Monday, 29 December 2014

Holy Wells in Angus

Corryvannoch Well, on the lower slopes of Mount Keen was once the most renowned healing well in Angus.  Sick children were frequently brought here to drink the water, even in the middle of the night.  In gratitude for their cure patients would leave a scrap of cloth on the bushes beside the well.  At the feast of Beltane locals would visit the place and light great fires to protect their cattle during the coming year.
   St Sinavy's (or Sunny Vie) Well was near Mains Castle, just north of Dundee.  Its name contradicted its reputation, because it was said that the sun never shone here.  This tradition may be linked to the lore attached to other wells which were reputed to be so icily cold that anyone daring to drink from them would immediately die of shock.  The identity of Sinavy is a mystery, though the name may be a garbled form, possibly a corruption of St Ninian.  There are other wells which still exist, having being rediscovered, in some cases lost more than once, whose original characteristics and dedications are long forgotten.  One such well exists in Balmossie Den, near Broughty Ferry. It is known as a 'holy well', but holy to whom?  The well here was revamped in the mid-19th century. Among the wells which have entirely vanished is the Carlin Well, which was in a field near Craigton of Airlie.

   Benvie, in the far south west of the county, was once haunted by a White Lady.  She was the ghost of a local woman who died of the plague and she could not rest in peace because she was buried in un-consecrated ground.  Her form was often seen gliding slowly alongside the Fowlis Burn, weeping as she proceeded.  Her appearances unsettled the Benvie villagers so much that they asked the minister to get rid of her.  Armed with a bible the holy man boldly approached the spirit one night, demanding to know why she haunted the place.  The White Lady told the priest her story and vowed to quit the district if her body was reburied in a corner of the kirkyard.  If this happened she promised that a spring would rise up in the spot of her first burial place.  She was re-interred and the spring did appear; its water cured many people of the plague, as the White Lady said it would.  Her form was never seen again.
   White Ladies are thought by some to date back to Diana, the Great White Goddess.  Other Angus White Ladies haunted the castles of Glamis, Ethie, Careston, and Claypotts, plus the woods of Leuchat in Glen Lethnot.

   Another famous healing well was the Medicine Well in Montrose, which became a fashionable spa in the 18th century.  A well in the churchyard of Logie-Pert was used to treat sores, while a well in nearby Martin's Den was efficacious for scurvy. Kirkden parish had a well which helped reduce swelling in the feet and legs.  In 1652 Auchterhouse kirk session prosecuted a woman for carrying her sick child to a healing well at Beltane.  This well was probably St Anthony's Well, south of Henderson Hill in the Sidlaw Hills.

   Non-healing wells in the county include Queen's Well in Glen Mark, named after a visit by Queen Victoria.  It was originally Tobar na clachan gualaich, the Well of the White Stone. Arbroath had its Silver Well, so called from the proliferation of coins dropped into it.  To the west was the even more exotically named Wormie Hills Well.

   St Bride's Well is on the lands of Templeton, near the border of the parishes of Newtyle and Nevay.  Templeton signifies ownership at one time by the military Knights Templar, but the Celtic dedication to St Bride and the root of the place-name Nevay point to an ancient place of worship.  The parish boundary here was at once time marked by an old, hollow and worm eaten tree called the Templar Tree.  It may be the latter was the later survival of a pagan sacred grove.  Nevay comes from Nemeton, meaning (pre-Christian) 'sacred place'.
                                                              Queen's Well, Glen Mark

Monday, 22 December 2014

Place Rivalries (Part Two) - Kirriemuir V. Forfar

Forfar and Kirriemuir were at loggerheads for may years in a dispute over the ownership of a useless piece of land, Muir Moss, near Ballinshoe.  In the plague year 1645 the poet and historian William Drummond of Hawthornden came to Forfar one evening, but he was refused lodging for fear of the disease.  He travelled on to Kirriemuir and received a warm welcome, despite the lateness of his arrival.  Hearing about the feud with Forfar, he wrote to the latter's provost.  The provost wrongly thought the letter was a judgement on the ownership of Muir Moss sent by the Commission of Estates, so he summoned the whole council and the minister.  Solemnly opening the letter, he found Drummond's message:

                                    The Kirriemurians and the Forfarians
                                    met at Muir Moss,
                                    the Kirriemurians beat the Forfarians
                                    back to the Cross;
                                    sutors ye are, and sutors ye'll be,
                                    fye upon Forfar,
                                    Kirriemuir bears the gree.

   This poem, which seems rather obscure now, recalls a legendary fight between the two towns.  J. M. Barrie included a version of this tulzie in his Auld Licht Idylls (1888), calling it the Battle of Cabbylatch (after the name of a piece of ground near Glamis).  A Kirriemuir man named Tammas Lunan had the misfortune to die in Forfar.  His body was carried to the parish boundary by Forfar men who refused to venture into enemy territory.  A Kirriemuir party came to collect the corpse, but the two sides argued about the precise location of the border.  A battle ensued, the Forfar folk fled and Kirriemuir won the day.
   The towns' quarrel seems to have impoverished Ballinshoe (pronounced Benshie), as this traditional local rhyme demonstrates:

                                     The beggars o Benshie,
                                      the cairds o Lour,
                                      the sutors o Forfar,
                                      the weavers o Kirriemuir.

                                      James Matthew Barrie00.jpg

                                              J. M. Barrie

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Devil At Large

Evidence of the malicious activity of Satan has left its mark on the Angus landscape.  Near the A94, east of Finavon village, is a hollow place in a field named the Deil's Hows.  Eighteenth century observers reported that large pieces of earth - weighing up to 150 and 160 lbs. - were regularly thrown up from the ground here without any visible cause.  Local people knew that Auld Nick was the culprit.
   In the grounds of Kinnaird Castle is the Deil's Den, sometimes haunted by a satanic coach, and there is a second Deil's Den at Letham.  The evil one was particularly active in the caves and cliffs on the coast near Arbroath.  The Deil's Head is a large stack of rock, while the Deil's Chair is a strangely formed rock near the entrance of the Dark Cave.  In the Smuggler's Cave are the Deil's E'en, and on Auchmithie beach is the Devil's Letterbox, should anyone feel the need to post a missive to the evil one.  Near this there is the Devil's Grindstone, which makes a peculiar sound when the wind is in the right (or the wrong?) direction.  When fishermen here hear this sound they refused to go to sea because it meant that one of them would drown that day if they did.

The Deil's Head

   The Devil once played a trick on a Lundie man one summer evening several centuries ago.  Sitting on a hillock, he had just finished playing his shepherd's pipes when he heard, to his astonishment, his tune being repeated back to him note for note.  There was not a living soul nearby, so he got up fearfully, convinced that the Devil was in that place.  He smashed his pipes and could never afterwards be persuaded to touch a musical instrument.

   The Rev. Thomson, minister of Lethnot from 1685 to 1715, often did battle with Satan.  On one occasion when the local miller went out to waylay his mortal enemy, the farmer of Witten, his wife asked who would keep her company in his absence. 'The Devil, if he likes!' the miller shouted before he departed.  An hour or two later the poor woman saw Auld Hornie rise up through the earthen floor.  Her son fetched the minister and several neighbours,  all of whom smelled brimstone as they approached.  The minister fought with Satan and made him sink back through the floor.  Some people say the priestly wrestler was the Rev. John Row, a later incumbent of the parish.

                                          Free Trick Or Treat Clipart

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Brownie of Claypotts Castle

Claypotts Castle, once home of the Grahams of Claverhouse, is an almost unaltered example of a z-plan castle.  Originally built by the Strachans of Carmyllie between 1569 and 1588, its supernatural attractions include a White Lady who visits annually.  There also used to be a resident brownie - a supernatural servant - who performed all the menial household tasks while the human servants were asleep at night.  In return for such sterling service the brownie required only one bowl of cream as payment each night.
   But in time the brownie grew discontent with the laziness of the domestic staff.  In particular it detested the kitchen maid who had a slovenly way of preparing vegetables for the pot.  The brownie savagely beat the servant with a handful of kail sticks, the pronounced a satirical curse on Claypotts and the neighbouring places before departing the castle forever:

                                   The Ferry and the Ferry-well,
                                   the Camp and the Camp-hill,
                                   Balmossie and Balmossie Mill,
                                   Burnside and Burn-hill,
                                   the thin sowens o' Drumgeith,
                                   the fair May o' Monifieth;
                                   there's Gutterston and Wallockston,
                                   Clay-pats I'll gie my malison;
                                   come I late, or come I air,
                                   Balemie's boards aye bare.

   Other authorities insist that the brownie was actually forced to depart after a minister performed an exorcism.

                                  File:Claypotts Castle sideview.jpg

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Cardinal Beaton's Ghost and Other Castle Ghosts

The last resident Abbot of Arbroath Abbey was Cardinal David Beaton, who came to Arbroath in 1524.  Beaton installed himself and his mistress Marion Ogilvy (daughter of the first Lord Ogilvy) at Ethie Castle, at Inverkeilor,east of Arbroath.  It was long said that Beaton's ghost later haunted Ethie.  The sound of footsteps and a dragging leg have been heard on stairs leading to the first floor during the night.  The sounds began and ended in the room which David Beaton once ended.  The dragging leg is explained by the fact that the cardinal suffered from gout in his later years.
   One old housekeeper at Ethie Castle was so alarmed by these noises that use used to barricade herself in her bedroom each night.  The ghost was less often seen than heard, but there were occasional sightings of him near the secret passage in the Cardinal's Chamber, where a contemporary portrait of him hangs.
   Ethie also had a modest selection of other ghosts. When the Carnegie Earls of Northesk occupied the house from the 17th century until 1929, a Green Lady appeared whenever there was due to be a death in the family.  A new governess was once given  a room in the long unoccupied ancient part of the castle.  There was a closed up attic above her room, from which she heard odd sounds emanating several nights in succession.  First she heard a sobbing child, then footsteps and something with wheels being pushed across a bare floor.  The attic was reopened, and inside was found the skeleton of a child and the remains of a toy cart.  After the bones were buried the disturbance ceased.
   Ethie Castle is now the property of the Earl of Wigtoun and its grounds can be hired for weddings and other functions (

   Beaton was brutally murdered by protestant insurgents in St Andrews Castle on 29 May 1546.  After his death Marion Ogilvy returned to Ethie for a short time, then removed to Melgund Castle after Ethie was attacked by Lord Gray.  Marion is also reputed to haunt Ethie, but her spirit is benevolent. Her ghost is also seen at Claypotts Castle, Broughty Ferry, punctually every year on the anniversary of her lover's death.  The figure waves a handkerchief in an upper window and wrings her hands in despair.  The theory is that Marion is trying to signal her lover across in Fife.  Yet it is doubtful whether St Andrews can be clearly seen from here,  Nor do Marion nor Beaton have any clear historical connection with this castle.

   Ruined Vayne Castle, standing on the lonely north bank of the Noran Water, was once reputedly the home of Cardinal Beaton.  A pool in the Noran is called Tammy's Cradle (or Tammy's Pot).  Both the pool and the castle are named after a tragedy. The New Statistical Account for Fern parish in the 19th century tells the tale:

                    In a deep pool of the Noran Water, near Vayne Castle, a son of an ancient
                    proprietor is popularly believed to have drowned.  The place is called
                    Tammy's Cradle, and the name of the estate is ascribed to an exclamation
                    of the father of the child upon the accident being reported to him; he cried
                    'It's a' vain!'

   In fact, it was Beaton's daughter Elizabeth who married the owner of Vayne, Alexander Lindsay, and one of their sons was named Thomas.  The castle later passed to the Earls of Southesk.  The ruins of Vayne are rumoured to conceal a buried hoard of Lindsay treasure.  (The monks of Arbroath Abbey are also rumoured to have hidden treasure within the walls of Ethie Castle.)  A fortune seeker actually penetrated the subterranean chamber at Vayne where the valuables were hidden.  But just as he was about to fill his pockets a monster resembling a huge bull threw his back and belched flames at him.  It rent open the castle wall and vanished under the ground.  No one has ever had the courage to seek the treasure again.  Much the same tale is told at Melgund Castle.

Cardinal David Beaton

Monday, 15 December 2014

Place Rivalries (Part One)

In the days before mechanised transport, when travel was difficult, the nearest rural communities often rubbed each other up the wrong way.  Part of this was economic competition, but the inbred suspicion of strangers, albeit strangers who lived just over the next hill or a few fields away seems to have been deep seated.  Most of the rivalries between small towns and villages have been long forgotten, so it is hard to judge now how jocular or serious these rivalries were generations ago.  The Rev W, Mason Inglis gives a light hearted example of friendly rivalry between the parish of Auchterhouse and its neighbour Tealing in An Angus Parish in the Eighteenth Century (1904).  When an Auchterhouse man suggested that it only took an S before is neighbour's parish name to turn it into something slanderous, his friend pointed out that SL before the name Auchterhouse would similarly transform it!
   One verse, attributed to the seer True Thomas hints at destruction due to several times and suggests he was more favourable to some places in Angus more than others:

                                  Bonny Montrose will be a moss;
                                  Dundee will be dung doun;
                                  Forfar will be Forfar still;
                                  And Brechin a braw burrows-toun [burgh town].

   Fishing communities in Angus maintained a healthy disdain for each other, obviously inspired by competition for catches.  When Broughty Ferry was still a fisher toun the people there took umbrage at their easterly neighbours in East and West Haven regularly raiding their mussel beds in Monifieth:

                                  East Ha'en stinkers
                                  and West Ha'en gull maws
                                  come and sweep our sand awa.

   Further up the coast, there is Fishtown of Usan, now a deserted ghost village.  The people there maintained a rivalry with their northerly neighbours in Ferryden, with Usan residents calling them assertive and grasping.  Ferryden folk in turn accused Usan villagers of being canny and dull witted.
   Bigger communities were no less petty in their attitudes.  Brechin was rarely on good terns with Montrose and was also an enemy of Forfar.  Montrose people were (perhaps scornfully) termed Gable Enders (or Endies) because many of their old houses were built side-on to the street.  Brechiners were derided as Creeshy Wyvers (Greasy Weavers) because of their staple hand loom industry.  When Brechin folk resorted to the country, local folk would rush out to gather in their washing from the line, with a warning cry to neighbours:

                                  Tak in yer sarks, guidwives, for here come the Brechiners!

   The implication that people from Brechin were prone to theft has never been satisfactorily proven.
   Enmity between Brechin and Montrose dates back at least to the thirteenth century when Montrose had a monopoly on local trade, so Brechiners had to travel to its market.  In 1396  Brechin set up its own market cross, but the Sheriff of Angus promptly knocked down this symbol of economic independence.
   Brechin got its own back on Montrose with a dig at the often foul smelling tidal basin:

                                 Here's the basin, there's Montrose,
                                 Shut yer e'en an haud yer nose.

   When some men from Brechin and Montrose met together once, one of the latter made a disparaging remark about Brechin.  A Brechiner angrily asked the man:  'Do you mean, sir, that there are nae honest men in Brechin?'
   The man replied:  'Weel, sir, I'll no be sayin that...but it's michty far atween their doors.'

   Whether or not this resulted in a pitched battle is not recorded.

                                                                 Montrose Basin

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Family Rivalries (Part One)

While the most powerful competing families in Angus for several centuries were the Ogilvys and the Lindsays, several less numerous kindred groups developed an antipathy towards each other at various times.  One family, the Gardens or Gardynes, were at loggerheads with their neighbours the Guthries.
   In 1578, Patrick Gardyne of Gardyne Castle was stabbed to death by his cousin, William Guthrie of Guthrie Castle.  A decade later the Guthrie chief was murdered by the Gardynes, and within two years the head of the latter family was himself slain.  King James VI eventually forfeited both families.
   Near Craig, on the lonely road from Alyth to Milnacraig in Glen Isla, there was once a small enclosed graveyard which had the reputation of being haunted.  One of the Crightons of Cluny was buried here.  He was murdered by the young laird of Lochblair in revenge for Cluny killing his father.  After the first death Cluny was warned by a ghostly voice:
                                        O! woe to thee Cluny,
                                        why killed you Lochblair?
                                        For anither Lochblair
                                        is sure to kill you.

   The lands of Cluny later became an Ogilvy property.  One of this family was a proud, quick tempered man, a fine shot, who was unfortunately prone to insulting someone at every social gathering he attended, even if it was a funeral. One day Ogilvy of Cluny and a man named Coupar were travelling through the hilly district of northern Perthshire called the Stormont.  The pair argued and Cluny shot the man, then fled to his house in Glen Isla, the Craig, which he tried to fortify.  When a party of armed men came searching for him a few days later, Ogilvy escaped and his in a cave in the gorge of the River Isla, near the Reekie Linn waterfall.  But he got no peace here, for in the dead of night he saw the Devil, in the shape of a black dog, scamper up the cliffs opposite his hiding place.  Ogilvy then fled to the Hebrides.  The murdered man's daughter was eventually persuaded to accept compensation, after which Ogilvy of Cluny was able to return home.
   Ogilvy of Cluny was also interred in the graveyard near Craig.  He told his friends to bury him in a lonely place, along with his weapons and armour, and that his best horse and greyhound should be slaughtered and interred alongside him. His reason was that he should be able to rise at the Last Trumpet, mount his steed, and be ready for war or the chase.  It is not known whether his friends followed his instructions, but Ogilvy is there, still waiting for Judgement Day.

   On the eastern side of Tullo Hill, Menmuir is the Mansworn (i.e. Perjured) Rig.  It received its name after a dispute between two landowners.  Both men brought witnesses to the place to swear that the land belonged to their respective masters.  One servant swore to God that he was standing on his employer's ground, which so enraged the Laird of Balhall that he pulled a pistol from his belt and shot the man dead.  When the body was examined it was found that he had filled his shoes with soil taken  from his master's land so that he could truthfully swear his oath.

                                                          Guthrie Castle

Friday, 12 December 2014

A Word About the Wee Man...

Before we get too deep into this folklore thing, I would like to introduce you to the Pictish gentleman whose picture sits next to the top of this blog.  Although my humble avatar is nameless, I will call him Shuggie.  He features on a Pictish stone from Invergowrie which migrated to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

    Shuggie is a well-travelled, kenspeckle chap himself.  He is the cover star of the original edition of the excellent book Who Are The Scots (edited by Gordon Menzies, 1971, later renamed In Search of Scotland) and is also the logo star for  Celtic Studies Publications, an imprint of the University of Wales Press (check out the wonderful Gododdin of Aneurin, reconstructed by John T. Koch).

    Why so famous?  Well, he's a characterful fellow - not the usual cleric, hunter or military type found on Pictish slabs.  True he sits on a horse, but he's an indolent, middle aged bearded type, more intent on draining the contents of a curved drinking horn, whose bird like head stares quizically back at him.  An apt patron for this blog.

Witches of Angus - A Sampler

The most famous witches in Angus, going by the extant written records, are undoubtedly the unfortunate Forfar witches, whose trials took place in the late 17th century.  But there are also significant records of witches in the session and other records, most notably detailing alleged witchcraft in Brechin.
   The last witch to be executed in the county is said to have died in the parish of Ruthven.  The site of her burning was marked by a large boulder in a field.  Tales of other latter day witches are numerous.  There was Jean, witch-wife of Cardean (on the Perthshire border), who was consulted by folk from far and near, and was the terror of local lairds.  She was once visited by a Forfar woman who wished to find out about a missing item.  Jean made the thief confess to taking it.  Sadly, Jean was eventually found drowned in the Dean Water, killed by Satan during a ferocious nocturnal battle.
    A witch in the Carse of Gowrie (Perthshire, but bordering Angus) stole cow's milk by knotting a magical rope and reciting:
                                 Meers' milk and deers' milk,
                                 and every beast that bears milk,
                                 between St Johnston and Dundee,
                                 come a to me, come a to me.

    One witch who was executed in Glen Clova prophesied that Loch Brandy, high up in the hills, would one day overflow and drown the inhabitants of the glen.  She may have been Margaret Adamson, burnt by the minister of Cortachy in 1662.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Lost Stories of Angus: A Battle That Never Happened?

In this first look at the folklore of the county of Angus, we give a cautionary tale.  Stories apparently passed down through countless generations become barnacled with authority, veneered with the semblance of authority.  But sometimes 'the truth of tradition' can be less than truthful.  Whether a misunderstanding becomes elaborated through the years, or whether it is invented by a writer and then passes in to living testimony, sometimes remembered things never actually happened.
   In the east of Scotland there are faint, discernable traditions which remember the Vikings rampaging though the region.  But historic record shows that there was no large scale military conflict or settlement in these counties.  Did the ordinary people falsely recall Danish or Norse invaders or did antiquarians invent them?  The marks are on our landscape.  There are the so-called graves of three Danish sea kings in Stracathro kirk, and the three Laws of Logie parish were reputedly raised by Danes, though they are actually prehistoric.
   In the year 1010 parties of Viking marauders are supposed to have landed at Carnoustie and Montrose (a town which some writers think was burned by them in AD 980).  A Danish general named Camus came ashore at Ethie, or at Red Head on Lunan Bay.  Near the latter are the interesting place-names Denmark and Denmark Burn, plus a mound known as Corbie's Knowe where Camus planted his standard, the Black Raven.  (Note the similarly named Corbie Hillock near Kinnaird Castle.)
   Camus linked up with the northern party and they travelled south to Carnoustie.  A hastily gathered Scottish defence force spent the night at Dundee before heading east next morning.  The two sides met at the Battle of Barry, allegedly a major victory for the Scots.  As is often the case in folklore the rivers commemorated the bloodshed: the Lochty Burn ran red for three days with Danish blood:

                                     Lochty, Lochty is red, red, red
                                     for it ran three days wi bluid,
                                     there lies the King o Denmark son,
                                     wi twenty thousand o his horse and men;
                                     there lies the King o Denmark sleepin,
                                     naebody can pass that way without weepin.

   Camus tried to flee north to his fleet anchored at Burghead, but he was killed not far from the battlefield by one of the Keiths of Dunnotar.  The Camus Cross or Camustane was for long thought to mark this invader's grave, though it is in fact a richly decorated Pictish stone.
   The Scots sank several Viking ships in the Tay and slew the surviving invaders in the inland parishes of Kirkden and Aberlemno.  The famous battle scene Pictish cross at Aberlemno was reputed to have this legend written upon it:

                                     Here lyis the King o Denmark slain,
                                     wi twenty thousand o his horse and men.

   A further rogue tradition has the Danes occupying the coastal strip between Lunan and Dundee for a hundred years.  They slaughtered the Angus men and married the local women.

                                                                   The Camus Stane.