The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


The Witch of Ben-y-Gloe

Two scottish deer poachers were caught in a storm in the mountains and went astray. They spent the night in the best shelter they could find but the next day was little better and their provisions were running out. The lands they thought they knew so well were strange to them as they tried to find a way home. As darkness fell, and they feared another night in the open, they saw a bothy up ahead. They approached it, not expecting anyone to be using it so late in the season, but as they reached it an old woman, wild and haggard looking, beckoned them inside. She told them she had been expecting them, and their supper and beds were ready. She stirred soup in a bubbling cauldon as she crooned a song in an unfamiliar language. The men sat terrified, unable to eat as the old woman held up a rope with three knots in it and told them of her power over the weather:

“If I loosen the first knot there shall blaw a fair wind, such as any deer stalker may wish; if I loosen the second, a stronger blast shall sweep o’er the hills; and if I loosen the third, such a storm will brake out, as neither man nor beast can suffer; and the blast shall yowl down the corries and the glens, and the pines shall fall crashin into the torrents, and this bare arm shall guide the course o the storm, as I sit on my throne of Cairn-Gower, on the peak o Ben-y-Gloe. Well did ye ken my power the day, when the wind was cauld and deadly, and all was dimmed with snow - and ye see that ye was expectit here, and ye have brought no venison; but if ye mean to thrive, ye must place a fat hart, or a barren hind in the Braes o’ Atholl, by Fraser’s cairn, at midnight, the first Monday in every month, while the season lasts. If ye neglect my bidding, foul will befall ye, and the fate of Walter o Rhuairm shall overtake ye; ye shall surely perish in the waste; the raven shall croak yer dirge; and yer bones shall be picked by the eagle.”

The poachers gave their word to do as the old woman asked, ate her food and fell into a deep sleep.  When they awoke the bothy was deserted and there was no sign of the old woman. The storm had abated and the men were able to find their way home. It is assumed that they kept their word and left the offerings of deer as instructed.

[adapted from] William Scrope The Art of Deer Stalking (1839) also referred to in Visions of the Cailleach David Rankine and Sorita d'Este (2009)