10 Mar 2017

collected curiosities

Winter has been quiet and so have I. This blog, kind of aimless as always, lost momentum last summer and I've been thinking about what it is I want it to be, if anything. I still haven't quite decided but these are a few wee interesting things I saw and learnt over the last few months.

Hag Stones, July 2016
I hadn't heard of the Brahan Seer, or Coinneach Odhar, until this weekend we went to Black Isle last July. He was apparently burnt in tar on Chanonry Point in the 17th Century after telling Lady Isabella Seaforth that her husband was having liaisons with other women in Paris, but there's no record of that happening (the burning that is; I think it's pretty safe to say the liaisons were happening). Other people say he actually lived in the 16th Century. Among his most famous predictions are the Battle of Culloden and the Caledonian Canal, but as his prophesies were passed down solely through oral tradition for hundreds of years before someone wrote them down, it's difficult to know for sure how accurate or real they are.

Whether you believe in the Brahan Seer or not, you can still replicate his supposed method of seeing. He apparently saw the future by holding up a hag stone to his blind eye - when I read this I got quite excited, because I've been looking out for hag stones ever since I read about them at the witchcraft museum in Boscastle in Cornwall last June. Hag stones (or adder stones as they're also called in various places) are stones that have a hole worn right through them, and they're used as charms to, among other things, protect your home or cure snake bites. We read that the beaches around Black Isle are a particularly good spot for hag stones, so I became convinced that this was a sign and I was definitely definitely going to find myself a hag stone on this trip.

To cut a long story short, after literally hours of intensely scouring Rosemarkie beach, I was left with a couple of fossils (cool, but not what I was looking for) and a stiff neck. My stupid boyfriend, on the other hand, had found no fewer than three hag stones. I was furious. The beach spirits had let me down big time.

Since then I have found a few hag stones of my own and we now have a collection of five.



The Burry Man, August 2016
On the second Friday in August, the Burry Man takes to the streets of South Queensferry. From morning to evening, he walks around town, accompanied by his entourage of a bell ringer and the guys that help him hold his arms up (because if he lets them drop to his sides, they'll stick) and drinks whisky everywhere he stops, I believe. Presumably through a straw?

We basically skived off work to go hunting for the Burry Man, with some rather vague info from the web in hand we turned up early in the morning before anyone else in S. Queensferry had woken up, it seemed. No sign of the Burry Man on the high street and we had no idea where to start. We asked a lady washing her doorstep whether she knew when he'd be coming round and she said he usually arrived in the centre of town later in the day. A little disheartened, we left to run a few errands before circling back to give it another try in the early afternoon. This time we headed into the residential area at the back of S. Queensferry and started following a trail of directions given to us by passers-by. After being led quite literally around the houses for a while, we started to get a bit paranoid that there was no such thing as the Burry Man and he was simply a myth perpetuated by locals to make visitors look like idiots. We asked a group of kids playing football on a driveway if they'd seen him and they said he'd just gone round the corner. We picked up the speed to silly walk levels and followed our noses into the next street where I heard the distant jingling of bells. With more excitement than was strictly reasonable rising inside us, we dashed towards the sound and, all of a sudden, there he appeared.

The troupe was a little more sombre than we had been expecting, tramping along the road as though stoically duty-bound rather than participating in a bizarre pagan celebration. But I cannot fully describe the wave of delight that came over me when we eventually found him, there, in the flesh (in the burrs, I suppose). No one acknowledged us, even though I was almost hopping like a feverish child on Christmas morning - they simply carried on their way, the bells ding-a-linging, the Burry Man making his way steadily through the town, and turned a corner and were gone. The whole encounter lasted perhaps three minutes. It was worth it.

Easter Aquhorthies, October 2016
On a trip to the north-east coast in October we stopped to see the Easter Aquhorthies stone circle on the way home. We'd actually seen a couple of very beautiful and facinating carved stones that same morning that were well off the beaten track and we found as much with intuition and luck than anything else, but that encounter feels a bit too special and intimate to share here somehow. I also loved Easter Aquhorthies though, which is an example of a recumbent stone circle, a particular structure that you only find in the north-east of Scotland and the south-west of Ireland. Just two places in the whole world, and one of them is here.

Goblin Ha', March 2017
Goblin Ha' in the ruins of Yester Castle is a registered ancient monument despite looking like a bunch of untended ruins where local kids probably have parties. It is one of the oldest examples of a Gothic stone arched vaulted ceiling, and folk say it was built by evil forces (hence Goblin Ha'). That's partly because the castle was built by a man called Lord Hugo de Giffard, or the Wizard of Yester, aided by an army of hobgoblins, or so they say.

I can't tell if this place is inherently spooky or if I'd just worked myself up into a bit of a state with all this talk of summoning evil entities and seeing a rather ominous bit of graffiti on the cold stone wall of the chamber. There is also a mysterious chute coming down from the level above into the hall, and an even more mysterious tunnel that disappears a long way down into the hill. Needless to say I did not feel particularly at ease in there and was happy to leave and get back into the daylight.

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