The Legend of Cora Linn
“There cannot be a scene more romantic than this.”
By Kevin Robertson-Damer
Thirty kilometres south of Glasgow, near the UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Lanark Mill, lie the Falls of Clyde. The area consists of four waterfalls; Bonnington Linn, Dundaff Linn, Stonebyres Linn and Corra Linn, of which the latter is the largest of the four. The Falls of Clyde are an area of outstanding beauty, with Corra Linn being described as “the Clyde’s most majestic daughter” by the poet William Wordsworth. The area has also been captured on canvas by artists such as JMW Turner and can be viewed here.
In the early 18th century, a legend began to circulate as to the naming of Corra Linn. A short version appears in W. Davidson’s History of Lanark published in 1835. The tale tells of a daughter of King Malcolm II, named Cora. During a hunting expedition in the nearby woods, Cora became separated from the hunting party. Whilst searching for the other members of the party, Cora came across a young man in the woods. The stranger in the woods frightened the young princess who took flight on her prized horse. The young man, however, was captivated by Cora’s beauty and followed the princess. Cora sped through the woods and noticing that she was approaching the edge of the falls the young man shouted for her to stop. Unfortunately, due to the speed at which her horse was travelling, Cora did not stop in time, falling over the edge and into the waves below, to which she was lost. Davidson, however, goes on to say that the etymology of the fall possibly comes from the Gaelic ‘currach’, meaning marshy place, and ‘linn’, meaning pool, dispelling the legend as the nomenclature of the falls.
However, despite this, the legend continued, with a longer version appearing in Graham’s Illustrated Magazine, 1856. The following is adapted from that retelling.
Princess Cora, renowned for her beauty, was the most beloved and youngest daughter of King Malcolm II, who would bestow on his daughter anything she desired. Cora’s mother had passed away at an early age and both her elder sisters had been married, leaving Cora living alone with her father, however, the King felt that now was the time to find a suitable husband for his daughter. These potential suitors included the sons of allies and influential lords in Scotland, with the King choosing three prospective matches: Kenneth a Lord of the Isles, Graeme Thane of Strathearn and Dunbar Thane of Lothian. Cora received these men, with ceilidhs being held in their honour, however, Cora showed no interest in the potential suitors. Her father showed great patience believing that Cora would need time to carefully choose the correct match. However, time passed, and the situation did not resolve itself.
In an attempt to remedy this, the King threw a party, inviting all three suitors as well as other potential matches. During the celebrations Cora slipped away, claiming that she needed to take her dog away from the boisterousness of the party. After a while, the princess failed to return, and the celebrations died down with guests retiring for the day.
The King, needing some fresh air, went for a walk in the nearby woods. It was in these woods that the King would often find himself when needed solace and to weigh on heavy matters free from the noise of the castle. Whilst on his walk, the King noticed a young couple in a passionate embrace. Pondering on whether to leave the couple be or remove them from the woods, the King lingered. However, as the King started to become curious he made his way to down to the couple. As he got closer, he recognised the young man as his head huntsman Iain MacDhu and to his dismay that the young woman was his daughter Cora.
This threw the King into a rage and in his blind anger drew his dagger, placing it on Iain MacDhu’s chest, who in turn submitted to the King. However, Cora pleaded to her father to spare the life of MacDhu, proclaiming her love for the young man, and offering her own life in his stead. Eventually, the King’s rage subsided and decided to spare the life of the young huntsman, instead banishing him from his land, never to return.
As for Cora, the King had decided to take her to the Black Abbess of Iona, without haste. The arrangements had been made and a travelling party set out the next morning, travelling along a rocky and at times unstable terrain. Not long after the party had set out, they heard a hunting bugle. The noise caused by the bugle startled the horses, causing Cora’s prized mare to bolt. Travelling at high speed, they came near to the edge of the falls and the horse was unable to stop. It skidded and the pair fell into the waves below. A few days later the body of the horse was found upstream, however, Cora was never found.
Many years later, Malcolm II, was at war with the Danes. During one battle, the King was overcome by the Danes. Facing loss and almost certain death, the King was saved by a mysterious man and the King was able to escape into the nearby woods. The King came upon a stream in the woods, where he saw a young girl who looked remarkably familiar, although he could not place her. The girl saw that the King was weary and offered to take him to her parent’s croft, where he could rest and eat. On arriving at the croft, the King was taken aback by the sight that befell him, for the mother of the young girl was in fact his own daughter, Cora, long thought to be lost to the waters of the River Clyde.
Cora told her father the tale of what happened that day, many years ago. It had transpired that Iain MacDhu was in the woods and witnessed the young princess fall. MacDhu was able to reach Cora and pull her safely from the water but was unable to save her horse. Cora told her father that they had married in secret and had been living in the croft for many years. Shortly after, Iain MacDhu appeared and to the King’s astonishment recognised him as the mysterious man who had saved him on the battlefield earlier. The King was overjoyed at the reunion, giving his blessing to the young couple, inviting them and his newfound grandchildren to the castle, where they lived out the rest of their days.
Davidson. W., History of Lanark and Guide to Scenery with a List of Roads to Principal Towns, (G. Shepherd, 3rd ed, 1835).
Galbraith. A., Lanarkshire Folktales, (The History Press: Cheltenham, 2021).
Cora Linn, Graham’s Illustrated Magazine, 1856-12, vol 49, 1856, available at: https://archive.org/details/sim_grahams-illustrated-magazine_1856-12_49_6/page/536/mode/2up
Westwood. J., and Kingshill. S., The Lore of Scotland: A Guide to Scottish Legends, (Arrow Books: London, 2009).
Walk: The Clyde’s majestic daughter-Corra Linn circular, https://sobt.co.uk/walk-fall-of-clyde/