Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Dundee Shuffle and the Lochee - A Digression

As a sidestep away from the more simple pleasure of folklore and legend, this post presents a stumble into even stranger territory.  On first hearing, the Dundee Shuffle might sound like an antiquated dance step or an ironic term for the shambolic gait of modern day drunks or junkies.  But it is nothing of the sort. It happens to be one of the most pointlessly complicated bets ever invented.  When I chanced upon across it years ago (during a strange period when I worked in a bookies), I asked several people from my hometown whether they had ever heard of it and the answer was emphatically no.
   It would be interesting to find out the author of this excruciatingly elaborate bet, and whether anyone has ever won any substantial amount with it.   My best guess is that it was invented by a quasi mathematical genius with too much time on his hands in the 1930s.  For anyone foolhardy enough to attempt to win a fortune with this system, here are the simple instructions:

   Select four horses in four full stake singles bets Any-To-Come a half-stake Trixie on the other three, six half stake doubles Any-To-Come a full stake Double on the other two, four half stake Trebles and each way half stake Accumulator.  (Totalling sixteen bets, four at full stake and twelve at half stake.  For example 4 x £1 plus 12 at 50pence, totalling £10 stake.)
   Don't blame me if it goes horribly wrong!

   I discovered another minor mystery the other day connected with my hometown and particularly the western suburb of Lochee.  Apparently there is an entry in the Scottish National Dictionary stating that the 'Lochee' was once a term for 'An ice-cream sandwich, consisting of layers of ice-cream and chocolate or marshmallow.'  News to me.  How was this sandwich constructed and what was the best method of consuming it?  Did you need a fork and knife?  Did its deliciousness outdo its inherent messiness?  Was there bread involved?  The entry states that the term was noted in 1914, which is far too early to have derived from Lochee's most renowned ice-cream parlour Frankie Davie's.  We may never discover where it came from now.  But surely there's a case for an enterprising business person to revive the delicacy and push for it to be recognised under Protected Geographical Status?  There's a fortune to be made for someone surely.



Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Mormaers and Earls of Angus

Mention has been made of the first mention of the place-name of Angus, which was in the death notice of its ruler, the mormaer Indrechtaig, who supposedly died in 938, but may have actually died in the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Brunanburgh the previous year.  The victor of that battle, King Aethelstan of England, himself invaded Scotland in 934, when his army penetrated as far as the Werter-Moors, which may well have been Kirriemuir, the seat of the mormaers and later the Earls of Angus.

   Following Indrechtaig, the next two rulers of Angus, Dubucan and Maelbrighte, are no more than names. The fourth known mormaer, Cunthar, had the misfortune to be murdered by a member of his own family.  His daughter was named Fynebole or Finella, and she was styled the 'Lady of Fettercairn' after marrying the ruler of the Mearns.  Her son, Crathilinthus, was the heir of both countries, so it is a mystery why he chose to kill his grandfather.  Retribution was swift:  King Kenneth II had the young man executed on Dunsinane Hill.  Fynebole was embittered by her son's death and began to plot against the monarch.  She organised a tournament at Stracathro in Angus and had the king murdered there.

   John of Fordun, the historian (and a local man), provided a different account of Kenneth's murder.  When the king was out hunting in the Mearns, Fynebole went to meet him and assured him that she was his loyal supporter, despite all the rumours to the contrary he might have heard.  She persuaded the gullible king to follow her to a cottage deep in the forest.  As he entered, Kenneth saw a peculiar manikin or statue shaped like a boy standing in the middle of the room.

   'What is the purpose of this?' he asked.

   Fynebole smile slyly.  'My lord king,' she replied, 'if anyone touches the head of this statue, a marvellous and pleasant jest will come from it.'

   King Kenneth placed his hand on the figure and was immediately slain by a shower of crossbow bolts which his touch had triggered.  Fynebole had fled when the king's bodyguard found his corpse, but they tracked her down to a place later named the Den of Finella.  To avoid capture, Fynebole  jumped to her death from the rocks where the water falls 150 feet.

The Den of Finella in the Mearns.

   The 'Lady of Fettercairn' is a shadowy, unreal character whose name could be a form of Finnghuala ('white-shouldered'), one of the fabled Children of Lir, who were transformed into birds in Irish mythology.  Mearns folk once believed that she walked along the treetops from the Hill of Finella to the Den, following the Finella Burn, of which she may have been the guardian spirit.

   During the reign of King William the Lion, in the 12th century, the first Earl of Angus appears.  Earl Gillebrighte's father was named Dufugan, suggesting a kinship with the mormaer named Dubucan.  He was succeeded by his sons Adam and Gilchrist.  Gilbert, his third son, gained the lands of Wester Powrie, Kilmundie and Glen Ogilvy from the Crown.  His descendants adopted the name Ogilvy and became numerous and powerful in Angus.

   The third Earl of Angus, had an evil reputation.  His wife was king William's sister and she bore him three sons who became bloodthirsty barons like their father.  The brothers suspected their mother of adultery and eventually found her with her lover.  After slaying both of them, the brothers fled into hiding in the Sidlaw Hills.  Soon afterwards, King William was hunting in Glen Ogilvy when he was waylaid by robbers.  He was rescued by the three outlaw brothers who fought off the bandits.  The king pardoned the trio and also gifted them the barony of Ogilvy.

   The tale actually confuses Gillebrighte's sons with three non-existent sons of Gilchrist.  Another version of the legend has Earl Gilchrist fleeing to England after his wife's murder.  He and his sons, dressed as peasants, were later met by the king in Glen Ogilvy and forgiven.

Mains Castle, possible site of the ancient manor of the Celtic Earls of Angus.  Mains parish (later united with Strathmartin) was anciently Earl's Strathdichty.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Durward Family

A lot is known about some of the noble families who were prominent in Angus for many the centuries.  Some, such as the Lyons (later the Bowes-Lyons) and the Ogilvys have retained some of their estates, while others like the Lindsay have vanished entirely.  But some powerful families only resided in Angus for a relatively short period and are largely forgotten by history.  This is the case with the Durwards.  The only residual fame the kindred has survives in Sir Walter Scott borrowing their name for his novel Quentin Durward.  Back in the 13th century, Sir Alan Durward was one of the most powerful men in the kingdom for a time.  The first of the family with a local connection was Malcolm Lundin, the hostarius or door-ward of King William the Lion (in effect, guardian of his property), who became Baron of Lundie, near Dundee, in the 12th century.  Malcolm's son Thomas gained lands in Aberdeenshire, and his grandson Alan became the Earl of Atholl through marriage to Isabella, Countess of Atholl.  Alan had the blood of the native rulers of Atholl and Mar running through his veins in his own right.

   Sir Alan Durward's political faction view for national power with the Comyn family during the reign of Alexander II (1214-1249), and the king had to carefully play off one faction against the other.  When the ten year old king, Alexander III, married Princess Margaret of England in 1251, her father, King Henry III, accused Durward of treason.  Alan Durward's first wife, Marjory, was an illegitimate daughter of King Alexander II, and it was alleged that Durward had sent envoys to the Pope, attempting to legitimise his own three daughters, hoping they would succeed to the throne if the young king and queen died childless.

   Durward and his allies later gained control of the young monarch, and he became Justiciar of the kingdom, but they were ousted by the Comyns in 1257.  After six years' exile in England, Sir Alan returned to Scotland and redeemed himself by raiding the Norwegian controlled Hebrides on behalf of the king.  He died in 1275 and was buried beneath the main doorway of Coupar Angus Abbey.  His wide estates were split between his three daughters. 

   A rather dubious legend recorded centuries  later states that Alan Durward resided at Balfour Castle, in the northern Angus parish of Kingoldrum.  During the hunting season he played host here to huge numbers of lords and ladies.  Every day he went hunting with his retinue in the forest, and one day he was spotted by the abbess of a remote religious house as he passed by.  She rather foolishly fell in love with him at first sight, and though she did not break her vows, the sound of merriment which came from Balfour Castle nearly every night drove her mad.  her secret was soon guessed by a  priest of the house who had a hidden passion for the beautiful young abbess.  He asked her to meet him at midnight in the chapel and she agreed, though she suspected him and concealed a knife beneath her garments.  The old crippled cleric tried to rape her, but she stabbed him and then took her own life.  The two bloody corpses were found by the monks next morning.  Also found was a note in the chamber of the abbess, in which she gave her suspicions about the evil priest.

   In time the convent became a ruin.  The remains of the chapel were haunted each night.  Spectres were seen drinking blood from human skulls, fantastically chained around their middles and legs with terrible serpents.  An indescribable monster squatted on the roof and brought down bolts of lightning to split the forest trees, while the air was full of ghastly and ghostly sounds.  No single stone remains of the Kingoldrum convent, so effective was the demonic wrecking crew.  It does not even seem to appear in historical records:  the nearest holy house was a small monastery in Ruthven parish.  Balfour Castle has also vanished, apart from a single round tower incorporated into a farm house.  The castle was in fact constructed by the Ogilvys in the 16th century. 

   Near the confluence of the Kilry Burn and the River Isla there is a seven foot standing stone said to have been raised to commemorate a battle between the Laird of Kilry and the Durwards of Peel Castle.  A great massacre of the Durwards was made in the battle.  The survivors attempted to flee across the Isla, but the river was high and they were washed away and drowned.  Peel Castle was allegedly besieged and taken by the Ogilvys, who crossed the frozen moat.  Everyone found within the walls was done to death, with the exception of a young boy who was sent to live in the Abbey of Arbroath.

   There are a few residual traces of the Durwards on the land.  A sandbank near the Fife side of the River Tay is named Durward's Scalp and an ancient wall on the hill called the Knock of Formal, Lintrathen parish, is named Durward's Dyke. This wall is said to mark the boundary of the deer park of the long vanished Peel Catle, home of Sir Alan Durward.  Beyond these scattered, ghostly place-names, the Durward have disappeared forever.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Bad Lairds Part Three - The Dark Earl of Southesk

Some individuals are like magnets who attract strangeness, and such a person was James Carnegie, the second Earl of Southesk (c. 1582-1669).  He was nicknamed the Black Earl, principally on account of his swarthy complexion, but he also had a reputation of being black hearted, which may in part be inspired by the incident in London in the year 1660 when he killed the Master of Gray in a duel.
   The earl, along with certain other individuals, was said to have studied black magic in Padua, and the Devil was one of his tutors.  The lessons were free, but one day Satan declared that he would claim the soul of the last person to leave the room.  All the students naturally stampeded towards the door.  Carnegie was the last to reach the threshold, but saved himself by quick wittedly pointing towards his shadow and shouting, 'Deil tak the hinmost!'.  Satan was fooled into seizing the dark reflection.  Southesk had to avoid direct sunlight ever afterwards for fear that people would see he had no shadow.
   When the Earl of Southesk died at Kinnaird Castle, in March 1669, Satan arrived to collect his overdue soul in a fiery coach drawn by six jet black horses.  The vehicle thundered off and vanished down the Starney Bucket Well in the Deil's Den, south of the family burial ground in the Kinnaird estate.  This coach is still seen at certain times, usually driving through storms, emitting a stange blue light.
   Southesk's reputation spilled out of Angus into the neighbouring county of the Mearns, where he also owned land, and was the unpopular Laird of Pitarrow:

                                   The laird of Pitarro, his heart was sae narrow,
                                   He wadnae let the kaes [rooks] pike his corn-stack,
                                   But by there came knaves, and pikit up thraves,
                                   And what said the Laird of Pitarro to that!

   The knaves refer to Southesk's enemies secretly damaging his property.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Later Witches

   An earlier post mentioned the Early Records of Witches (01/04/15), and others recorded Witchcraft in Brechin (12/04/15) and the more famous Forfar Witches (30/06/15).  This time I concentrate on later mentions of witchcraft in the county, along with some miscellaneous traditions. 

   The Dronner's Dyke is an artificial wall in the tidal Montrose Basin.  Its origins are unknown but local story says it was constructed about 1670 to enclose land belonging to the estate of Dun.  But the dyke was said to have been destroyed by a storm raised by the last witch to be burnt in the area (named Meggie Cowie). In the same district, two Montrose women and their nephew were hanged for employing witchcraft.  They bought a potion from a Mearns witch and used it to poison the Laird of Dun, hoping that their nephew would inherit the estate.  But poor Dun's body turned suspiciously black and the plot was uncovered.
   One place of execution for witches in the Sidlaw Hills was a place called the Law Knowe on Kinpurney Hill. The last witch who perished here was an old woman, transported to the place of death in a cart.  A large crowd of locals hurried up the slopes to witness the spectacle of her demise.  But the old woman smiled at their impetuosity as they rushed ahead and commented, 'Whit are they a fleein at?  There can be naethin done until I gang.'  When the cart reached the place of the stake, many people were still struggling up the hill, so the old, condemned lady calmnly took out her knitting and remarked, 'I'll just thrust a thread till the people a gather.'

   Male wizardry persisted after the repeal of he death sentence for witchcraft in 1736.  A man who could magically locate lost items in the parish of Carmyllie was denounced by ministers there in 1743.  In upland Angus at the end of the 18th century a man could obtain second sight by drinking the 'broo'  of the white adder.  An Adder Stone, situated in the Burn of Calletar, Lethnot, was described as being grey and holed.  The sacred White Adder squirmed around the stone on sunny days.  This stone was highly regarded for its curative and protective powers.  Another charm stone, used by an Angus farmer who died in 1854, was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland ten years later.
   One greatly esteemed Lethnot wizard was once consulted by a farmed whose cows were mysteriously dying.  The seer filled a basin with water and dropped a metal ball into it, invoking the name of the Holy Trinity.  He peered into the bowl and saw the face of the witch who was responsible for destroying the cattle.  The farmer also saw the woman's face, recognising her as one of his cottar women.
   In the 19th century, one of the last Angus Wise Men was James West of Ferryden, better known as Bull Waast.  Andrew Douglas, in the History of the Village of Ferryden (2nd. edition 1857) recalled the effect that this man had on superstitious fisher folk:

                          James was generally early abroad in the mornings, in order to
                          discern the face of the sky.  Many watched his motions:  and
                          if...he stood still with his hands folded beneath his jacket, they
                          would all turn into their beds again; but if his hands were placed
                          behind his back, this was an omen to proceed to sea; and if James
                          was observed drawing down his boat, there was a rush immediately,
                          and cries of 'Jamie, bring this, and Geordie, bring that' were heard
                          on every side.

   A public execution in 1785 incidentally involved witchcraft.  The condemned man was a young thief named Andrew Low, who was hanged on Balmashanner Hill, Forfar.  He was said to have been the last person executed for theft in Scotland.  Andrew had once stolen a hen from Lizzie Kinmont of Brechin, unluckily for him a famous witch.  Lizzie duly predicted that as many folk would see him die as there were feathers on her lamented hen - and of course it came true.

   One of the last Angus spae-wives was Spunk Janet, who lived in Cathro's Close, off the Murraygate in Dundee, in the middle of the 19th century.  Her customers were chiefly 'old maids, wanton widows, and impatient lassies'.  She charged half a crown for supernatural advice.  One client was a love sick girl who asked Janet to cure her of her love for a particular man.  Janet advised her to go to a certain well each morning at dawn for a week and immerse her feet in water.  The repeated exercise would soon make her forget her swain.  A maid who entered Janet's house once found her sitting as usual in an old armchair with a black pipe stuck into her mouth.  'Janet, I want my fortune,' she said.  But Janet didn't answer - she was stone dead.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Bell Rock

Inchcape, or the Bell Rock, juts out of the North Sea some eleven miles south-east of Arbroath.  Its secondary name apparently derives from the action of one of the Abbots of Arbroath Abbey in the 14th century who had a bell fixed to a timber on the dangerous rock, so that the constant motion of the waves would continuously ring the bell as a warning to passing ships.

   Poet Laureate Robert Southey (1774-1843) wrote a ballad called 'The Inchcape Rock' to celebrate the story of a pirate named Ralph the Rover who removed the bell and suffered the consequences:

                                                      No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
                                                      The ship was still as she could be,
                                                      Her sails from heaven received no motion,
                                                      Her keel was steady in the ocean.

               Without either sign or sound of their shock 
               The waves flow’d over the Inchcape Rock;
    So little they rose, so little they fell,
      They did not move the Inchcape Bell.

                                                     The Abbot of Aberbrothok
                                                     Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock; 
                                                     On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
                                                     And over the waves its warning rung.

                                                     When the Rock was hid by the surge’s swell,
                                                     The mariners heard the warning bell;
                                                     And then they knew the perilous Rock, 
                                                     And blest the Abbot of Aberbrothok.

                                                    The Sun in heaven was shining gay,
                                                    All things were joyful on that day;
                                                    The sea-birds scream’d as they wheel’d round,
                                                    And there was joyaunce in their sound. 

                                                    The buoy of the Inchcape Bell was seen
                                                    A darker speck on the ocean green;
                                                    Sir Ralph the Rover walk’d his deck,
                                                    And he fix’d his eye on the darker speck.

                                                    He felt the cheering power of spring, 
                                                    It made him whistle, it made him sing;
                                                    His heart was mirthful to excess,
                                                    But the Rover’s mirth was wickedness.

                                                    His eye was on the Inchcape float;
                                                    Quoth he, “My men, put out the boat, 
                                                    And row me to the Inchcape Rock,
                                                    And I’ll plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.”

                                                    The boat is lower’d, the boatmen row,
                                                    And to the Inchcape Rock they go;
                                                    Sir Ralph bent over from the boat, 
                                                    And he cut the Bell from the Inchcape float.

                                                    Down sunk the Bell with a gurgling sound,
                                                   The bubbles rose and burst around;
                                                   Quoth Sir Ralph, “The next who comes to the Rock
                                                   Wo’n’t bless the Abbot of Aberbrothok.” 

                                                   Sir Ralph the Rover sail’d away,
                                                   He scour’d the seas for many a day;
                                                   And now grown rich with plunder’d store,
                                                   He steers his course for Scotland’s shore.

                                                   So thick a haze o’erspreads the sky 
                                                  They cannot see the Sun on high;
                                                  The wind hath blown a gale all day,
                                                  At evening it hath died away.

                                                  On the deck the Rover takes his stand,
                                                  So dark it is they see no land. 
                                                  Quoth Sir Ralph, “It will be lighter soon,
                                                  For there is the dawn of the rising Moon.”

                                                 “Canst hear,” said one, “the breakers roar?
                                                   For methinks we should be near the shore.”
                                                 “Now where we are I cannot tell, 
                                                   But I wish I could hear the Inchcape Bell.”

                                                 They hear no sound, the swell is strong;
                                                 Though the wind hath fallen they drift along,
                                                 Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock, —
                                                “Oh Christ! it is the Inchcape Rock!” 

                                                 Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair;
                                                 He curst himself in his despair;
                                                The waves rush in on every side,
                                                The ship is sinking beneath the tide.

                                                 But even in his dying fear 
                                                 One dreadful sound could the Rover hear,
                                                 A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
                                                 The Devil below was ringing his knell.

   Those who survived reading the above verse intact may like to know that Southey based his poem on a real tradition of a reckless Dutch sea-dog, as related in Sir John Stoddart's Remarks On Local Scenery and Manners In Scotland (1801).  An identical tale of pirates stealing St Govan's Bell in Pembrokeshire.  Church bells in the Middle Ages were sometimes rung to keep the spirits of the storm at bay, and the Inchcape Bell may have served a similar function.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Speaking About Trees...

While discussing Edzell Castle, mention was made of the tree haunted by two unfortunate gypsies who were executed from its branches after being caught poaching.  Previously I mentioned the Covin or Company Tree at old Finavon Castle, haunted by the ghost of Jock Barefut, a messenger who became a victim of the notorious Earl Beardie.  (Or was poor Jock just a transformed nature spirit who became mixed up with the Tiger Earl for the sake of a good story?)  My personal favourite of those already blogged about is the Templar Tree at Nevay, if only because of the tantalising lack of a tradition associated with it - why go to the bother of giving a tree an actual name and then not bother to make up a tale to explain it?

   There seems to be a definite trend of eerie trees associated with castles in Angus.  The third strange tree, following the two aforementioned, was at Inverquharity Castle, home of one sept of the Ogilvy family,  Sir John Ogilvy of Inverquharity was allegedly a cruel tenant to all his tenants except a priest who had a chapel on his estate.  John White the miller had the misfortune of having both his wife and daughter being bedded by Ogilvy.  White's wife confessed to the priest, who angrily denounced the adultery during the service the following Sunday.  Ogilvy did not react in the least as he listened, but he never entered the chapel again.  Shortly afterwards the baron had the miller hanged.  His daughter Lily went mad and her body was found in the River South Esk.  Five weeks later, Sir John was thrown from his horse as he rode past the Hanging Tree.  A dreadful demon was said to have crouched on Ogilvy's corpse for six days until he was put to earth.  But Inverquharity was so badly haunted that the whole family had to quit its precincts - a tale which has probably little grounding in reality!