When the winds of the Isle of Skye blow, they come straight off the northern Atlantic sea; and it’s beyond freezing. It whistles through rock and up gullies, it snap freezes trees and blows through villages forcing inhabitants inside.
I’ve come to Skye in the beginning of Spring, and there is a gentle hope in the breeze. Flowers and gorse start to emerge, turning the mountainsides into a riot of yellow. Although the sky itself is still grey and foreboding, the rain has eased – and with the ease comes buses and buses of tourists. Tourists the world over are a gullible lot, and my guide tries it on with us over and over, telling tales of war and murder, of fancy and faery, all handed down as folklore is, generation after generation. It’s easy to get caught up in the scenery, the stories and the musical score he has to go with it.
THE OLD MAN OF STORR
One of my favorites of all the stories is the story of Old Man of Storr, the lone pinnacle of rock perched high on a cliff on the north end of Skye. Once upon a time there were actually two of these pinnacles, and legend tells that they are the preserved remains of an old married couple. This couple was madly in love, and each evening after their dinner they would go for a stroll up the mountainside and sit and look at the view over the ocean back toward mainland Scotland. One day, the old lady began finding it more difficult to climb the steep mountain, and the King of the Faeries, who is actually very tricky and not to be trusted, promised to make sure they could sit and look at the view together, forever and ever. Now, given that the King is not to be trusted, you’d think they’d have known better, but they agreed they would like to sit together and watch the view. And there they sat, in rock form, perched together, looking over the Isle of Skye. Until, obviously, one of them fell due to the forces of nature. Now, the Old Man of Storr sits by himself, forever mournful. Now whether or not you believe in faeries (I do), and whether or not you believe in magic (I do), you have to agree that this story is pretty cool. It kicked my romantic heart into gear, and the way our guide told it, with the music, and sitting at the lookout and watching the stones, I was in tears. How sad for the poor Old Man to now have to sit by himself, as a rock, forever!
THE FAIRY FLAG
No one really knows the origins of the Fairy Flag. It’s a real thing, an heirloom of the MacLeod clan and makes it’s home at Dunvegan Castle. The legend behind the flag is what intrigues me though, because all the best stories have an element of truth to them 🙂
The story goes that the flag was a gift to a Chief by his fairy lover who had to return to the land of the fairies, so she gave him this gift of protection. The flag was said to have mystical properties if waved, and it seems that the legend was correct! The first time the flag’s magic was used was in 1490 during a battle with the MacDonald’s, and again in 1520. The MacLeods were completely outnumbered by the MacDonalds during the battles but with the help of the flag’s magic, they won. And who can argue with historical fact?
THE BLUE MEN OF THE MINCH
Being an island, Skye has many tales of water creatures. The most common is of the Blue Men of the Minch, also known as Storm Kelpies. These creatures, although blue, bore a close resemblance to humans and could speak the native tongue. They were said to cause storms and would sometimes approach the captain of a ship, recite a couple of verses of a poem, and ask the captain to complete it. If the poem were finished incorrectly, the kelpies would overturn the vessel. I have no historical fact the back my theory, but would you want to risk it? Best start working on your poetry recitation!
THE GIANTS OF SKYE
I love a good giant story, the BFG was my favorite as a child. Lucky for me, giants are major characters in traditional Scottish folklore. In particular they are associated with the landscape and peoples of Western Scotland. The formation of many natural features was often ascribed to the exploits of these giants who frequently came into conflict with men, always coming off worse. Aside from the alternative story of the Old Man of Storr being the thumb of a giant who died after being buried underground, there are countless other stories of giants lying in the dramatic coastal formations of Skye.