Legendary Hill: OS Grid Reference – NN 6806 3976
Take the A827 road on the north-side of Loch Tay between Killin and Kenmore, and roughly halfway along you’ll find the tiny hamlet of Lawers. Go down into the hamlet itself and, amidst the remains of the old trees where now are houses, nestled on a rise in the land with burns (streams) on either side, remains of the fairy mound of An Sithean still lives…
Remnants of the legends of little people are legion in the Scottish mountains. Sadly, many of them died when the English arrived and culled the population in ‘The Clearances’ of the 19th century – none moreso than in the area surrounding Loch Tay. But thankfully, in the latter-half of the 19th century, a local man called James MacDiarmid (1910), took it upon himself to write down many of the old stories recounted by the locals who remained – as well as narrate those he remembered as a boy, as told by the elders in the neighbourhood. Whilst tales of ‘fairies’ and other such creatures are thought by city-minds to be little other than fantasies, mountain-folk cosmologies differ greatly to those who are disconnected from the natural world. Genius loci abound, and animism is the basic plinth integral to communities in the hills, where the world can be very different indeed. From such a landscape comes this tale…
“Not many years ago there lived in the neighbourhood of Killin a man who was in the habit of recounting his wonderful adventures with the white horse of the fairies. When coming home one night from Kenmore market, and just as he was passing Sithean, Lawers, he heard most enchanting music proceeding from the knoll. Unable to resist the temptation, he gradually went nearer and nearer the fairies’ place of abode, till at last he was fairly among them. They received him most kindly, and on parting gave him one of their white horses to carry him home. His steed went through the air at a speed almost equalling that of lightning, and in a few minutes he found himself above a house at Clifton, Tyndrum, some twenty-five miles westward from Lawers. Happening to shout “ho!” when he was right above the chimney, the fairy horse threw him off its back, and down he dropped feet foremost through the wide, old-fashioned chimney, and alighted in the midst of a wedding party, much to their surprise and alarm. He continued in their pleasant company till daylight, when he returned home at his leisure, thanking the fairies for the pleasure they had so unexpectedly given him!”
Usually, tales such as this relate to the existence of prehistoric cairns or tumuli (burial sites), but no such archaeological remains have ever been known to live here. Equally curious is how the man in this tale wasn’t kept in the timeless realms, beloved of faerie-land, where reveries with them would take decades from a man’s life, even though it only felt like one night.
There are still old local folk who still speak, not just of the little-folk, but of other hauntings in this beautiful part of Loch Tay. May the land not be cursed by fools who put their idea of ‘development’ in front of the genius loci here; lest madness and ill-fortune be desired…
- MacDiarmid, James, “More Fragments of Breadalbane Folklore,” in Transactions of the Gaelic Society Inverness, volume 26, 1910.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian