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


Minerva Black said...

What a wonderful article! I've never been to these places, and must make an effort. You have inspired me.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you, I'm flattered that I've inspired you! What a lovely and enchanting blog you have too, I will be subscribing and eagerly awaiting for future posts :D

olmpic station park said...
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Kenny MacFadyen said...

This is a great article, thanks for that!!

MARY ANNE Stevenson said...

I just featured the Urisks on my scottish facebook page, does anyone know where to get the book you have used for an illustration of the Urisks. I would like to find out.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Mary Anne! Do you mean the photo with the illustration with 'Watch Out!' written at the top? This was an information display board rather than a book sorry, and it didn't give any details of the artist unfortunately :(

steve Bowers said...

Hi there, how do I subscribe to your blog, tried the button at the bottom it just brought up a massive page of code ?

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Steve! I'm afraid i'm not very good with the technical side of things! I googled it and apparently that link only works if you have an RSS reader installed (what that is I have no idea!).

I keep track of the blogs I like reading through this website:
You make an account and can add any blogs you like reading and it keeps track of them all and shows you new blog posts etc, it's very handy! Hope that helps :)