Slacks of Glencarvie: the witch’s bite


This geocaching hike took me to the summit of Mona Gowan and on to Castle Wilson and the Slacks of Glencarvie, a route across open hill tops in the Cairngorms. More locally know as ‘The Smuggler’s Cave’, the summit of the old smugglers IMG_4432route between Donside and Deeside holds the legend of whisky being hidden in a cave here. Unfortunately, I was too excited to locate the good ol’ geocaching box that I forgot to explore the dramatic rocky surroundings for this infamous cave!

In other folklore, the story goes that a witch, Cailleach Bheathrach, was said to have bitten away a part of the hill to try and get the Don to flow into the Dee. There is reference to the same witch and a similar rocky outcrop in It’s a Fine Day for the Hill however this description talks of a more westerly summit, Morrone:

“A gaelic speaker who cleaned the chapel, she treated me like a son. I recall her telling me: ‘Laddie, your reid hair, white skin and freckles will mak lassies’ herts sair,’ though I did not understand then what she meant. She said ‘If you ging to Morrone, tak care to watch oot for that wild witch the Cailleach Bheathrach. Her rocky hoose is there. They say she likes the reid-heided lads.’

About 40 years later, Braemar shopkeeper, Johnnie Stammers, told me about the Cailleach, with similar words. By then my red hair had started to fade, but Johnnie spoke as if the Cailleach were real. He said, ‘Watch yersel for the callach, rufus, she wis a gey lass wi the ginger-heided men.’ In the late 1970s I found that ‘the rocky hoose’ was Tigh na Cailliche Beathraiche, the house of the wild old woman. In my book on place-names, published 1984, I described it as: An unusual serrated rocky ridge … with vertical blocks of rock almost like gigantic masonry. ”
– It’s a Fine Day for the Hill, Adam Watson


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