Tobar Bhride, Keppoch, Kilmonivaig, Inverness-shire

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 27 81

Also Known as:

  1. St Bride’s Well

Archaeology & History

This long lost ‘holy well of St Brigit’ (Tobar Bhride) has been mentioned—purely in literary repetition—by such folklore giants as F.M. MacNeill and others, but none of them give any additional information about it than that first mentioned by Alexander Stewart’s (1890) in his fascinating article on magical stones.  Indeed, knowledge of this well’s very existence was only preserved thanks to a ritual incantation that was recited to imbue and maintain healing properties of one such magickal stone, known as the Charm Stone of Keppoch.  It

“was an oval of rock crystal, about the size of a small egg, fixed in a bird’s claw of silver, and with a silver chain attached, by which it was suspended when about to be dipped.”

It was dipped in water taken from the sacred well of St Brigit, somewhere not far from Keppoch.  The incantation made over the stone was in Gaelic, obviously, but the english translation is:

“Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of Power!
In water of purest wave,
Which (saint) Bridget didn’t permit to be contaminated.
In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the high trinity
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.”

On the east side of the river, just a few hundred yards away, could once be found the Fuaran na Ban-Tighearna, or the Well of Her Ladyship.  In this sense, the term ‘ladyship’ refers to the “wife of a baronet or knight.” (Dwelly 1918)  The idea that it may refer to Bride in Her guise as a ‘lady’ is linguistically improbable here (though not impossible).  Also, if this fuaran did have a geomythic relationship with Bride, we would expect to find a Cailleach in the nearby landscape, which we don’t.

Folklore

An interesting piece of folklore that may relate to this well is described by the great Scottish landscape wanderer, Seton Gordon. (1948)  Although he makes no mention of a Bride’s Well, there is the tale of a missing bride up Glen Roy, of which Keppoch sits below.  “It was in earlier times,” he wrote,

“that the Maid of Keppoch was taken by the fairies in Glen Roy.  She was an Irish girl, little more than a child, and had become the wife of MacDonell of Keppoch.  But the wedding rejoicings were scarcely over when the bride, wandering into the oak woods which still clothe the lower slopes of Glen Roy, disappeared mysteriously.  It was believed that, like the Rev Robert Kirk…she had been spirited away by the fairies.  If indeed she was abducted by the Little People they held her closely, for from that day to this no trace has been found of the fair Maid of Keppoch.”

St Bride of course was Irish, like the Maid of Keppoch.  And just a mile up Glen Roy from Keppoch House we find the Sron Dubh and Sithean, or Ridge of the Dark Fairy Folk.  There are several burns (streams) running either side and below this fairy haunt, but I can find none with Bride’s name.  Someone, somewhere, must know where it is…

References:

  1. Gordon, Seton, Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands, MacMillan: London 1948.
  2. Dwelly, Edward, The Illustrated Gaelic English Dictionary – volume 1, Fleet Hants 1918.
  3. Stewart, Alexander, “Notice of a Highland Charm-Stone,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 24, 1890.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.888000, -4.841320 Tobar Bhride

Spittal of Glenshee, Kirkmichael, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 10865 70201

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 29609

Getting Here

Spittal of Glenshee stone

Take to A93 road, north, between Blairgowrie and Braemar, keeping your eyes peeled many miles on, to turn left along the minor road as you approach the tiny Spittal of Glenshee hamlet. Just as you go over the ancient bridge, park up on your left, below the church.  Walk round the back of the church and you’ll see a large tree-covered mound.  Walk onto its top.

Archaeology & History

Stone marked on 1862 map

This quiet, almost hidden, six-foot tall standing stone on what initially seems to be a large fairy mound or tumulus at the back of the rude church, has been occluded from general view (in my opinion, deliberately) by the construction of the more debased christian edifice right in front of it.  But it detracts not from its gentle majesty once you reach its ancient body, atop of the old hill.

The stone is one in a cluster of prehistoric sites in and around this Glen of the Fairy Folk (as its name tells), where the rivers Shee and Beag converge.  If the church didn’t obstruct the view, some of the other sites would have been visible from here.

Folklore

The old stone, looking east

Folklore tells that when the christians came into the Glen to build a church—initially a half-mile or so to the east—the little people were much annoyed at the actions of the incomers, as it intruded on one of their sacred rings of stone close by.  By night they came out, and every stone that had been laid by the christians in the day was removed.  Each day the insensitive christians came and built their church without asking, and each night the little people removed it.  Eventually an agreement was made, and the fairies let them build the church next to this standing stone.  So goes the tale….

A veritable cluster of stories about Fingal, Ossian, Dermid and Grianne scatter this area, with many of them relating to ancient sites, but I’ve not found one directly relating to this stone.

References:

  1. Miller, T.D., Tales of a Highland Parish, Munro Press: Perth 1929.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Spittal of Glenshee stone

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Spittal of Glenshee stone 56.814728, -3.461654 Spittal of Glenshee stone

An Sithean, Lawers, Kenmore, Perthshire

Legendary Hill:  OS Grid Reference – NN 6806 3976

Getting Here

An Sithean on 1862 OS-map

Take the A827 road on the north-side of Loch Tay between Killin and Kenmore, and roughly halfway along you’ll find the tiny hamlet of Lawers.  Go down into the hamlet itself and, amidst the remains of the old trees where now are houses, nestled on a rise in the land with burns (streams) on either side, remains of the fairy mound of An Sithean still lives…

Folklore

Remnants of the legends of little people are legion in the Scottish mountains.  Sadly, many of them died when the English arrived and culled the population in ‘The Clearances’ of the 19th century – none moreso than in the area surrounding Loch Tay.  But thankfully, in the latter-half of the 19th century, a local man called James MacDiarmid (1910), took it upon himself to write down many of the old stories told by the remaining locals – as well as narrate those he remembered as a boy, as told by the elders around him.  Whilst tales of ‘fairies’ and other such creatures are thought by city-minds to be little other than fantasies, mountain-folk cosmologies differ greatly to those who are disconnected from the natural world.  Genius loci abound, and animism is the basic plinth integral to communities in the hills, where the world is much much more real.  This is one such tale…

“Not many years ago there lived in the neighbourhood of Killin a man who was in the habit of recounting his wonderful adventures with the white horse of the fairies.  When coming home one night from Kenmore market, and just as he was passing Sithean, Lawers, he heard most enchanting music proceeding from the knoll.  Unable to resist the temptation, he gradually went nearer and nearer the fairies’ place of abode, till at last he was fairly among them.  They received him most kindly, and on parting gave him one of their white horses to carry him home.  His steed went through the air at a speed almost equalling that of lightning, and in a few minutes he found himself above a house at Clifton, Tyndrum, some twenty-five miles westward from Lawers.  Happening to shout “ho!” when he was right above the chimney, the fairy horse threw him off its back, and down he dropped feet foremost through the wide, old-fashioned chimney, and alighted in the midst of a wedding party, much to their surprise and alarm. He continued in their pleasant company till daylight, when he returned home at his leisure, thanking the fairies for the pleasure they had so unexpectedly given him!”

Usually, tales such as this relate to the existence of prehistoric cairns or tumuli (burial sites), but no such archaeological remains have ever been known to live here.  Equally curious is how the man in this tale wasn’t kept in the timeless realms, beloved of faerie-land, where reveries with them would take decades from a man’s life, even though it only felt like one night.  This would imply

I’ve come across old locals who still speak, not just of the little-folk, but of other hauntings in this beautiful part of Loch Tay.  May the land not be cursed by the fools who put their idea of ‘development’ in front of the genius loci here; lest madness and ill-fortune will prevail…

References:

  1. MacDiarmid, James, “More Fragments of Breadalbane Folklore,” in Transactions of the Gaelic Society Inverness, volume 26, 1910.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

An Sithean

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An Sithean 56.531275, -4.146816 An Sithean

Fairy Loch, Arrochar, Argyll

Sacred Loch:  OS Grid Reference – NS 3384 9937

Also Known as:

  1. Lochan Uiane

Getting Here

Fairy Loch on 1865 map

To get here, go down the A82 about four-and-a-half miles south of Tarbet (along the Loch Lomond road). Near a burn coming down the hill is an old house, long in ruin, and near the side of this is an old path – more for deer than city-folk. Go up through the wooded hillside for about a half-mile (amble the trek and make it a nice hour’s walk to get into the place). I’d take the stream itself, as you get more into the nature of the place once you get up the slope: there’s more to see, feel and a healthy water supply en route.

Folklore

This is more of a ‘holy loch’ than a holy well — for obvious reasons.  Although it’s not much bigger than a large pond, it is little-known, but has long had the tradition of being an abode of the sith, or faerie-folk. There is, of course, a tendency to find prehistoric remains where the sith have their repute, but there seems little on official records nearby.

Tradition tells that the loch was actually formed in ancient times by locals damming the burn for water supply. Another tells the same in order that a mill could be fed with constant water – though no mill can be found. If this latter tradition is true however, the fairy creature here could have been a brownie – though they are generally more a lowland elemental. One of the reasons the place has been named after the little people is that when certain light falls on it, at the right time of day and year, green triangular shapes emerge from the water formed by deposits hidden beneath the surface (hence the original Gaelic name, Lochan Uaine, or the Green Loch).

Local historian Norman Douglas echoed the folktale described many years earlier by the great John Gregorson Campbell (1900), telling that,

“another story is that the local people would deposit their sheeps’ fleeces in the Fairy Loch overnight, wish for them to be dyed a certain colour, and overnight the fairies would carry out their wish.”

References:

  1. Campbell, John G., Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, James MacLehose: Glasgow 1900.
  2. Douglas, Norman, Arrochar, Reiver Press: Galashiels n.d. (c.1971)

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.158113, -4.676850 Fairy Loch