Hallowe’en, The Bairn Eating Wolf and the Hound
With much of the world obsessed with the Harry Potter tales, written by J.K. Rowling the Scottish author, we thought we would celebrate this day with one of the many tales of Legend that is part and parcel of storytelling in the Scottish culture. The following tale lifted from Helen Drever’s 1937 Lure of the Kelpie and other Tales and Legends features a prelude in which John McQueen and his brave hunting hound, put- paid to one of the last troublesome wolves in Scotland. The continuing faerie tale is a little chilling and apt for todays date . . . Hallowe’en . . . enjoy !
THE FAIRY CANDLES OF POLLOCHAIG
Do you know the Findhorn River, which a famous scholar once called the loveliest river in Britain? It rises away in the heart of the Monadh Liath Mountains, and makes its way-a cheerful, brawling young stream-for about ten miles, through a range of desolate hills whose height averages three thousand feet. It is not an easy river tofollow, but remember-you who set out to try it, that of all rivers in Scotland the Findhorn repays you best for a difficult walk: for beauty in ample variety, and old romantic story are in every mile of its course.
No sounds from the outer world penetrate the upper reaches of the river, and all you may expect to hear is Nature's own music-the grouse. cock answering the call of the water ousel, the belling of some large stag which stands-fit model for a Landseer on a point of rock several hundred feet above the river, the musical disturbance of the water as a herd of red deer swims across. If you are fortunate you may even see an eagle or a pair of eagles soaring majestically away above the mountain-tops.
Wolves lingered in the recesses of the Monadh Liath Mountains longer than in any other part of Scotland, and the last one was killed by MacQueen of Pollochaig, with his hunting knife, in 1743.
It was a particularly savage brute, one which had actually killed two children who, with their mother, were taking their way across the hills. The distracted woman escaped and eventually reached Moy Hall, where she told "The Mackintosh" the terrible fate of her little ones. He at once summoned his neighbours and vassals to meet him at a certain place and hour, in order to, go'out and kill the' brute. But MacQueen of Pollochaig was an -hour late for the appointment, and The Mackintosh rebuked him with the words, " I am not used to wait for any man when such hunting as today's is afoot. Did my messenger not acquaint you with the errand we go on-the game we go after-this villainous wolf thaf has killed this poor widow's two bairns ? "
"Oh aye, aye, the wolf, is it?" said MacQueen casually. "The wolf to be sure. Indeed, I had forgot. it by now-but maybe "-and he fumbled in his plaid-' "you will not be needing to go after him at all now ! " And he produc.ed to the party assembled, the gory head of a monstrous wolf; and then said he : " As I came through the Sloch, by east the hill there, ' I forgaithered wi' the beast. My long dog there turned him, I buckled wi' him an' dirkit him, and syne whittled his craig, and brocht awa' his countenance for fear he micht come alive ~gain, for they are very precarious creatures! " " My noble Pollochaig ! " cried the chief delightedly. "The deed was worthy of thee! In memorial of thy hardihood I now bestow upon thee Seannachan to yield meal for your good greil-hound in all time coming! "
You may still see wolftraps on the side of Loch Moydeep pits they were, dug in the earth and covered with branches, and baited at the bottom.
Some way beyond Tomatin is the Pass of Pollochaig, a wild bit or-river scenery that is also called" '"fhe Streens," where for four miles the Findhorn roars and foams between steep rocks. In front of the Pass is the Bin of Treasure. It was ,once an island in the' Findhorn Valley, and in it the Mackintoshes buried treasure belonging to them, and it was guarded from their enemies, the Cummings, by the watchful eyes of the MacQueens. Opposite the Hill of Treasure is the Hill of Parti.n. g where, local tradition has it, Ewan Cameron gave good-bye to the Earl of Mar, whom he had convoyed over the Monadh Liath Mountains after his defeat at Inverlochy.
A stone on the top of the hill is called The Earl of Mar's Chair. In it, tradition tells, the Earl sat to eat the simple repast which was all that Cameron could procure for him, consisting of barley meal from the mill below, washed down with water from the river and drunk from the Earl's own shoe !
The old house of Pollochaig (which means the" Pool of the Little Black One ") stands-now, alas, derelict ! on the southern bank of the Findhorn. It was the home of the MacQueens for many hundred years. Perhaps you. have heard the old saying that misfortune always overtakes those who give away gifts bestowed on them by the fairies. It is strange how frequently old sayings prove their truth, and certain it is that -loyalty to his friends brougpt misfortune to John MacQueen-" Black John of. Pollochaig "-when he parted with the candles that had been a present to him from the fairies of Strathdearn.
This story is told in more than one form. Some folk insist that Black John parted with his fairy candles in order to rescue the wife of his friend, Mackintosh of Daviot; but a popular form of the story says that it was to save the wife of a humble Macgillivray clansman from the fairy hillock, that he gave them up. Whichever is the true form, the main fact is that John MacQueen of Pollochaig paid for his loyalty to his friends by offending the fairies, and that MacQueen fortunes were ever afterwards
on the down-grade.
Here is the tale :
Many years ago there lived at Dunmaglass, in Inverness-shire, a Macgillivray laird named Captain Ban-which means the White Captain. He was the trusted friend of all his clansmen, one of whom came to him one day in great trouble. "Well, Ian MacAngus Macgillivray," said Captain Ban to him," tell me what is troubling you at all."
" Oh, Captain Ban ! " the poor man said, " my wife has been stolen away by the fairies, the mischiefs ! They came and told a maid who was at the milking that they have her mistress in the little hill called' Tomshangen ' or ' The Hill of the Ants.' And they said to her, ' You can tell your master that his wife will never come back to him !' I have been to the hillock over and over again, and I have heard music and dancing inside; and it is sure r am that I heard my wife's voice. She did not sound unhappy, but oh ! Captain Ban, what am I to do, for the light of my life has gone out? "
" Well, that is bad enough, Ian MacAng':!s," said Captain Ban, " but do not be too downcast, for I think' I can help you. You have heard of Black John MacQueen -the. Laird of Pollochaig of course? Well, now, he is very far in with the fairies!
They even gave him a set of magic wax candles· to light him into the places where they hold their merrymakings, and, if we could get one of those candles, I'm sure we could make our way into Tomshangen and rescue your wife. So listen!
When to-morrow comes I will send a messenger to Black John and ask him for one of the fairy candles; and just you keep your heart up until then, Ian MacAngus." The very next morning a messenger rode off from Dunmaglass, round by the big hills: past Farr, past Moy Hall, to Pollochaig House; and there MacQueen willingly handed over one of his magic candles for Captain Ban.
" But listen now," Black John said to the man, " I'm warning you, you will not easily deliver this candle to the Captain, for the fairies will try to steal it from you. And this you must remember, that no matter what sounds you may hear behind you, you are never to look back."
When the messenger left Pollochaig it was beginning to get dark, and he had not gone very far when he heard horse's hoofs go " Klip, klop ; klip klop," behind him.
"Oho ! " he said to himself, " so I am going to have company on my ride!" And he was on the point of turning round to give the rider " Good evening," when he remembered his instructions, and he rode on.
Then came the sound of carriage wheels, accompanied by strange wild music and cries of" Catch him! Catch him! Catch him!" And just as he was passing Moy Hall a weird laugh sounded so close to him that he could not help giving one little peep behind him! He saw nothing, and instantly the noises ceased. He was quite relieved-until he realised that the magic candle was no longer in his hand-and he knew the fairies had got it!
"Och, och ! " he said to himself.
"My grief! that I must go back and tell Captain Ban that the Little People have stolen the magic candle on me ! "
A second messenger was sent to Pollochaig, and to him Black John, the Laird, gave a second fairy candle and the same instructions. This messenger was luckier than the first, for he managed to reach Farr without any misadventure. But there he heard wild weird noises behind him, which terrified him. And when loud screeches of unearthly laughter sounded" Ha, ha I " at one ear and " Hee, hee ! " at the other, he could stand no mqre, and he whirled round upon his tormentors in desperation. But-where were his tormentors? He could only see behind him the big hills, looking like great black sentinels; and he could only hear the Nairn, River rippling over its stony bed below. But alas! he discovered the fairy candle was gone ! .
" Oh! My grief! " then said the second messenger.
" It is ashamed I will be to tell the White Captain this that has come upon me"
So yet a third messenger was sent to Black John, and a third candle was given to him for Captain Ban. This time, however, the Laird of Pollochaig' advised the messenger to try' a different road back.
" Listen you," he. said. "If you can manage to cross the Findhorn, you may beat the fairies yet, for they do not like that river. And you can go through the big hills instead of trying to go round them as the other messengers did. But remember, you must not look behind you ! "
So the third messenger took the road to a ford on the Findhorn River, which flows throl1gh Pollochaig grounds, but when he reached the ford the river was in spate and was far too deep to cross, even at the ford. So, walking backwards, he returned to Pollochaig- and told- the Laird his difficulty. The Laird handed a large black stone to him. "Take this," he said, " and try to span the flood- with one throw of it. If you can manage that, you will be surprised at the result."
And certainly the messenger was surprised, for when, with a great effort, he threw the stone so that it just landed on the far bank of the flooded river, 10 and behold, he found that he also was on the far bank! And now he could hear angry cries from the fairies on the other side; but they did not try to follow him, so he made his way safely through the hills and delivered the third fairy candle to Captain Ban.
Next day, Ian MacAngus Macgillivray and Captain Ban, who carried the magic candle, made their 'Yay to Tomshangen,- the Ants' Hill. And whenever they lit the candle they saw a little door in the hillock, from behind which came sounds of revelry and dancing. Opening the door without knocking, they strode into the hill and there was Ian MacAngus's wife merrily dancing a reel among the fairies! When she saw her husband she stopped her dancing and said to him rather crossly :
"Oh, Ian MacAngus, is that you already? Why have you come so early for me ? ".
" So early! " her affronted husband said. "Do you know it is a year and a day since you came in here? ".
" Well, well! do you tell me that ?" said his wife in amazement. "I thought it was last night I came in ! "
The fairies, wild with rage at the intrusion of the mortals, rushed at the two men in a threatening manner, and buzzed round them like angry bees. But the magic candle acted as a barrier, and when Ian MacAngus had got his wife outside the hillock, Captain Ban darted out after them.
"Bang!" went the fairy door on them, and never again did mortal eyes see the inside of T omshangen, the Ants' Hill. But long after the good Captain Ban was dead, the magic candle was kept at Dunmaglass, and generation after generation of Macgillivrays were' told how their ancestor, the White Captain, had got the better of the fairy folk of Strathdearn.