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Issue 92 - The Fairy Glen & Pools

Scotland Magazine Issue 92
April 2017

 

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The Fairy Glen & Pools

Haunt of the Small People on the Isle of Skye

elief in the existence of fairies is universal. The writer Robert Louis Stevenson discovered that an awareness of lady fairies, deathly to human lovers, was as common in Samoa as it was in Strathfinlas on the banks of Loch Awe. James Barrie gave Peter Pan his Tinker Bell. In Scandinavia, there are trolls. Similar beings exist in Palestine and Greece under different names. In America there are dwarves and in England pixies and brownies.

In the Scottish oral tradition, fairies were the long ago pygmy people who lived in subterranean earth-houses. Throughout Scotland, therefore, are fairy mountains and glens and clootie wells where rags and shreds of clothing are tied to the branches of trees as offerings to the Small People, a name they picked up to differentiate them from their Irish 'Little People' cousins.

In A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (1703), the early travel writer Martin Martin makes reference to the island of Luchruban, off the north-west coast of Lewis, where tiny bones resembling those of humans were allegedly found in a small graveyard.

In order to explore this legend further, all roads lead to the Isle of Skye, where the great castle of Dunvegan plays host to the supposedly magical Fairy Flag, ancient protector of Clan Macleod in times of danger. In Gleann an Uird on Sleat, in the remote south-east of the island, there is a village of tiny round houses. Arranged under a rock face on the brow of a hill, it has been postulated that the Small People who supposedly once lived here could see danger approaching from miles around.

The tale goes that the Small People were ‘the people who lived here before’ and were pushed off their land and into hiding by incomers — in all probability the Scots from Ireland as early as the first century.

More accessible are the Fairy Pools. From the Glen Brittle car park (close to the village of Carbost in the west of the island, although further south) there is a scenic pathway of a couple of miles leading to a series of waterfalls where the ice-cold flow of the River Brittle spills into a series of vivid blue and green mirror-glass clear pools. When the sun shines, the pools reflect an azure blue or green, much like the Mediterranean sea!

Towering at a distance are the Cuillin Hills, from whence the stream originates. Tradition has it that it is in these pools, when there is no one else around, that the Small People come to bathe by moonlight. However, over the summer months you are much more likely to stumble across a backpacker (hopefully) wearing a wetsuit.