Do Shining Streams Dream of Radiant Ladies?
The Paphrie Burn in the north of Angus is no-one's idea of a roaring river or an awesome body of water, but someone once thought it was amazing, because its name comes from a Pictish root cognate with the Welsh pefr, which means 'radiant' or 'beautiful' (Inverpeffer near Arbroath derives from the same word). The valley of the burn is in an area packed with ancient associations. To the south is the Mansworn Rig, scene of a bloody encounter* and to the east are the hill-forts, the Brown and White Caterthun.
A ghost goes here, about its solitary business in this small glen of the radiant stream, or at least it did until the land was changed in the late 19th century. There is nothing so resonant as a dead ghost. But at least the tale remains, and here it is, as told by the Rev. Frederick Cruickshank in Navar and Lethnot, The Story of A Glen Parish in the North-East of Forfarshire (Brechin, 1899):
In a hollow part of the road betwixt Menmore [Menmuir] and Lethnot is, or rather was, for recent improvements have done away with it, a place called the Leuchat Pool. The burn running down from it to the Paphrie is still the Leuchat burn. There is a well known tradition that close by this Pool a Tailor, once on a time, killed his sweetheart. She has ever since haunted the place, and is recognised by her dress of light grey, which has given her the name of "the white wife." Many persons passing by on dull evenings have seen her. One of the Leightons of Drumcairn told me that he was riding across the Tullo hill on a moon-light night, when the spectral figure presented itself to his view. He knew at once what it was, but to make sure he struck at it with his whip which went through the seeming woman without meeting any obstruction. His courage then gave way, and he set off up the brae as fast as his horse could go. The figure kept an even pace with him for a little way, and then all at once disappeared. I remain to this day under the impression that I once saw her myself. I had been at the Manse of Menmore dining with my kind and hospitable friend, Mr Cron, and was walking home. The time might be past eleven, but the night was not dark. On reaching the Leuchat Pool, i saw a woman, clothed as above described, seated on the bank at the right hand side of the road. I spoke to her in the usual manner, but to my surprise she made no answer, and got up, taking her way towards Menmore. I did not think of the "white wife" at the time, and am not sure if up till then I had heard the story. I took it for granted that it was some poor benighted traveller like myself, who was taking a rest by the road-side, and recognising me she was afraid to speak lest her voice should betray her. But since that time I have come to the conclusion that if such a spectre haunts the place, it was certainly visible to me that night. [Navar and Lethnot, 299-300.]
[Author Adam Watson, incidentally, derives the name Leuchat from An Fhliuchad, 'the wet place', Place Names in Much of North- East Scotland, p. 107.]
The Rev. Cruickshank, the son of a weaver from Kirriemuir, was born in 1826. He became the incumbent of Navar and Lethnot in 1854 and resigned as minister in 1905, dying three years later. Apart from the parish history quoted from, he also wrote Historic Footmarks in Stracathro (Brechin, 1891).
As a footnote, it should be noted that White Ladies are particularly prone to haunt burns and other water features, though the Angus variant, in Dundee, Claypotts, House of Dun and Balnabreich generally dispenses with this rule of nature (apart from Benvie, possibly).
* Tale of the Mansworn Rig.
On the eastern side of Tullo Hill, Menmuir is the Mansworn (i.e. Perjured) Rig. It received its name after a dispute between two landowners. Both men brought witnesses to the place to swear that the land belonged to their respective masters. One servant swore to God that he was standing on his employer's ground, which so enraged the Laird of Balhall that he pulled a pistol from his belt and shot the man dead. When the body was examined it was found that he had filled his shoes with soil taken from his master's land so that he could truthfully swear his oath.