The Virgin & The Demon:

 Another Tale of Loch Katrine

"Afore we set out on the waters, guid fowk, ye may hae seen a sign upon the shore, directin ye tae Coirre nan Uriskin. A charming wee cove – or so the guide-books say. Charmed might be a better word

Faith, friends, but ‘tis a maist singular spot...or wad be if ye cou’d but persuade but two souls that bide upon these shores tae agree where it can be found. One worthie’ll tell ye ‘tis tae be foun’ by the base o’ Ben Venue – anither that it’s haufway up that muckle mound, glowerin’ ower the loch in gloomy grandeur. One might cry it a cave, a cove...or nae mair than a nook in the rock, easy missed by the feckless fozies o’ the tourist trade. And them that come wide-eyed wae wonder tae seek the spot? Well...sure, they’ll fare little better. E’en yon we sign upon the shore I mentioned cries the corrie cove tae be ‘Near Here’...but offers nae further clues tae it’s true location.

Ah, but see...that’s the thing....those that come seekin’ for ‘soft places’ like this might just as well try tae spin a rope frae sand...ah, but that’s a skill I’ll speak on more, anon. It may be but one place, or many...

 By many a bard, in Celtic tongue,

Has Coire-nan-Uriskin been sung;

A softer name the Saxons gave,

And call'd the grot the Goblin-cave,

Gray Superstition's whisper dread

Debarr'd the spot to vulgar tread;

For there, she said, did fays resort,

And satyrs hold their sylvan court."

Katrine It goes by many names: the Goblin’s Cave, Cove of the Satyrs, Den of the Ghosts...or the Wild Men.... Coir-n'an-Uriskin: the Corrie o’ the Urisks

Now, that’s a point on which maist will agree: the habitants of the place are ca’d Urisks. Whit an Urisk is, though...well, thats anither matter. They’re furry wee goat-like creatures, that walk an’ talk like men. Similar to Brownies...or Dundonians, for that matter.

‘Course, the grey-beards o’ the great universities – wae the benefit o’ wisdom borrowed frae books – they ponder an’ postulate that the Urisks were the remnants o’ Druidic tribes, driven into the wilds by other natives o’ these shores: persecuted first by the Fingalian, a rival pagan kirk, an’ then by Missionaries o’ the new Christan faith. Grown fearful o’ strangers, an’ garbed in goat or sheep-skins, they’d seem like Satyrs – mair goat than man. Again, we’re back tae the Dundonians.

Some cry them as an elder race. Creatures o’ magic an’ mystery. Some say that the gifts o’ Second Sight an’ Prophesy are the result o’ unholy unions twixt their race an’ ours [FOCUS ON PARTICULAR PUNTER]. Mair believable wae some than ithers, eh?

Ither still say that they were the former fairy habitants o’ Bogle Knowe, on the southern shore o’ the Lake o’ Menteith.

An ancient Earl o’ that place, see, intrigued by the legends o’ their race, read frae a magic tome...an’ released them intae the world...thinkin’, nae doubt, tae bind their magic tae his service, an’ his alone. Still, he was mindful o’ their power, an’ offered them a deal – for he knew frae his studies that the Fair-Fowk valued honour ower owt else. He’d burn his magic book, he said, an’ offer them their freedom forever, if they’d but perform one wee task for him. A little thing: tae spin a rope...frae sand.

How he laughed, thinkin’ himsel’; quite the roister-doister tae hae tricked them tae agree tae such an impossible task: sure he an’ his heirs would hae them in his service ‘til the soundin’ o’ the Last Trump...aye, an’ beyond, if he had his way.

He didna laugh so loud when, wae the comin’ o’ the very next dawn, he found they’d finished their impossible labour. Oh, he said, their rope wasna long enough....or thick enough...or fine enough tae suit his needs. Day after day the Fairies did as their wicked Master bid...until they’d had enough. They plagued the rascal, day and night - breaking cups, rattlin’ pots an’ pans, pokin’ an’ proddin’ him as he slept...until the Earl had nae choice but tae honour his word...freein’ them frae his thrall, an’ offerin’ Coirre nan Uriskin on Ben Venue as a new home...providin’ that they bothered him nae mair.

The Urisks have ca’d the place home ever since – or so they say. An’, ladies – they can still be persuaded, frae time tae time, tae help mortals like yoursel’s wae the odd bit o’ housework - in return for the odd scrap o’ food or a tot o’ special milk....if ye get my drift. But mind play fair wae the Urisk, for you risk much if ye dinna.

One cautionary tale tells o’ a farm by Glengyle, owned by a man named Davie McGowan. Now Davie was a kind auld soul, an’ he relied on a friendly Urisk for the spreading an’ stacking of grass to make hay. The pair had grown auld taegither, an’ the hairy Satyr trusted the man – or so the story goes - for the farmer took care no’ tae pry intae the wee man’s affairs - an’ a’ways paid for his labours at sheep-shearing time with a dozen o’ his best fleeces.

The trouble came – as trouble a’ways does, it seems - when good Davie died. His heir, ye see, was a right wee twister: he grudged the Urisk his promised price. He let him labour, right enough, harvesting his hay – then left four rotten, ragged goat-skins as his pay. Just like the foolish Earl o’ Menteith, in days gone by, he thought himself the Big Man, an’ boasted o’ his jest in the alehouse that very night...though no neighbour would share a cup with him. The fowks here ken better than tae break their bond wae such beings.

He staggered home, drunk an’ bitter, led, or so he thought, by the light left burning in his farmhouse window tae guide him hame. ‘Twas only when he started sinking intae the bog by the lochside...as the muck and mire seeped intae his boots an’ dragged him under...that he saw it was the twinkling light o’ a lantern, held in the hand o’ a goat-footed hob-goblin which had led him tae his doom...beneath these very waters.

Satyrs an’ Faeries an’ Ghosts....oh, my!

Course, there is anither, much older – an’ much darker - tale told o’ the Corrie...one which, if true...yields a curious origin for the loch itsel’.

Once upon a time, the story goes, this was no’ a loch at a’, but a valley – dotted aboot wae the dwellin’s o’ a wise an’ virtuous people. Shepherds they were, an foresters, who honoured their ancient gods, an’ caused offence tae none – save the foul goblin that dwel’t, bitter an’ alone, in a cave atop Ben Venue, envious o’ the happiness o’ these guid, gentle folk.

Noo, these were simple fowk, they had naught in the way o’ goods or gowd that the demon might steal frae them. Greatest o’ their possessions was a well, a sacred spring whose waters they prized for their great healing powers. Each eve a local girl – a maiden, mark ye, for only the pure could tend so blessed a boon – was charged tae watch ower the spring. She wou’d climb the crag, an’ ensure the stoppers on the sluices o’ the well were safe an’ secure, lest any o’ the precious waters be lost.

One night, just as the sun had set – the rocks o’ the Ben castin’ long shadows doon, deep ower the valley – a stranger came tae call. A handsome laddie, he was: dark eyed an’ bonnie - just the sort tae please a foolish maiden’s eye. The guileless girl hadna the sense tae see the pretty boy as aught but what he seemed tae be, an’ when he offered her a handful o’ plump, ripe mountain berries her mouth watered at the very thought o’ such a tasty treat.

Wae her first bite she thought the berries mair bitter than they shou’d be, but still she thought no ill o’ her fine new friend. With her second, though, her eyes darkened...her vision blurred, and her pretty visitor’s visage seemed tae shift an’ change intae somethin’ stranger...harsher...aye, an’ hairier too. His eyes seemed no’ so pretty, now. No’ so kind.

She fell intae a deep sleep. When she woke she was relieved tae find that she hadna been harmed, or touched at a’ – her virtue was intact. Sure, there was no sign o’ the stranger. Perhaps she’d dream’d the night away. Yet the blood chilled within her veins as she spied that the sluices o’ the sacred well were opened...the precious waters drained away. Weepin’ wae horror at her folly, she clambered doon the Ben, eager tae confess her crime an’ beg forgiveness o’ her family an’ friends.

But the valley was gone. Her friends a’ family drowned as they slept, as the waters o’ the well washed flooded forth frae the crag and washed their lives awa. The morning was still. E’en the birds o’ the air seemed stunned intae silence by the horror o’ that sorry sight. Sure the only sound was a distant laughter, echoin’ frae a cave...haufway up Ben Venue. For a moment she thought it was the soft, sweet voice o’ her fine new friend...and as the cackling grew harder and more cruel, she knew that she was right.

Her heart broken by the Goblin’s trick, she cast herself intae the lock her carelessness had created. Her name – I’m sure you’ve guessed – Katrine.

Some will swear the harsh cries that echo ower these waters at nightfall are the call o’ eagles, or some ither furtive fowl...ithers that they mark the malicious mirth o’ the oldest habitant o’ this place, still bidin’ in his lonely howff after a’ these years."

 

Taken from An Evening on Loch Katrine, performed in 2013

Further Information

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