The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 7/Kelpie Stories

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HE following stories were told me by Mr. J. Farquharson, a mason, Corgarff, on the river Don. He is a man of great intelligence, and a mine of Folklore.


It was before carts were much in use, and when everything had to be carried on the backs of horses. One dark night a man named M‘Hardy set out from Brochroy to Garchory mill to fetch home some meal. On arrival at the mill he left his horse at the door, and entered to fetch out the bags of meal. No sooner was the animal left alone than he started for home. The farmer, on coming out to load his horse, found no horse. He was in much distress, as there was no meal at home; and he gave vent to his feelings in woeful words: “Ma wife an bairns ’ill be a’ stervt for wint o’ mehl afore I win hame. I wis (wish) I hed ony kyne (kind) o’ a behst, although it war (were) a water kelpie.” Hardly were the words spoken when a horse having a halter over his head appeared. The farmer approached him, and the horse allowed himself to be handled, and showed himself quite gentle, putting his head right on the man’s breast. The man’s distress was turned into joy, and the gentle horse was loaded, and led quietly to the farm-house. On arriving, the farmer tied him to an old harrow, till he should unload him, and carry the meal into the house. When he came out of the house to stable the animal that had done him the good turn, horse and old harrow were gone, and he heard the plunging of the beast in a big pool of the Don, not far from his house. He went to examine the stable, and found his own horse quietly standing in it.


A man had to cross the Don at the bridge of Luib, Corgarff. His wife was ill and supposed to be dying. So he made all haste, but a great fall of rain came, the river was flooded, and the bridge, which was then of wood, was carried away. When the man came to the river and found the bridge away, he was in great sorrow. It was impossible to cross. The wild, flooded river in all its force was rushing past, and he sat down, and cried. It was night, and he did not observe a very tall man approaching him. He was asked by the stranger what was the cause of his distress. “Ma wife’s deein, an ma peer bairns may be mitherless afore I win hame,” was the man’s sad answer. The stranger tried to comfort him, and said to him, “Oh, peer man! a’ll tack you across the watter.” “Na,” said the man, in his despair, “there’s naebody born wid (would) cross the Don the nicht.” “Oh! aye,” quo’ the kelpie, “I cam throw ’t eh noo” (even now). The man was doubtful. “Are you weet,” quo he, to satisfy himself of the truth. “Aye,” quo the kelpie, “fin me” (feel or touch me). The man examined his clothes and found that he was wet up to the oxters (armpits). He now mounted on the back of his apparently kind friend, and all went well till the two reached the middle of the river. The carrier threw himself down into the roaring torrent, and tried to cast off his burden, crying out, “Droon, Johnnie; droon, Johnnie; droon. For ye’ll nevver win hame t’ yir wife and yir bairns.” Johnnie clung hard to his false friend, and both rolled down the flood; sometimes the one uppermost, and sometimes the other. At last the current carried them to a shallow part, near the bank. The moment Johnnie felt himself touch the bottom, he let go his hold, jumped on the bank, and ran up a steep brae as fast as his feet could carry him. Kelpie, in disappointment and rage, tore a rock weighing 8 or 10 cwt. from the bottom of the river, and hurled it after the escaped man up the slope to a distance of about 80 yards. It went by the name of “the kelpie’s stehn” (stone); and as each passer-by made it a point to cast a stone beside it, a cairn of considerable size arose round it, and it was called “the kelpie’s cairn.” Some years ago my informant broke up the stone for building purposes. A stone bridge now spans the river. (Corgarff).


A kelpie in Braemar, on Deeside, had taken a liking for a woman that dwelt not far from the mill of Quoich. This woman fell out of meal, and had not very good means of supplying her want. Kelpie resolved to come to her help. So one night, on which he knew corn was being ground at the mill, he went to it after the miller had left it. In those old days mills ground very slowly, and it was not unusual for the miller to put as much grain into the hopper as would keep the mill at work till he got up next morning. So it was in this case. Kelpie entered the mill and patiently waited till the sack that received the ground grain was full. He then lifted the sack on his back, and left the mill. It was “the grey o’ the morning,” and the miller had left his bed, and was coming to the mill to see that all was going on well. He spied a tall man coming round the corner of the mill, carrying a sackful of meal on his back. Seizing the “fairy-whorl,”[1] that was lying at one of the mill-corners, he hurled it at the man with the oath and threat, “Kelpie, or nae kelpie, G—d d— you, a’ll brack your leg.” The stone took effect and broke the leg. The kelpie made for the “mill-lead” (mill-race), tumbled into it, was carried by it into the river Dee, and drowned. This was the last kelpie that lived in the Braes o’ Mar.

Told by D. McHardy in Ardjerige to my informant.

  1. A stone whorl was kept at each mill, which was fixed at night, when the mill was not in use, on the spindle, to prevent the fairies from setting the mill a-going.