in fairies goes back to prehistoric times, and is not confined
to this country. Hereabouts, however, it may have developed out
of a folk-memory of that smallish race associated with the bronze
These primitive folk lived in small communities, using beehive
houses sunk deep into the heatherturf ed over and rather
like green mounds when seen at a distance. They were hunters and
herdsmen, and they worked in bronze. You can still find their
tiny flint arrows (or elf-bolts) on the moors and
As time passed these people were driven farther and farther into
the wildsbecame furtive and nocturnal, nimble in getting
out of sight. That they stole children to sacrifice to their god
made them a folk to be feared. Some of these dwarfish people are
said to have existed in the remoter parts of Scotland well into
the 18th century. Few people believe in fairies now, but there
are many places in Angus, Fife and Perthshire associated with
them. Not long ago I passed Fairygreen, where they are said
to have danced in the dewy meadows under the slopes of historic
Dunsinane Hill. Schiehallion, one of Perthshires noblest
peaks is named in gaelic, " the fairy hill of the Caledonians.
Tales of fairies were not only handed down by word of mouth. In
1691 the Rev. Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle published a remarkabLe
book called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and
Fairies, and he is said to have been eventually spirited
away into the Dun-shi, or Fairy Hill, at Aberfoyle because
he knew too much !
Urisks and brownies also inhabited these parts. Ben Doran was
haunted by a urisk (half man, half goat), but he was met and
banished by St. Fillan. The footprint of another can be seen in
Glen Lyon, and he is said to have had his lair in the wild foaming
burn called Inbhirinneoin.
Morphie, near Montrose, also had its urisk, but Ben Venue in the
Trossachs is the most famous haunt of these monstersCoire
nan Urisgean being the recognised howff of all the urisks in Scotland.
Brownies were more domesticated, and made themselves useful, working
at night. There was one at Fern wha wrocht like twenty men,
thrashin strae and muckin the byres. A useful
chap to have about the place, and no doubt well worth the bannocks
and milk put out for him on the Brownie Stone!
When bridges were fewer, and fords in general use, kelpies were
commoner than they are now. Many a traveller, coming to a river
haunted by one of these demon-steeds has been:
Feared to pass the place
Whaur he roars among the rocks and muckle stanes.
Both the North and South Esks had kelpies, and the head of one
was carved on the keystone of the bridge at Shielhill when the
dangerous ford there was replaced by the stone structure.
There was also a kelpie in a pool beside Craigendowie (Leth not),
and at a hill lochan set above Glen Ogle in Perthshire. These
waterspirits, however, should not be confused with the traditional
monsters of certain highland lochsLoch Ness, of course,
for one. Strange to say, it was a waterbull that had its
lair in Loch Rannoch.
Fairylands location was vague, but it seemed usually to
be underground and entered through some fairy hillock. The Queen
of Elfhame, mounted on her milkwhite steed, came out now
and again to cast her spells, and on moonshiny nights the fairies
would dance in a ring. Fairy rings, dark green and
sprinkled with toadstools, still serve to show where their feet
had danced. New born babes were ever in danger of being carried
off by the fairiesat least until the christening was pastbut
there were various means of preventing this. If the fairies did
succeed in stealing the child a peevish changeling was left in
its place, and this fairy child usually pined away.