Shortly before Christmas we became a little stir crazy at home, and despite a forecast of heavy rain we decided to venture outside in search of adventure.
We headed to the Trossachs where we spent three consecutive day trips exploring the region. Clad head to toe in our waterproof gear we were undeterred by a little (ok a lot) of rain. The Wee White Dug donned his smart, red hiking jacket.
One of the places we visited on our Trossachs travels was the town of Aberfoyle which sits below some dramatic, craggy hills. I’d heard about a faerie hill nearby so we headed off in search of the wee folk.
I’ve always been interested in Scotland’s myths and legends. It’s hard to imagine today but Scots once believed unwaveringly in the existence of magical beings.
En route to find the faerie hill we passed an old ruined church. I love old tombstones so we stopped to take a closer look. It was a great decision as inside the kirkyard were a couple of beautifully, well preserved iron mortsafe weights. In the 19th century they were placed on top of fresh graves to stop grave robbers or resurrectionists from digging up the dead to sell to anatomy schools.
Grave robbing was once a popular and macabre little earner in Scotland. Scotland’s cities built watchtowers in their cemeteries to deter the resurrectionists. Here night watchmen would watch over the dead so their eternal slumbers were not disturbed.
I found it fascinating that even in the quiet town of Aberfoyle measures had to be taken to prevent the dead from being spirited off into the night. The nearest medical school was some 30 miles away in Glasgow.
Anyway I digress this post is about faeries, although this little church turned out to have a fascinating link to the faerie folk.
A little further into our walk we reached a wooded hill known as Doon Hill or the Fairy Hill. There’s a lovely circular walk up the hill through woodland.
As we made our way uphill we were met by lots of evidence to confirm that the faerie folk lived in these woods. Tiny houses could be seen carved into trees. The faeries must have wanted us to see them though, or they’d have used magic to conceal their homes from us.
The wee dug peered inside tiny windows and waited patiently outside miniature doors, hopeful of an invite inside for tea. Knowing that Scottish faerie folk aren’t the sweet natured types found in Enid Blyton stories I was happy we didn’t meet any.
At the top of the hill we came to a clearing with a huge tree in the middle. The tree and those surrounding it were covered in brightly coloured cloots.
Cloot is a Scots word for cloth. The tying of a cloot is an old tradition. It’s tied for a loved one who is sick or ailing. As the cloot rots away in the elements the loved one’s health starts to improve. I love that even in 21st century Scotland people still place faith and hope in old traditions and beliefs. It was sad to see just how many people were so obviously worried about the health of their loved ones.
As we were standing there the weak winter sun was setting, casting a magical light through the trees. It gave the place an eerie, otherworldly glow.
So what did the old ruined kirk we explored earlier have to do with Doon Hill? In the 17th century Reverend Robert Kirk was the minister there. He’s buried in the kirkyard, although there are some who would laugh at that suggestion. The Reverend was a folklorist who was fascinated by the faerie folk. He was writing a book about them ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ and the faeries were furious that he was about to expose their secrets.
Reverend Kirk enjoyed a daily stroll up Doon Hill, perhaps to gather material for his book. On 14th May 1692 he was found dead on the hill. The cause of death was noted as a heart attack but the local people knew there was more to it than met the eye. It’s said the body found on the hill wasn’t his at all, but that of a changeling the faeries had left in his place. Angry at him for prying into their affairs they imprisoned Reverend Kirk inside the big tree on top of the hill, now covered in cloots.
If you ever visit Doon Hill do spare a thought for poor Reverend Kirk and whatever you do don’t go writing a book about the little people or you could suffer a similar fate.
Until next time ……….