Scots have long enjoyed the reputation for being handy in a scrap. But the country doesn’t rely on mere flesh and blood bruisers, oh no. There are tales aplenty of altogether different scary scrapers too and here are just a few of them.
Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui
In the Highlands of Scotland, hidden in the hilltops around Ben MacDui is a terrifying beast. For sometimes from out of the swirling mist the creature known as “Liath Mor”, or the Big Grey Man, appears to hill walkers. This yeti-like creature brings with him a presence, and it is often this rather than a visual sighting that is reported. Hardened walkers are reduced to shivering wrecks as this pervasive sense of dread comes over them. Then they hear the footsteps. And then they run. The best recorded meeting with the Liath Mor was Professor Norman Collie, who in 1891 wrote graphically of his terrifying encounter. Others who have encountered the beast record him keeping pace with them at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. All record the sheer terror that accompanied the creature. Once experienced, few climbers return to Ben MacDhui and the terror that lurks there.
The Linton Worm
In days of yore, worms, or dragons, used to inhabit this country. Or, at least that’s what people claimed. One well-documented beastie was the Linton worm, who lived in Linton Hill in the Scottish borders. A 12th century writer described it as “bigger than an ordinary man’s leg”. The worm terrorised the countryside, eating livestock and anything else that crossed its path. Its reign of terror was only ended when John de Somerville fought the monster, forcing a burning block of peat covered in tar into its mouth. It is said that the writhing of the worm as it dies is still visible to this day as the undulations of the ground around the hill. De Sommerville was knighted for his bravery and anointed Baron of Lintoune, and the Borderers sighed mightily with relief at the demise of such a ferocious enemy.
Beware the water’s edge if you’re travelling in the Highlands. Or at least do if you believe in old tales of kelpies, or Celtic shape-shifting water-horses. Although they look like a normal pony, these monstrous mounts are just waiting to drag you to a watery death. And if you don’t fall for the “honest horse” routine, then the Kelpie has the ability to transform itself into a beautiful woman in order to lure men to their deaths. Should you jump up and go for a ride, then the Kelpie will drag you down to the depths of the loch before eating your heart and liver. Top tip: if you see a pony by the side of a loch with a continually dripping mane and a hide that is cold to the touch, walk on by.
The Boky Hound
Noltland Castle in Orkney has a number of scary residents, but none more so than the Boky Hound, the castle’s spectral dog who lives in a hole under the stairs and howls whenever there is a death in the family. Legend holds that the dog was a family pet of one 13th century owner, Sir David Balfour. Returning from a hunt, Sir David was displeased when his dog jumped up to him, knocking his drink to the ground. Balfour killed the dog in a rage, only to discover later that the drink had been poisoned by his wife. Balfour subsequently took himself off to the Crusades, and when he died in Turin in 1270 it is said that the blood-curdling howls were heard around the castle. At the same time his wife was found strangled in her bedroom.
The Bean Nighe
This malevolent Scottish fairy known as the “washer woman” (but much scarier in the Gaelic) is someone to avoid on a dark night. She lives near water, washing out the bloodied grave-clothes of people who are close to death. Like the Kelpie on occasion this fairy can appear as a beautiful woman although usually the giveaway is her one nostril, one long tooth, webbed feet and single hanging breast.Tradition has it that if you can sneak up on her and suckle on this one protuberance then she grants you a wish. Although why anyone in their right mind would seek to do so must be part of the mystery.
Old Nick pops up in many a traditional tale in Scotland, and if it’s general advice you’re seeking then it would be to decline should he ever ask you for a game of cards. In castles all across Scotland from Glamis to Ruthven Barracks, lairds are trapped in perpetual limbo playing snap for their soul. If you manage to avoid the old cards entrapment, then you should also watch out for strangers bearing gifts. At Ardrossan Castle, Sir Fergus Barclay, or the De’il of Ardrossan, was renowned for his horsemanship. As it turned out, the skill lay in the saddle, which Satan had traded for Sir Fergus’s soul. The laird tricked the devil into losing his power over him. But not for long. His fortunes waned, he murdered his wife, and he died not long after.