional fairy tales, I see it as worth including.
"Had not her own cousin, Andrew Tamson, passed the Cauldshiels Loch one New Year morning? And had he not heard a dreadful roaring, as if all the cattle on Faldonside Hill were routing at once? And then did he not see a great black beast roll down the hillside, like a black ball, and run into the loch, which grew white with foam, and the waves leaped up the banks like a tide rising? What could that be except the kelpie that lives in Cauldshiels Loch, and is just a muckle big water bull? "And what for should there be no water kye, if there's land kye?"
Kye is a Scottish word for cattle. The water bull seems to be a close relative of the kelpie, but possibly less dangerous, though it's best not to assume such things just incase. It definitely sounds like a faerie creature of some form, especially as it is described as a bogle taking the shape of a water bull, this sounds similar to local Northumbrian legends including the Dunnie of Hazelrigg, a sprite that takes the form of a cow and plays tricks on the locals. It is certainly not uncommon in folklore for fae creatures to take on animal form to play pranks on humans. That said, the water bull at Cauldshiels does not seem to interact with humans in the stories told of it, making it somewhat of a mystery.

Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Voulume VI, by Campbell (1890), contains further information on water bulls, and claims that "there is a water-bull in nearly every Scotch loch of any note" and that Loch Ness is full of them. He says that the water bulls breed with farming cows, who give birth to "'corcach', short eared, a cross between the water-full and a land-cow. They are easily known. no one has ever seen a water-cow." He also tells of a story where a water-bull saves a young lady from a water-horse. The full story can be read online at the Sacred Texts website and is also found in Brigg's Dictionary of Fairies. 

James Mackinlay has included some water bull tales in his book "Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs" (1893). He writes that the calves of water-bull can be identified by their "unusual size and pendulousness of their ears and the wide aquatic spread of their jet black hoofs; the foals, in their clean limbs, large flashing eyes, red distended nostrils, and fiery spirit." One tale in this book states that water bull can only be harmed by silver, and he tells of "a farmer who employed his sons to search a certain stream for one of these creatures, while the farmer himself carried a gun loaded with sixpences to be discharged when the monster appeared, silver alone having any effect on such beasts". He gives MacCulloch, the author of 'A description of the Western Islands of Scotland', as the source for this very strange story that suggests not all water bulls are entirely docile.  

So along I went to Cauldshiels Loch, hoping to catch a glimpse of the water bull, though from a very safe distance of course. The Loch is surrounded by beautiful woodlands and rolling Scottish hills, and the shape of the landscape does lead to somewhat of an echo near the loch, the noise of the cattle on the hill was a lot louder than you'd expect to hear, so perhaps this partly explains the thunderous roaring the water bull is said to make.

There stood a lone cow at the side of the loch, perhaps a calf of the water bull hoping to catch a glimpse of their father.

Sources & Further Information
Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey, Washington Irving
The Gold of Fairnilee, Andrew Lang
Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Campbell
A Dictionary of Fairies, Katharine Briggs
Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, Mackinlay
Cauldshiels Loch, Get-A-Map Website

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