This year's Beltane Day (1 May 2003) coincided with the date of the second
Scottish Parliament Election and political activists were probably too
busy to give much thought to one of the Beltane traditions. What holly is
to Yule, rowan is to Beltane as the practice was to collect rowan branches
on Beltane Eve to hang up in the home. Not only in the house but in barns,
byres, sheep-faulds and stables, and special care was always taken to
insert a rowan branch in the midden. Middens were supposedly a favourite
meeting-place of the 'black sisterhood' and as Beltane eve was believed to
be a time when fairies, witches and all other uncanny creatures, who
sought to harm mere mortals, were especially active then every precaution
had to be taken to ward them off. Rowan was seen as the greatest
Last week we noted the practice of young girls washing their faces in the
May Day dew and, especially, in the highlands they always carried a sprig
of rowan when carrying out this task. Obviously you couldn't be too
Beltane Day was also the day for many centuries that cattle were moved to
the summer sheiling. This age-old migration was carried out in The
Hebrides until the 19th century as described by Alexander Carmichael :-
'On the first day of May the people of the crofter townland are up betimes
and busy as bees about to swarm. This is the day of migrating, from
townland to moorland, from the winter homestead to the summer sheiling.....
All the families of the townland bring their different flocks together at
a particular place and drive the whole way.'
The crofting way of life still exists and is the inspiration for this week's
recipe, the haggis-based Crofters Pie.
Ingredients : 1 lb (450 g) haggis; 8 oz (225 g) mince, cooked and cooled
with 2 oz (50 g) mixed vegetables; 1 lb (450 g) potatoes; 1 lb (450 g)
turnip; 6 oz (150 g) cheddar cheese, grated; 1 oz (25 g) butter; 4
tablespoons milk; seasoning
Mix haggis and cooked mince then place in bottom of an ovenproof dish.
Peel and chop potatoes and turnip and cook in boiling salted water for 15
to 20 minutes until tender. Drain well, then mash with butter and milk
until smooth. Add seasoning. Mix the cheese with the potato mixture and
spread on top of the haggis and mince. Bake in the centre of the oven, 200
deg C/ 400 deg F/ Gas Mark 6, for 15 to 20 minutes.