Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Brownie of Fern Den

Here's a story about the Brownie of Fern Den.  But, although the story is almost certainly true, it begs the question, shouldn't it be a ghost rather than a brownie?  Brownies were said to be a domestic spirit attached to one particular family or building, while this supernatural being is definitely more the outdoors type.  Anyway, enough nit-picking pedantry, here's the tale.

   There was a brownie who was reputed to frequently haunt Fern Den.  The poor creature may ave been confused with a ghost whose origins are recorded.  It seems that a wicked Laird of Brandy condemned one of his vassals to death and threw him in a dungeon.  When the prisoner died in his chains the laird had his body secretly buried near Balquharn.  But Brandy Den became haunted; doors and windows flew open and hideous screams reverberated around the house.  The laird became despondent and soon met with a strange death.  This appears to have prompted the ghost to become a reformed character, helping local farmers perform their daily work.

Fern Kirk

   A stone still to be seen in the burn beside Fern Kirk is still called The Ghaist's Stone, to which this poor spirit was once chained.  On one farm the ghost, or brownie, did the work of twenty-four men and even helped an unsuspecting midwife deliver the child of a farmer's wife.  A ballad written about the episode states that the supernatural being vanished forever after the baby was born, though an alternative tradition insists that when the boy grew up he encountered the ghost one night near Farmerton.  The spectre told the story of his life and confessed a long series of sins.  The man was less interested in the spirit's well being than in protecting himself with magic, addressing the being with the following chant:

                                      About himsel wi hazel staff,
                                      he mad ane roundlie score;
                                      and said,'My lad, in name of Gude,
                                      what doe you wander for?

   One version of the ballad concerning the brownie was published in the Vale of Strathmore, by  James Guthrie in 1875:
                                        There liv'd a farmer in the north
                                       (I canna tell you when),

                                       But just he had a famous farm

                                       Nae far frae Feme-den.
                                       I doubtna, sirs, ye a’ hae heard,
                                      Baith women folks an’ men,
                                     About a muckle, fearfu’ ghaist —
                                     The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!
                                     The muckle ghaist, the fearfu’ ghaist,
                                     The ghaist o’ Ferne-den;
                                     He wad hae wrought as muckle wark
                                     As four-au’-twenty men!

                                     Gin there was ony strae to thrash,

                                     Or ony byres to clean,

                                     He never thocht it muckle fash
                                     0′ workin’ late at e’en!
                                    Although the nicht was ne’er sae dark,
                                    He scuddit through the glen,
                                    An’ ran an errand in a crack —
                                    The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!

                                    Ane nicht the mistress o’the house

                                    Fell sick an’ like to dee,—

                                  “O! for a oanny wily wife!”
                                   Wi’ micht an’ main, cried she!
                                   The nicht was dark, an’ no a spark
                                   Wad venture through the glen,
                                   For fear that they micht meet the ghaist —
                                   The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!

                                   But ghaistie stood ahint the door,

                                   An’ hearin’ a’ the strife,

                                   He saw though they had men a score,
                                   They soon wad tyne the wife!
                                  Aff to the stable then he goes,
                                  An’ saddles the auld mare,
                                  An’ through the splash an’ slash he ran
                                  As fast as ony hare!

                                  He chappit at the Mammy’s door—

                                  Says he — “mak’ haste an’ rise;

                                  Put on your claise an’ come wi’ me,
                                  An’ take ye nae surprise!”
                                “Where am I gaun?” quo’ the wife,
                                “Nae far, but through the glen —
                                 Ye’re wantit to a farmer’s wife,

                                  No far frae Ferne-den!”
                                 He’s taen the Mammy by the hand

                                 An’ set her on the pad,

                                Got on afore her an’ set aff
                                As though they baith were mad!
                                They climb’d the braes—they lap the burns—
                                An’ through the glush did plash:
                                They never minded stock nor stane,
                                Nor ony kind o’ trash!

                               As they were near their journey’s end

                               An’ scudden through the glen:

                              “Oh!” says the Mammy to the ghaist,
                              “Are we come near the den!
                               For oh! I’m feared we meet the ghaist!”
                             “Tush, weesht, ye fool! “quo’ he;
                              “For waur than ye ha’e i’ your arms,
                               This nicht ye winna see!”

                               When they cam to the farmer’s door

                               He set the Mammy down:—

                              “I’ve left the house but ae half hour—
                               I am a clever loon!
                               But step ye in an’ mind the wife
                               An’ see that a’ gae richt,
                               An’ I will tak ye hame again
                              At twal’ o’ clock at nicht!”

                             “What maks yer feet sae braid?” quo’ she,

                             “What maks yer een sae sair?”

                              Said he, — “I’ve wander’d mony a road
                              Without a horse or mare!
                             But gin they speir, wha’ brought ye here,
                             ‘Cause they were scarce o’ men;
                             Just tell them that ye rade ahint
                             The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!”

   The brownie or ghost of Fern was just one of many other-worldly inhabitants of the parish, making Fern a contender for the most haunted parish in Angus (in contention with perhaps Carmyllie and Glamis):

                            There's the Brownie o Bal'quhan
                            an the Ghaist o Brandie Den,
                            but of a the places i the parish,
                            the Deil burns up the Vayne.

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