Tales of magic, fairies, buried gold and haunted castles ...
In days gone by folk the world over would gather round their fireside and tell stories.
And the people of Fife were no different, according to local storyteller Sheila Kinninmonth.
She explains that the history and heritage of Fife along with the varied landscape is where the old folklore tales come from.
Sheila said: “Tales of haunted castles, mansions, caves and hillsides. Tales of kings and lairds, magic and superstition, shipwrecks and smugglers. Historical tales, fairy tales, supernatural tales, myths and legends ...
“The stories would be passed on orally, each teller adding their own embellishments to the tale and all told around the fireside of cottar house, mansion and palace alike.”
Sheila has been telling the old stories for many years and is due to publish a new book featuring many of them in February next year.
She explained where she got her material from: “As a professional storyteller some of the tales were already in my telling repertoire.
“These were tales told within my family and tales I’d heard from other storytellers. As I began researching my book I talked to people, usually elderly people, whom I met at writing groups, storytelling groups and history societies. I heard their tales and began to look for older versions, versions which may have been collected in print – I found them and many more in old local history books from the 18th and 19th century. Then I took the stories I wanted to use, re-telling them in my own words.”
Here is a sample of just some of Sheila’s stories ...
The Hamespun Tales writer said: “Starting off in the north at Tayport we hear a tale of buried gold, hidden by a laird who couldn’t find it again.
“One version tells us it was buried on Tower Hill another says Tentsmuir. In St Andrews we are inundated with ghost stories – White Ladies, Veiled Nuns, Beckoning Monks and Smothered Pipers to name just a few as well as the myths surrounding St Andrew and St Rule.
“We also have the tale of the Blebocraigs giant who threw boulders from Drumcarrow Crag at the Square Tower and missed. One of the stones is at Mount Melville and the other “Blue Stane” still sits in the town and is said to have been a fairy meeting place. There is also the story of the magical white stag which is said to live in the woods at Strathtyrum and to transport folk to parties in a fairy castle on a hill near Pitscottie.
“Moving round the coast we have the tragic tale of Alison Pearson from Boarhills. She was kidnapped by the fairies as a child and later burned as a witch. There is also the story of the Broonie who lived at Boghall farm near Kingsbarns. He did more work than eight men but he left after the farmer’s wife was too kind to him.”
Sheila continued: “In Crail we hear about the Giant Skate which landed and wouldn’t die even when chopped up and the “King of the Smugglers” who outwitted the exciseman in Cellardyke. And in Anstruther we learn about Maggie Lauder who carried the king over the Dreel Burn and was immortalised in a folk song after an encounter with the famous piper, Habbie Simpson.
“In Pittenweem there are tales of St Fillan and the story of the day Charles II visited the town. And in St Monans there is the story of Grizel Millar who found a baby on her doorstep who grew into a bonnie lassie called Buff Barefoot by the locals and who eventually met a tragic end.
“Moving north we hear the wonderful tales of King James V who, when staying at Falkland Palace used to wander the countryside dressed as a commoner in the guise of the Gudeman O’ Ballengeich.
“We hear of a drinking bout with a schoolmaster and a minister in a Markinch alehouse. There is also the tale of Kind Kyttock whose liking for ale gave her problems when she went to the pearly gates.”
But what is it about Fife folktales that continue to capture people’s interest? Sheila added: “Well, we all like a good story don’t we? Oral sharing is an ancient way of communication. These folktales fascinate us because they give us an insight into our ancestors, their lives and beliefs and they allow us to connect with them through the years. They talk about places we know, memories we have. At least that’s why I am fascinated by them and why I am keen to share them.”
The Wizard of Balwearie
One of the most well-known folk tales is from Kirkcaldy. There is the story about Michael Scot whose academic interest in the black arts gave him a reputation of being a wizard. The tales tell us he made a pact with the devil. One story says the Wizard of Balwearie flew to Paris on a black horse and used magic to stop the French pirates attacking Scottish ships. The stories also say that many of the natural features around Kirkcaldy can be attributed to Michael Scot and his demons. The den running from Kirkcaldy near Dunnikier Mill is supposed to have been produced when he was being pursued by a demon he had offended as was the road to Balwearie Castle.