Stories from the Cairngorms
To coincide with the launch of our latest Day Out called ‘Stories & Gaelic in the Landscape’ we put together a blog on some of the best-known figures and stories from our National Park.
If you think we are missing out on a good character or story – please get in touch, we would love to hear it!
The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui
Probably one of the best known creatures is the Grey Man or in Gaelic ‘Am Fear Liath Mor’. This creature or presence has been haunting the summit and passes of Ben Macdui for a long time. It has been described as an extremely tall figure covered with short hair, or as an unseen presence that causes uneasy feelings in people who climb the mountain.
In 1925, the noted climber Norman Collie recounted a terrifying experience he had endured while alone near the summit of Ben MacDui some 35 years before. “I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. For every few steps I took I heard a crunch, and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own.” Collie was unable to make out the source of the noises because of mist, and continued “… [as] the eerie crunch, crunch, sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.” Other climbers have also reported similar experiences, many describing uncontrollable feelings of fear and panic, some actually seeing a huge grey figure behind them, and others only hearing sounds or even succumbing to inexplicable feelings of terror while in the area.
Linn of Dee
The beautiful River Dee bears also a hauntingly beautiful story…
‘At one time there lived near the Linn of Dee, in Mar Forest, a man named Farquharson-na-cat, i.e., Farquharson of the wand. He got this name from the fact that his trade was that of making baskets, sculls, etc. One night he had to cross the river just a little above the linn. In doing so he lost his footing, was carried into the gorge of the linn, and drowned in sight of his wife. Search was made at once for the body, but in vain. Next day the pool below the linn, as well as the river further down, was searched, but the body was not found. That evening the widow took her late husband’s plaid, and went to the pool below the linn, “atween the sun and the sky”. She folded the plaid in a particular way, knelt down on the bank of the pool, and prayed to the Spirit of the pool to give up the body of her drowned husband. She then threw the plaid into the pool, uttering the words, “Take that and give me back my dead.” Next morning the dead body, wrapped in the plaid, was found lying on the bank of the pool. Tradition has it that the widow soon afterwards bore a son, and that that son was the progenitor of the Farquharson Clan.
The river Spey is spoken of as “she”, and bears the character of being “bloodthirsty”. The common belief is that “she” must have at least one victim yearly.’
The rhyme about the rivers Dee and Don and their victims is:
Each year needs three;
But bonny Don,
She needs none.”
Tobar-na-glas a Coille (The Well in the Grey Wood)
And just as there is a Big Grey Man, the Little Grey Man makes an appearance in the story of this well near Corgarff:
“The Well in the Grey Wood lies near the old military road, near the top of the hill that divides the glen of Corgarff from Glengairn. In a small knoll near it lived a spiteful Spirit that went by the name of Duine-glase-beg, i.e., the Little Grey Man. He was guardian of the well and watched over its water with great care. Each one on taking a draught of water from it had to drop into it a pin or other piece of metal. If this was not done, and if at any time afterwards the same person attempted to draw water from it, the Spirit resisted, annoyed, and hunted the unfortunate till death by thirst came.”
We are finishing with the well-known story surrounding Lochan Uaine. This loch, also known as The Fairy Loch, has a deep green colour which encouraged the local tale that its colour comes from the fairies who are washing their clothes in the water – consequently turning the water a mesmerizing green. Believe it or not – it’s a beautiful place to see.