Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Loch Venachar Kelpie

Loch Venachar, or Vennacher as it's also known, was once home to a terrible beast, said by the locals to be a Waterhorse or Kelpie. The exact date of its first appearance seems to be unknown, but Graham wrote of it in 1806 in his book 'Sketches descriptive of Picturesque Scenery on the Southern Confines of Perthshire'. He wrote:
"Every lake had its kelpie, or water-horse, often seen by the shepherd, as he sat in a summer's evening, upon the brow of a rock, dashing along the surface of the deep, or browsing on the pasture ground, on its verge. Often did this malignant genius of the waters allure women and children to his subaqueous haunts, there to be immediately devoured. A most disastrous event of this kind is still current in tradition concerning the waterhorse of Lochvenachar. Often did he also swell the torrent or lake, beyond its usual limits, to overwhelm the hapless traveller in the flood."
The Each Uisge is was also written of by John Leyden when he visited the area in the year 1800. He wrote the following in his book 'Journal of a tour in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland in 1800':
"Our guide informed us that the people of the vale had been a good deal alarmed by the appearance of that unaccountable being the waterhorse (Each Uisge) during the spring, which had not been seen there since the catastrophe of Corlevrann, the wood of woe, when he carried into the loch fifteen children who had broken Pace Sunday. I made enquiries concerning the habits of the animal, and was only able to learn that its colour was brown, that it could speak, and that its motion agitated the lake with prodigious waves, and that it only emerged in the hottest midday to be on the bank."
A quick google search revealed that 'Pace Sunday' usually refers to Passover (or sometimes Easter), though I can't find any references to the phrase 'broken Pace Sunday. Perhaps it means that they ate leavened food during Passover when they weren't supposed to? If someone recognises this phrase I would be intrigued to know.

Leyden refered to the kelpie incident as the "catastrophe of Corlevrann, the wood of woe", but I cannot find any place with that name nearby. However, there is a place on the Ordinance Survey map on the northern shore named Coille a' Bhroin. According to Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1896 edition), "A wooded bank on the N shore bears the name of Coillebhroine ('wood of lamentation'), from a legend of a malignant water-kelpie". Coille a' Bhroin also appears on a map dated 1866 on the Old Maps website. So it does seem that the Coille a' Bhroin on the OS maps is the location of the woods where the kelpie incident occurred.

'The Enchantment of the Trossachs' by Stott (1992) claims that the kelpie "seized some young children who bathed in the Loch. To this day, the wood at this point is called the wood of lamentation." So it appears that the wood was named in memory of this tragic event. It is sad that it lies forgotten in modern times and that there are no signs relating the story to those who park in the carpark opposite, unaware of the tragedy that happened only a few steps away, and the danger that lurks beneath the waves lapping at their toes.

Sources & Further Information
Sketches descriptive of Picturesque Scenery on the Southern Confines of Perthshire, Graham
Journal of a tour in the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland in 1800, Leyden
Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, Groome
The Enchantment of the Trossachs, Stott
The Lore of Scotland, Westwood & Kingshill
Historical Perspective for Venachar, Loch
Old Maps Website, Loch Venachar

The Fairy Hills of Strathyre

Not far from Balquhidder is the picturesque village of Strathyre, with Beinn an t-Sidhein towering above, also known as the Faery Mountain. According to the In Callander Website, "Strictly speaking, Beinn an t-Sidhein is only partly a faery hill, despite the name. It has a knoll-shoulder on the south side called An Sidhean which is the faery hill and which is part of Beinn an t-Sidhein."

The fairy hill also gets a mention in Margaret Bennett's essay 'Balquhidder Revisted' from 'Good People, New Fairylore Essays' (1991) by Peter Narvaez. The author spoke to a 90 year old local lady, named Mrs Macgregor in the essay, who mentions Beinn an t-Sidhein as a fairy hill. She fondly recalls the days when it was bare of trees, before the Forestry Commission covered it in trees, a move that seems to have been unpopular with the locals.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any stories as to how the hill became associated with the faeries, but would love to hear from anyone who can shed light on this matter. Below are some views of Beinn an t-Sidhein, taken from the village.

On the opposite side of the glen can be found another faery hill, Cnoc an t-Sidhein, also known as the Faery Knoll. This little wooded knoll is now the site of the village war memorial, but tucked away behind the knoll is a beautiful little stream with mossy banks, perhaps the original site of the fairies. When you reach the fork in the path, take the right fork to venture up the Faery Knoll, or the left path to the river....

There is another fairy hill marked on the Ordinance Survey maps for Strathyre, 'Sidheag'. It is located along the river below Beinn an t-Sidhein but I'm not sure where exactly as the contours of the landscape are hidden deep beneath the trees and braken. I think Sidheag is somewhere around here though!!

As with my previous entry, I haven't managed to find much information about these hills, but hope the information I have given is correct and that I have taken photos of the right hills! Unfortunately I lack multiple sources to check the information against and only have the Ordinance Survey map to go by on this entry, so please feel free to add a comment if you have any further information or have spotted a mistake! :)

Sources & Further Information
Balquhidder Revisited, Margaret Bennett
Good People. New Fairylore Essays, P Narvaez
In Callander Website, Fairies and Fairy Knolls and Hills

Tom-nan-Aingeal, Balquhidder

I'm taking a brief pause from my updates on the faeries of Dartmoor, to write of my adventures this past week in Aberfoyle and the surrounding Trossachs area. I hope to finish writing up my Dartmoor adventures soon though, I still have a few stories left to tell, I just haven't finished the research yet! So this past week, my partner and I have been wandering around the very rainy and autumnal Trossachs. The main reason for my wanderings was to visit Tom-nan-Aingeal, the Knoll of Fire, on one of the two days of the year it was seen as most special and magical, Samhain. The other being Beltane. Elizabeth Beauchamp explains more in 'The Braes O' Balquhidder' (1981), she describes it was a landmark traditionally associated with the pre-Christian days, and writes:
"In early days, and, it seems, right up until perhaps the beginning of the 19th century, twice a year, on the first of May and the first of November a fire was lit on Tom-nan-Aingeal. All other fires in the village were put out and up the folk went to the knoll of the fire to receive new fire to rekindle their hearths. This knoll probably had Druid associations."
The exact date given for the Balquhidder Samhain celebrations does seem to vary, with some sources saying the Samhain celebrations were held on the 31st October, and others saying 1st November. As you might have already guessed, the Knoll of Fire is also associated with the fairies. Balquhidder itself is described by some as a 'thin place', where the veil between this world and the otherworld is particularly thin, perhaps allowing the faery folk to pass between worlds. It is also worth a mention that the Reverend Robert Kirk, writer of the 'Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies', was minister of the church located next to Tom-nan-Aingeal, and in his manuscript wrote:
"There Be manie places called Fayrie hills, which the mountain people think impious and dangerous to peel or discover, by taking earth or wood from them; superstitiously beleiving the souls of their predecessors to dwell yr. And for that end (say they) a Mote or Mound was dedicated beside everie Church-yard, to receave the souls, till their adjacent Bodies arise, and so became as a Fayrie-hill. They using bodies of air when called abroad."
He does not mention the Tom-nan-Aingeal mound at Balquhidder where he was once minister, but as that mound is located a short way behind the church and is said locally to be a fairy hill, perhaps it was this church and mound he had in mind while righting this, we can only speculate. For more information on Robert Kirk and the Fairies, please see my previous entries on Balquhidder, Aberfoyle Church, and Doon Hill.

The main source for information connecting the knoll with the fairies is an essay titled 'Balquhidder Revisted' written by Margaret Bennett and published in 'Good People, New Fairylore Essays' (1991) by Peter Narvaez. Margaret talked to the people of Balquhidder and collected their stories, including those of local children, and a 90 year old lady, refered to in the essay as Mrs MacGregor. She said that she believed that Robert Kirk would go out there to the fairy hill near the church in Balquhidder, and to Strathyre as well. The author, when visiting the local school, was told by a child that "I heard that there was a fairy mound up the back behind the church... it sounds hollow there, like it's empty inside." Other children agreed and said that it is "different to other places" which don't have the same hollow sound when you tap it, and that it is "very special.. where the fairies live". The children described the fairies as small, the size of your finger or thumb, and like themselves but smaller, and looking like ordinary people but wearing kilts. Interestingly, Robert Kirk himself described the fairies as "Their apparell and speech is like that of the people and countrey under which they live: so are they seen to wear plaids and variegated garments in the high-lands of Scotland". One child goes into further detail and describes them as wearing the local MacLaren tartan and suggests that perhaps the fairies are the spirits of the MacLarens who once lived in the area. Which also seems eerily similar to theories written by Robert Kirk. Further information is given in this essay, but it would be unfair of me to quote too much of it, and I encourage those interested to purchase a copy of the book.

The book contains a photo of the fairy knowe, but until I visited the mound myself I was unsure of the actual location. Tom-nan-Aingeal has a very obvious gravestone on the top, of a past reverend of the church, and this did not feature in the photograph in the book. But once at the mound I came to the conclusion that the photo is taken from near the gravestone and looking towards the river, though it's difficult to be sure as there are no obvious landmarks in the photo. It was a very damp day when we visited, and I did gently tap the hill a few times but it was so covered with damp leaves that it was hard to tell if it did indeed seem hollow or not. Hopefully I've jumped to the right conclusion and this is indeed the fairy hill refered to in local stories, but if any locals are reading this and can confirm or correct me, I'd be very grateful for your input and comments!

Sources & Further Information
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies, Robert Kirk
The Braes O' Balquhidder, Elizabeth Beauchamp
Balquhidder Revisited, Margaret Bennett
Good People. New Fairylore Essays, P Narvaez
The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex, Brian Walsh

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Cutty Dyer, Ashburton

The title of most nasty fae creature in Devon should belong to none other than the dreaded Cutty Dyer of Ashburton. This bloodthirsty sprite or ogre is said to lure naughty children to the banks of the Yeo, slitting their throats and drinking their blood. Some sources say he is particularly fond of the King's Bridge in the centre of the town.

Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art. Volume XI. (1879) includes an article by P. F. S. Amery regarding Cutty Dyer.
"Old townspeople of Ashburton recollect well the dread of their lives when children, was a mysterious being supposed to inhabit the river Yeo, with whose displeasure and its undefined consequences they were threatened by parents and nurses as a punishment for disobedience and childish frolics. To the generation before, namely, to our great grandparents, "Cutty Dyer" was the dread of their more matured years, and was supposed to inflict summary punishment on topers as they reeled with difficulty by night through the dark streets to their houses."
"He was described by persons who saw him as being very tall, standing in the water to his waist, with red eyes as large as saucers, endeavouring to pull them into the water. When the stream was bridged he remained only a scare to children, and on the streets being lighted disappeared altogether. He is remembered, however, as "Cutty Dyer," but how the second name became added I cannot guess. I may mention there is a Cuttyford Bridge about half-a-mile above Ashburton, on the same stream."
Amery gives an interesting theory into how the legend of Cutty Dyer came about, suggesting that the origin lies with Saint Christopher:
"Christianity taught that all objects of pagan worship were devils, and their influence therefore baneful to man. The giant Saint Christopher was afterwards introduced as a sort of patron to fords and bridges to neutralize the evil effects of the water sprite. In the old churchwardens' book at Ashburton we find the following entry, under date of 1536-7: "Paid vj for lokyn of the stocke to make Saynt Cristoffer." We also find, under the date 1538-9, the following among other payments: "jx"- in part payment of the greater sum for making the image of St. Christopher." At the Reformation it was dethroned, and most probably cast into the brook, and Christopher or " Cutty " became the ogre, and was supposed to lie in wait for drunkards crossing the stream."
The Legendary Dartmoor Website tells a story from William Crossing of two men walking late at night along the bank of the river Yeo, when they encountered Cutty Dyer. He is described here as an ogre with "great goggle-eyes", black hair hanging over his shoulders in twisted snake-like locks, a beard of the same colour, and teeth like a shark. Lucky for the men, they escaped unharmed. The whole story can be read here.
A more recent mention of Cutty Dyer is given on the BBC website, where Town Clerk John Germon gives an insight into the town of Ashburton. In this article he gives mention to Cutty Dyer, saying: "As young boys we were told not to hang around Kings Bridge after dark as 'Cutty Dyer' the evil water sprite would seek out children, cut their throats and drink their blood!!! An old wives tale or a story to keep children away from this area? Who knows, the only thing I know is it worked for me!"
Whilst in Devon I paid a visit to Ashburton, and carefully peered over the sides of the bridge where he is said to most often lurk. I'm not easily spooked, but I admit that my inner child was a little reluctant to lean over the bridge just incase, and I certainly wouldn't want to lift the cover to the metal grate as it looks like the perfect place for Cutty Dyer to be hiding, lying in wait... 
I would like to give great thanks to Thomas, owner of the Westcountry Folklore Blog, for his help in researching this blog entry and providing me with lots of very useful and helpful information. I thoroughly recommend you all take a look at his wonderful blog! 

Sources & Further Information
Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art. Volume XI.
Westcountry Folklore Blog
Legendary Dartmoor, Cutty Dyer
BBC Website, Ashburton Article

Wisht Hounds Part 3 - The Dewerstone

One of the most mentioned locations for the Wisht Hounds is the Dewerstone. This tall and craggy hill that dominates the landscape is said to be home to the Black Huntsman himself, known in this location as Dewer, and thought to be an incarnation of his infernal majesty, The Devil. An early mention of the Dewerstone is found in Notes and Queries Issue 61 (1850):
"The Dewerstone is a lofty mass of rock rising above the bed of the Plym, on the southern edge of Dartmoor. During a deep snow, the traces of a naked human foot and of a cloven hoof were found ascending to the highest point. The valley below is haunted by a black headless dog. Query, is it Dewerstone, Tiwes-tun, or Tiwes-stan?"
Murray, in his 'A hand-book for travellers in Devon and Cornwall' (1851), elaborates further on this and claims "on stormy winter nights the peasant has heard the"whist hounds" sweeping through the rocky valley, with cry of dogs, winding of horns and "hoofs thick - beating on the hollow hill." Their unearthy "master" has been sometimes visible - a tall swart figure with a hunting pole. Dewerstone is probably "Tiw's-stan," the rock of Tiw, the Saxon diety from whom we derive the name of Tuesday".

He also tells the story of the footprints in the snow. It may be from these descriptions, or an earlier source they are quoting, that the story arose of the Black Huntsman leading victims up to the rocky crags, or chasing them, and then disappearing leaving them to stumble around in the darkness and eventually lose their footing and plummet to their death. Another account of the Devil's footprints can be found in the Devonian Year Book 1910. Unfortunately no exact location is given for where the footprints were found.
"Some of you may remember the great excitement caused by mysterious footprints in the snow in the great snowstorm of 1881. These footprints were not those of any known animal, they were at enormous distances apart, and neither hedges nor houses formed any obstruction. Parents were afraid to allow their children to go to school, and for some time the whole country was in a state of panic. The mystery has never been solved."
Baring-Gould writes of Dewer in 'A Book of Folklore' (1913) and suggests a motive, he is hunting for human souls:
"There is a great cliff of granite rising precipitately above the River Plym that debouches at Plymouth, which goes by the name of the Dewerstone, or the rock of Tiu or of Tyr. On the top of this crag the Wild Huntsman is said to be frequently seen along with his firebreathing Wish-hounds, and his horn is heard ringing afar over the moors, and as he chases the yelping of his hounds may be heard. He hunts human souls. Two old ladies who lived at Shaw, near by, assured me that they had often heard his horn and the yelping of the pack.
So along to the Dewerstone we headed. Today, the area is well marked with trails and paths so is not quite the dangerous trek it once was, though if like us you miss the old mining track and end up scrambling straight up the hill, it's a bit more strenuous and stressful! The journey begins by crossing the river, and following the path that curves....

Past the little cave with the rocky face, and up the stoney path that leads you up the hill....

Follow the little track on the right, but not too far, and you'll reach the main pillars of the Dewerstone. I didn't venture too near the edge, and some of the rocks were being used by rock climbers, but I hope these photos give an idea of just how far the drop down is! Imagine being led here in darkness by a cloven hooved gentleman, who suddenly disappears, leaving you to fumble around in the dark, before placing one foot a little too near the edge....

We continued up the hill, accidently completely missing the easier miner's path, and eventually came to the summit. At the very summit lies a large rock, carved with the name 'W Ford' and some other writing. The views are spectacular.

My story doesn't end there. Not far from the summit I discovered a beautiful and magical hidden gem, where the sun sparkled through the oak leaved trees, and bounced off the moss covered boulders. Hidden amongst the trees is a little rocky shelter, and 2 trees stand together like a doorway to faerie.

I will leave this entry with a chilling short story found in an article titled 'Folklore Parallels and Coincidences' by M J Walhouse, published in Vol 8 No 3 of the Sept 1897 edition of the Folklore Journal.
"A story is told of this phantom that a farmer, riding across the moor by night, encountered the Black Hunter, and being flushed with ale, shouted to him "Give us a share of your game!" The Huntsman thereupon threw him something that he supposed might be a fawn, which he caught and carried in his arms till he reached his home, one of the old moorland farms. There arrived, he shouted, and a man came out with a lantern. "Bad news, master," said the man; "you've had a loss since you went out this morning." "But I have gained something," answered the farmer, and getting down brought what he had carried to the lantern, and beheld---his own dead child! During the day his only little one had died."
Sources & Further Information
Notes and Queries, Issue 61
A Hand-book for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall, Murray
Devonian Year Book 1910
A Book of Folklore, Baring-Gould
Folklore Parallels and Coincidences, M J Walhouse
The Modern Antiquarian, Dewerstone Settlement
Legendary Dartmoor, The Dewerstone
Shaugh.Net - Dewerstone
The Mysteries of the Dewerstone Walk, AA Website

Wisht Hounds Part 2 - Abbot's Way & Richard Cabell

Wistman's Woods are not the only location on Dartmoor said to be haunted by the Wisht Hounds. James Motley in his 'Tales of the Cymry' (1848) states "Certain spots on Dartmoor are more commonly haunted by the wish hounds than others, Several ancient roads are mentioned as their peculiar resorts, as "The Abbot's Way", "The Ridge Road", and on certain nights, of which St John's Eve is always one, they are supposed to go in procession through the long deep shady lanes which abound in this district."

Hunt, in his 'Popular Romances of the West of England' (1865) writes, "The Abbot's Way on Dartmoor, an ancient road which extends into Cornwall, is said to be the favourite coursing ground of the wished or wisked hounds of Dartmoor".

Whilst visiting Dartmoor we decided to take a look at Abbot's Way for ourselves, and walked along the stretch near Cross Furzes that continues out on to the wilds of the moors. We walked along the path to the Abbot's Way, past the ancient gnarled trees, and over the mossy stone bridge...

This lead us on to the Abbot's Way.

We stopped to take a look at some muddy paw prints. It must have been rather terrifying in days of old, to be walking along the Abbot's Way and come across a trail of fresh paw prints, hear the distant wild yelping of the Wisht Hounds, and know the Wild Hunt was near....

The gate that marks the beginning and end of the moors.

The path continues over the open moors, with rolling hills and ancient standing stones...

The Black Huntsman and his hounds did not make an appearance I'm glad to say, but we did decide to pursue the legend further and headed to Buckfastleigh Holy Trinity Church, the resting place of Richard Cabell, a wicked man of local legend associated with the Hell Hounds of Dartmoor.

Baring-Gould writes in the Methuen's Little Guide on Devonshire (1907) that "Before the S. porch is the enclosed tomb of Richard Cabell of Brooke, who died in 1677. He was the last male of his race, and died with such an evil reputation that he was placed under a heavy stone, and a sort of penthouse was built over that with iron gratings to it to prevent his coming up and haunting the neighbourhood. When he died the story goes that fiends and black dogs breathing fire raced over Dartmoor and surrounded Brooke, howling."

Embellished versions of the tale tell that he was an evil man and keen huntsman who sold his soul to the devil, or that he killed his wife, though other versions say that his wife outlived him by 14 years at least. Another version of the tale says that Richard Cabell beat his wife and accused her of infidelity, and chased her over the moor, catching her and stabbing her to death in a fit of rage. It is said that her faithful hound tore out his throat in revenge, and that both fell to their deaths. Another version tells how on the night of his burial a pack of phantom hounds bayed across the moor and sat howling at his tomb. Some say he leads the hounds on hunts across the moors, sometimes with a headless horse and coach. Many of these versions and more can be found on the Legendary Dartmoor website, including some interesting information about a cave below his tomb.

It is thought by some that the tale of Richard Cabell inspired the writing of Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles. In January 1907 Cecil Turner wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle and asked if Hound of the Baskervilles was based on the Black Dog of Herguest Court legend. He replied in a letter, "My story was really based on nothing save a remark of my friend Fletcher Robinson's that there was a legend about a dog on the moor connected with some old family", this quote comes direct from the letter, that was sold through Bonhams Auction house.

We headed along to Buckfastleigh Holy Trinity Church to take a look at Richard Cabell's tomb, and it certainly does have an eerie feeling surrounding it.

According to the Legendary Dartmoor website, the sold wooden door at the back was placed there to deter Satanists from gaining entry, as black magic rites have been carried out at the church and at Richard Cabell's tomb. The church itself was very badly damaged by fire in July 1992 when the church was broken into and a fire started under the altar, and what stands now is little more than a ruin with no roof and crumbling walls. In the church remains I found the below pentagram scratched on to the wall, though for what sinister purpose I'd rather not know...

Sources & Further Information
Tales of the Cymry, James Motley
Popular Romances of the West of England, Hunt
Methuen's Little Guide on Devonshire, Baring-Gould
Legendary Dartmoor Website, Buckfastleigh Church
British Listed Buildings, Richard Cabell Tomb