The Kelpie's Chimney
A legend, still told around Scottish fires to this day although the origin is lost in time, speaks of a Kelpie which lived in Loch Garve…
Words by David White
Illustration by Linley Barba
It is known by many that a Kelpie is a wily beast. It prays on the unsuspecting traveller and lures them to their death. Kelpies take varying forms in Scotland, and while many speak of a horse like beast that transforms to human on land our tale is a bit different. That is perhaps because the Kelpie of our tale is actually an Each-uisge and while being identical to your standard kelpie in nature they are a bit different in physicality for it appears as a beautiful stallion on land and then transforms into a gruesome beast upon entering the water.
A legend, still told around Scottish fires to this day although the origin is lost in time, speaks of a Kelpie which lived in Loch Garve. This Kelpie was renowned for its ferocity and unforgiving nature. All who live around the loch knew to be wary of any lost horses, for should they mount it they would be stuck fast to the steed and drowned by the beast.
One day, a fair maiden walking to the village along the shores of Loch Garve caught sight of a glorious stallion, the likes of which she had never seen before. She was awestruck by its beauty and, in forgetting the advice given to her by the legends passed down by her forebearers, approached the creature. She thought to herself that it is likely the owner of the great beast could be found in the same town she was heading to, so jumped on the back of the beast and before she had a chance to dig her heels in, the stallion dove head first into the loch with the fair maiden attached to him. As the horse descended into the loch, he transformed before the eyes of the maiden into a hideous creature with numerous tentacles and eyes like burning coals. Oddly, the maiden was not scared, not in the slightest, in fact she was the furthest she could be from scared- she was in love. For some strange reason this girl, who had been a greatly sought after for her beauty in the village, had fallen for a horrible water-beast. What was even more remarkable was that the beast looked back at the maiden and did not see his next meal, no, he too fell in love. The Kelpie then used his magic to allow the maiden to breathe underwater and they both lived happily in his underwater lair… for a while.
As time drew on the fair maiden, now the Kelpie’s wife, became unhappy. You may think from isolation or only fish and the odd traveller for food, but all she complained about was the cold. As winter drew in, the more she complained. Eventually, growing tired of his wife’s complaints, the Kelpie went out to track down a solution to her problem. Transforming into his horse form, he galloped to a nearby steading where he knew a master stonemason lived. He waited in patience until early morning when he began whinnying outside the stonemason’s house. Eventually, the stonemason arose and went to investigate what all the commotion was about. As he set foot outside his door, he set his eyes upon the most glorious stallion he had ever seen. Being an upstanding citizen, he thought the horse may belong to someone from the nearby town and so he should ride it into the village to try and find its owner. The stonemason was not so upstanding that he did not secretly hope that the owner would not be found and that he could keep this marvellous creature. With this thought in mind he mounted the creature, his desire to possess it clouding his mind from stories of Kelpies, and he became stuck to the steed who then rode headlong into the loch. As the horse dove into the loch, the stonemason pleaded with the Kelpie to spare him. He had a family to care for and after all, he was too young to die, and he would do anything to be saved. The stonemason felt he was about to die, his lungs bursting as he sought to free himself from the Kelpie’s grasp. He struggled but eventually, as his body felt it was on fire, he took a breath, expecting his lungs to fill with water and yet… nothing happened. He breathed and felt fine. The kelpie, turning to him, said:
“I accept your offer”
The stonemason, still in disbelief, turned to the Kelpie “What offer?”
“The offer to do anything to save your life” leered the Kelpie
The stonemason, dreading what the Kelpie may want, cautiously offered up “what would you have me do?”
“Nothing much, I require a fireplace and chimney so that my wife may be warmed beneath these waters.”
The stonemason, taken aback by what he thought to be an impossible suggestion, stood dumbstruck and after a short while ventured “I cannot create fire underwater, it isn’t possible”
The Kelpie, without seeming the least bit phased by the stonemason’s disbelief, replied “I have not asked you to create fire, I asked for a fireplace and chimney, the rest you can leave up to me”
Thus, a bargain was made, and the stonemason created a fireplace unlike anything created before or since: carefully sculpted arches, pillars and ornate flowering and nautical embellishments covered the immense fireplace. Once finished, the stonemason harkened it as the masterpiece of his career and despite his reserved nature, the kelpie was forced to agree. Upon lighting the fire, the Kelpie’s wife was so overjoyed that she vowed there was nothing more she could want in life than what she had now. The Kelpie, thoroughly relieved by this proclamation, not only spared the stonemason’s life, but promised to provide him with as much fish as he and his family could eat until the end of their lives.
Until this day, there is a part of Loch Garve that never freezes over, and it is said that the Kelpie still sits down there with his wife next to the greatest piece of stonemasonry work that the world has never seen: the Kelpie’s chimney.