Have you ever stopped by the smaller of two lochs at the base of Dun Caan? A little-known folk tale is apparently associated with Loch na Mna, the body of water near the larger Loch na Meilich, which acts as Raasay’s water supply on the approach to Dun Caan. The story is that of the ‘Water Horse’ (Each-uisge) or more commonly referred to as the ‘Kelpie’.
“The each-uisge, a supernatural water horse found in the Highlands of Scotland, is supposedly the most dangerous water-dwelling creature in the British Isles. Often mistaken for the Kelpie (which inhabits streams and rivers), the each-uisge lives in the sea, sea lochs, and fresh water lochs”
Raasay actually comes up quite prominently in the legend. When Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell arrived on Raasay as part of their Hebridean Tour, they were told of a ‘sea-horse’ that lurked in one of Raasay’s larger lochs. Dr. Johnson writes takes note of the story they were told by a guide:
“He [their guide] said, there was a wild beast in [Loch na Mna], a sea-horse, which came and devoured a man’s daughter; upon which the man lighted a great fire, and had a sow roasted on it, the smell of which attracted the monster. In the fire was put a spit. The man lay concealed behind a low wall of loose stones, which extended from the fire over the summit of the hill, till it reached the side of the loch. The monster came, and the man with a red hot spit destroyed it. Malcolm (the guide) showed me the little hiding place, and the row of stones. He did not laugh when he told me this story.’”
While this may be the first mention of the Raasay ‘sea-horse’, it would not be the last. The story was later retold in a more detailed and well-known form in More West Highland Tales, a translation of a popular Victorian collection of fairy tales:
“A blacksmith from Raasay lost his daughter to the each-uisge. In revenge the blacksmith and his son made a set of large hooks, in a forge they set up by the loch side. They then roasted a sheep and heated the hooks until they were red hot. At last a great mist appeared from the water and the each-uisge rose from the depths and seized the sheep. The blacksmith and his son rammed the red-hot hooks into its flesh and after a short struggle dispatched it. In the morning there was nothing left of the creature apart from a jelly like substance.”
According to some sources, Loch Na Mna also carries the name “The Woman’s Loch” for this reason. The ‘jelly-like substance’ mentioned is the so-called ‘Star jelly’, sometimes known as ‘astromyxin’ or ‘Star rot’. Reports of this substance apparently date back hundreds of years but it features heavily in folklore and paranormal tales from the 19th century. This gives an indication of when this particular telling of the story was probably invented.
So keep your eyes peeled for any suspicious looking horses next time you’re near Loch Na Ma, and if you spot them be careful in your approach. It’s little wonder though why Raasay now has such a large water treatment plant on the hills near Loch na Mna, considering all the Each-Uisge and Star Jelly that has to be filtered out.
You can read more about the legend as well as other retellings of the story at the here. The book An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs also contains information on the legend that was sourced for this article.
Correction 26/01/2017- In the original article, we referred to Loch Na Mna as the larger northern loch, “which also acts as the water reservoir for the island”. Thank you to Mairi and Andrew Gillies for pointing out that Loch Na Mna is the smaller Southern loch, Loch Na Meilich being the larger reservoir loch.