Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Sports and Pastimes of Scotland
Chapter II. The Wolves


Our fore-sires, peaceful, thus a shepherd-race,
Did tend their flocks—or rous'd the cheering chace,
These hills and glens and wooded wilds can tell,
How many wolves, and boats, and (leer then fell.
Campbell's "Grampians Desolate."

SCOTLAND has seen "good old times "—(those "ages, which," as Sismondi rernarks,"can only teach us one lesson—to avert at all price their return")—when the country people were called out periodically en masse, by public statute, to pursue the pleasures of the chase in its most exciting form, under pains and penalties for neglect of the summons. Many parts of Caledonia wei-e overrun with wolves, the last surviving species of savage animals which had infested the land from the pre-historic ages. Their depredations were not always confined to the flocks and herds frequently the sparse population of the glens had to mourn over more afflicting losses so that eventually the Government was forced to grapple with the evil the best way it could. The same thing had occurred both in England and Wales. According to the old chroniclers, the Principality was cleared by the annual tribute of wolves' skins, heads, or tongues imposed by King Edgar—

Wise, potent, gracious prince!
His subjects from their cruel foes he sav'd,
And from rapacious savages their flocks
Cambria's proud kings (though with reluctance) paid
Their tributary wolves; head after head,
In frill account, till the woods yield no more,
And all the ravenous race extinct is lost.

But, in fact, no such result was attained. The tribute may have thinned the numbers of the "rapacious savages"; but it did not lead to their extirpation. Long after Edgar's days Harold claimed the tribute. After the Conqueror clove his way to Harold's throne, through the carnage of Hastings, he granted the Northumbrian family of Umphraville the lands of Redesdale, to be held by the tenure of defending that part of the country from wolves and the King's foes. Other lands were held by the like tenure. Edward I. saw England suffering from the vulpine plague, and instituted vigorous repressive measures but a lengthened period elapsed before "the ravenous race" disappeared from the southern portion of our island.

If Hector Boece can be believed, Dornadilla, a Scottish king, who flourished two centuries before the Christian era, enacted hunting-laws, and ordained that " he that killed a wolf should have an ox for his pains 1 This beast, indeed, the Scottish men, even from the beginning, used to pursue in all they might devise, because the same is such an enemy to cattle, wherein consisted the chief portion of all their wealth and substance." One of this monarch's successors, Ederus, who was contemporary with Julius Cmsar, had his "chief delight," we are told, "altogether in hunting, and keeping of hounds and greyhounds, to chase and pursue wild beasts, and namely the wolf, the herdinan's foe." Another king of the same shadowy line was the debauched tyrant, Ferquhard II died a miserable death, in A.D. 664, from the bite of a wolf which he was hunting. Another tradition states that in 1010, when Malcolm II. was returning from Mortiach, in Moray, where he had gained a signal victory over the Danish invaders, he was attacked and chased by an immense wolf in Stochet forest. He might have fallen a prey had not a son of Donald of the Isles flown to his assistance. The young Islesman wrapping his plaid around his left arm and hand, thrust the muffled hand into the gaunt grey brute's gaping mouth, while at the same time he stabbed it to death with his dirk; for which good service he was awarded with the Aberdeenshire lands of Skene.

But leaving fabulous history, we shall descend to times which supply authentic, albeit scattered and fragmentary, records of the prevalence of wolves throughout Scotland, and especially where the ancient forests afforded them shelter. On the Border, in the twelfth century, the monks of Melrose were accustomed to trap the wolves on their Eskdale lands, but were prohibited from hunting the hart and hind, the boar and the roe, and also from hawking, which rights were reserved by the feudal baron who granted the Abbey the pasturage of Eskdale. But in a following age the monks acquired the whole game-rights which had been so reserved. In 1263 the royal park at Stirling was repaired, and a new one formed; and twenty years afterwards, in addition to two park-keepers, there was a hunter of wolves " at Stirling.

In 1427 the Scottish legislature saw urgent cause to take steps for the repression of the wolf-plague. In doing so they had precedents in the English usages of old. There was also the Capitular of Charlemagne, promulgated in the year Szz, and one of the ordinances in which was to the effect that the "Judices" or stewards of the villas should report regularly "how many wolves each has caught, and send us their skins. And in the month of May to search and take the cubs with poison and hooks, as well as with pits and dogs." Similar action was needed in Scotland. Accordingly, the seventh Parliament of James I., which met at Perth on 1st March, 1427, commanded that "Ilk Baron, within his barony, in gangand time of the year, chase and seek the whelps of the wolves, and gar slay them. And the Baron shall give to the man that slays the wolf in his barony, and brings the Baron the head, two shillings. And when the Barons ordain to hunt and chase the wolf, the tenants shall rise with the Baron, under the pain of a wedder ilk man not rising with the Baron. And that the Barons hunt in their baronies and chase four times in the year, and as oft as any wolf be seen within the barony. And that no man seek the wolf with shot, but only in the times of hunting of them;" the last clause being evidently intended to prevent poaching of game. The edict, however, seems to have been a failure from the backwardness of the Barons to obey it. In the next reign the fourteenth Parliament of James II., in 1457, enacted 'for the destruction of wolves, that in ilk country where any is, the Sheriff or the Bailie of that country shall gather the country-folk three times in the year betwixt St. Mark's Day and Laminas [25th April and 1st August], for that is the time of the whelps. And whatever he be that rises not with the Sheriff, Bailie, or Baron, within himself, shall pay unforgiven a wedder, as is contained in the auld Act made thereupon. And he that slays a wolf at any time, he shall have of ilk householder of that parish that the wolf is slain within, a penny. And if any wolf happens to come in the country that wit [intelligence] be got of, the country shall be ready, and ilk householder to hunt them, under the pain foresaid. And they that slays a wolf shall bring the head to the Sheriff, Bailie, or Baron, and he shall be debtor to the slayer for the sum foresaid. And whatsoever he be that slays a wolf, and brings the head to the Sheriff, Lord, Bailie, or Baron, he shall have six pennies."

It has been conjectured that the passing of this law originated the keeping of county kennels or packs of hounds.* The Sheriff and Bailies, for a time, would appear to have executed their commission better than the Barons, though generally in perfunctory style. "In some active instances," say, the brothers Stuart, "the exertion of these statutes might have cleared local districts, and a remarkable example of success was given by a woman— Lady 'Margaret Lyon, Baroness to Hugh, third Lord Lovat. This lady, having been brought UI) in the low country, at a distance from the wolves, was probably the more affected by their neighbourhood, and caused them to be so vigorously pursued in the Aird that they were exterminated out of their principal hold in that range. According to the Wardlaw MS., 'she was a stout, bold woman, a great huntress she would have travelled in our hills a-foot, and perhaps out-wearied good footmen. She purged Mount Caplach of the wolves. There is a scat there called Ell ig-ne-lianitearn. She lived in Phoppachy, near the sea, in a stanck-house [a house surrounded by a moat or fosse], the vestige whereof remains to this very day.' Mount Caplach is the highest range of the Aird, running parallel to the Beauly Firth, behind Moniach and Lentron. Though the place of the lady's scat is now forgotten, its existence is still remembered, and said to have been at a pass where she sat when the woods were driven for the wolves, not only to see them killed, but to shoot at them with her own arrows. The period of her repression of the wolves is indicated by the succession of her husband to the Lordship of Lovat, which was in 1450, and it is therefore probable that the 'purging' of 'Mount Caplach' was begun soon after that date. Such partial expulsions, however, had little effect upon the general head of wolves, which, fostered by the great Highland forests, increased at intervals to an alarming extent."

During the reigns of Jameses III. and IV., notices of the wolves are exceedingly scanty. Abbots of Abbeys being reckoned as barons, came under the law providing for the periodical chase of the wolf, and seem therefore to have kept dogs. Such, for example, was the ease with the Abbot of Arbroath, who had a kennel near the Abbey. The monks of Coupar-Angus Abbey inserted a clause in the tacks or leases of their principal tenants that they Should rise to the wolf-hunt when cited so to do. Thus, in a lease of part of the lands of Innerarity, dated 24th April 1483, the tenant was taken bound to "obey the officers rising in the defence of the country to wolf, thief, and sorners." The conjunction of wolves and thieves also occurs in the old Litany of Dunkeld, which contains this prayer—"From caterans and robbers, from wolves and all wild beasts, Lord deliver us." In the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, under date of 24th October, 1491, the sum of 5s. is entered as paid "to a fellow that brought the King [James IV.] two wolves, in Linlithgow": which animals were presumably alive and intended to fight with dogs for the sport of the Court, as had they been dead, their heads only would have sufficed to ensure reward. But "in the time of James V.," say the brothers Stuart, "the wolves' numbers and ravages were formidable," owing to the "clouds of forests" in various districts of the Highlands. Bocce declares in his I Iistory, which was published in 1526, that " the wolves are right noisome to the tame bestial in all parts of Scotland, except a part thereof named Glenmore, in which the tame bestial gets little damage of wild bestial, especially of foxes." In the year 1528, King James was present at the great hunting in Athole (which is afterwards des- cribed), and among the scores of animals slain were wolves.

It was in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, however, that the wolf-plague, which had been gradually coming to a crisis, spread unexampled devastation. The wolves, when pinched with hunger, ransacked churchyards, like the ghouls of Arabian romance, feasting on the newly- buried corpses which they unearthed. Along the tract of Ederachillis, on the north-west coast of Sutherlandshire, the inhabitants were constrained to transfer the burial of their dead to the adjacent rocky islet of Handa, in the sea, where the restless surge, breaking against the precipitous cliffs, preserved the inviolability of the humble selpulchres.

To Handa's isle we go,
Our graveyard in the deep,
Where the tombs stand all a-row,
Safe in that rocky keep;
And never a foot of man or brute
Disturbs our kinsmen's Sleep.

On Ederachillis' shore
The grey wolf lies in wait,—
Woe to the broken door,
Woe to the loosened gate,
And the groping wretch whom sleety fogs
On the trackless moor belate.

The lean and hungry wolf,
With his fangs so sharp and white,
His starveling body pinched
By the frost of a northern night,
And his pitiless eyes that scare the dark
With their green and threatening light.

He climbeth the guarding dyke,
Ile leapeth the hurdle liars,
He steals the sheep from the pen,
And the fish from the boat-house spars
And he digs the dead from out the sod,
And gnaws them tinder the stars.

Thus every grave we dug
The hungry wolf uptore,
And every morn the sod
Was strewn with bones and gore
Our mother earth had denied us rest
On Ederachillis' shore.

"To llanda's isle we go,
Encircled by the sea
A swimmer stout and strong
The grey wolf need to be,
And a cragsnian bold to scale the rocks
If he follow where we flee.

To Handa's isle we sail,
Whose blood-red cliffs arise
Six hundred feet above the deep,
And stain the lurid skies
Where the mainland foliage never blooms,
And the sea-mist never dries.

Push off for the sea-dashed grave,
The wolf may lurk at home,
May prowl in the Diri Mom
Till nightfall bids hiss roam
But the grave is void in the mountain kirk,
And the dead hath crossed the foam.

Moreover, in different quarters of the country, houses of rcfuge or "hospitals," (spittals, as they were called) had to be erected, to which benighted travellers might resort for protection against the prowling rout hence the origin of the "Spittal of Glenshee," and similar appellations in other places.

To this period may be assigned the following two traditions which we quote from a curious source, namely, A Description of the Beauties of Edinaple and Lochearnhead (in western Perthshire)—a tract, bearing upon the title-page to have been written by a native of that district, Angus M'Diarmid by name, and which appeared in 1815, with a dedication to the Earl of Breadalbane. Angus was a thorough Child of the Mist—a trusty gillie on moors, and a genius to boot. He appears to have acquired just sufficient knowledge of the English language to enable him to use all dictionary, from the study of which his untutored mind formed all style of composition. The Description was reprinted at Aberfeldy in 1841, and again in 1876, and is altogether unique as the production of an untaught Highlander striving to express his thoughts in literary English. A copy of the first edition apparently fell into the hands of Robert Southey, who quoted and laughed over one of its queer phrases—"men of incoherent transactions"—

Its the ancient time, when the woods was more copious repletion both on the hills and on the level than it is at present, particular the oaks, which woods was a habitation to voracious wild animals, such as wolfs, which animals would slipped imperceptibly to houses, eluding observation, when the people at the field acting in their domestic management. A certain man, after being disengaged of his (tics employment, upon his return to his house, he directed his CCS through the window to meet hypocondrical discovery of his youngest child on one side of the fire, and the wolf on the other side. Upon the child to have an idea of being one of his father's dogs, he uttered some merriment expression to him, as gaiety laughter, at which his father's bowels did yearn over him observing his endearment amorous child at the hazard of being swallowed tip or tear in pieces by that voracious animal but as Providence meant otherwise for him, he drew his bow ad- Venture, pointing to the said animal, with such anxiety how to screen his child front being injured or molested by the arrow at which point he finished the above animal.

About the same time, the cattle of Glendochard inhabitants has been taken away by violence or pillage, by barbarous men of incoherent transactions. At that depredation, a most excellent bell break out front the force of the ravisher ; which bull shelter himself in a vacant hovel, laying a distant front the rest of the houses lie was much troubled by one of the wolfs already mentioned, for which he was laying between the doorposts holding his head out to fence ivitli that animal,—the said combat has been observed by two men going that way. Upon some emergent occasion, the said men came on the day following with bows and arrows, and placed themselves on the housetop where the said bull sheltered himself, waiting on the animal's coining. Upon his first discovery, the men persuaded that lie was of gteater stature or size than his usual circumference, they remarked two of the wolfs close together with a cross stick in their mouth. When they arrive to the bull, they yoked together on him the men drew their bows, and killed them on the spot. When they descended off the housetop to look at them, they found one of them buns]. It was the purpose of the other to lead the blind one by the stick, to acquire his assistance to finish the said bull, being the one had practical accustomed of assaying to kill him himself.

Up to the outbreak of the Reformation the tacks granted to tenants by the monks of Coupar-Angus Abbey embodied clauses relating to the destruction of the woIfish breed. Thus, in a lease, dated 10th September, 155—, of the lands of Mekie Forther, in Glenisla, to the Countess of Crawford and Lord Ogilvy of Airlie, her son, they are bound to sustain and feed ane leash of hounds for tod (fox) and wolf." In another, of date 17th September, 1552, the tenants of Nether Kirk are to maintain one hound for tod and wolf. In a third, dated 16th November, same year, tenants of the Nesvtoun of Bellite, etc., in Glenisla, are to maintain ane leash of good hounds, with ane couple of raches (sleuth-dogs or blood-hounds), for tod and wolf; and shall be ready at all times when we charge them to pass with us or our bailies to the hunts, as we charge." A fourth lease, dated 9th March, 1557, of the Mill of Freuchy, hinds the tenants to keep a leash of hounds for fox and wolf; and a fifth, dated 11th June following, of Wester Innerarity, contains a similar clause that the tenants shall maintain and have in readiness ain leash of hounds for wolf and fox, with hunting when we or our servants please."

But the intolerable pest eventually caused the general adoption of the most vigorous measures of repression. Extensive forests in Rannoch and Lochaber, and other quarters, were burned down to prevent harbourage of the ravagers ; and so heavy was the slaughter of the latter that only a comparatively few stragglers were left skulking ill Highland wastes—the breed, however, not becoming extinct for nearly the next two centuries. As fully related in the sequel, Queen Mary visited Athole, in the month of August, 1564, and Witnessed the highland hunting on a grand scale, when five wolves were among the animals killed.

That there were wolves in the wilds of Braemar, in the early part of the seventeenth century, is attested by John Taylor, the Water Poet, who says he saw them during his memorable visit to that region in 1618. "I was the space of twelve days," he writes, before I saw either house, corn-field, or habitation for any creature, but deer, wild horses, wolves, and such like creatures, which made me doubt that I should never have seen a house again."

In the year 1609, a case was before the Privy Council, in which mention was made of the pursuit of a wolf in Assynt. The Inventories of the wardrobe in Balloch (Taymouth) Castle, dating from 1598, enumerate four wolf-skins, each being probably the souvenir of a desperate chase. By the Acts of the Breadalbane Baron Courts, which were collected in 1621, each tenant was obliged to make yearly four spears for killing of the wolf; and in 1622, a case came up, concerning three cows killed by the wolf. One of the Sutherland account-books contains an entry, in 1621, of 6 13s.4d. being "given this year to Thomas Gordon for the killing of ane wolf, and that according to the Acts of the country."

Various districts far apart retain each its tradition of the death of the "last wolf." In the Banffshirc parish of Kirkmichael, the last wolf was said to have been slain about 1644; "yet," adds the parish minister, who gives the story, "it is probable that wolves were in Scotland for some time after that period." Sir Ewen Cameron, the valorous chief of Lochiel, who defied Cromwell's power, and fought on Dundee's side at Killiecrankie, killed the last wolf in his country in 1680. Another was slain about the same time, in Forfarshire, by a scion of the house of Ogilvy. It is stated that about the middle of this century "two wolves, the last seen in Scotland, were chased from the wood of Trowan," near Glenturrct, in western Perthshire, "and followed by their pursuers into the Highlands, where they were killed. But there is a respectable tradition which goes to prove that the last wolf in Scotland existed so late as 1743, in which year it was shot on the banks of the Findhorn by a famous Highland hunter, Macqueen of Pall-a'-chrocain, not many hours after it had throttled two children on the hills; and the story of its death, as told by the brothers Stuart, is worth rehearsing here. Macqueen was "of a gigantic stature, six feet seven inches in height," and "was equally remarkable for his strength, courage, and celebrity as a deer-stalker. It will not be doubted that he had the best 'long-dogs' or deer greyhounds in the country; and for their service and his own, one winter's day, about the year before-mentioned, he received a message from the Laird of Mackintosh that a large ' black beast,' supposed to be a wolf, had appeared in the glens, and the day before killed two children who, with their mother, were crossing the hills from Calder, in consequence of which a 'Tainchel,' or gathering, to drive the country was called to meet at a tryst above Fi-Giuthas, where Macqueen was invited to attend with his dogs. Pall-a'-chrocain informed himself of the place where the children had been killed, the last tracks of the wolf, and the conjectures of his haunt, and promised his assistance. In the morning the Tainchel had long assembled, and Macintosh waited with impatience, but Macqueen did not arrive; his dogs and himself were, however, auxiliaries too important to be left behind, and they continued to wait until the best of a hunter's morning was gone, when at last he appeared, and Macintosh received him with an irritable expression of disappointment. 'What was time hurry?' said Pall-a'chrocain. Macintosh gave an indignant retort, and all present made some impatient reply. Macqueen lifted his plaid, and drew the black, bloody head of time wolf from under his ann.  There it is for you I' said lie, and tossed it on the grass in the midst of the surprised circle. Macintosh expressed great joy and admiration, 'and gave him the land called Sean-achan for meat to his dogs. Macqueen died in I797.

It is well known that, in local etymology, the names of many places in England and Scotland perpetuate the memory of the wolves and of other native wild animals. In the parish of Heriot, Midlothian, "tradition reports that the glen or cleugh called the wolf-cleugh was once inhabited by a great wolf, which laid waste the country and attacked and destroyed every passenger. An offer was at last made that whoever would destroy this terrible animal should have as his reward a considerable portion of the territory infested by it. A man named Dewar at length achieved this enterprise, and called the lands by his own name."

Before quitting the regions of tradition, let us recount two saintly legends relating to the wolf in Scotland, as recorded in the Breviary of Aberdeen.

St. Kentigern or Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow, taking compassion on some husbandmen who were deprived of oxen to till their land, commanded several deer to submit to the yoke of the plough and perform the necessary labour, which they did, after which he permitted them to return to their haunts. But presently one of the submissive stags being killed by a wolf, St. Kentigern, stretching his hand towards the neighbouring wood, called on the destroyer to come forth. The wolf obeyed, and the saint yoked him to the plough along with another deer. Both animals having tilled a held of nine acres, they were set at liberty, the wolf having learned a lesson which, we may presume, he would not soon forget.

The other story, similar in character, is told of St. Fillan, who, though of Irish birth, spent most of his days in the Highlands of Perthshire. Along with seven serving clerics, and also, apparently, his mother, Kentigerna, he crossed from Ireland to Scotland, his object being to visit his uncle, St. Congan, who then abode at Siracht, in the upper part of Glcndeochquhy, Glcndochart, or rather in Strathfihlan, vest of Loch Tay. Fillan arrived safely with his little party, and soon set about building a church there in honour of his uncle, the site being "divinely pointed out to him." Wondrous circumstances followed. "FIe completely drove away, with his little dog, a most ferocious boar which had devastated the district; and he also converted to the faith of Christ many of the people of that place from the errors of Gcntilism and idolatry. While he was building the church in the place which God had shewn him, as the oxen were being unyoked from the wains, a hungry and fierce wolf slew and ate one of them and in the morning, when he had no ox to take the place of that which was slain, on pouring forth prayer to God, the same wolf returned as a servant and submitted himself to the yoke with the oxen, and continued to do so till the completion of the church aforesaid, when he returned to his own nature, doing hurt to no one. [The strong family resemblance between these two stories reminds us of that of the hound Gelert, "the flower of all his race," saving the infant son of Llewellyn from a wolf, and perishing by the rash hand of his master. The scene of this legend is laid in Wales, but strangely enough the story itself is common to many countries, and seems to have originated in the East. According to Mr. Baring-Gould, ''it is an introduction into Europe from India, every step of its transmission being clearly demonstrable. From the Gesta Romanorum it passed into a popular tale throughout Europe, and in different countries it was, like the Tell myth, localized and individualized. Many a Welsh story, such as those contained in the Mahinogion, are as easily traced to an Eastern origin." See Curious Myths of the Middle, Ages, ll' 134.144.]

We may conclude by remarking that although the Scottish witches, like their sisterhood in other countries, were in the habit of transforming themselves at will into the shapes of hares and cats, we hear of no Scottish warlock becoming a loup-garon, man-wolf, or wehr-wolf a grisly superstition which seems never to have taken root in Scotland.


Return to Book Index page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast