Scotland's Stories

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Scottish storyteller, writer and travelblogger, sharing the stories of Scotland with the help of a tireless labrador.

Helping people get more out of their journey through Scotland!

Graeme & Molly

Location Edinburgh
Country United Kingdom
Member Since JULY 23, 2022
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This odd-shaped lump on the ground is the Witches Stone in Forres and you can probably tell from the name that it isn't going to have a pleasant story. Local legend (and the wee sign) claims that those charged with witchcraft were put in barrels, which were then riddled with spikes and rolled down Cluny Hill, which rises just behind this spot. Wherever the barrel stopped, the "witch" was then burned. This stone is said to have been the stopping point for one of those barbaric barrels. Punishment or even just questioning of alleged witchcraft was never nice, but this would have been a particularly brutal act! The reason it's in 3 pieces is because some cheapskate decided to break it up and use it in the wall of his new house. Before long, the man fell terribly ill and the finger was pointed at the obviously cursed stone! The house was demolished and the Witches Stone returned to its original location. Nobody has been brave enough to move the stone since, which is why both the pavement and wall were built around the big lump. Another story is that this stone marks the grave of one of the "Witches" from the story of Macbeth. They are supposed to have met the future King of Scots not far from Forres. Another stone stands in a private garden and the third has been lost. I told you this stone wasn't going to have a pleasant story!

Since I rarely show my face on here, I thought I'd pop up after Molly got all the attention yesterday! These are the Standing Stones of Stenness, right at the heart of Neolithic Orkney. They're iconic, they're enormous and they're also the oldest stone circle in the British Isles. Wait until you find out what happened them though... There are four upright stones still standing at Stenness, the largest around 6 metres tall, that's over three times my height! Erected about 5400 years ago around a hearth with a surrounding ditch, we don't know what it was originally used for, but evidence suggests this was the very first one built anywhere. From Orkney, whatever the idea was behind the Stones of Stenness spread, reaching right through Scotland, out to the Western Isles and all the way south to Stonehenge in England. This was a culture where Orkney was central rather than considered far-flung! Originally there would have been 12 standing stones here, plus an outlier with a hole in the middle that became known as the Odin Stone - a reminder of Orkney's Viking past. Even in the 19th century, locals would clasp hands through the hole to make oaths or confirm their engagements. That all stopped in December 1814, when a Captain Mackay who had moved to Orkney and bought a farm claimed they got in the road of his plough and all the locals visiting were damaging his land. He began by smashing the Odin Stone into pieces before starting to topple the Stones of Stenness! Luckily, he was stopped by the law before he got to all of them and it's safe to say his neighbours weren't pleased. There were more than a few attempts to burn his house down! Walter Scott wasn't much better for the stones after declaring one of them as being part of an altar for human sacrifice. It was just his famous imagination running away with itself, but in 1907 somebody decided to reconstruct this altar from the smaller stones. Nobody seemed to think it looked right and eventually, the altar slab was pushed over again, still lying where it fell. It doesn't need a strange mock-altar anyway, the Stones of Stenness are evocative enough as reminders of Scotland's most ancient civilization.

While wandering along one Scotland's many lochs, you might stumble upon the Tarbh Uisge or Water Bull. It appears as a huge black bull, although without ears, often coming out at night to breed with regular cows. Their offspring can be recognised by their small, half-ears. Most considered them terrible luck and would kill the calf immediately. However, one wise woman intervened with a farmer ready to make the chop, advising him that he might need the help of his own Water Bull in the future. She told him to fatten it up on the milk of three different cows, but always keep it hidden in a barn away from his herd. The farmer obliged for years, wondering if the trouble he was going to would ever prove necessary. Then one day, his daughter was sitting by the river when a handsome man approached and struck up a conversation. The girl was won over by the stranger’s charms and they chatted and laughed and grew close. But when he laid his head down on her lap, she spied slimy seaweed tangled in his hair. This wasn't a lovely man, it was a dangerous, shape-shifting Kelpie in disguise, attempting to lure her down to his lair! She gently placed his head on the grass before scrambling to her feet and sprinting back to the farm as fast as she could. The girl had a good head start, but when she looked over her shoulder, a powerful horse was in pursuit and it was clear she wouldn’t make it home in time. As the girl screamed at the top of her lungs, the sound reached the farm. Before her father could react, the barn doors burst open, and the Water Bull thundered out into the open. Like a crashing wave, it raced past the screaming girl and smashed into battle with the Kelpie. The pair fought wildly for hours, with hooves flailing, jaws snapping and a sound like thunder over the landscape. They were evenly matched, but eventually both fell into the loch and neither creature was ever seen again. This is Loch Lubnaig in the picture, one of my favourite spots near Callandar. Once I've hit it, I know I'm into the Highlands. And don't be fooled, this isn't a Water Bull (the ears are too big and floppy) nor is it a Kelpie. It's just Molly in her natural habitat!

Here's the first of potentially a few shorter stories. I know you're probably used to me cramming every possible word in by now, but I'm starting to get very close to the Scotland's Stories book submission date and that means I'm extra short on time! On the other hand, it gives me a chance to show you a few pictures of places that I've accumulated over the last few years and never got round to posting. Usually, that's because it doesn't have one of those show-stopping stories or sweeping vistas that social media algorithms like so much. No ghosts, murders or creatures of folklore to be found! I stand by my motto that everywhere has a story to tell though and this big pencil like monument in the hills above Falkland in Fife certainly does. It's dedicated to Onesiphorus Tyndall Bruce who became Laird of Falkland through his wife Margaret and she was the lady to raise the memorial in 1855. Lots of people visit Falkland for its Outlander connections and you'll no doubt have walked past Onesiphorus' statue near the fountain! The family lived in Falkland House (now a school) and were responsible for laying out the pleasure walk of Maspie Den and planting thousands of trees. Fitting since the Laird was also known as His Majesty's Forester of Falkland. What Onesiphorus and Margaret could never have known was how important their tree planting regime would be. During both World Wars, the accessible trees around Falkland were chopped down in droves for the war effort. Thankfully the Crichton Stuarts who had inherited the estate began to regenerate what was lost and 100 years after Onesiphorus died, they added a plaque to his monument which reads: "These woodlands are dedicated in the hope that they may never be devastated in the cause of war nor by the fires of the careless." It's a great walk, only taking around 2 hours to get there and back. Definitely recommended and make sure you appreciate all those trees while you're there! #Scotland #WelcomeToFife #LoveScotland #LoveFife #ScotlandIsNow #ScotlandIsCalling

This is the ominously named Well of the Seven Heads. You need to keep your eyes open as you drive along the shore of Loch Oich or you'll miss it, but once you're here, take a closer look at the top. Yep, the obelisk is crowned with a hand holding a dagger and 7 heads... In 1663, Alexander and Ranald MacDonald of Keppoch, the clan chief and his brother, were murdered by their cousins the MacDonalds of Inverlair. Nobody knows what started the fight, but Alexander had just come back from France and some think he was a little too continental for the Highlands. The government said they would do something about the crime but for two years, nobody saw justice. Clearly the murderers had too many influential supporters in the area, so they were just keeping their heads down until it all blew over. Unfortunately for them, legendary Gaelic bard Iain Lom MacDonald was a kinsman of the victims and he refused to let the matter lie. After several petitions, he was eventually granted a "letter of fire and sword" from the government, legally allowing him to seek revenge. With 50 men from the MacDonalds of Sleat, Iain hunted down the seven killers at Inverlaird and dealt them swift and brutal Highland justice. Legend says he cut the heads off using the same dagger that killed his clan chief. Iain held more than just the murderers responsible though, he felt that Lord MacDonnell of Invergarry should have been the one to punish the criminals. Time to make a statement and present MacDonell with the heads as a gift, but to make them more presentable, Iain stopped at this well to clean them up a bit. The name has stuck ever since and in the 19th century, to try and prove that the story wasn't a tall tale, a burial mound at Inverlaird was excavated. Seven headless skeletons were found inside. If you stop to visit the monument, take the stairs down to the left and you can walk through a short tunnel leading to the well itself. Please don't bring any heads along with you... #Scotland #YourScotland #ScottishHighlands

Happy Burns Night, everybody! Today is the annual celebration of Scotland's favourite poet - Robert Burns. This evening, many people will gather together to recite poetry, sing songs, share some stories about Burns and of course, eat Haggis, Neeps & Tatties. My favourite part of the evening is this poem, addressing the haggis before it's been served as the Great Chieftain of the Pudding Race! It's so big and heavy that the trencher it fills is groaning under the weight and the pin holding it together could fix a mill. Everybody's fighting over getting their share until their stuffed, even though people eating their fancy ragout or fricassee look down their noses at it. But eating those posh meals just leaves them weak, with legs like thin chords and fists the size of a bug! Not like the haggis fed Scotsman though! This meal makes us so big and tough that the very earth shakes as we walk, give us a sword and watch us cleave our way through anything. If God is listening while deciding who gets what to eat, Scotland doesn't want anything elaborate. If you want the Scots grateful prayers, just give us Haggis! Hopefully that explanation, along with the exaggerated actions (part of any good Haggis toast) convey the message from words you might not understand. There are plenty more poems and songs from Burns, a man who is still remembered 227 years after he died. If you enjoyed that and want to see what the rest of Burns Night is like, then join me on Zoom on Saturday night at 8pm UK Time. You can get tickets through the link in my bio or just send me a message! Now raise a toast, even if it's coffee - To The Haggis! (And Robert Burns) #scotland #ScotlandIsNow #VisitScotland #RobertBurns #BurnsNight #RabbieBurns #Haggis #ToTheHaggis

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