Tuesday 26 March 2013

Dunadd Fort & the Fairies

"Turn we now to the other side, and observe that curiously conical hill sticking up alone in the centre of the Crinian moss. this, taking its name from the river which winds round its base, is called Dun-Add, and from time immemorial has been the favourite haunt of the witches and fairies of Glassrie." 
The above quote from Rusticus' 'The Royal Route' (1858) provides a wonderful introduction to this grand historic site, steeped in folklore, and once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dalraida. I'll start with a fairy story from this text that I never would have found if it wasn't for the wonderful Modern Antiquarian Website, thank you Rhiannon for mentioning this story, wouldn't have found it without your post. Here goes the story....

"A farmer laird of Dun-Add was blessed with the second sight, and one night he lay in bed with the churn placed before the fire in the room, as was customary in order for the cream to be ready for the morning's operation. When suddently he noticed the fairies enter with a new born child which they had just stolen. On it they began to perform a mystic site to ready it for the transition to fairy land. The laird quietly observed, knowing he was safe as he had a steel blade of magical virtue laid under his pillow, and this was sure to protect him from "the mischief of these sometimes spiteful little creatures". Much to his surprise he saw that as the fairies could find no water in which to wash the child, they proceeded to do so in the cream in the churn! Time flew quickly by and in no time at all the cock crowed and off they hurriedly trooped, leaving behind in their rush a little bag containing their valuables. The laird was no fool, and quickly claimed these for his own.

In the morning the "good lady and her domestics" thought the laird mad when he asked that the contents of the churn be emptied outdoors, but they were far more forgiving when they saw the dogs that lapped up the cream fall dead, and the laird told them of the strange events of the night before.

It is said that the fairies never returned to claim their lost property, but the author tells that the articles may be in existence still. They consisted of a little stone spade (similiar to the stone arrowheads known as elf shot), a little stone pot for making fairy porridge, some stone balls, and other items. It is said that each of these "was possessed of different virtues". "The spade was laid beneath the pillow of a sick person, and by the subsequent appearance or non-appearance of perspiration the recovery or death of the invalid was to be discovered. The round balls were to be immersed in a pail of water which afterwards was given as a drink to cattle, who thereby were cured of any disease that might have befallen them" and the other articles had powers too but Rusticus admits that he has forgotten these if he ever knew them.
Rusticus also mentions that the well near the crest of the hill "rose and fell with the sea tide", and speaks of the curious rock footprint that can be found on the summit. For those interested in the history of the fort and curious about the footprint, Ogham script, and boar carving, I recommend heading over to the Modern Antiquarian website or Mysterious Britain website.

Up we walked, navigating the rocky paths and spirals of the hill. If the fairies do live here, then they have certainly selected a most worthy palace...
 A curious cup in a rock, a fairies porridge bowl?
I couldn't resist trying the footprint on for size, a perfect fit!
Ogham script and boar carving below. According to the RCAHMS website the original stone is now covered with an artificial stone facsimile to protect the original beneath, not that you'd know for looking, they've done a wonderful job....
Sources & Further Information
The Royal Route, Rusticus
Dunadd (Sacred Hill), Modern Antiquarian
Dunadd, Mysterious Britain Website
Dunadd, RCAHMS
Dunadd Panorama, Stone Circles in Angus and Perthshire

Nant Wood Fairies, Argyll

 If I had to pick the most enchanting fairy site visited on this trip it would be Nant Woods, without a doubt. This mossy green woods with it's gnarled old trees seems to hide a secret or two, the minute we arrived it began snowing, and the minute we left it stopped.

Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands (1900) tells us this story of the fairies of Nant Woods:
"A child was taken by the Fairies from Killichrenan near Loch Awe,  to the Shi-en in Nant Wood (Coill' an Eannd). It was got back by the father drawing a furrow round the hillock with the plough. He had not gone far when he heard a cry behind him, and on looking back found his child lying in the furrow."
Campbell also mentions the area in his Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands (1902):
"On the high road leading from the wood of Nant (Coill' an Eannd) to Kilchrenan on Lochaweside, two or three summers ago, the traveller was met by a dark shadow, which passed him without his knowing how. On looking after him, he again saw the shadow, but this time moving away, and a little man in its centre, growing less as the shadow moved off. The little man was known as "Bodach beag Chill-a-Chreunain.""
We had a wonderful wander around Nant Woods, just as the sun was dipping in the sky. Campbell's story doesn't give an exact location for the fairy hillock, but I have an inkling that the hill in the photo below has a faery inhabitant or two....
 This strange little structure may look like the work of the fairies, but according to the nearby sign it's a reconstruction of a charcoal burner....
Here are a couple of photos from charming Kilchrenan, where the child was stolen by the fairies... 

Sources & Further Information
Superstitions of the Highlands, Campbell
Witchcraft and the Second Sight in the Highlands, Campbell

Kintraw Fairy Hill, Argyll

 On a lovely sunny morning we headed south to Kilmartin, with a special planned stop at Kintraw to see the beautiful standing stone and cairns. Kintraw is also said to be home to a Fairy Hill, though as far as I know the exact hill is unknown, though Westwood's Lore of Scotland (2009) suggests the location as the nearby hill of Gorlach.

Lord Campbell tells the curious story of the Fairy Hill in his Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition, Argyllshire Series (1889) and gives credit for the story to Mrs Annie Thorpe, nee Miss MacDougall of Lunga, Ardbecknish, Lochow:

"There is a green hill above Kintraw, known as the Fairies' Hill, of which the following story is told. Many years ago, the wife of the farmer at Kintraw fell ill and died, leaving two or three young children. The Sunday after the funeral the farmer and his servants went to church, leaving the children at home in charge of the eldest, a girl of about ten years of age. On the farmer's return the children told him their mother had been to see them, and had combed their hair and dressed them. As they still persisted in their statement after being remonstrated with, they were punished for telling what was not true.

The following Sunday the same thing occurred again. The father now told the children, if their mother came again, they were in inquire of her why she came. Next Sunday, when she reappeared, the eldest child put her father's question to her, when the mother told them she had been carried off by the "Good People" (Daione Sith), and could only get away for an hour or two on Sundays, and should her coffin be opened it would be found to contain only a withered leaf.

The farmer, much perplexed, went to the minister for advice, who scoffed at the idea of any supernatural connection with the children's story, ridiculed the existence of "Good People," and would not allow the coffin to be opened. The matter was therefore allowed to rest. But, some little time after, the minister, who had gone to Lochgilphead for the day, was found lying dead near the Fairies' Hill, a victim, many people thought, to the indignation of the Fairy world he had laughed at."

As you can see, Kintraw is a beautiful and enchanting location, with rolling hills and thick dark forests. The only question is, on which of these mysterious hills do the faery folk live?

Sources & Further Information
Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition, Lord Campbell
Lore of Scotland, Westwood
Kintraw Standing Stone, Modern Antiquarian
The Fairies' Hill, Mysterious Britain

Fairy Women & their Deer

My first post from the trip to Argyll earlier this month, and how glad I am that we missed the snow! Once again unfortunately I didn't spot any fae folk, but that won't stop me telling you all about the enchanting places I visited in search of them. We did spot a lot of lovely wildlife though including deers, and in this part of Scotland it is said by Campbell in his Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands (1900) that "the red-deer are associated with the fairies, and in some districts, as Lochaber and Mull, are said to be their only cattle". He also tells that it is believed that no deer is found dead with age, and that it's horns are not found because they are hid by the fairies. Fairy women in this area are also said to be able to assume the guise of the red deer. Though in the Mull area it is said that fairies only have one nostril, though I dare not ask one how they smell!

Although my posts usually focus on a specific location, I became intrigued by the folkloric connections between fairies and deer in this area of Scotland and decided to delve deeper into this fascinating topic. Here you'll find a few of the thoroughly intriguing stories I came across....

The Fairy Wife of Ben Breck
"The Fairy wife, who owned the deer of Ben Breck, is well known in the Highlands. It is told of her that on one occassion, as she milked a hind, the animal became restive and gave her a kick. In return she struck the hind with her open palm and expressed a wish that the arrow of Donald, the son of John (a noted hunter in his day), might come upon it. That very day the restive hind fell to Doil MacJain's arrow." - Superstitions of the Highlands, Campbell (1900) p122.

This same fairy wife also appears in a tale where she comes to the door of a bothy on Ben Breck where three hunters are passing the night. The hunter's dog sprang up to attack her and she retreated, requesting the hunters to tie up their dog. She asks 3 times but the dog's master refuses, finally giving the excuse of having nothing to tie it with. So the fairy wife pulled a hair from her head and told him to tie the dog with that, claiming it was strong enough to hold a four-masted ship at anchor.  The hunter was cunning and pretended to agree to this but when the fairy wife entered she found the dog had not been secured and she ran away in fury, saying that it was well for the hunter that the dog had not been tied, and warning that she would return.

Similar tales are told of the Glaistig, who is also said to fear dogs and also have a habit of bothering men in bothies! Campbell tells that the fairy wife of the story was last seen twenty years ago (c.1880) in Lochaber and that age had told severely upon her. Instead of being broad and tall she was now "no bigger than a teapot!" and wore a little grey plaid or shawl about her shoulders.

John McKay's 'The Deer-Cult & the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient Caledonians' Folklore vol 43, No 2 (1932) is a fascinating read on this topic and refers to the fairy wife as the Cailleach of Ben Breck, and tells that she would "upon occassion take the form of a gray deer". He also tells that a gamekeeper at Corrour Lodge in Invernesshire told his friend Mr Ronald Burn in 1917 that the Cailleach of Ben Breck in Lochaber had "cleaned out a certain well of hers, and had afterwards washed herself therein, that same year."

MacDougall's Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English (1910) speaks further of the lady of Ben Breck. A cow-herd named Donald Maclan from Achantore went with his cows to the summer pastures of Ben Breck. There he met a Glaistig on multiple occassions and whilst sheltering in the bothy at Ruighe-na-cloiche beside Ciaran Water he heard her voice again. Similiar to the previous tale his dog prevents her from entering and she promises to give him no more trouble if he removes the dog that is bothering her. He was a trusting young man and did as asked, and in return for his kindness she told him "Go to Ben Breck early to-morrow, Donald Maclan, and thou wilt find the White Hind which thou hast been hunting for many a day, but which thou hast not yet caught". He did as told and there he saw the Glaistig and a herd of deer before her with the White Hind at their head. "He took aim at the Hind, and let go the arrow. But before the arrow left the bend of the yew, he heard the Glaistig crying, in a spiteful tone: "Stick in the stomach, arrow. Stick in the stomach."" The arrow did as told and Donald took the hart home as promised.

MacDougall kindly shares with us the croon that the Glaistig of Ben Breck was said to sing to her hinds whilst driving them on the mountain side:

"Lady of Ben Breck, Horo!
Breck, horo! Breck, horo!
Lady of Ben Breck, horo!
Lady of the fountain high.
I ne'er would let my troop of deer,
Troop of deer, troop of deer;
I ne'er would let my troop of deer,
A-gathering Shellfish to the tide
Better liked they cooling cress,
Cooling cress, cooling cress;
Better liked they cooling cress,
That grows beside the fountain high."

MacDougall also tells of two brothers who met the Glaistig and were not quite so fortunate. She would visit them regularly but the hunters had no pleasure in her visits for she delighted in causing them bother and trouble. One brother was patient with her and afraid of provoking her, but the other was not so sensible and when she teased him he told his terrier to attack her, followed by his greyhound too. She angered and raged and threatened as she ran "Perhaps I'll pay thee back for this yet, my lad". Sure enough she returned and the dogs were urged out to meet her, with the brothers staying safely in the bothy. They heard the expected barking, first close, then further away. The fight ceased as night turned to day and the dogs returned, only the big dog was left with nothing but a tuft of hair and the terrier came as hairless as a newly plucked hen!

Perhaps most curious of all comes the tale of a hunter returning from Ben Breck. As he passed the foot of the mountain he heard a strange sound, like the clacking of two stones striking or the rattling of a stag's horns against a rock. He continued on until he passed a large rock at the side of the path, and "there he saw, crouching at the foot of the stone, the semblance of a woman, with a green shawl about her shoulders, and in her hands a pair of deershanks, which she kept striking against one another without ceasing." He knew at once that she was the Glaistig, and he boldly spoke to her "What are you doing there, poor woman?" But she spoke only to say, "Since the wood was burnt, since the wood was burnt" and this she repeated over and over again for as long as he was in earshot.

I find this story slightly chilling, and can't help but wonder if the Glaistig's herd of deer had cruelly perished in a forest fire, or perhaps since the woods were burnt her deer had deserted her. Or perhaps this tale is no more than a sorrowful story of a mortal woman whose house burnt down, taking her mind and sanity with it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this curious story.

Scalasdal, Mull
Campbell leaves us guessing with his short intriguing comment that "On the lands of Scalasdal in Mull, a deer was killed, which turned out afterwards to be a woman." (p126). Alexander Carmichael writes in his Carmina Gadelica volume 2 (1900) of women using Fath Fith to change into animals including hinds, and men into stags. He writes that this could be voluntary or involuntary, and was especially useful to hunters, warriors, and travellers.

Lochaber Deer Glaistig
A young man named Donald Cameron from the Braes of Lochaber met the Glaistig and her deer in the first half of the past century, tells MacDougall in 1910. Donald was a famous deer-hunter, and gifted with the second sight. One day while looking "up from the bottom of the Glen to the top of the Yellow mountain, he said to a neighbour who was standing near him: "Tis I who behold the sight! Place your foot on mine, and you will see it too." His neighbour did as he was told, and he now beheld, what he saw not till then, the finest view of deer he had ever witnessed." So on a calm morning Donald went to a deer-pass on the ben and stood wait for the deer herd to descend the mountain for their morning drink from the fresh waters of the spring. "At length he saw them coming out of the mist which hid the rocky summit above him, and a tall Glaistig driving them before her. She at once noticed the hunter, and before the foremost deer came within shooting distance she cried to him: "Thou art too heavy on my hinds, Big Donald. Thou must not be so heavy on them as thou art." Big Donald was read-witted, and so he put her off with his apt answer: "I never killed a hind where I could find a stag." He allowed the hinds to pass with the Glaistig behind them, and she gave him no further trouble."

This Lochaber Glaistig was perhaps one of many, as a further tale tells of four Glaistig visiting four hunters in a bothy in the Braes of Lochaber. Three of the hunters had retired to a corner of the bothy when soon after four women entered the bothy, having the appearance of the hunter's sweethearts. Three joined the three hunters in the corner and the forth approached the remaining hunter and tried to trick him into giving her his hand. He was a sensible young man and had his wits about him, and kept a tight hold of his dirk. When she asked him for some snuff he agreed but gave it to her on the point of his dirk and prodded her with it, leading her to withdraw to the other side of the fire. The women made their depart at cockcrow, and when the forth hunter went to the corner of the bothy to check on his comrades he found them "cold and dead, with their throats cut, and every drop of blood sucked out of their veins. He had now no doubt that the women were Glaistigs".

In defense of Glaistigs I'd like to point out that this does not seem to be typical Glastig behaviour, and in many tales they are harmless creatures, though they do seem to take pleasure in playing tricks and causing mischief, and some claim them to be mortal women under enchantment. That said, this is not the only tale by far of fairies drinking the blood of mortals, and should you find yourself in a lonesome bothy be sure to keep a watchful eye on the door and a faithful hound at your side.

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to visit the Braes of Lochaber or Ben Breck on this visit, but I hope to update this page one day with photos of these beautiful locations. I hope instead you'll settle for some photos of a beautiful fearless stag I met on the edge of a loch on Mull...

Sources & Further Information
Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands, Campbell
Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English, MacDougall
The Deer-Cult & the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient Caledonians, McKay, Folklore Vol 43, No 2
Carmina Galedica Volume 2, Carmichael
The Hair and the Dog, Davidson & Chaudhri, Folklore Vol 104, No 1/2