As I write this article, I look outside my window to see gray skies, bare trees, patches of snow, and frozen puddles. It’s the perfect weather to read stories to send chills up and down my spine, to raise goose bumps on my arms, to make the hair on my neck stand on end. Luckily, Kenny Hanlon, frontman of Scottish hard rockers Darkhaus, is here to fulfill that need by providing his Top 10 Scottish Myths! Head on below to read these eerie tales and then tell us a myth about where you live in the comments!
Kenny Hanlon: Scotland is a land full of myths, legends and local folklore. The city of Edinburgh alone, which is barely a 20 minute drive from my hometown of Livingston, is steeped in history and sinister stories.
So here is a countdown of my personal Top 10 Scottish Myths..
10. THE BIG GREY MAN OF BEN MacDHUI..or The Greyman, is the name of an extremely tall figure covered in short hair and has been likened to the Yeti or Sasquatch. It left many people reluctant to climb the Cairngorm mountains, and references to the beast go as far back as the 13th century. In 1925 the famous climber John Norman Collie recounted an experience on the mountain that left him terrified. He claimed to have been followed by The Greyman and was quoted as saying “I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. For every few steps I took I heard a crunch, and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. As the eerie crunch, crunch, sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.”
9. SHELLYCOAT..is a mischievous bogeyman believed to haunt rivers and streams. They are generally regarded as harmless. although they enjoy misleading travellers and intentionally sending them on the wrong path. The name comes from their coat of shells which rattle when they move. One of the many tricks they are known to play on victims is to scream out as if they are drowning, only to then laugh at them as they come to help.
8. KELPIE..is a supernatural horse also said to haunt the rivers and lochs. Described as a strong and powerful horse, white, grey or sky blue in colour and with a constantly dripping mane. The horse would entice it’s victims to ride on it’s back and once they had mounted the Kelpie, it’s skin would become adhesive. It would then leap into the deep waters, dragging the unfortunate souls to the bottom before devouring them.
7. BEAN-NIGHE..meaning ‘Washer Woman’ in the Scottish-Gaelic language, is a fairy viewed as an omen of death and can be compared to the Irish Banshee. It is said that she can be found by streams and pools washing the blood from the clothes of those about to die. They are believed to be the spirits of women who passed away while giving birth and are doomed to carry out this work until the moment their lives would have naturally ended. The Bean-Nighe generally appears as a hag, however she can transform into a beautiful young woman when it suits her.
6. MARY KING’S CLOSE..is located underground in the old town area of Edinburgh, comprised of many streets and spaces. It once was a busy and vibrant place, full of traders and locals going about their day to day business. In fact, back in the 1600’s it wasn’t underground at all, however during the outbreak of the plague, or black death as it was also known, the street was shut off and sealed up. The residents were left there to die in an attempt to quarantine the plague, and it remained sealed for almost 400 years. Mary King’s Close was eventually re-opened to the public in 2003 and they currently operate tours of the streets. There have been many reported sightings of ghosts or unexplained happenings, and apparently you can occasionally hear the sounds of a crowded tavern echoing through the underground. The site has seen several TV crews over the years attempt to investigate and I took a look for myself back in 2004, and while I didn’t experience anything paranormal, there is a strange feeling that comes over you as you pass through. It’s almost as if you can feel and taste the history all around you.
5. THE LINTON WORM..was a serpent like beast that lived underground in a spot known to this day as ‘The Worm’s Den’, located in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders. It would emerge from it’s lair at dusk and ravage the countryside, eating crops, animals and even people. Despite the efforts of locals, the worm could not be killed by their weapons and the area became desolate as people fled in fear. Word quickly spread and fell on the ears of The Laird of Lariston, a man well known for his courage. The Laird approached a local blacksmith who fashioned an iron spear with a wheel about a foot from the tip, which at the slightest touch would cause the point to drop. A burning peat turf was then placed on the end of the spear. He practiced riding his horse with the weapon in a joust like fashion, to accustom his horse to the smoke blowing in it’s face. The next day at sunrise, The Laird approached the worm’s lair and when the beast came out of it’s den he set fire to the peat and charged forward. In one swift movement he stabbed the spear into the serpent’s mouth, delivering a fatal blow. The Laird of Lariston would later be knighted for his bravery and became the first Baron of Linton.
4. THE MANY GHOSTS OF EDINBURGH CASTLE..which include the phantom piper, the spirits of French prisoners and probably most famously the headless drummer, have all contributed to the castle being regarded as one of the most haunted places in all of Scotland. As part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Dr. Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from Hertfordshire University, enlisted 240 volunteers to participate in a 10-day study. Chosen from around the world, the volunteers were led in groups through the many cellars, chambers and vaults. Each participant was carefully screened and only those who knew nothing about Edinburgh’s legendary hauntings were chosen. By the end of the experiment, over half of the volunteers reported phenomena that they could not explain. Experiences included sudden drops in temperature, shadowy figures, a strong feeling of being watched and an unseen presence touching the face or arm.
3. SAWNEY BEAN..according to legend, was the head a 48 strong clan and executed for the mass murder and cannibalisation of over 1,000 people during a period between the 15th-16th century. The clan would ambush, rob and murder individuals or small groups and take the bodies back to their cave hideout to dismember and eat. Leftovers were pickled and discarded body parts would occasionally be found washed up on nearby beaches. Eventually King James VI of Scotland heard of these atrocities and led a manhunt of 400 men along with several bloodhounds, and successfully captured Sawney Bean and his clan alive at their secret hideout in the caves of Bennane Head. The cave was said to be littered with the remains of their many victims. All those captured were executed without trial, with the men having their hands, feet and genitalia cut off before being left to bleed to death and the women and children burned alive.
2. BURKE & HARE..were in fact real people, but the story is just too interesting to not be included. As medical science began to flourish in the early 19th century there was a severe shortage of corpses for studying. Normally doctors would use the bodies of criminals but with dropping numbers of public executions, they had become desperate. Enter Burke & Hare. These 2 fellas would scour the streets of Edinburgh by night and prey on victims by plying them with alcohol and smothering them and compressing their chest. They would then sell the recently deceased to local medical schools. In total they are known to have killed 16 people, both male and female, although the number could have been higher. They were finally caught when 2 of Burke’s lodgers found the body of their final victim and alerted police. Burke would eventually be betrayed by his friend and accomplice Hare, who agreed to testify against him when presented with the opportunity to be granted immunity from prosecution. Burke was executed by hanging and Hare released, after which he fled from Edinburgh. Nobody knows exactly what became of him but there are a number of theories, one common story being that he was attacked by an angry mob and thrown into a Lime Pit.
1. THE LOCH NESS MONSTER..or ‘Nessie’ as she is more affectionately known, is possibly Scotland’s most famous unsolved mystery. The first recorded sighting was 1,500 years ago and she is said to be a large dinosaur type creature closely resembling a plesiosaur. The loch contains more fresh water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined, so it’s certainly big enough to hide such a monster. In 1933 a doctor on vacation from London snapped a photograph seemingly showing Nessie emerging from the loch’s waters, leading to worldwide interest and many others claiming to also have witnessed the beast. Unfortunately most stories and pictures have since been proven to be hoaxes. I have personally visited Loch Ness on 3 occasions so far and have yet to see her with my own eyes, but I love the ‘idea’ and the trip is worth it simply to observe the beautiful scenery and listen to local tales.
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