Out of this world: Eight weirdly wonderful places to visit in Scotland

Scotland has some wonderful places to visit: beautiful beaches, magnificent mountains and exciting cities. And then there are the places which are just out of this world. Here are eight of the most weirdly wonderful places to visit:


Doon Hill. <em>Picture: Dr Zito</em>
Doon Hill. Picture: Dr Zito

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

The MacCrimmon cairn at Borreraig. <em>Picture: sonofdundonald</em>
The MacCrimmon cairn at Borreraig. Picture: sonofdundonald

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.


Schiehallion. <em>Picture: Calum Black</em>
Schiehallion. Picture: Calum Black

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.

Glen Lyon

Glen Lyon. <em>Picture: Nick Bramhall</em>
Glen Lyon. Picture: Nick Bramhall

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

Avoch in the Black Isle. <em>Picture: Brian Forbes</em>
Avoch in the Black Isle. Picture: Brian Forbes

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.

Culloden Moor

Graves on the Culloden battlefield. <em>Picture: Shadowgate</em>
Graves on the Culloden battlefield. Picture: Shadowgate

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.


Glen Coe. <em>Picture: Lorentey</em>
Glen Coe. Picture: Lorentey

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.


Iona Abbey. <em>Picture: Candy Schwarz</em>
Iona Abbey. Picture: Candy Schwarz

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.

  • “The scene of another massacre is Glencoe, where in 1692 38 MacDonalds were killed by their Campbell guests.”

    I thought that particular myth had been well and truly scotched.

    The massacre of Glencoe was carried out by the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot (1st and 2nd companies) carrying out orders of the crown. Argyll is Campbell country, certainly, so the Campbells were fairly well represented in the company, but not by any stretch the majority.

    The officer in charge was Captain Robert Campbell, who was politically an easy choice.

    Through his own carelessness and extravagance, he had lost his money and lands and with that his friends and influence. The order given at Glencoe would besmirch the name of whoever executed it, so it could only be carried out by someone with no name to lose.

    Do not make the mistake of thinking of Glencoe as another example of petty primitive tribalism — it was not. It was a cold, calculated atrocity carried out by a government against the people it claimed to serve, which is something altogether worse.

    • Stewart Kirkpatrick

      @Niall: We’ve changed the piece accordingly.


      Stewart Kirkpatrick
      Editor, The Caledonian Mercury

  • Anything south of Perth?

    • Lianachan

      It’s a refreshing change to read about anything NORTH of Perth!

  • Diane Maclean

    Good point. Will look out south of Perth for next time…

  • douglas

    What about Calton Hill in Edinburgh? There are often fairies to be spotted up there.

    • Stiubhart

      Laughed out loud at that one Douglas.

  • Keith Roberts

    Isle Maree – druid stones, money tree, drowning witches – oh and stunning scenenry as well

  • james

    And the aptly named queens park in glasgow is reputed to have many fairies meeting at the flag pole hill

  • patricia

    I want to get away…guess were I want to go? Any ideas on expense, do it cheap like?