The Anthology of Scottish Folk Tales

The Anthology of Scottish Folk Tales


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This enchanting collection of stories gathers together legends from across Scotland in one special volume. Drawn from The History Press’ popular Folk Tales series, herein lies a treasure trove of tales from a wealth of talented storytellers. From the Spaeman’s peculiar advice and a laird who is transformed into a frog, to a fugitive hiding in a dark cave and the stoor worm battling with Assipattle, this book celebrates the distinct character of Scotland's different customs, beliefs, and dialects, and is a treat for all who enjoy a well-told story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750992039
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 04/01/2020
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 210,943
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Donald Smith is a founding member of the Scottish Storytelling Forum, Edinburgh’s Guid Crack Club, and is currently Chief Executive of TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) which brings together Scotland’s traditional arts, as well Director of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.

Read an Excerpt




LAWRENCE TULLOCH was born in North Yell in 1942 and was introduced to storytelling by his aunt and his father. His interest in folklore led to him making several radio broadcasts, and he wrote for magazines and local papers. He had four books published and left two written but not published when he sadly passed away in February 2017.

As a storyteller he travelled extensively: to Washington USA, the Faroe Islands, Sweden, Norway, Slovenia, Ireland and Orkney, and he participated in several Scottish festivals including the International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh and Celtic Connections in Glasgow. He recorded two tapes of stories and had them remastered to CDs.

He enjoyed telling stories and loved the audience reaction, which always left a twinkle in his eye.


At the Burgi Geo in northwest Yell there lies the remains of an Iron Age fort. It is on a headland joined to the rest of the island by a narrow neck of land. There are rows of standing stones that lead, on one side, into the fort, but on the other side the standing stones lead the unwary over the high cliff and to their doom.

Long after the original inhabitants left, the fort was taken over by a ruthless and cruel band of Vikings who preyed on the honest and hardworking udallers: West-A-Firth, in those days, was a wild and lawless place.

It was late autumn and the children of West-A-Firth were preparing for Hallamas. Wearing the traditional straw hats, they had been to every house in the area collecting money the taditional party that took place every year. All the houses that is, save one. It was a miserable hovel deep in the hills, where the Spaeman, the hermit Isaac Omand, lived. He welcomed no one and no one knew how he made a living. If he was ever heard speaking it was always in riddles that no one could understand.

All the money collected for Hallamas was given to Mary. She was a spinster who lived alone but she loved children and she was always to the fore at Hallamas time. Along with Martha Rassusson and Jenny Ninian she went to the shop at Glippapund to buy the food for the party.

For the rest of the week they baked fatty bannocks, currney buns, oven sliddericks and dumplings. They made tattie soup they kirned for fresh butter, kirn milk and blaand. A lamb had been butchered and meat and mealy puddings were cooked.

When Mary returned home after visiting a neighbour she was distraught to find that the robbers from the Burgi Geo had raided the house and taken everything. On being told, the Oldest Udaller called a meeting and the folk came from Setter, the Neap, Graven and Vigon to discuss what they could do.

There was no question of confronting the Vikings; they were far too powerful and to try and fight them meant the certain loss of life. Sadly there were no suggestions and most were resigned to their fate.

'Der only da wan thing we kan dü,' declared the Oldest Udaller, 'we maun geng an ax the Spaeman.'

'Der nae öse o dat,' said Sigurd Ollason, 'he'll never spik tae wis an even if he dus we'll nivver keen whit he means.'

In the absence of any other ideas, Sigurd and Tirval Ertirson were sent to consult the Spaeman. When they arrived at his house they got the impression that Isaac Omand was expecting them.

He was outside, a tiny man dressed in rags; he had a long grey beard and he had not washed for a very long time. He never gave them a chance to speak but said in a shrill wavering voice:

Da Burgi Geo men ir fat an greedy While wis puir fok ir tin an needy Bit ta mak things rite an weel Ye maun öse da Hallamas mareel.

So saying, he went inside and shut the door leaving Sigurd and Tirval speechless. Feeling that their journey had been wasted, they made their way back to the house of the Oldest Udaller. They told him the Spaeman's rhyme and waited for his response, which took some time in coming.

'Da only plis it we kan get mareel fae is da sea so sum o you il haeta geng ta da kraigs.'

They saw it as futile but they did as they were told. They took their homemade rods and began fishing from the rocks. When the light began to fade they were astonished at the mareel in the water. They had never seen anything like it: the sea, the fish and the fishing line flashed with ribbons of fire.

On the way home Sigurd suddenly had an idea of how they could use the mareel. He was confident that the robbers would come to steal the fish so he got Tirval and others to skin the piltocks and sillocks. From the womenfolk he got old blankets and pieces of linen and they began to sew the fish skins onto the cloth.

Six men donned the mareel-covered cloth and they set off westwards towards the Burgi Geo but hid below the banks of the burn to keep watch for the robbers. The mareel flashed like green fire in the moonlight.

They did not have to wait long and all the men kept low until Sigurd gave the shout and they all leaped up shouting, jumping and waving their arms. The effect on the robbers was amazing, they were terrified and turned tail and ran back towards the Burgi Geo as fast as they could go.

The West-A-Firth men followed, screaming and shouting. The robbers, in their panic, followed the wrong set of standing stones and every last one of them disappeared over the cliff to their death.

In the days that followed, the West-A-Firth men ventured into the fort and found it empty of people, but they were able to recover many of the things that the robbers had stolen from them over the years. And so the community enjoyed the best ever Hallamas and they were able to live in peace and with plenty ever after.


Mallie was a widow who lived with her three sons. They were all big healthy young men, and their mother found it very hard to feed them. They were very poor; money was in short supply since the man of the house had been lost at sea.

At the start of every winter they had a few potatoes, a small barrel of salted herrings and a boll (140lbs) of oatmeal. As the boys got bigger, Mallie found it harder and harder to make this scanty supply of food last all winter.

There came the time, the winter still had a distance to go, when the last of the herring was taken from the barrel and the last of the meal was taken from the girner. As they ate this frugal meal Mallie explained that they had no more food left and hungry days lay ahead.

The following day the boys were all as hungry as ever and there was no food.

'What are we going to do?' asked the oldest son.

'We shall have to become beggars, there is nothing else for it,' he was told.

The old woman who lived close by always seemed to have plenty of food, so the same boy volunteered to go and ask her. He knocked on her door and she came and answered it.

'All our food has been eaten, we are all going hungry, please can you give us something to eat?'

He could see into the kitchen of the house, he could see that the cupboard door was open and the shelves were laden with food. There was bread, cheese, cooked meat, oatmeal, flour, tea, coffee and jar after jar of jam and preserves; the cupboard was filled to overflowing.

The old woman gave the boy a withering look.

'Go away, how dare to come to my door begging, I have nothing to give you and do not come back or it will be worse for you.'

He came back home to his mother and his brothers, crying. He was a big boy and crying was for babies but he was so hungry and he could not understand how that woman could be so hard and unkind.

'Some folk are like that, son,' his mother said. 'Be pleased that we are different.'

Late in the afternoon a knock came to the door and standing on the doorstep was a little old man with grey hair and twinkling blue eyes but dressed in rags.

'Can you give me something to eat?' he asked. 'I have been on the road for two days without any food at all.'

Mallie explained to him that they had no food either but he was welcome to come in and warm himself by the fire. The old man thanked her and came into the kitchen. After he had settled down and was speaking to the boys, Mallie went to the herring barrel.

There were no herring in it, she knew that, but there was some brine. She went to the meal girner and, using a small brush made from the grass that grew near the shore, she swept the corners of the box, the lid and the bottom.

Mallie was surprised at how much she got from the girner, she took it and mixed it with the brine. It was enough that everyone got a small amount in a cup but Mallie had hardly any for herself.

The old man sat by the fire and asked if he could stay with them overnight.

'We have no bed for you but you are welcome to stay by the fire. We have plenty of peats so at least you can be warm,' Mallie replied.

The following morning one of the boys went to the well for a bucket of water and each of them had a drink. The old man took his departure and he thanked the family for their hospitality.

They all said goodbye and the old man walked away. The boys had gone back indoors and Mallie was about to turn in and shut the door when the man turned back and spoke again to Mallie.

'That meal and brine that we had last night, was that really the very last of your food?' he asked. Mallie told him that it was the last and she had no idea what they would have from now on. The old man considered for a time and then said, 'It is a very special person who will share the very last that they have.'

With that he turned and walked away. Inside there was a gloom settling over the house. Mallie hated to see the boys so hungry and they were trying very hard not to complain. The fire burned down low and one of the boys went to the stack for a basketful of peats. At least they could be warm, he thought. When he came back, Mallie stoked up the fire. The peats were quite big and Mallie broke one in two. Something fell from the peat and tinkled on the floor.

When Mallie picked it up she saw that it was a gold coin. She broke another peat and out came another gold coin. Every peat proved to have a gold coin inside it and Mallie knew that the old man that visited was a trow and this was his way of saying thanks.

There was no more hunger for Mallie and the boys; they could buy anything they wanted. This did not go unnoticed; the old woman who refused to help them was curious to know where Mallie's money came from.

She spied on the family and saw Mallie breaking peats and picking up the coins. The woman waited until after dark and stole peats from Mallie's peat stack. She was not content with a basketful, so she took several and brought them into her kitchen.

However, when she broke a peat no coin appeared. Instead a mouse dropped to the floor and scuttled away looking for a place to hide. She broke open another and another as she looked in vain for gold coins, but all she got was more and more mice.

The mice multiplied like mad and soon the house was overrun with them. They got into her larder and they devoured every morsel of food that she had. In no time she had nothing to eat; the mice had consumed everything.

She endured two days of hunger and misery before she was reduced to begging. She knew that Mallie now had plenty so she came to Mallie's door and was greeted by the same boy that she had turned away from her own door.

The old woman told him that mice had overrun her home, she had no food, she was very hungry and could they please give her something.

'I will give you exactly the same as you gave me when we had nothing,' he told her, and slammed the door in her face.

Mallie asked him who he had been speaking to.

'It was that old woman from next door,' he said. 'She has the cheek to ask us for food and I have not forgotten how she treated me when I asked her for food.'

'Have you forgotten what I told you?' Mallie asked him. 'I told you that we were not like her.'

She opened the door and called the old woman back.

'Come in,' she said. 'Come in and sit by the fire and you can share the food that I am cooking. As long as we have any food you shall never go hungry.'




Tom Muir tells stories from his native Orkney Islands, and has travelled the world, from the Arctic's North West Passage to the shores of the South China Seas and many countries in between. He has published books on Orkney folk tales, making these stories accessible to everyone so that they will continue to be retold. It has been his lifelong work to save Orkney's stories for future generations.

He and his his wife Rhonda have created the website, and teamed up with Robert Gordon University to create a free 'Orkney Folklore Trail' app, telling folk tales in the landscape. Tom works as Engagement/Exhibitions Officer at the Orkney Museum.


There was once a farmer who lived on a fine farm called Leegarth, which lay in a valley by the side of a stream. The farmer had a wife and seven sons, and they all worked hard on the farm. Well, that's not strictly true, you see, the parents and six elder sons worked hard, but the youngest son did nothing but lie beside the fire, raking through the ashes, so they called him Assipattle, which means ash raker. Assipattle regularly became covered with ashes and when he went out the ash would blow from him like smoke from a bonfire. The boy was also a great storyteller although in his stories he was always the hero who killed the dragon and married the princess. His brothers hated him and they would kick him on their way out the door, while his parents would just shake their heads sadly when they looked at him.

Now, one day a terrible thing happened; the Stoor Worm arrived at the land where Assipattle lived. This was no ordinary stoor worm, but the Mester Stoor Worm, the oldest, biggest and baddest stoor worm in the sea. A sea monster so big that it was wrapped right around the world, and when it moved it caused earthquakes and tidal waves. It could crush the mightiest ship between the forks of its tongue, or sweep whole villages into its mouth, and if that wasn't bad enough, its breath was poisonous and would kill any living thing it touched. What was worse, it was now lying off the coast of the land where Assipattle lived and it had started to yawn. This was a bad sign because it didn't mean that the Stoor Worm was tired, it meant that it was hungry and it wanted to be fed.

The king gathered together all his advisers and asked them what could be done. No one had any idea, but one of them, who was slightly smarter than the rest, suggested that they ask the Spaeman who lived on the side of the mountain. A spaeman is a wizard, and this one was the cleverest man in all the kingdom. He had a long white beard and carried a staff in his hand.

He gave the problem much thought before speaking, saying: 'Your Majesty, the Stoor Worm has travelled all over the world and eaten all sorts of exotic people, but now it is old and has developed a bit of a sweet tooth. If you were to feed it seven maidens for its breakfast every Saturday morning, then it would spare the rest of the kingdom.'

So, every Saturday morning seven maidens were bound hand and foot and placed on a flat rock in front of the Stoor Worm's head. When it woke, it yawned seven great yawns and then flicked out its tongue and picked the girls up, one by one, between the forks of its tongue, gobbling them up like sweeties.

One Saturday morning, Assipattle and his family went to see the Stoor Worm eat his terrible breakfast. The old man went white.

'There will soon be no more girls left in this land,' he cried, 'and I have seven sons. Who will they marry? Who will look after us in our old age if there are no more children?'

'Don't worry,' said Assipattle, 'I'll fight the Stoor Worm, and kill it!'

His brothers laughed and threw stones at him until he ran away.

That evening his mother told Assipattle to go to the barn where his brothers were threshing corn and tell them to come in for their supper. Assipattle went to the barn calling, 'Eh, boys; supper's ready.'

'Get him!' shouted his eldest brother, and they all jumped on top of him and covered him with straw.

They would have smothered him if their father hadn't gone out to see what was going on. He wasn't very happy, because it's kind of bad form to try to kill your brother. He gave them a smack on the lug as they went past him and he sent them to the house. He was still scolding them later at the table, but Assipattle said, 'It's all right father, if you hadn't come in when you did I was just about to give them all a damned good thrashing!'

'Well, why didn't you?' sneered his eldest brother.

'Because I'm saving my strength.'

'You? Saving your strength?' Laughed his brother. 'What are you saving your strength for?'

'For when I fight the Stoor Worm, of course!' said Assipattle.

His father shook his head and said, 'You'll fight the Stoor Worm when I make spoons from the horns of the moon!'

Time passed, and more maidens were fed to the Stoor Worm. Soon the people complained that this couldn't be allowed to carry on. The king called the Spaeman back to his palace and asked him what could be done to get rid of the monster for once and for all.

'Well,' said the Spaeman, 'there is one thing that would satisfy the Stoor Worm, but it is too terrible to say.'


Excerpted from "Anthology Scottish Folk Tales"
by .
Copyright © 2019 The History Press.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents

DA Hallamas Mareel,
Mallie and the Trow,
Assipattle and the Stoor Worm,
Kate Crackernuts,
Western Isles,
South Uist: Asking for the Wind,
Lewis and Outlying Islands: Who Was Chasing Who?,
The Highlands,
The Seal Killer,
A Highland Origin Myth,
The Giant with the Three Golden Hairs, or, The Seely Cap,
French Kate,
The Golden Cradle of the Picts,
The Urisk of Moness Burn,
The Song of the Wind,
The Harper of Lochbuie,
Buff Barefoot,
The Witch of Fife,
An Unlikely Auction,
The Fairy Boy of Leith,
East Lothian,
Wee Short-Hoggers of Whittinghame,
The Holy Princess of East Lothian,
Scottish Borders,
Thomas the Rhymer,
The Laddie that Kept Hares,
Dumfries and Galloway,
The Milk White Doo,
The Puddock,

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