Episode 39: Kelpies and the each-uisge

” ‘night’d travellers are allur’d to their destruction”

A peaceful looking water horse by Theodor Kitleson. Needs more blood

This episode features a number of accounts of encounters with the fearsome Scottish water-horse known alternately as the Each-Uisge and the Kelpie.

The tales involve a kindly magical old woman, a not so kindly magical old woman, sticky situations, lust, and lots and lots of lochs.

There’s also an additional watery animal, just to add to the fun.

Listen to the episode above and then scroll down for some extra Kelpie content.

“Some time after, John’s liver was found near the loch”

— J. Calder Ross, Scottish Notes & Queries, 1893

Nuckelavee extra episode

If you haven’t quite got your fill of Scottish water horses then you can sign up to Patreon and listen to an episode all about an even stranger creature, The Nuckelavee Patreon Episode 3: Nuckelavee along with 5 other members episodes (at time of writing).

Even though Kelpie’s rarely appeared as beautiful women, far more often taking the form of Handsome men that didn’t stop artists imagining them as such for, I’m sure, very legitimate reasons. This is “The Kelpie” by Herbert James Draper

The Kelpies sculpture

“The Kelpies” is a sculpture of two thirty metre high horses, located just off the M9 and between Falkirk and Grangemouth.

Designed by sculptor Andy Scott they are a monument to the “horse-powered heritage of Scotland”, rather than directly to the Kelpie, though obviously the enslaved Kelpie stories have a fairy direct link to horse power.

They turn all kinds of different colours at night, though I particularly like the blood red here. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the sculptures and they really are an impressive sight, far bigger in person than they luck on the photos – and I had some very good ice cream there as well.

Luckily folkloric Kelpies weren’t quite this big – if they were they’d have been even more a problem!

Two Kelpie poems

Appropriately for an episode on Scotland, Rabbie Burns, the 18th century poet widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland mentioned Kelpies in a poem called “Address to the Deil”, a light hearted poem about the Devil.

The whole of the verse concerning the Kelpie is:

When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord,
An’ float the jinglin’ icy boord,
Then water-kelpies haunt the foord,
By your direction,
And ‘nighted trav’llers are allur’d
To their destruction.

Robert Burns, extract from “Address to the Deil”

Not Kelpies, but another connection of horses and water – “Horses of Neptune”, Walter Crane

Now in the episode I mentioned that there was a Kelpie story which I didn’t tell featuring a much nicer Kelpie. The plot of which is essentially: Human woman called Mor has a child with a Kelpie, without knowing what he is. When she finds out she leaves him, along with their child. However at some later date she sneaks back to his home (which is presumably not under water!) to get one last look at the baby.

When she does she hears him singing a lullaby to the baby:

Kelpie Lullaby

I got up early
Better had I not
My utter devastation it
was that sent me out.

The calf of my calf
was by a hillock
with no fire or comfort or

Mor, my love, Mor, my love
Bond with your son.
I’ll give you a pretty speckled
band/ bangle/or string of beads.

I’ll give you wine, I’ll give you
Everything you would like,
I’ll give you a pretty speckled
band/bangle/or string of beads.

Gaelic poem from Nan Mackinnon, Translation by Aude Le Borgne

The Nereid Thetis riding Hippocampus. Greek mosaic from c. 400-350 BCE. As I said on the episode the connection between horses and water creatures is very old indeed!


Some picures of the kind of landscapes Shieling could be found in, which is very probably the kind of landscapes Fair Mary and Dark Mary were staying. Though with more cows.

If you want to know a bit more Shieling this article from The Scotsman is pretty good: Ancient highland shielings inspiring 21st-century living and paints a picture of a somewhat less lonely life, at least for some of the inhabitants of the Shieling’s than I referred to in the episode.

The Pictish Beast

Almost certainly not a Kelpie, but a fascinating creature non the less. Found carved on stones in Scotland, dating from the 5th-6th century CE.

The most likely theory is that it’s a dragon, modelled after Dragonesque broaches but Dolphin, Elephant and Kelpie have also been suggested.

Ann Harrison, CC BY-SA 2.0

Each-Uisge short horror film

I really enjoyed this five minute horror film about an Each-Uisge, set in Ireland. It captures the terror and creepiness of it really well. There are also a number of other folklore horror stories in the series, though I enjoyed this one the best. T

There is an overarching story so you might want to start at Episode 1, but I think this works as a stand-alone.

Selected Sources

  • CLOOTIE WELLS AND WATER-KELPIES Aude Le Borgne – While I checked some of the sources in this just to ensure they were legitimate, which they were, this is where I took almost all my information from for the episode. A fascinating work by itself it’s also an incredibly rich source of Kelpie stories, which are attached as an appendix at the end.

Musical credits for Episode 39: Kelpies & Each-Uisge

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Welcome to Tales of Britain & Ireland: A podcast telling folktales, myths and legends from across Britain and Ireland. Hosted by Graeme Cooke.

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