Saturday, February 1, 2014

Kelpie tales of long ago!


I've had reason to think about Kelpies today since I've blogged about an ex-pupil of mine winning the KELPIES BOOK PRIZE 2013, FROM FLORIS BOOKS. (see my post at today)

I remembered reading various versions of Kelpies to my pupils and thought writing about them would be a nice diversion. It's not that I don't have plenty of other writing to do, but as they say- a change is as good as a rest!

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One of the traditional stories is about Morag and the Water Horse/ Kelpie. It goes something like this

In days gone past, it was quite the thing for the Highland crofters in Scotland to take their animals to summer pastures in the hills, after the warm days had arrived. The cattle, and sometimes sheep, would stay in the summer pastures and enjoy the warm sunshine and newly grown grasses.

One such crofter, Donald MacGregor, lived in a summer shieling on a hillside overlooking a great loch while his animals grew fat on the lush fodder. His little white cabin made a lovely contrast to the plentiful purple heather and brown brackens around it, though few people ever came near to see the sight. They said that Donald was a foolish man to choose to live on the slopes because at night-dark, after dusk had fallen, a dreaded monster would appear and prey on any mortal who chanced to walk along the path to his little cabin. It was a horrible monster which lived in the great loch nearby - a Water Horse.

It was a strange thing that no one could describe the supernatural creature since none had lived to tell the tale. As the monster roamed the hillsides, it was said that it could change to any form of its own choosing- perhaps an old woman, a sneaky fox or maybe a black raven. At the point of pouncing on its unwary prey, it would change back to its own form in order to devour its catch. Huge and black it was then said to have two pointed satanic horns which could be seen in the moonlight as it plunged as quick as a flash over the heather.

Each year it seemed that the water horse claimed another victim yet Donald still stayed in his shieling. People told him to build a cabin somewhere else, to move his dwelling across the burn because it was said the foul creature could not cross running water. Those people believed that the land beyond the burn was safe and Donald could safely stay anywhere over there.

Donald disregarded his friends, claiming that his cattle needed the best grazing land which was near the lochside, and that he'd only believe in the monster if he saw it face to face. He wasn't budging. He claimed that the victims had been too inclined to drink of their neighbour's hospitality and it was them being a wee bit drunk that made them stumble into the waters and subsequently drown.

Now, even a man like Donald can sometimes have his mind changed and this is how it happened. He only had one daughter, Morag. She used to sit outside the shieling with her spinning wheel and would work away there during the long daylight hours of summer. When the sun was very low in the sky and the dusk was approaching, she'd go down to the shoreline and call in the cattle. She was never afraid as she traipsed bare-foot over the grass and heather since her father had said there was nothing to be frightened about. She sometimes shivered, though, as she as she gazed upon the shadows cast by the leafy rowans which bordered the lapping shoreline. Safely back to the shieling she'd shrug off any uncomfortable feelings.

One bright morning as she sang and turned the shuttle of her spinning wheel the sunlight was blocked by a large shadow. When Morag looked up a pleasant young man stood in front of her.

"I'm sorry. I did not mean to disturb you." The voice was deep and mellow.

He was good looking and well formed but something strange about him drew her attention. His hair and clothes dripped with water though there had been no recent rain.

"How come you are dripping wet?" she asked, curious to find out the reason for him being drookit.

The answer that came was glib and friendly. "I slipped as I passed a tarn in the hills near here and fell into the water. I'll not take long to dry in the sunshine."

The young man spoke such pleasant words Morag forgot her spinning and talked to him. After a while, his still damp hair drew her attention.

"Lay your head on my lap," Morag said, "and I'll smooth your hair dry."

The notion of combing his hair was fine until horror struck. As her comb slid through his hair, she noticed it was becoming clogged with fine green reeds and grains of sand. Alarmed, she knew the reeds could only come from the loch itself and that it was not a young man who was beside her. It was the Water Horse of the great loch! Pushing the head and her spinning wheel aside she took to her heels and fled. Down the hillside she ran but not to the loch; the burn was her target. Fortune was in her favour and speed was at her feet as she leapt across the little stream. The dark shadow which had pursued her could not follow.

From that day, no man - or woman - lived in that little shieling above the loch as Donald and his daughter never ever returned. The scattered stones of his ruined cabin can still be seen in the twisting bracken, evidence that at one time a few mortals had dared to live above the kelpie!

The day that Morag fled the Water Horse did not get a fine feast.

Some other tales claim that the Water Horses lure the mortal to mount their back and go for a ride. When the person does this the coat of the horse becomes sticky and the poor duped person becomes stuck fast. The Water Horse then gleefully jumps deep into the water of the loch and proceeds to devour the prey - everything it is said, but the heart and the liver.

Nasty little kelpies!

Of course, some claim that Kelpies are not Water Horses but are water maidens who lure unsuspecting males to their depths where they are subsequently devoured.

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