Aberfoyle is commonly regarded as one of the most fairy-active places in Scotland. This has much to do with a 17th-century minister, Rev Robert Kirk, who had more than a little sympathy for pagan views. In 1691 he wrote a pamphlet about the lifestyle of the little people, who he says spirited him away one evening. The book The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies was of immediate interest to folklorists. Although Mr Kirk is buried in the graveyard in Aberfoyle, a tall pine tree on the summit of nearby Doon Hill is said to contain his spirit.
Fairy Hill, Isle of Skye
There are fairy hills, or knolls, across Scotland, but some of the most famous are in Skye. It was on one particular hill way back in the midst of time that Iain Òg MacCrimmon was said to have been practising for a piping competition. A fairy woman heard him and approached him saying: Your handsome looks and sweet music/Have brought you a fairy sweetheart/I bequeath you this silver chanter/At the touch of your fingers/It will always bring forth the sweetest music.
She gifted him a silver chanter and taught him how to play. Later he won the competition, and the MacCrimmons became the hereditary pipers to the Macleods of Skye.
Another famous fairy-gathering spot is Schiehallion, or the “Fairy Hill of the Caledonians”. The area is full of stories of people being taken away to the “Otherworld”, or Fairy Kingdom. Of particular interest is a 40yd-long cave Uamh Tom a’Mhor – which has been identified as the entrance to the “Otherworld”. Once a year, the assorted fairy tribes gather for their annual shindig. Presided over by Queen Mab – or the Cailleach, the Mother Goddess, resplendent in green – they prance and frolic all night. While the government doesn’t expressly offer advice to people intending to visit on this night, locals would suggest that you stay clear, or risk being taken to the otherworld yourself.
This 25-mile long Perthshire glen gives an insight into Scotland’s Celtic past, when the old deities, like the sun god Lugh and the mother goddess, the Cailleach, were venerated. Two huge stones placed together form “The Praying Hands” that point towards the conical hill Creag nan Eildeag (conical hills are venerated as symbols of the first hill created on Earth.) Further along the glen is the house of the Cailleach, a small stone structure which is possibly the only surviving shrine to her left in Scotland.
Clootie Well, Avoch
A visit to a clootie well is a strange experience and few more so than the one in Avoch in the Black Isle. As in Avoch, a tree close to the well, or spring, is weighed down with strips of cloth that visitors have tied to its branches in the hope of either spiritual or bodily healing. In Scots “clootie” means cloth.These wells were places of pilgrimage in times past, and to an extent remain so to this day.
When Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army was crushed by the government forces in 1746, not all of the fallen soldiers may have been willing to give up the ghost. Although cairns now stand over the bodies of the slaughtered men, ghostly, bleeding soldiers are still said to appear, including one who stands, head down, muttering “defeated” to anyone who stays long enough to listen.
The scene of another massacre is Glencoe, where in 1692 38 MacDonalds were killed by the first and second companies of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot, who had been their guests. These wronged clansmen, women and children included, are said still to walk the glen, returning each year on the anniversary of the massacre and it is said can be heard wailing, sometimes accompanied by a lone piper.
Visitors to Iona all talk of the rare, magical beauty of the island. There is no doubt that it does have a certain special feel to it, but could this be the result of something strange in the air? In 1940s it was reported that a clergyman visiting the island saw the abbey in all its former seventh-century glory. This alleged “time slip” has occurred since, with reports of people seeing Viking longboats along the coast, waiting to raid the holy island.