Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Water-Horse of Dùbhrachan

When I was on Skye in July (sounds like the start of a bad poem) I paid a visit to Loch nan Dùbhrachan. I went there because of a book I found on Iona 25 years ago: Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's Somewhere in Scotland, first published in 1935.

Chapter 7 of the book is entitled The Ancient Highway to Skye. In it, MacGregor relates an interview with a man named John MacRae who, at the time, lived in Glenelg. The subject of the interview was the each-uisge, the water-horse, of Loch nan Dùbhrachan.

MacRae lived as a child on Isle Ornsay in 1870, and was present during an attempt to capture the water-horse. In the words of John MacRae (quoting directly from Somewhere in Scotland):

"A cattleman and his wife came to (Loch nan Dubhrachan) to cut rushes to thatch. They sat down to take a rest, and the man observed a small, black object on the shore of the loch. So he went down. As he neared, the beast swam out with his head below water, putting little waves ashore."

"You may be sure the people was terrified. They were certain it was the each-uisge. Lord MacDonald said he would dredge the loch - trawl it like, for the monster. Well, he got all his gillies and gamekeepers out one day with a big net. And they started walking along opposite sides of the loch like, dragging the net after them."

"I saw the thing myself. I was a boy going to school. We got a holiday that day. Well, we were all watching carefully when the net got stuck, and all the gillies got the fear of death on them. So they just dropped the net, and ran back from the loch. A whilie after they commenced again; and after a whilie the net came away on a sudden. Well, then, they pulled it in like, afraid all the time what would be in the net. There was nothing in the net at the finish but some mud and two small pikes."

Haunted lochs almost always seem to be in remote, hard to get to spots. But that's not the case for Loch nan Dùbhrachan (the name means black-braes loch). It lies right next to the A851, three miles north of the Gaelic college Sabhal Mor Ostaig. The loch is impossible to miss. It has its own sign, which is unusual, and its own parking area.

A short, grassy walk of 30 seconds leads down to the lochside. It is a large loch, about 500 feet wide. (Lord MacDonald must have had a very large net.) It was quiet, the only sounds that of the wind fanning the grass and driving low ripples across the loch. I was about to leave when I was startled by a loud plop. Was the monster on the attack?  No. Just a fish jumping to catch a bug. Yea! one less midge to worry about. A few minutes later I returned to the car to head to my next destination: the castle of Dunscaith, where Cuchulain learned to throw spears with his toes. 

Next time you're on Skye take a few minutes to visit the the Loch of the Black Braes. Take a packed lunch with you, walk down to the shore, have a seat, and while you're eating think what fun it must have been for all those school children 147 years ago. Off for the day, watching all the gillies dredge the loch, and then see them run scared when the net snags. But while you're eating, be sure keep an eye on the loch. You don't want to be lunch, yourself. 

1 comment:

  1. David & Margaret GartsideSeptember 2, 2017 at 12:53 PM

    Lovely story - made us smile - thanks Marc