Discovering Scotland’s folklore

Explore fact and fiction on a trip through Scotland’s rich past

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert

MythsFrom beasties lurking in lochs to wailing washerwomen, seaweed-clad horse creatures to families of murderous cannibals - Scotland has spawned more than its fair share of macabre myths. By turns haunting, magical, and sometimes outright gory, the tales that comprise Scottish legend have flowed through the centuries. How much of them are based in reality, and what proportion are mythological, is a matter of opinion. Whatever you choose to believe, the enticement of a good folktale is something that is undeniably fascinating.

Scotland is a small nation, but its legends derive from all four corners of the land - and beyond it, in fact; for many originate from its magical Hebridean islands. From Highlands to lowlands, cities to Borders, you can easily immerse yourself in the curiously bewitching tales of yesteryear. Whether you’re in the Fact or Fiction camp, there’s plenty to appreciate on a trip to Scotland. HomeAway can help you to find the perfect base for your supernatural getaway. Our range of rental accommodation spans the length and breadth of fair Scotia. The following guide to some of the most intriguing yarns should give you an idea of what to expect.



Top five Scottish legends


Loch Ness Monster Loch Ness Monster

The most renowned legend of its kind - not only in Scotland, but arguably the world - is that of Nessie. Since time immemorial, sightings of a prehistoric creature rearing its head from the depths have circulated amongst visitors and locals alike. The tourist industry around the scenic loch still thrives as a result of the rumours and dubiously blurry photographs, with boat trips available for anyone keen to catch a glimpse of the fabled beast. The surrounding area is in itself magnificent, with the medieval ruins of Urquhart Castle on the shores of the loch an especially enchanting attraction.

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The legend of Sawney Bean The legend of Sawney Bean

One of the most curious yet sinister accounts existent in Scottish folklore concerns the Bean Clan. Although the authenticity is of some dispute, the story goes that the eponymous Sawney, along with his 40-strong family, holed themselves up in a South Ayrshire cave in the 14th century. Allegedly responsible for countless deaths and acts of cannibalism, the clan were eventually caught and brought to fittingly grisly justice in Edinburgh. The supposed sea cave where Bean plied his gruesome trade still garners its share of attention, as does the glorious coastal landscape that leads south to the historic port of Stranraer.

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The fairy flag of Dunvegan The fairy flag of Dunvegan

Dunvegan Castle can be found in the western region of the Isle of Skye. The building in itself is a point of some historical significance, as the oldest continuously occupied castle in the country. The faded and frayed silk flag is of particular interest. According to legend, the flag was gifted to a member of the Macleod clan during the Crusades - by a beautiful fairy maiden no less. The flag was said to be waved in times of peril for guaranteed relief. The maiden warned that, upon the third wave, the flag would return to the otherworldly realm from whence it came, never to be seen again. The relic now stands on display in the castle, never again to be unfurled. 

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Major Thomas Weir – The Wizard of the West Bow Major Thomas Weir – The Wizard of the West Bow

Edinburgh is a city chock full of culture and myth, from the infamous castle looming over city to long-lost streets, bricked off centuries ago due to plague infestation. Major Weir was a respected soldier in the 17th century, but after confessing to a depraved life of sorcery and debauchery, was publicly executed, along with his sister Jean, in the historic Grassmarket. Weir’s trademark, and according to some the source of his powers, was his cane. And on a quiet night on the West Bow, some believe you can still hear the tap on the cobbles as the Major returns to the scene of his atrocities.

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Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui

The north of Scotland is a region celebrated for its breathtaking scenery and rugged mountain terrain. If you’re scaling the heights of the Cairngorms, keep an eye peeled for the Big Grey Man. The country’s second highest peak after Ben Nevis, Ben Macdui is a popular haunt for climbers. Since the first reports emerged of a “presence” on the mountain by famed mountaineer J. Norman Collie in 1925, several sightings have been reported of a towering figure, evoking panic amongst eyewitnesses. Some claim the entity resembles a yeti, while others have described it as an enormous featureless mass. If you don’t wish to find out for yourself, the scenery from the foot of the mountain is thankfully every bit as pleasing.

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