Scotland's Haunted Depths

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Nessie and other weird creatures

Loch Ness and 'Nessie' need no introduction, but let's put this famous beast to the side for once to look at Scotland's other lochs. They too harbour mysteries, but more of a supernatural kind. Somewhere in the twilight between reality, imagination, folklore, spirit and history dwells some of the most terrifying creatures to haunt Scotland's depths.

Loch Ness and Urquart Castle - 'Nessie' might not be the only strange creature hiding in Scotland's lochs.
Loch Ness and Urquart Castle - 'Nessie' might not be the only strange creature hiding in Scotland's lochs. | Source
The 'Water Horse' or 'Kelpie' is said to gallop into deep water with it's victim on its back.
The 'Water Horse' or 'Kelpie' is said to gallop into deep water with it's victim on its back. | Source

Malevolent water horses? Blue water demons? Merfolk? All colourful descriptions of beings, if folklore holds any truth, that haunt Scotland’s waterways. Let’s take a look at a few of these supernatural beings.

Perhaps the most well known creatures to inhabit Scottish and Irish lochs, are the water kelpie and water horse . Both are very similar and are often thought of as being one entity. The Water Kelpie was a malevolent force which usually took the form of a horse but often transformed itself into a handsome youth or beautiful woman. The purpose for this shape-shifting was to fool unwary folk into a sense of security before leading them to their doom in the depths of the loch. Whether it was human flesh it was seeking or a human soul is not clear. Whatever its purpose people took great precautions to avoid meeting this fresh water demon.

The water horse,(Scots Gaelic - Each Uisge) was similar to the Kelpie and was found mainly in the Western Highlands. This creature was often seen harmlessly grazing with a group of normal horses, and in appearance did not seem any different to the rest of the herd. Its true form only being revealed when a rider mounted the animal. It would then gallop furiously far into the loch with its victim, first drowning and then devouring them. It would seem that once the rider had mounted the animal, for some mysterious reason, they became stuck fast to the beast and it was impossible to jump off.

Even the famous Scots poet Robert Burns makes mention of this hideous demon:

When thaws dissolve the snawy hoord,
An’ float the jingling icy boord,
The water-kelpies haunt the foord,
By your direction,
And nightly travellers are allur’d
To their destruction.

BURNS’ Address to the Deil*.

*Devil

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Loch Awe is said to harbour a terrifying mythical beast.
Loch Awe is said to harbour a terrifying mythical beast. | Source

Other frightening creatures also inhabited the depths. They would seem to not only have a taste for human flesh but for the meat of horses and other animals.

The Wizard’s Shackle, (Scots Gaelic – Burach-Bhaoi), was a mythical creature reputed to have the appearance of a large eel – in some cases it is described as resembling a leech – but with nine eyes distributed over its head and back. It would coil its hideous body around the legs of a horse grazing at the shore – horses would seem to have been this monster’s favourite food – pulling it into the water to drown and then proceed to drink the unfortunate animal’s blood.

The Water Bull lived in lonely stretches of water and its appearance must have been very strange since descriptions are of an animal with a black, slippery hide and no ears. It was small and had an eerie bellow which was heard at night when the creature would leave the water.

The Big Beast of Loch Awe was even stranger. It had twelve legs and according to some descriptions was horse-shaped, whereas in other accounts it was described as elongated, like a snake or eel.

The Little Minch - legends says that these waters are home to the Blue Men.
The Little Minch - legends says that these waters are home to the Blue Men. | Source

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The Blue Men of the Minch are so called because of their body colour and long grey faces. (Known in Scots Gaelic as Na Fir Ghorma - The Blue Men), their main aim was to cause havoc in the turbulent waters between the westward Outer Hebrides, the eastward Inner Hebrides and the mainland. The area is referred to as Struth nam Fear Gorm, the stream of the blue men. They have also been referred to as Storm Kelpies.

Their favourite ploy was to swim out to passing ships in order to capsize them. In some legends it is claimed that the Blue Men would pose riddles which the fishermen had to solve in order to be allowed safely on their way. Alternatively if the captain of the ship could answer the blue men back with a superior rhyming answer, then the water demons would be beaten and disappear into the depths.

The origin of these Blue Men is spoken of in a tradition that states they were one group among three who were banished from heaven – the Blue Men expelled to the sea; the Nimber men to the sky and the Fairies to the earth.

Along with the Blue Men in the sea, there were many sea monsters and sea serpents. The Stoor Worm was a particularly ferocious beast much feared by all who travelled on the waters. The serpent frequently attacked boats hoping to dislodge the occupants into the water and then devour them. The Brigdi was another creature who would attack boats in order to throw the human cargo into the waters. The Brigdi was described as being very flat like in shape, but extremely large with an insatiable appetite for human flesh.

Perhaps the most terrifying in appearance and reputation was the Draygan, (Scots Gaelic - Uilebheist), this was a monster indeed having several heads and aggression to match its size.


visit any of Scotland's hundreds of lochs and its easy to imagine strange creatures lurking in the dark depths.
visit any of Scotland's hundreds of lochs and its easy to imagine strange creatures lurking in the dark depths. | Source
Frightening sea hag were often ugly old women. But if they chose to do so, they could also appear as a young, beautiful maid.
Frightening sea hag were often ugly old women. But if they chose to do so, they could also appear as a young, beautiful maid. | Source

In addition to fighting off sea serpents, monsters and blue men the fishermen also had to placate the gods and goddesses of the seas. .

One such god was Shoney and if the sacrifice was well received then the fishermen and their families would be assured of good fishing for the coming year. Shoney in some stories is a goddess rather than a god and later became a collective name, the Shoney, who are reputed to be a group of sea fairies living off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. In the north and east of Scotland fishermen continued to give libations to Shoney as late as the 19th century in order to ensure a good catch and safety from storms and other dangers of the sea. Many authorities have equated the Highland Shoney with the maritime tales of Davy Jones whose wrath was eased by a sacrifice – the soul of a drowned mariner.

Sea Hags were another formidable obstacle to avoid. One of the main characters was the Pictish Mother of the western storms. The name derives from Pict, the ancient people of Alba, - the original name for Scotland, She was deemed to be the mother of the king of the mythical water world of Luchlan. She had one eye in her forehead, red skin and jagged teeth. She was also reported as having little or no hair.

Another sea hag was Muireartach, with long, razor sharp teeth and blue skin. She had connections with the Celtic sea world of Lochlann and was blamed for many of the ferocious storms that hammered the North and West coasts of Scotland.

Additional female spirits abound in Scottish folklore and they tended to give warning of imminent death or disaster.An example of this was the Bean-Nighe. Although this particular name, along with her appearance, can differ from region to region, she nevertheless performs the same duty of singing a dirge while washing a shroud for the person who is soon to die.

There are many similarities here to the Irish Banshee. Other beings resembling the Bean-Nighe are found throughout Scotland under the names of ‘The Cointeach ’ and ‘The Fuath’ . The appearance tends to be along similar lines with regional distinctions, but in the main they are described as being small in build and wear garments of green. Green is one of the predominant colours for both Irish and Scottish ghosts and mystical figures. Further south in England and Wales, similar apparitions tend to be white. The Bean-Nighe or 'washer woman' has been described also as green and having red, webbed feet like a duck. If any passer by was brave or lucky enough to capture one of these beings they would be granted a wish for letting her go. Although these 'hags' tend to have a horrific appearance, legend states that they can also appear as beautiful young women when it suits them to do so.

Who knows what strange secrets the Lochs of Scotland may hold?
Who knows what strange secrets the Lochs of Scotland may hold? | Source

Although the majority of Scottish mythical figures do not tend to be friendly, there are some exceptions. One creature that would seem to be benevolent was the Bainisg, who was very rarely seen. But when she did appear this tended to be in remote areas where she would assist lost travellers or herders looking for strays from their flock. And it was not only females who assisted people in lonely areas. The Urisk was a male spirit with a goat-like appearance who usually lived near or within waterfalls. He was regarded as benevolent towards farmers and would assist them with various tasks on the farm.

As any wildlife enthusiast will tell you, Scotland has many seal colonies around her shores. Perhaps less well known is the fact that seals also feature prominently in Scottish folklore. Through the centuries, the legends of the Seal People have merged with those of the Merfolk . One of the most enduring beliefs was that seals were people who had drowned. The only time they could retain their human form was during the night, returning to the sea just before sunrise. Although not known overly for benevolence, they nevertheless were reputed to have inter-married with humankind.


The seal people were those who had drowned in the sea and their spirits came back in the form of a seal.
The seal people were those who had drowned in the sea and their spirits came back in the form of a seal. | Source
 A holy well in Chadkirk thought to date from Celtic times.
A holy well in Chadkirk thought to date from Celtic times. | Source

Lastly, throughout Scottish folklore there are numerous tales of offering sacrifices to water – rivers, lochs and wells. The offerings could take many forms and were made to placate the spirits who dwelt within the water. These spirits were believed to be capable of doing both good and bad deeds. Although in the main they tended to be benevolent and many were credited with having healing powers. The most enduring inhabitants of certain wells would seem to be fish – Each Saint or Holy Fish. Many of these wells were situated near to hazel trees, the fruit of which was deemed to contain magical properties. When the hazel nuts fell into the water they nourished the fish bodily and kept their healing and psychic gifts intact. Because the fish were regarded as the holy keepers of the well, to harm them in any way was to bring about divine repercussions. Some schools of thought equate the fish with the Celtic ‘Salmon of Knowledge’.

Water holds an eerie fascination for many of us today. You only have to look at how many people still throw a coin into a wishing well and ask for a favour in return. In many religious ceremonies water is still used to purify and protect. And in the oceans, which remain largely unexplored, who can tell what strange creatures may be lurking in the black depths to greet us – or eat us?


© 2010 Helen Murphy Howell

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Comments 44 comments

trish 5 years ago

educational and informative as ever Helen......brilliant xx


prairieprincess profile image

prairieprincess 5 years ago from Canada

Wow, very interesting! My heritage is Scottish, but I had no idea there so many fearsome creatures in our heritage. Good job.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi trish, thanks for the comment - really appreciated.XX


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi prairieprincess,

Thanks for taking the time to stop by. When I started to research this subject a good while ago now I was astonished over the amount of legends and creatures within the Scottish and Irish heritage - just glad they're not real, well here's hoping!!!


ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago

Seeker , I can't wait to read more of your writings , My dad was Scotish too, in my blood lies the ear for your stories. Thank you.


Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 5 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

I have Scottish heritage but never knew much about all these legends. You put a lot of work into this hub and I know you'll have a lot of people who will enjoy it.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hello ahorseback - huge apologies for not responding to your comment - I had thought I had replied to everyone. Many thanks for your kind comment and glad that youi enjoyed the hub. Many thanks.

Hi, Dianalee - thank you for stopping by and for your lovely comment. I was a bit shocked at first when I realised how many legends we do have. Many thanks.


shai77 profile image

shai77 5 years ago

Hi Seeker :-)

Enjoyed the reading very much.

You have truly great Hubs.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hello Shai77,

Many thanks for stopping by and for the lovely comment. Much appreciated.


CaitlinRose17 profile image

CaitlinRose17 5 years ago from Mississippi

love this!!! I am all about some Scottish mythology. :) I'm scott-irish! Very informative as well!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi CaitlinRose17,

Many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment - much appreciated. I am alsp Scots-Irish, my middle name is Murphy. And I'm like you I love all folklore and mythology - takes you away somewhere else for a while.


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

What great legends. Everytime I read an article of this type it brings out the Scottish in me. Great information, terrific research and wonderful writing. Rated up and awesome.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi KoffeKlatch Gals, many thanks for writing such a wonderful comment. I have to say that of all the articles I've written this was the most fun. Also, I thought I knew quite a lot about my country, but when I started researching for this I was quite gub-smacked about how little I knew. Thanks again for stopping by.


izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

Absolutely fascinating! I have Scottish roots and love mythology and a good story. I did not know anything about the others besides Loch Ness and the water horse. Good movie: The Water Horse.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi izettl,

That's really interesting about your Scottish roots. Do you have any idea where in Scotland your family originated? I haven't seen the movie 'The Waterhorse' but I have been told by a few people to watch it as it's very good - so will keep my eyes peeled.

I was very much like you in that apart from 'Nessie' and Banshees I didn't realise just how much mythology Scotland had. I think I could get another Hub out of it sometime as there is so much still to write about between both Scottish and Irish mythology. So really glad that you enjoyed it and thank you so much for leaving such a lovely comment - very much appreciated.


fantasygirl@aol.com 5 years ago

I hope you do not mind. We are Sydney's friends on FB. She is Mrs. J.B.s daughter. Mrs. J. B. said we would like your stories and we do.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

hi fanatsygirl,

Of course I don't mind. And any friend or relation to Mrs. J. B. is always welcome. I'm really glad that you like the hub and feel free to come back at any time to read or for a chat. Many thanks.


Richard83 profile image

Richard83 5 years ago from West Virginia

Very great work! I am always welcome to the history of the world.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Richard83,

Many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such a nice comment! It is really appreciated and glad that you enjoyed the read. Seeker7.


goody7 profile image

goody7 5 years ago from over there under the sycamore tree

This is a great hub & I find this subject to be totally fascinating, and I have put a link from your hub to my own ghostly hub, "which has become known as Ghost Central". Hopefully you'll get even more traffic this way. If you don't like the link, then just please let me know, and I will remove it for you. Keep on hubbing.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi goody7, many thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to leave such a nice comment. I have no problems with your link at all and thank you for the honour of linking with my hub. Glad you enjoyed the hub and many thanks for stopping by.


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Hello, Seeker7, it's nice to discover your work on Hub Pages! I learned a great deal from reading this - much of it was new to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and will be very much interested in reading more of your work. I will now view the seas and lochs with a slightly different perspective as I fish them... :)


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Gordon,

Lovely to meet you as well and your work - your dog is gorgeous!! Anyway, glad that you liked the hub and if you spy anything weird on your fishing trips please let me know! Many thanks for stopping by.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Sea serpents and Kelpies and banshees oh my! This was a fascinating read and beautifully illustrated.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi PegCole17,

LOL! Yes they are a pretty weird bunch of creatures! Here's hoping they are just within the realms of folklore - but I do wonder sometimes! Many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub.


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 5 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

What a fascinating and well-written hub! I came back and read it a second time. I had no idea before reading this hub that there were so many supernatural creatures in Scotland. I visited England once and I took the fast train all the way to Inverness so that I could see Loch Ness; I have always been fascinated by that monster. I would love to visit Scotland once again and spend some time there. With that many stories about so many scary creatures, there's bound to be some truth to some of them, eh?


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Silva,

What a lovely comment you have left - many thanks and many thanks for stopping by.

I have to say that I think Loch Ness is not only one of the most beautiful places in Scotland but one of the most fascinating. Legend says that it was St. Columba's, on arrival from Ireland, when he was teaching the Picts about Christianity, that he tamed a 'beast' in one of the lochs. Was it Nessie? Who knows. But many folks believe it was Nessie the saint encountered.

To my shame, when I first researched this subject many years ago, I had no idea that my country was so rich in legend and folklore of this kind. As to the truth of these creatures? Well they do say that truth is stranger than fiction. Part of me would be fascinated to meet some of these creatures but part of me would be just a little bit scared - especially if it was a kelpie!! And some claim that there are very strange things happen in these lochs and surrounding mountains from time to time -very spooky!


stayingalivemoma profile image

stayingalivemoma 5 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

very cool. I love ghost stories and reading about haunted places. Nice work!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi stayingalivemoma,

many thanks for the visit - glad you enjoyed the hub.


Warrior4Truth profile image

Warrior4Truth 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

There are so many things that we don't know. That's what makes life amazing.

Thank you for sharing your truth!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Warrior4Truth,

Many thanks for stopping by.

I couldn't agree with you more. And in many instances when do move forward with our knowledge and insight it opens up even more mysteries to keep life 'amazing'. Truth is much stranger than fiction and far more interesting!

Many thanks for stopping by. Also thanks for the fan mail + follow - really appreciated! Will catch up with you soon.


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Seeker, I love the beauty and history of Scotland, and this was new to me! How interesting to learn of the folklore that goes beyond Nessie. Very fascinating stuff indeed. :)


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi oceansunsets,

Great to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

I have to say like all good Scots, I love Nessie! However, there is nothing new to write about her for the moment! But Scotland does have some other interesting, if freaky legends and so it's right to give Nessie a well deserved rest for a while!

Many thanks again for the visit and taking the time to leave a comment - much appreciated!


femmeflashpoint 5 years ago

Seeker7, this was an incredibly fun read! Glad I didn't get to it until October!

I was happy to learn so much Scots lore in this. Other than Nessie and the kelpies, I'd not heard of the others and closed the read feeling much better educated, lol.

I enjoyed the schooling a great deal!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hey Femmeflashpoint - great to hear from you!

Glad that you liked the hub and that you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. I'm glad most of these 'haunted depths' creatures are legendary and not real - well here's hoping anyway, as you never quite know what is lurking in the lochs, seas and oceans all over the world! LOL!

Many thanks for stopping by - and for leaving a comment -much appreciated!


femmeflashpoint 5 years ago

My pleasure Seeker1. I do love a spooky read! :)


VeronicaFarkas profile image

VeronicaFarkas 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

This was perfect to read for my Halloween night (in the States). Very well-written & you kept me reading. I have roots in Scotland & friends there. I've been wanting to visit for a few years. This is more motivation to start planning my trip!

It's so fascinating to hear about creatures from around the world. I wish that we had some crazy stuff here in Ohio for me to write about. Might have to look further into that now...

Voted up, interesting, & awesome!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Veronica,

Lovely to hear from you and many thanks for stopping by.

I'm always interested when people say they have roots in Scotland - a fascinating throw back to both our countries' history, and what a history they have both had!

I would definitely have a nose around and see what you can find out about Ohio - a very beautiful part of your country if the photographs I've seen are anything to go by. The USA has some of the most fabulous sightings and legends of very strange creatures and they seem to happen all over the place.

Hopefully you will make it on a visit to Scotland in the near future and here's hoping the weather will be kind to you as well!

Many thanks for your vote up - it's much appreciated.


Admiral_Joraxx profile image

Admiral_Joraxx 5 years ago from Philippines

They are spooky. The water horse looks like a "Tikbalang" in the philippine supernaturals. Though Tikbalang lives in big trees. Most of the supernaturals are kinda human-animal like huh?. There are also those which are really outrageous animal looking such as the eel with 9 eyes you mensioned, and horse with 12 legs. really unusual. Great work here! 1 vote up, awesome and interesting.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi AJ - nice to hear from you again! I love your comments, they are so interesting! Especially the Tikbalang from the Philippines - this is new to me so I'll need to look it up.

I agree about the looks of some of them. It's like sometimes folklore and legend goes OTT or else the human imagination, a bit of both I think!!

Many thnaks for your interesting comment and the vote up!!


georgethegent profile image

georgethegent 4 years ago from Hillswick, Shetland, UK

Good one Seeker, had me thinking about Loch Arkaig and what lives in there and the funny noises that you hear in the middle of the night. Now I buy my fish - voted up!!!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi George, lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

LOL!!! I think if I was hearing weird noises from a loch at night time, I would be buying my fish as well! But still, that is very interesting about the noises and so on - very odd!

Many thanks for the comment and the vote up - much appreciated!


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 4 years ago from the Ether

Beautiful and captivating hub as always, Seeker7. You again amazed me with your writing skills and the way in which you weave a story together with others. I have heard of many of these Scottish sea creatures but some I hadn't yet, so thanks for helping me learn something new today! I love the stories about the sea folk and sea creatures, from all over the world. Could the Scottish Cointeach be the equivalent to the Irish Cailleach, I wonder? Thanks. Voted up, awesome, and beautiful!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Kitty - a very Happy New Year to you and yours - I hope 2012 is a good one for you. Before I forget, many congratulations on getting into the top 100 for new hubbers! It was great to see so many of my favourite writers getting this well deserved accolade - and as with the others, you certainly deserved the honour!

I think you're right about the Irish Cailleach and Scottish Cointeach. I'm sure they will have very similar if not the same route, especially as Scottish and Irish folklore/beliefs/mythology are so similar and cross over many times. For me I see a lot of the Goddess as The Crone in both the Cointeach and the Callieach. I know a lot of folks find The Crone aspect a bit scary, but I don't really. I think the more your learn about this aspect the more you realise how wise and necessary The Crone is.

Thanks again Kitty for your visit - it's always a great pleasure to hear from you and to get your viewpoint on things. Much appreciated!

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