Monday, 12 November 2012

The Creature of Loch Ulladale

Beneath a certain mountain on a certain island lies a small loch by the name of Ulladale. With a length of about half a mile and a width of one quarter mile, there is not much to commend this body of water which lies under the gaze of its namesake mountain, Strone Ulladale.
 



Situated in the windswept south of the Isle of Lewis and Harris, there are no trees to offer wayfarers shelter and, indeed, there was something there in days of old which offered the very opposite in the way of hospitality. We talk, of course, of the Each Uisge or Water Horse.

This loch was discussed in The Water Horses of Loch Ness as one of the waters across Scotland's terrain that was reputed to be home to this pernicious and devilish pursuer of men's flesh. By way of a detour from An Niseag, we recount the tale of this island beast and add a new story recently gleaned from the literature.




It was over 200 years ago that the Water Horse of Loch Ulladale was mentioned by James Hogg in his 1807 work, The Mountain Bard. It is one of the older references to water horses, but unlike various tales of water horses that had passed down through the generations, this one was fresh in the minds of the fearful locals. We take up Hogg's tale as he recalls the reticence of a Hebridean guide to go past a certain loch:

“In some places of the Highlands of Scotland, the inhabitants are still in continual terror of an imaginary being, called The Water Horse. When I was travelling over the extensive and dreary isle of Lewis, I had a lad of Stornoway with me as a guide and interpreter.

On leaving the  shores of Loch Rogg, in our way to Harries, we came to an inland lake, called, I think, Loch Alladale; and, though our nearest road lay along the shores of this loch, Malcolm absolutely refused to accompany me by that way for fear of the Water Horse, of  which he told many wonderful stories, swearing to the truth of them;  and, in particular, how his father had lately been very nigh taken by  him, and that he had succeeded in decoying one man to his destruction, a  short time previous to that."

The decoying undoubtedly refers to the Water Horse's universal habit of enticing weary travellers to mount its inviting saddle only to find themselves stuck to it at the moment of terrifying revelation. The victim's fate was invariably sealed as the devilish creature sped to its loch to drown and then consume its prey.

One wonders how the Hebridean's father had evaded captured. Did he possess a piece of the talismanic rowan tree or did he invoke the name of the Christian Trinity by way of divine protection? We will never know, but rather than fading into the mists of folklore, this particular creature refuses to go away. Most water horse traditions stay no more than that, but some, such as the water horses of Morar, Ness and Treig live on and claim the attention of men. So it is with the Loch Ulladale Monster.

As it turned out, and months after the publication of my book, I was perusing some archives and came across a Scottish magazine of tales, songs and traditions called "Tocher". In the issues for 1991 (one of numbers 40 to 43), a Mrs. Peggy Morrison was being interviewed on the history of the Isle of Lewis (though Loch Ulladale is in Harris). The relevant part of the interview was as follows:

McL: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladale?

PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody knows - the Monster of Loch Ulladale, everybody talked about it in the old days. But it isn’t all that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was going out.

And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long nights and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light of dawn he was going out, and he saw this big black beast at the edge of the loch and with the fright - evidently the road was near the loch - he turned back. He didn't dare go past. And, anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was going to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light - they weren't  risking going past.

And, anyway, when the day had got quite light, they went. There was no sign of this thing. but they went back to look at the shore of the loch - there’s sand there, apparently - and the tracks were there. the tracks of whatever it was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was.

If I have read the magazine correctly, this interview was conducted in 1977.

One hundred and fifty years since Hogg, the water horse had returned again to strike fear into the hearts of men! A big, black beast beside the waters which left tracks of an unknown nature. What could it have been that caused these two men to wait until the Hour of the Each Uisge was over?

A problem common to many such legends is the size of the lochs these creatures reputedly inhabited. Surely there is not enough food in these lochs to sustain such beasts? This is a charge laid against the vast Loch Ness - how much more these small lochs?

But in the eyes of the Highlanders, there was no such problem. These supernatural creatures ate men, not fish.

In the words of one old seeker of An Niseag, a beautiful story can be destroyed by an ugly fact. Those that deride such stories may suggest the natives merely saw a grey seal pursuing some fish from the River Ulladale that empties into the sea loch of Resort. For after all, is not Loch Ulladale well stocked with tasty salmon and sea trout?

Perhaps it is, but the two mile winding river is tight and hazardous for a seal. And can't the natives of Lewis and Harris recognise a seal when they see one?

Ah, but was not the creature seen by the first grey light of dawn when viewing conditions were not ideal comes the retort!

But then again, should not such river faring seals produce such legends for all the local lochs and not just this one? And so the arguments go on. Ugly facts or just ugly speculations?

I mentioned this loch in a previous post about creatures of the Western Isles. At the time, I did not know about this modern encounter. If I had, perhaps I would have been bolder to forge into that treeless region.

Well, bolder while the Hour of the Water Horse had not yet come upon me!


POSTSCRIPT

Here's a YouTube clip of someone fishing on Loch Ulladale to give you a sense of the place.











McI_: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladales’ PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody hnows-the Monster ([1] Loch Ulladale. everybody talked about tt in the old days. But it isn’t al that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was goin out. And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long Tits and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light oftlawn he was going out. and he saw this big black heast at the edge of the loch and with the fiight-evidently the road was near the loch-he tamed back. He didn't dare go past And. anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was goin to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light-they worm’: risking going past. And. anyway. when the day had got quite light, theywent. Therewas no sign thing. huttheywenttoloohattheshore of the loch-there’s sand there, apparently-and the tracks were there. the tracles of whatever :1 was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was. Free Online OCR: http://www.newocr.com/
McI_: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladales’ PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody hnows-the Monster ([1] Loch Ulladale. everybody talked about tt in the old days. But it isn’t al that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was goin out. And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long Tits and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light oftlawn he was going out. and he saw this big black heast at the edge of the loch and with the fiight-evidently the road was near the loch-he tamed back. He didn't dare go past And. anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was goin to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light-they worm’: risking going past. And. anyway. when the day had got quite light, theywent. Therewas no sign thing. huttheywenttoloohattheshore of the loch-there’s sand there, apparently-and the tracks were there. the tracles of whatever :1 was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was. Free Online OCR: http://www.newocr.com/
McI_: And what about the monster in Loch Ulladales’ PM: Oh yes, they thought there was a creature to be seen there right enough. Everybody hnows-the Monster ([1] Loch Ulladale. everybody talked about tt in the old days. But it isn’t al that long since they were seeing it there. A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was goin out. And it must have been in winter, the time when there are long Tits and daylight is late in coming. It was in the first grey light oftlawn he was going out. and he saw this big black heast at the edge of the loch and with the fiight-evidently the road was near the loch-he tamed back. He didn't dare go past And. anyway, he turned back for home, and another man met him who was goin to the road to work as well, and they united there until it got quite light-they worm’: risking going past. And. anyway. when the day had got quite light, theywent. Therewas no sign thing. huttheywenttoloohattheshore of the loch-there’s sand there, apparently-and the tracks were there. the tracles of whatever :1 was, there they were, and they just couldn't make out what sort of animal it was. Free Online OCR: http://www.newocr.com/

12 comments:

  1. It´s time to consider the Cadborosaurus theory.

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  2. A few thoughts - James Hogg wrote "After leaving the shores of Loch Rogg, in our way to Harries, we came to an inland lake called, I think, Loch Alladale."

    He wouldn't have arrived at Loch Alladale until he was "in" Harris, but the first loch he would come to after leaving Kinlochroag would be Loch Morsgail, which is in Lewis.

    Mrs Morrison's story could equally point to Morsgail. Ulladale is hardly a short-cut to anywhere, and the loch is over 2 miles from Kinlochresort so even if he had started out in the dark it would have been much lighter by the time he got to Ulladale. Loch Morsgail however is less than one mile from Kinlochroag, and the man could have then crossed Loch Langavat (lovely Viking names around here)and followed the glens to either Aline or Kintarvie.

    In any event, James Hogg described it as an imaginary being and in Mrs M's story - "he saw this big black beast at the edge of the loch and with the fright - evidently the road was near the loch - he turned back." - it wasn't in the water. Anyone who walks in Scotland's wilderness areas near darkness will occasionally get spooked by a deer or goat, and all the best fireside tales have some element of truth in them.

    But how many parish records have "Taken by a Water Horse" as a Cause of Death? None, that I know of.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks,

      I think this is over-semantical, as "in our way to Harries" does not imply the journey ended as soon as they placed one foot over the Lewis-Harris border!

      I think when Mr.Morrison said "Loch Ulladale" ... she probably meant Loch Ulladale.

      As regards deer and goats. You will need to bring more to the discussion than a flat assertion.

      It is safe to say a deer/goat would be more spooked than the person. After all, they are prey animals whose survival depends on alertness. So, the man approaches, the deer's head goes up, ears alert and twitching. It wouldn't take long to figure out it was a deer.

      Plus deer are not black nor leave strange tracks.

      The parish record comment is not relevant. Local ministers were always against such stories as they felt it was more pagan than christian and hence something to be discouraged.

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    2. Me again - are you claiming that water horses are real animals that kill people in Scotland?

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    3. If they don't kill now, I doubt they did back then.

      Must get back to reading Alten's "The Loch" ...

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    4. In Peggy Morrisons account she says that when a road worker saw the creature, that evidently the road was near the loch. The nearest road to loch ulladale looks to be at least 2 miles away. Perhaps she is mistaken that the sighting took place by loch ulladale and the creature was actually witnessed at another loch with a road running nearby. I can only find a couple of footpaths running alongside loch ulladale.

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    5. There is a rough road there which I looked at when I was there a couple of years back. It was a road linked to the Scottish Water company as I recall and it headed off in the direction of Loch Ulladale.

      It was off the B887 and I believe its current form is visible on Google Maps. That road stops at Loch Aiseabhat where it joins the River Ulladale in its northernly direction which suggests this becomes a natural pathway.



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    6. My apologies for not noticing this before, although even this road stops over half a mile short of loch ulladale. If Peggy M,s account is referring to the pathway that runs to loch ulladale from where the road ends, what type of work would the two men have been undertaking on such a path. There could be water pipes or some kind of culvert there I suppose. Did you notice any evidence of this on your visit there ? Or maybe they were on some kind of survey for the water company. But if the work was on the actual road, well, you get my point.

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    7. The men could be going out to work for various reasons. Peat stacking? Water works as you say, sheep, fishing?

      Can't say for sure without further studies.

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    8. Me again - "A man who was going out to work on the road, the short-cut that's out there in the glen. he was going out" - I am not a native Gaelic speaker but I recognise the sentence construction as that of one who is, and it can be confusing or misleading to the Sassenach ear. Their word for road can be the same as for path or way or route so I am not clear if the man was going to "work = engage in construction" on the path by the loch or was "travelling by means of it" to his place of work. I will run the passage past a native speaker to see what they make of it. From my own experience islanders are very helpful to foreigners, and will tell them anything they want to hear :-)

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    9. You claim that deer and goats would be spooked by a person walking along a road. I'm sorry but the general assertion is just not true. We have both deer and wild goats in kintyre and I have walked to within 10 yards before they scamper off. As for deer not being black, well yet again you are making claims that you accuse others of doing in making sweeping statements. Deer can be black. They are very rare but they do exist. I myself have seen a black deer just south of Oban. Please do a little research before making general statements

      Th

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    10. Who would have though this little far flung loch would generate more debate per square foot than Loch Ness?

      What you say is not relevant in a general analysis of such a case. It won't do to say "He saw a black deer" because to quote a proverb "Hard cases make bad law". Look it up if you don't its meaning and application to what you are saying.

      The same goes for your story of deer allowing you to get within 10 yards of you. Read what I said again and I ask you, when did they prick their ears up and see you? Only ten yards away? Your deer must be stone deaf! The point of my post was nothing to do with how close you can get to them but when they become aware of you and present a posture that gives them away as deer.



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