Friday, 27 January 2012
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
"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.
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
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