I love researching and visiting fairy sites all over Scotland, and on my recent holiday to the Cairngorms I couldn’t resist tracking down a few fairy sites and paying them a visit. Many years ago some Scottish folk had a real belief in the fairies, and they weren’t the cute Tinkerbells we think of today, they were troublesome and dangerous creatures, who played tricks on people and stole livestock, and sometimes even children!
The fairies were said to live in grassy and rocky hills, and shepherds wandering the hills in search of their livestock would hear beautiful fairy music, and sometimes see the fairies milking deer. Some Cairngorm folk even formed relationships with beautiful fairy women, they were human sized and not at all like the tiny fairies we think of today, but it was said you could always spot a fairy woman by her green dress and eyes that sparkled like Cairngorm gems. There were even Fairy Dogs too, with green fur and a dangerous bark, and deadly kelpies and water horses that would prey on lonely travellers.
(The photo at the top of this blog was taken by Gordon Mackie)
The fairies of Glen More were said to wash their clothing in Lochan Uaine, the green loch, so causing the water to appear its wonderful greenish tinge. As you’re walking to the Loch from the Glenmore Visitor’s Centre you’ll also pass a curiously conical fairy hill on your right, once known as Sithean Dubh da Choimhead (The Black Fairy Hill of the Two Outlooks). No one seems to remember how the hill got its fairy name, but it was probably the home of the fairies who visited the loch.
Glen More is said to be home to the King of Fairies himself, Big Donald, and he’s said to live in a fairy hill at the west end of Loch Morlich. He enjoyed playing his pipes along the side of the loch, and was also famous for once scaring off some lowland folks who came to his forest to collect fir to make torches. He pelted them with stones until they fled in a panic and never came back!
Many years ago a man who boasted there was no such thing as fairies was passing this loch when he heard the sound of distant bagpipes. The sound drew nearer and he looked all around him but much to his puzzlement he could see no piper. Nearer and nearer and louder and louder the piping came, but still no sign of the player. Eventually the music came so close he could hear it right next to him, and he stepped aside as if to allow the invisible piper to pass. He claimed he felt the gusts of wind on his cheeks that were issuing from the drones of the bagpipes, and when he told his friends they were sure he had heard the fairy bagpipes, played by none other than Big Donald himself.
A forester in Argyll’s army was followed wherever he went by his leannan-sith (fairy sweetheart) and she appeared in the form of a white hart. Whilst they were in camp near Ruthven Castle some of Argyll’s officers started to mock him about his follower, and unfortunately Argyll was a touchy fellow and in revenge he commanded some of his soldiers to shoot the hind. They took aim and fired but not a single bullet pierced her. However Argyll noticed that the forester had disobeyed his command, refusing to shoot at his love, and he was brought before Argyll and told that he alone must fire at the hind. The forester replied bravely, “I will fire at your command, Argyll, but it will be the last shot that I shall ever fire”, and scarcely was the charge out of his gun when he fell dead upon the spot. The fairy gave a terrifying scream and rose up like a cloud of mist and vanished into the mountains and was never seen again.
This loch is said to be home to a water horse, a deadly creature that lures people to a watery grave.
The heir to the Barony of Kincardine was playing with his young friends by the shore of the loch when they spotted a beautiful steed with a silver jewel encrusted saddle and bridle. In great excitement the children ran over and grasped at the bridle. At once the great steed galloped off towards the loch, with the children stuck fast to the bridle being dragged behind. The heir was a bright young lad and a fast thinker and managed to grab his dirk and sever his fingers, freeing himself just in time to escape the terrible drowning that awaited his friends. That story was published in a book over 100 years ago, and at the time people were said to be very wary of the loch, especially avoiding the sunken crannog where the water horse was said to live.
The Fairies of Glen Cluny
The fairies of Glen Cluny are said to live below grassy hills, where they safety rest during the day, and then come out on moonlit nights to dance upon the hill tops. A man once entered the hill and saw “a lot o’ little fouk dancing – the heartiest folk that ever he saw”. Some Cairngorms fairies prefer to dance on rocks rather than hills, particularly on the Big Stone of Cluny. One man saw them dancing by moonlight but when he showed his delight at the beautiful dance moves of one particular fairy she flew at him in a fury and almost strangled him before he could say a prayer to get rid of them! Unfortunately I ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to visit this final fairy site, so you’ll have to excuse the photograph from Google Maps instead. I look forward to returning to the Cairngorms again soon for another holiday, and I’ll be sure to pay the Big Stone of Cluny a visit!
Thank you to the Faery Folklorist for writing this blog.
For more information about the Fairy Folk of the Cairngorms, please visit her fascinating blog: https://faeryfolklorist.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/the-fairy-folk-of-cairngorms.html
Photo credit Anthony Tran