Myths and Legends

This page is an introduction to the Myths, Legends and Folklore of Strathyre and surrounding area

Folklore is often dependant on the stories, customs and songs being passed on through families and friends, eternally. Stories of water spirits, fairies, ghosts, prophecies and healing stones are still whispered here alongside tales of legendary characters including:

  • Rob Roy MacGregor: Branded an outlaw, worshipped as a hero. Clans and tourists still travel miles to his graveside in Balquhidder church.
  • Robert Kirke: This one time reverend of Balquhidder parish is famous for his essay on the “The Secret Commonwealth..” about “ faeries” and their territories.
  • St Fillan: Arriving from Ireland in the 8 th century this Saint is said to have cured the mentally ill from his holy pool at a church that he built in Strathfillan. His healing stones are kept in the old meal water mill at Killin which serves as the local tourist and folklore centre today.
  • Fingal: This magical giant and legend of Celtic mythology is alleged to be buried in the village of Killin , thought to derive from Cil Fhinn meaning Cell of Fingal.
  • St Blane: He was a 6th-century monk, said to have cursed the lands surrounding Edinample Castle on Loch Earn, claiming that its owners would never prosper. This was certainly true for the MacGregor’s who were driven to near extinction by the Campbell ‘s in this region.

Whether you are passing through, paying respect to your ancestors or booked for a holiday, be sure to chat up the locals in the hostelries. Listen to the words of the folksingers, search maps for fairy hills and knolls, visit the regions kirks, old gravestones and castles and seek out the Breadalbane Folklore Centre. The following will give you a flavour of the stories that are still told around here but with so many tales to tell, we would rather pass them on in person.

Folklore and LegendDid you hear that Loch Earn is inhabited by a legendary Water Horse – Each Uisge. They say that it was chased across the hills from Loch Tay by the giant Fingal. Not a mere kelpie; this supernatural horse is said to be the most dangerous water creature in Britain. Each Uisge is a shape-shifter often manifesting as a fine horse, pony or handsome man. Never let the horse entice you to ride on its back though. As soon as Each Uisge glimpses or smells the loch with a mounted rider, its neck becomes adhesive and its victim will be held fast while it rides to the deepest part of the loch. The rider will be drowned and everything devoured save the liver, which will float to the loch’s surface. If you do meet a handsome bloke in this area, don’t panic, just check to see if he has water weeds in his hair!

Many locals believe Strathyre has its own monster – Lubhi a smaller distant cousin of Nessie. Witnesses talk of small humps appearing on the surface of Loch Lubnaig.

Folklore and LegendThe Ghost of Edinample Castle. Sir Duncan Campbell, seventh knight of Glenorchy was known as Black Duncan. He built Edinample Castle on the south shore of Loch Earn in the 16 th century. Legend has it that he asked his architect to design a parapet so that he could walk safely around his roof to view the lands. Unfortunately, this important feature was missed out of the design and the architect fell to his death, having been pushed off the roof by his furious employer. Black Duncan avoided having to pay the poor fellow and his ghost is said to have been walking on the roof ever since.

 

Folklore and Legend

Have you seen a green light or heard music coming from an earthen mound? In 1995, the villagers of St Fillans protested that a housing development would harm the fairy colony believed to live beneath a rock that stuck out of a field surrounded by the steep slopes of Dundurn mountain. Planning guidance states that local customs and beliefs must be taken into account when a developer applies for planning permission and so the villagers got their own way and the development had to be redesigned around the curious rock. Such claims have also been made about the hillock known as “chieftains mound” in the games field at Loch Earn. They say that it is “home to the fairy folk”. If you are interested in seeking out fairy knolls and mountains look for place names that sound like Sidh, Sidhe, Sith, or Si (shee) being Gaelic names relating to these subterranean creatures of the Highlands that we know as fairies.

Robert Kirke, a former reverend of Balquhidder church is famed for his essay “ The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies” written in 1691. His work details the nature and social structure of these magical creatures with examples of their friendly and mischievous meddling. He declares “These Siths or FAIRIES, they call Sleagh Maith, or the Good People…. said to be of a middle nature betwixt Man and Angel …” and informs us that “Women are yet alive who tell they were taken away when in child-bed to nurse fairy children…”

Folklore and LegendDo you know where the expression “ to give someone the cold shoulder ” comes from? Some attribute it to the author Sir Walter Scott however locals say it originated around here before his time. It was once a tradition to provide a hot meal to travellers in need of food and shelter. Cold meat (shoulder) was served in place of hot to anyone who was considered unfriendly, hence the now famous expression. Lady Margaret Stewart of Ardvorlich on Loch Earn was with child when she was approached by a party of MacGregor’s seeking shelter. Being cautious she served them cold meats and left the room. Having just killed her brother John Drummond, the MacGregor’s positioned his severed head on the silver meat platter and rammed the cold offerings into his mouth. On discovering this terrible site, Lady Stewart ran to the hills where they say she gave birth to James Stewart.

Folklore and LegendThe Clach Dhearg was a red charm stone that was brought to Ardvorlich House in the 14th century after the crusades. Local storytellers claim that if you dipped the stone in a keg of water and moved it three times clock-wise while reciting a Gaelic charm, the water would have healing powers which could be used to treat sick cattle when they drank it. The spell would only work on condition that the owner took the keg straight home to his cattle without entering any house on the way.

 

We have not even touched on:

  • The Adam and Eve stone at Dundurn Burial Ground
  • The prophecies of the Lady of Lawers
  • The grave of the 7 MacDonalds
  • The Pictish fort said to be the capital of the surrounding area at Dunfillan
  • The revenge of the McNabs on Neish Island
  • The rocking stone at Glentarken
  • The Grave of Major Stewart of Ardvorlich following attempts to dishonour his corpse
  • The cross of the rowan tree used to keep cattle free from disease
  • The sacred stone of St Angus at Balquidder church

and many more….

To truly enter into the spirit of this area you have to see, hear and believe it for yourself.

We hope to see you very soon.

Visit Strathyre and see the ancient Faerie Mountain

Ben Sheann face by Kenny Higgins

Can you see a girls face?

In Queen Victoria’s time and for many years afterwards, a National Tourism Strap Line was: “Visit Strathyre and see the ancient Faerie Mountain” This was made even more popular with the arrival of the railway on 1st June 1870.

The Rev Robert Kirk obviously knew Strathyre well. It is a narrow, clear, north-south pass, flanked on either side by steep hills whose sides are now covered in conifer forestry. Two faery knolls lie on either side of the glen, one well-known, but misunderstood and the other virtually ignored nowadays and both are passed by thousands of modern travellers.

 

On the west side lies steep-sided Beinn an t-Sidhein, known locally as Ben Sheann or Shian, and popularly called the faery mountain or hill. It must have looked imposing in Robert Kirk’s time, but its sides are now softened by conifers. 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. In the last century, Many local people referred to Ben Sheann at the Ancient Mountain of the Caledonians or the Hollow Mountain with tales of faeries living deep inside the Mountain.

 

Recently forestry workers verified this theory with the discovery of fissures dropping deep inside the Mountain. On the other side of the glen, tucked away behind the Munro Inn, is a little wooded knoll which now has the war memorial sited on it. It is named Cnoc an t-Sidhein, the faery-knoll, and stands at the foot of the steep, wooded hillside. Its name, too, is not on the Landranger Ordnance Survey map. Beyond this knoll lies Strathyre’s enchanted forest which is regularly visited by folklorists and where small Troll – like creatures are said to appear at twilight.

 

Robert Kirk  must have passed between these two faerie sites dozens of times. There are only a few hundred yards apart and he would register their presence.
The northern peak of Beinn an t-Sidhein is called Buachaille Breige, the false herdsman, like many hills bearing such names it probably has a rock somewhere which from a particular angle resembles the human form. People long ago would sometimes cross the southern shoulder of Beinn an t-Sidhein and descend into Glen Buckie, a beautiful glen which leads down to the Kirkton of Balquhidder where Robert Kirk was a minister.
In Winter 2012, local LETi Vice Chairman Kenny Higgins, climbed The foothills above Cnoc an t-Sidhein – directly behind his home and captured some photos of snow-clad Ben Sheann. On studying the photographs, a girls face was clearly seen on the steep Mountain slopes below the summit and the image was displayed around the village upholding the Faerie Mountain legend.

 

Perhaps Rev Kirk was right!

 

Here is the photo of the Face on Ben Sheann

 

 

On the opposite side of the glen can be found another faery hill, Cnoc an t-Sidhein, also known as the Faerie 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.

Legend in Song and verse

Ancient stories are often passed on through song and verse and the local Band Balvaig have tried their hand at this on numerous occasions.  On the Eastern hill slopes of Strathyre beyond the  Cnoc an t-Sidhein, (Faerie Knoll) lies a footpath forming part of the Rob Roy Way behind the tennis court and Northwards. At a split in the path take the Right fork and it takes you up the side of a stream with waterfalls to a wooden bridge. As you cross the bridge you enter a rather special place being only a quarter of a mile from the village but eerily-tranquil. The locals refer to this as the enchanted forest or the youngsters, as Endor. Tales of old speak of small faeries and troll-like creatures, which are claimed to reside here. These tales are said to have originated from Gold Diggers who used the stream here to pan for Gold back in the early to mid 1800s, with claims of eerie sounds coming from the forest at night.  Small shelters made from gathered twigs and branches can be found around here, some appearing mysteriously overnight, which adds to the mystery and the legend.

This story inspired Balvaig to produce a rousing story put to music:

The Gold Diggers Lament:

1, The Gold Diggers say,  In their stories of old
Strathyre  Tales  were told, t’them
Talk of strange things when panning for Gold
About sounds  in  the night  that scared them
Deep in the forest,  trolls and  faeries all dance
The still of the night  is  broken
Banshees screams – so chilling to hear
So  No-one goes out there to see them

CHORUS

But Up on the hill, Time it stands still
Drover campfires  are burning
The gold diggers know – in the village below
That life will return in the morning

2. River Balvaig runs high – not a cloud in the sky
Loch Lubnaig is full at day’s  dawning
Smoke from the fires,  smog rises higher
Clouding blue skies in the morning
A fresh breath of spring  and the joy it brings
Mountain streams, Crystal fountains
Over the forest, eagles are seen
 Soaring high – o’er  the Mountain

CHORUS

3, Up strikes a breeze – Listen to the Trees
Macaskil’s  trail is forgotten
Deep forest tracks  heather bound hills
Pathways that once were well  trodden,
Deep in the forest  trolls and  faeries all dance
The still of the night – is  broken
Banshees screams  – so chilling to hear
So No-one goes out there, to see them

CHORUS

4, History Tells of a time long  gone by
When Rob Roy  roamed in the county
He  rests  in Strathyre,  but his ghost is alive
A free man, to all who can see him.
St Columba and Cuthbert, Men of the cloth
Passed through on their way  to Iona 
Scott and Wordsworth,  men of the book
And a visit from auld  queen Victoria

CHORUS

But Up on the hill Time, it stands still
Drover campfires  are burning
The gold diggers know, in the village below
That life will return  in the  morning

Kenny Higgins Balvaig 2012