The Laird of Balmachie's Wife - A Fairy Story and Other Fairy Traditions
Fairy tales set in Angus are unfortunately quite rare, but I came across the following one recently. This was printed in Folk-Lore and Legends, Scotland, published by W. W. Gibbings, London, 1889, but is sourced from an earlier published work (detailed below):
In the olden times, when it was the fashion for gentlemen to wear swords, the Laird of Balmachie went one day to Dundee, leaving his wife at home ill in bed. Riding home in the twilight, he had occasion to leave the high road, and when crossing between some little romantic knolls, called the Curhills, in the neighbourhood of Carlungy, he encountered a troop of fairies supporting a kind of litter, upon which some person seemed to be borne. Being a man of dauntless courage, and, as he said, impelled by some internal impulse, he pushed his horse close to the litter, drew his sword, laid it across the vehicle, and in a firm tone exclaimed 'In the name of God, release your captive.'
The tiny troop immediately disappeared, dropping the litter on the ground. The laird dismounted, and found that it contained his own wife, dressed in her bedclothes. Wrapping his coat around her, he placed her on the horse before him, and, having only a short distance to ride, arrived safely at home. Placing her in another room, under the care of an attentive friend, he immediately went to the chamber where he had left his wife in the morning, and there to all appearance she still lay, very sick of a fever. She was fretful, discontented, and complained much of having been neglected in his absence, at all of which the laird affected great concern, and pretending much sympathy, insisted
upon her rising to have her bed made. She said that she was unable to rise, but her husband was peremptory, and having ordered a large wood fire to warm the room, he lifted the impostor from the bed, and bearing her across the floor as if to a chair, which had been previously prepared, he threw her on the fire, from which she bounced like a sky-rocket, and went through the ceiling, and out at the roof of the house, leaving a hole among the slates.
He then brought in his own wife, a little recovered from her alarm, who said, that sometime after sunset, the nurse having left her for the purpose of preparing a little candle, a multitude of elves came in at the window, thronging like bees from a hive. They filled the room, and having lifted her from the bed carried her through the window, after which she recollected nothing further, till she saw her husband standing over her on the Cur-hills, at the back of Carlungy. The hole in the roof, by which the female fairy made her escape, was mended, but could never be kept in repair, as a tempest of wind happened always once a year, which uncovered that particular spot, without injuring any other part of the roof.
The setting of this story is quite significant. The Cur Hills were a series of mounds in the parish of Monikie, described in the following fashion by the Rev. William Maule in the 1791 Old Statistical Account:
Near the 8th milestone, E. from Dundee, there is a ridge of small hills, called the Cur-hills, where within these 14 years several stone coffins have been found. In the vicinity of the same place, were found upward of 6 feet below the surface of the earth, several trees, oak, fir and birch. There were also found urns, covered with broad stones, below which were ashes, supposed to have been human bodies reduced to that state by burning. To the south of the Cur-hills were found several heads of deer, and horns of a very large size, among marl, about 9 feet below the surface.
This was evidently regarded locally as an unusual, possibly an uncanny place. In the 1940s an earth house or weem (also called a souterrain) was found here, at Carlungie. This souterrain (designated Carlungie I) is in an area rich with archaeological finds. Its setting is described in The Souterrains of Southern Scotland, F. T. Wainwright (1963, p. 149), where the Cur Hills is described as the most southerly of 'two long mounds of fluvio-glacial sand and gravel.' Was the subterranean structure known about before (and subsequently forgotten)? Such mysterious underground tunnels were the subject of whispered associations elsewhere - notable in the Barns of Airlie (which will be the subject of a following article).
As well as the fairy story he gives traditions about funerals which I have included in another post and some other fairy and associated traditions he received from a female source who also gave him the Balmachie tale.
Respecting the kidnapping of children, the same creditable old woman told me, that, upon one occasion, when she was a hafflin' cummer, about sixteen years of age, she was left with the charge of an unchristened wean during the night; while watching, she was seized with a supernatural drowsiness, and dropt asleep; something tapped her on the shoulder, which awaked her, and looking up she saw a wee woman clad in green, rocking the cradle with her foot, and very busy untying the child, which she had nearly accomplished, when Janet, in great affright, exclaimed, 'Lord preserve us!' upon which her unwelcome visitor immediately disappeared. My narrator was reckoned a respectable woman, and was never known to be guilty of wilful falsehood.
'The Beauty of Ballumbie' -
Fairy Kidnapping or Infanticide?
Janet told also of a beautiful girl, with a skin so purely while and transparent, that her veins apepared through it like silver streams, and her cheeks like 'the bonnie blushing rose leaf.' She was famed all over the country under the appellation of 'the Beauty of Ballumbie'...
When within, they found the door barred on the inside; the infant dead in bed, with the appearance of having been strangled; no mother there, and her clothes lying by her bed-side, as if she had put them off upon going to sleep. Strange and various were the conjectures about her most extraordinary disappearance. One party maintained that she had become insane, murdered her child, and made her escape by the roof; for, from the construction of the windows, and the door being fastened on the inside, all egress any other way was impossible. Another, and by far the most numerous party, most firmly believed that she had been carried to Fairyland,a s it was known that she had taken no clothes with her, and had never been heard of, dead or alive.
She had lived thus, courted and caressed, always 'wooed but never won,' and many a time saw the fairies mingling in the affairs of men, when one day happening to be in a fair, she met King Oberon in a juggler's booth. Less upon her guard than usual, she asked him how he did, and was proceeding to inquire upon her infant charge [she believed her real son was still in Fairyland]...when Oberon asked her how she knew him, as he did not think she could have seen him. She unthinkingly replied, that she saw him with her left eye. Upon which he blew something like dust into it, and blasted its sight for ever. The hapless girl returned from the fair, with one eye minus, and her future views of Fairyland and its inhabitants for ever lost. Her face was much disfigured, and, no longer an object of admiration, she was neglected by the one sex, and shunned by the other; grief and disappointment soon furrowed her cheeks; she became grey-haired at thirty, and died soon after with all the external marks of old age.