The Kelpie and the Water Bull

Long ago, on the island of Islay there lived a crofter with a huge stock of cattle…

Words by Rosie Young
Illustration by Linley Barba

One day, a strange calf was born among them: black as coal, with ears half the size they should have been. It was fast growing and had a terrible temper. The wise woman of the island recognised it for what it was at once and instructed the farmer to lock the calf in the barn for at least seven years, fed on the milk of three cows. The wise woman was well respected and so the farmer heeded her advice.

Many years later the crofter’s daughter was grazing the cattle down by the loch. She had heard it was haunted by a dangerous water horse, but felt quite safe sitting down by bank with the cows. She was unconcerned when a young man approached her. He wore fine clothes and had long dark hair, and a smile she found quite charming. So when he asked her to do him the favour of combing his hair, she was happy to oblige. 

He lay down with his head in her lap and she began to unknot his hair, but to her dismay she found it was tangled with water weeds, such as only grew in the depths of the loch. She knew that if she screamed it would be the death of her, so she kept her fear to herself, and continued to work at his hair until he fell asleep. Then she carefully untied her apron strings and slid the apron slowly onto the ground with his head still resting on it. Heart pounding she leapt to her feet and took off towards home.

She was nearly at the houses when she heard the thundering of hooves behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see the stranger, now in the likeness of a horse, was nearly upon her. 

“The bull house!” Cried the wise woman from her cottage, “open the bull house!”
The crofter’s daughter rushed to the barn and flung open the doors. The water bull sprang from the barn, cast its gaze about the scene, then rushed to meet the water horse. The two clashed and fought, driving each other all the way to the sea, and none could tell which would best the other. The next day the body of the bull was found on the shore, bloodied and spoilt, and the water horse was never seen nor heard from again.

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