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Issue 87 - Magical and Mystical Places: The Fairy Glen

Scotland Magazine Issue 87
June 2016


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Magical and Mystical Places: The Fairy Glen

Cloots, wells and waterfalls

The folklore of the Scottish Highlands is rich in stories of fairy kingdoms in remote locations wherein invisible spirits gather together, hidden from human kind. Some of our most evocative works of fiction, including James Barrie's Mary Rose and Peter Pan, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's essay for The Strand Magazine, and the Alan Jay Learner & Frederick Loewe musical Brigadoon, are tied up with Scottish fairy belief. The late Victorian writer Robert Louis Stevenson noted that a belief in lady fairies, deathly to human lovers, was as common in Scotland as it was in Samoa, where he ended his days. Of course, fairies are far from being the unique possession of any one continent.

Similar phenomena are said to have occupied Palestine and ancient Greece under different names. In England, to this day they are known as elves, pixies and brownies. In Scandinavia, they are trolls. In Ireland, they are called the Little People, or Leprechauns.

Throughout Scotland, there are fairy mountains and lochs aplenty. But the Fairy Well and Fairy Glen, on the wooded shores of Black Isle, are perhaps less familiar to visitors than say the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan or the Fairy Knowe of Doon Hill. At Munlochy, on the roadside of the A9161 and resembling a fly-tipping cloth disaster, are several ‘clootie trees’ decorated with rags. From a car parking area, a woodland path leads over the brow of a hill to a fresh water spring and stone trough on the far side. Visitors are expected to leave a good luck gift of torn fabric for the ‘Small People’ to thank them for allowing you to enter their domain and pass through safely.

There is also a healing tradition. A ‘cloot’ belonging to a sick person is attached to a nearby tree and as the fabric rots away, the fever, according to belief, subsides. In medieval times, sick children were brought here and left overnight.

Seven miles from Munlochy, the Fairy Glen at Rosemarkie was, for generations, the scene of a local well-dressing ceremony. Children from nearby villages decorated a pool beside a spring with flowers to thank the fairies for keeping the water pure. This tradition allegedly dates back to the times of Saint Boniface, sometimes known as Curitan, Bishop of Ross, who died at Rosemarkie around 630AD.

A fallen down ‘money tree,’ where hundreds of old coins have been hammered into its bark, bears testimony to the gratitude of centuries.