6/22 Roamin’ Solo Day Four: Even More Fairies, Water Horses, and “Second Sight”

It was still freezing when I awoke this morning. Even though I had the heat on and the window closed, it was still very cold. My nose was running and I had a cough, so I took some cold medicine hoping that I wasn’t about to get sick. I didn’t have enough time to eat breakfast before catching my bus, so I hurried up to go check out of the hotel and get to the bus stop.

The nice lady that had helped me with the bus timetables two days before and held my luggage for me was at the desk. She jokingly said when I had called a couple days earlier when I had to cancel, the first thing she thought when she heard I called was that I had gotten lost, and she was going to have to come looking for me. I thanked her for her hospitality and told her I would be back to Skye as soon as I possibly could.

In this whole Skye trip, everyone was extremely pleasant and helpful, from the hotel receptionists, to the bus drivers, to the tourist information center people, to the shop clerks, and the locals in the pubs. There was not a single bad thing about this trip, and even the few misadventures ended up making the trip better. I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the people around me made the experience even more pleasant than it was already. This was one of, if not the, best weekend of my entire life so far, but it wasn’t over yet…

I caught the bus and headed back down across the Skye Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh, where I had an hour and a half before the train was to depart for Inverness. Because I had not had time for breakfast, I stopped at a gas station to grab some food. This was a tiny gas station and they didn’t have any sandwiches or anything like that so I settled for a sausage stick, some chips, and some crazy chocolate candy bar with these weird mint bubbles inside it (breakfast of champions!).

It was still very cold and cloudy, which made it a bit easier for me to leave this paradise, because if it was as sunny and picturesque as it had been all weekend, I don’t know how I could have left. Now I love Edinburgh and all, but a part of me wished the class would come meet me up in Skye so I would have a few more days. There were a couple more places I wanted to visit but didn’t have time. If the bus schedules connected better I might have been able to squeeze another stop in but it was impossible, and believe me, I studied those timetables so in-depth that I just about have them memorized now…

When I go back to Skye (hopefully sooner than later) I would like to visit Eilean Donan Castle (which isn’t actually on the isle but right next to it), which is one of the most famous castles in Scotland. I would also like to visit some of the strange mountain ranges on parts of the isle that I wasn’t able to get to. The main place I missed that I wanted to see was Armadale, because it has a ruined castle (I like my old ruins!) and some elaborate gardens. Armadale also has the Museum of the Isles, which holds several very ancient pieces from the earliest settlers on the isles and a bunch of stuff on the ancient Celts. Fortunately, I was able to visit the main spots I wanted to visit for the purposes of researching folklore on Skye, and I did indeed hit the jackpot, but the museum in Armadale would have been beneficial for research as well if I could have gotten to it.

I could have gone back through Armadale and spent the day there, taken a 30 minute ferry ride down to Mallaig, then caught the train there back to Edinburgh, but my research carried me to Inverness and down to Loch Ness, where I would hit the jackpot on folklore once again…

On the train to Inverness, I continued to work on journals and the book because once again, I had a whole table section to myself because the train was pretty empty. The train ride back was awesome scenery once again, even though it was cloudy and raining the whole time.

When I arrived in Inverness, I dropped my bag off at a storage locker and went looking for the bus station. I had five and a half hours to see as much as I could before my train to Edinburgh, so I had to get a move on it. It was still as cold and rainy as it was when I left Skye, and I was hoping it would clear up a bit so I could see better on Loch Ness and maybe spot the monster!

At the bus station I signed up for a 2 ½ hour tour of Loch Ness which was to leave in 45 minutes. The lady at the desk said that the weather was so bad that we might not be able to dock the boat at the castle, because they were having trouble doing it earlier that day due to the choppy waters. So now I REALLY was hoping the weather would clear up a bit so I could see the castle, plus I was going to be spending a lot of time outside and if I was getting sick the cold rainy weather would only make it worse.

I stopped off at a café to get some real food before the tour started, since my breakfast consisted of junk food. I had a steamy bowl of onion, potato, and leek soup, which was perfect for this cold, rainy day and was excellent. The steam from the soup definitely helped with my sinuses as well.

When I went to the bus stop to wait for the tour, the bus never showed up. After waiting for ten minutes I went back inside the bus station to see what was going on. The lady called the tour company and found out that there was another bus that was supposed to connect me with the tour bus and the schedule was messed up, so the tour bus drove over to get me. There were only three of us on the bus, two girls (who were quite cute I may add) and me.

On the way to Loch Ness the bus driver told us about a lot of random facts and history about the area, and we passed right by one of the places I wanted to visit in Inverness, Tomnahurich Hill (more on that later), so it was good that now I knew where it was and how to get to it when I got back to Inverness after the tour. The driver was highly knowledgeable about the area and its history, as he was obviously a seasoned vet at doing these tours, and might have even been a cooler driver than Jimmy, if that is even possible.

The driver told us that the reason why the water in Loch Ness is almost black is because of all the peat that washes down into it from the hills, that it is 52 feet above sea level, that there is enough water in Loch Ness to submerge every person in the world thirty something times, and that Loch Ness is a part of a giant glen called The Great Glen that was carved out of glaciers. He also talked quite a bit about Bonnie Prince Charlie (who I seem to be following around), the battle of Culloden, and the Jacobites.

He also talked about the earliest recorded account of the Loch Ness monster in which St. Colombia encountered a sea serpent in the River Ness. He said St. Columbia blessed the water and then the serpent disappeared.

We arrived where we were to board our boat onto the loch, and right there I saw the Loch Ness monster! It was a statue though.

On the boat, even though it was raining, I decided to go up top to get a better view. The water was very dark as I could tell from the wake coming off the boat. With all the rain and mist, it obscured vision to be able to see very far off, but it was kind of cool because the misty atmosphere created a sense of spookiness.

On the boat I met some other Americans from California who were pretty cool. I also talked to the cute girls I met on the bus some more. I could tell how Loch Ness can play tricks on the eyes, because the wake of boats on the dark water makes it look like something is coming up out of the water. Maybe there was!

There are several explanations as to what the Loch Ness monster could be, if it is indeed real and not things playing tricks on the eyes. Some believe it to be a dinosaur called a plesiosaur that somehow survived extinction. If this could be the case, there would have to be multiple “Nessies” to be able to breed, or perhaps an egg was frozen back when the Great Glen was covered by glaciers and was preserved to hatch later. There is also the theory that Nessie is the ghost of one of these plesiosaurs.

Another theory is that it is a supernatural beast of Celtic mythology called a kelpie. A kelpie, or water horse, is able to shape-shift into a beautiful horse on land that tries to trick people to ride it, and then plunges them into a nearby loch or stream to drown them. It takes a different form in water so it is able to swim, which fits the description of the Nessie sightings.

Skeptics say that the sightings can be attributed to not only wake from boats in the dark water, but also groups of large fish, seals, otters or ducks.

The boat ride ended at Urquhart castle, which is a large castle right on Loch Ness. I walked around the castle, which was in ruins. The view of the Loch from the castle towers was awesome, and fortunately the weather started to clear up a bit when we got to the castle, so we were able to dock, and the distance of vision improved slightly.

In the castle there was a trebuchet, which is a medieval siege machine similar to a catapult that hurls large stones. With being highly interested in medieval warfare, it was really cool to be able to see one of these in person because I have seen several in books and on TV.

I made a point to head back to the bus early to talk to the driver and let him know what I was doing, in the hopes that I could get more information. He told me more about some of the folklore surrounding Loch Ness and Tomnahurich Hill, and even let me look at one of his books that he uses for information for the tour. I read through the book on the bus and took down a few pages of notes.

When we got back to Inverness, I had a little over an hour and a half before my train to Edinburgh so I set off for Tomnahurich Hill, which is steeped in history and folklore, and about a 20 minute walk from the train and bus station. When I got there, the gate to the cemetery was locked so I couldn’t get inside, but took some pictures from the other side of the fence.

Tomnahurich Hill was originally a Pictish settlement. The Picts, which means “painted or tattooed ones” in Latin, were a tribe of people that lived in the Highlands and islands of Scotland from the time of the Romans until the 10th Century. The Picts were also prominent on the Isle of Skye, so I had already learned a bit about them already during my Skye adventures.

Tomnahurich Hill, means “hill of the yew trees” in Gaelic, and it is also called “the hill of the fairies.” There is good reason for these names because the hill is, obviously, covered with yew trees and there is a tremendous amount of folklore and legend surrounding it.

Much like the Faerie Glen on Skye being believed to be a major gathering area for the Scottish island fairy folk, Tomnahurich Hill is believed to be a major gathering area for the Scottish Highland fairy folk, and it is believed that there is a portal to the fairy realm (or the Celtic “Otherworld”) inside the hill. Witches used to congregate at the hill to perform rituals as well.

One of the more famous folk tales surrounding the hill, called “The Fiddlers of Tomnahurich,” is that of two fiddlers who were looking for somewhere to play. A strange looking old man asked them if they would like to come perform for him, and led them to Tomnahurich Hill. They followed the man through an opening in the hill where there was a great feast with all very attractive people, and in the enchantment of the evening the fiddlers played better than they had played before and had a grand time.

After the feast was over, the old man paid them with silver and gold, and the two fiddlers began walking back towards the center of Inverness. However, they noticed everything looked different and they didn’t see anyone they knew, and passersby were wearing strange looking clothes and made fun of their “old fashioned” clothing.

Thinking they were under some sort of enchantment spell they began to head home, and realized that it too had changed and was no longer occupied. Horrified, the fiddlers ran to the local church where the priest was giving a sermon. When the priest spoke the word of God, the fiddlers turned to dust.

The fiddlers had been gone for a hundred years during their feast in Tomnahurich, and the old man in the tale is believed to be one of the main figures of Scottish legend, Thomas the Rhymer.

The legends of Thomas the Rhymer are some of the most popular tales of Scotland. He was a prophet and bard who, according to legend, was able to slip in and out of the fairy realm (“The Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer” and “Tam Lin” are two popular Scottish ballads about this), and his ability to move back and forth between worlds was the inspiration behind his writings and prophecies. After spending 40 days and 40 nights in the fairy realm, it is said that he gained his powers of prophecy from the Queen of Elfland, and served her for seven years. During this time he was given the gift of a tongue that couldn’t lie, which led to his other nickname, True Thomas.

Thomas Rhymer, or Thomas Learmont, or Thomas Rymour de Ercieldoune, was an actual bard and prophet who lived in the thirteenth century. The numerous works of poetry, song, and literature based around him were major inspirations for later romantics such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. It is believed that Thomas the Rhymer is either buried on Tomnahurich Hill, or still lives in the fairy realm through the portal in the hill.

Another famous Highland prophet, the Brahan Seer, Kenneth MacKenzie, lived in the sixteenth or seventeenth century and has connections with Tomnahurich Hill as well. Tomnhurich Hill is now a cemetery, and it is believed the Brahan Seer predicted this by saying the hill would be, “under lock and key, and the fairies secured within.” It is said that he also predicted the coming of the Caledonian Canal by saying, “full-rigged ships will be seen sailing eastward and westward by the back of Tomnahurich.”

The idea of “seers” or those believed to have “second sight,” goes all the way back to the ancient Celtic tradition, and even today some Highlanders are believed to have this gift. Those with “second sight” are believed to be able to see the otherworld (or the fairy realm, or Elfland), which is the land of the gods, spirits of the dead, and other supernatural beings. Like Thomas the Rhymer, these visions are what give them the power to predict the future and converse with supernatural beings. Unlike Thomas the Rhymer however, these visions randomly happen and can’t be controlled, and because they are usually grim visions of the future, those with the gift do not like it.

Though these Highland folk beliefs are mostly tied to the pagan Celtic religion and Wicca, a Christian minister, Rev. Robert Kirk, also has connections with the fairy realm. Rev. Kirk was the seventh son of James Kirk (in folk beliefs seventh sons are believed to inherit special powers) and was believed to be gifted with “second sight.” Rev. Kirk studied theology at St. Andrews University and the University of Edinburgh, and became an Episcopalian minister in Aberfoyle in Stirlingshire (Rob Roy country), and was a firm believer that fairies truly existed, depicting them as “betwixt Man and Angel.” He claims to have been able to see them, and described them as having “light changeable bodies, somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud and best seen in twilight.”

Rev. Kirk roamed all over the Highlands doing research on fairies and interviewed many people who claimed to have seen them, and even some who were abducted by them. This research culminated in “The Secret Commonwealth Of Elves, Fauns And Fairies,” which he wrote in 1691. Rev. Kirk is believed to have been abducted by the fairies and taken to the fairy realm through Doon Hill in Aberfoyle, and there have been strange happenings surrounding his book as well. Aberfoyle would have been another good spot to go for research, but I didn’t have time to go there.

On the way back to Edinburgh, the train went through Perth, where another famous fairy hill is located called Schiehallion, or Sìdh Chailleann, which means “Fairy Hill of the Caledonians.” There are several mountains around Perth so I am not sure which one it was. Schiehallion is said to mark the geographical center of Scotland.

I got back to Edinburgh just after 10 p.m. and was dead tired from my very busy weekend. I felt that I had gotten a lot accomplished and the whole weekend was absolutely incredible. I could not have asked for a better weekend in my wildest dreams. It was just one of those times that things just seem to fall into place and everything goes either as planned, or better than planned. Perhaps the “wee folk” had something to do with it?!?! 🙂


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