Witches, wee folk and watery beasties ****


Witches, wee folk and watery beasties

Spoken Word

Scottish Storytelling Centre, v30

15:00 (ends 12 August)

**** (4 stars)

Last time I was in the library at the Scottish Storytelling Centre it was for an audience with Robert Burns – one of the highlights of that year’s Fringe: this time it was to spend an hour in the company of Dougie MacKay, hearing tales of some of the many weird and wonderful beings to be found in the wilder parts of Scotland…

After checking up on our riddling ability, Dougie began with a tale of the wee folk, as fairies are called up here – not your pink fluffy twinkly Tinkerbells, thank heaven, nor yet the much fiercer Discworld types, but small people about this high, who sometimes grant wishes or give gifts – though often these have a sting in the tail! We then moved on to the more demonic – not exactly witches, but a tale about the Dark Gentleman Who Must Not Be Named [no, not Voldemort!] with whom witches and warlocks were deemed to be in league. This gentleman came to the aid of Duncan when he was at his wits’ end to find a way to pay ten years’ back rent when he had nothing – but needless to say, didn’t give him a purse of gold every day out of the goodness of his heart…

We then learned of the watery beasties to be found in Scotland – kelpies, not at all well-disposed towards humans, luring them into the water to eat them [but discarding their lungs]; the Loch Ness Monster, still seen but not talked about by locals; and the more peacefully-inclined selkies, the seal people, who sometimes shed their skins and come to dry land in human form. Some of the clans in the Northern Isles claim descent from the seal people, and sing songs in their language, one of which we were invited to learn and sing. And then we heard the tale of the poor fisherman, dogged with bad luck, who with his sweetheart longed for a child to share their home and bring joy to the hearts of his old parents. One day he caught a mermaid in his nets, and on releasing her was rewarded with a silver scale from her tail which would grant one wish – but how to use this wish, when his mother was going blind, he and his wife wanting a child, and his father insisting that asking for a lot of gold would solve most of their problems… The solution to this was both intensely satisfying and very ingenious, and was rewarded with rich applause.

Dougie is an excellent storyteller, drawing his audience into his tales, and inviting them to take part – I especially enjoyed the battle of the dove and the raven – though a couple of times we were rehearsed in cries that we didn’t then use. The audience were very quick to join in the storytelling and proffer solutions to riddles, and listened attentively to his tales. Each day’s storytelling will be slightly different, so come along and hear another day’s offering from Dougie – it’s a fine example of what the Scottish Storytelling Centre does best, and a brilliant way painlessly to absorb an integral part of Scottish culture!

Mary Woodward