In the toon o’ Kittlerumpit in the debatable lands, a goodman lived in a wee hoose wae his wife and bairn. One mornin’ the goodman telt his wife that he wis goin’ tae the fair. He kissed her goodbye and set aff, and he wis never seen again. His poor wife wis left wae very little, and wae the bairn tae look after she wis fair in a fash. Her neighbours were aw sorry fer her, but naebody helped her. Her only consolation wis her sow, fer it wis soon tae farrow and she hoped fer a good litter.
Perhaps the greatest and most prolific Scottish myth of all can be found where it’s least expected: in the beloved system of clan tartans.
The earliest example of tartan found in Scotland dates to the third century and was used as a stopper in an earthenware pot found on St Kilda. Known as the Falkirk tartan, it’s a simple two coloured check, the undyed brown and white wool of the Soay sheep.
The Ùruisg (OO-rishk) is described variously as a faun or satyr-like creature with the lower half of a goat and the upper half of a human, or as a shambling wild man, covered in thick, shaggy hair, with long, sharp teeth and claws. The latter part of its name, uisg, comes from the Gaelic word for water, uisge, and the stories associated with it always take place near a stream.
In the 4th century, the relics of Saint Andrew were brought to Scotland by Saint Regulus, an event commemorated by the naming of the town of St Andrews on the east coast. Travelling with Saint Regulus’s entourage was a Greek nun, a consecrated virgin named Triduana. The young woman settled in the parish of Rescobie in Angus where she led a quiet life, dedicating herself to God, until her beauty attracted the attention of Nechtan, king of the Picts.
A long, long time ago, in the Highlands of Scotland, a fisherman was walking along a beach towards his home when a strange sound reached his ears. He looked around until his eyes fell upon a group of men and women dancing on the shore in the moonlight. He approached them quietly, hiding himself behind a ridge of rock, and as he drew closer to them he realised that they were not men and women at all, but selkies, the seal folk.
Redcaps are the malignant counterpart to the friendly household Brownies of Scottish folklore and can be found in the ruins of castles and towers in the Borders, especially those that have played host to bloody battles. Popular tradition attests that the foundation stones of the old Border castles were bathed in human blood by the Picts to draw these malevolent spirits to protect the buildings.
Once there was a great bard who was called Thomas the Rhymer, from Ercildoune. All through Scotland, from the Cheviot Hills to the Pentland Firth, the story of Thomas the Rhymer has long been known. It is told that he vanished for seven years and that when he reappeared he had the gift of prophecy, and was given the name of True Thomas. During his seven years absence from home he is said to have dwelt in Elfhame.
Scotland’s history is rich with plant lore, and archaeological evidence dates the earliest recorded use of natural remedies in the country to the bronze age. As recently as a few hundred years ago, most ailments were relieved by concoctions of herbs and plants and the healer’s medicine cabinet was stocked entirely from nature. Many of the stories of Scotland’s defining moments are punctuated with mentions of plants and flowers, and the folklore associated with them is woven into the history of the country.