Fairy Pools, Skye

Fairies & Folklore – The Legends of Scotland

Discover a strange landscape that could have been created by giants and fairies

To explore Scotland is to open a storybook of magic, mythical creatures….and monsters. Wherever Discover Scotland Tours takes you in the stunning Highlands there’s sure to be a legend attached. The landscape itself often seems to have been shaped for giants and fairies.

You can’t travel around Scotland without encountering the unicorn, it’s our national animal after all. This mythical creature is typically depicted as a white horse with a single horn protruding from its forehead. The unicorn is enjoying something of a revival today, adorning everything from tableware and stationery to soft furnishings and clothing. But the unicorn has been a Scottish emblem for hundreds of years, representing power, nobility, courage and strength. Said to have immense healing powers, the unicorn also stands for purity . You can understand why the creature is often used in Scottish coats of arms and shields.

It was first used on a Scottish Royal coat of arms by William I in the 12th century. Gold coins had unicorn embossing in the 15th and 16th centuries . The Scottish Royal coat of arms originally featured two of the beasts bearing a shield. Later Scotland and England united and a lion replaced one of the unicorns. The UK’s Royal Coat of Arms still bears the lion and the unicorn today.

Why not see how many unicorns you can spot on your travels? It features on some of our most important buildings and monuments including the Kings Fountain at Linlithgow Palace and in the Great Hall at Stirling Castle, both of which you can visit with Discover Scotland Tours.

After the unicorn, Scotland’s most celebrated creature has to be the Loch Ness Monster whom we affectionately call Nessie. But is she purely the subject of folklore or has her shape actually been seen cutting through the waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands?

Loch Ness is vast 23 miles long and containing more fresh water than the lakes in England and Wales combined. Plenty big enough to hide a monster! Tales of a serpent-like animal with a long neck and large humps have tantalised tourists for many years.  The first photograph emerged in 1933. When you travel along the twists and turns of the loch-side road, or you’re cruising across this enigmatic body of water, you can’t help but study the surface of the water for ripples that might be evidence of Nessie. If you want to go monster hunting try one of our Highland tours that takes in Loch Ness. If you prefer to travel at speed; our two day Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Adventure Tour includes a thrilling power boat ride across the loch.

Less well known than Nessie, but just as mysterious, is Morag. The monster said to live in the depths of Loch Morar on the west coast of Scotland. Stories of Morag go back over 100 years; describing a mermaid like animal or a threatening creature that was a portent of death. You can catch a glimpse of Loch Morar on our tours to Skye. We also pass by on our Glenfinnan, Mallaig and Jacobite Steam Train tour.

Water creatures make a big splash in Scottish folklore, which isn’t surprising for an island filled with lochs and rivers! Kelpies are horse-like water spirits that can change shape into the human form and are said to haunt our waters. This legend is brought to life at the Helix in Central Scotland. A tourist destination that’s the home of the Kelpies – the largest equine sculptures in the world. These two 30 metre high horse heads honour the heritage of the Clydesdale horses that worked the land and the nearby canals. They are an awesome sight and we’ll drive you passed them on several of our tours.

Another shape-shifting water creature is the selkie, a seal that sheds its silky skin to become a seductive human being but must reattach its skin to be able to return to the sea. Legend has it that a man found a beautiful female selkie sunbathing on a beach and stole her skin so that she’d be forced to become his wife and have his children. Years later the selkie found her skin and fulfilled her longing to return to the sea, only to revisit her children on land once a year.

In our opinion Scotland’s most spell-binding place is the Isle of Skye. A romantic island, Skye has a magical landscape that could have been created by giants or fairies! The Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle are rock pools of crystal clear spring water fed by waterfalls from the Cuillin mountains. Some brave souls even swim in them. Fairy Glen is an enchanting collection of miniature grassy mounds scattered with small ponds known as lochans. It’s said that if you count these tiny hills you’ll find 365 but there’s one extra to be found in a leap year!

Dunvegan Castle on Skye is home to the MacLeod clan and to one of its most precious treasures, the Fairy Flag. Legend has it that this now tattered piece of silk has magical powers that guarantee victory in battle. The flag is on display with other treasures including the Dunvegan Cup which is said to have come into the MacLeods’ possession through fairies. Close to the castle is Fairy Bridge, a seemingly ordinary stone crossing where it’s said a MacLeod chief said farewell to his fairy wife.

The Trotternish peninsula in the north of Skye is one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, created by a gigantic landslip millions of years ago. Its huge pinnacles, outcrops and landslides could have been created for giants. The Old Man of Storr is an arresting rocky cliff said to be the thumb of a giant who was buried in the earth, while the Quiraing is said to be the meeting place of fairies, a bizarre geological creation with hidden meadows.

Wherever you’re visiting with Discover Scotland Tours be sure to ask your knowledgeable driver-guide about the local legends and folklore.

Other tours

Loch Ness, Haunting Glencoe & The Highlands
2 Day Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Adventure Tour from Edinburgh
Isle of Skye, The Highlands & Loch Ness 3 Day Tour from Glasgow
Isle of Skye, The Highlands & Loch Ness 4 Day Tour from Edinburgh

Private & Exclusive tours for families & friends

In the current climate of social distancing and bubbles, now more than ever may be the time to consider a private tour of Scotland for your family and friends.

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