Stories We’re Made Of


A kelpie as portrayed by Theodor Kittelsen in Bairn on White Horse

Scotland has a rich history of folklore and mythology. From the iconic Loch Ness Monster, to the grim stories of Sawney Bean, here is a look at some of the most famous tales to come out of the country.

No piece of Scottish folklore is more iconic than the Loch Ness Monster. Also known as Nessie, the monster is referred to as having a long neck and multiple humps. Its iconic appearance was solidified in pop culture with the famous “surgeon’s photograph,” published in the Daily Mail in 1934 and proved to be a hoax 60 years later. Although this is the most famous “sighting” of the monster, tales of its existence date back to the sixth century. The first mention of the creature can be found in the Life of St. Columbia by Adomán, although that version of the monster resided in the River Ness, not the loch.

Although it is the most famous example, the Loch Ness Monster is far from the only creature said to be hiding in Scotland’s lochs. Other supposed water dwellers include the Lomond Monster of Loch Lomond, Loch Lochy’s Lizzie who has been sighted sporadically since 1929, and a water horse said to reside in Loch Arkaig. However, none of these creatures have become fixtures of pop culture like Nessie. Throughout the years, many expeditions have tried to find evidence of these sea creatures, but none have been successful.

Few tales in Scottish folklore are more gruesome than that of the notorious cannibal Sawney Bean. Alleged to exist sometime between the 13th and 16th century and residing in a cave between Girvan and Ballantrae, he and his incestuous family of 48 reportedly murdered and ate over 1000 people. Despite mounting fears, they stayed hidden by only attacking at night, meaning it took years for them to be caught. Today the legend of Sawney Bean is a popular part of the Edinburgh tourism industry.

While, many believe it to be a true story, there is little evidence that Sawney Bean and his clan existed, with newspaper articles from the era making no mention of him. Because of this, most historians believe the tale to be a work of fiction. Despite this, it has earned its place as a staple of Scottish folklore, being adapted and retold many times throughout the years. Most notably, it served as the inspiration for Wes Craven’s 1977 horror classic, The Hills Have Eyes.

One common thread throughout Scottish folklore are the many mythical creatures said to roam the country. Among the best known are Kelpies, water-dwelling shapeshifters who often took the form of a horse. In their human form they were said to retain their hooves, and many believed they partook in human sacrifices. Another group of creatures called the Blue men of the Minch, were often referred to as “Storm Kelpies” These human-looking creatures were said to sink ships and drown sailors, although many today believe they originated as a personification of the sea.

The history of Scotland’s folklore is vast and varied. Tales of monsters, cannibals and mythical creatures have dominated our stories in the past. As we have moved into the information age, it is unclear how our folklore will advance with it. Who knows whether children of the future will be spreading these stories as truth, or if a quick online search will debunk any future myths.

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