Lakes with Legends

From tourist industry-boosting monsters to talking fish, our mountain tarns, lochs and lynnau abound with spurious legends. Here are a few of my favourites. Number 6 is actually true (but then, so are all the others)...

1. The Kelpie appears as a magnificent riderless pony rising out of Lochan Toll nam Biast at the back of Beinn Alligin, with another one in Loch Avon in the Cairngorms and more elsewhere. Climb on its back, and it carries you away beneath the waters. The Kelpie can also manifest as a hunky and gorgeous young man, so this is a legend with something for almost everyone...

Looking for a beastie at Lochan Toll nam Biast  © Ronald Turnbull
Looking for a beastie at Lochan Toll nam Biast
© Ronald Turnbull

2. Because of its origin as a volcanic crater, Scales Tarn, Blencathra, is bottomless. The cliffs around are so steep they shut out the sunlight, so that the stars can be seen reflected in the tarn's surface even at midday.

Have you ever seen the bottom of Scales Tarn? No, us neither... Q.E.D.  © Ronald Turnbull
Have you ever seen the bottom of Scales Tarn? No, us neither... Q.E.D.
© Ronald Turnbull

3. A few miles to the north, Bowscale Tarn is inhabited by two immortal talking fish. Their names are Eve and Adam, or so they told Wordsworth when he stopped for a chat.

Bowscale Tarn, home to a fishy tail  © Ronald Turnbull
Bowscale Tarn, home to a fishy tail
© Ronald Turnbull

4. Afanc was a lake monster who caused terrible floods in the Conwy valley, until a seductive Welsh maiden (some say it was the young Charlotte Church) was employed to tempt him away into Glaslyn, below the summit of Snowdon. If you happen to be a lovely Welsh maiden, try singing gentle songs on your way up the Pyg Track.

Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw from Bwlch Glas (Snowdon)  © berwyn
Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw from Bwlch Glas (Snowdon)
Berwyn Evans, Mar 2011
© berwyn

5. The Loch Ness Monster was first spotted by St Columba some time in the sixth century (okay it was August 22nd AD 565), and hasn't been seen since. It frequently makes public non-appearances at Drumnadrochit on behalf of VisitScotland. The monster is well known as the subject of a ramified and enduring conspiracy, involving scientists and local inhabitants as well as the tourist board. The aim is to send as many non-Scottish tourists as possible to one of the country's less interesting lochs to look for something that isn't there; this leaving Loch Maree free and unspoiled for the rest of us.

You can't argue with photographic evidence this compelling  © Ronald Turnbull
You can't argue with photographic evidence this compelling
© Ronald Turnbull

6. As land rose after the ice age, Loch Lomond was separated from the sea. As it slowly lost its salt, one species of fish was able to evolve quick enough to cope. So Loch Lomond now has a freshwater sea fish, the powan (Coregonus clupeoides) that's actually a herring breathing peat instead of salt in its water supply.

Is it a red herring?  © Dan Bailey
Is it a red herring?
© Dan Bailey

7. The Wells of Dee, being right at the top of Braeriach, can clearly have no local water supply. In fact they're fed by an underground tunnel from the Harz Mountains of northern Germany. If you see water rising from the Wells of Dee when the ground around is hard frozen, that's because it's raining in Lower Saxony.

Looking unconvinced at the Wells of Dee  © Ronald Turnbull
Looking unconvinced at the Wells of Dee
© Ronald Turnbull

8. An ancient (and rather small) city lies beneath Semer Water, in the Yorkshire Dales. A vagrant angel was passing through, begging for water and food. "Sorry," they said, "for weird blokes with wings we don't have any water." So the Angel called down a flood from heaven and drowned the city. "Heh, heh," said the Angel, "you've got some water now." This is why the beer called Semer Water, widely available throughout the Dales, is always distributed free of charge (however customers without wings and haloes may have to pay).

We don't have one of Semer Water, so here's Malham Tarn (use your imagination)  © Ronald Turnbull
We don't have one of Semer Water, so here's Malham Tarn (use your imagination)
© Ronald Turnbull

9. When it comes to non-existent monsters, Loch Ness has the great publicity. You hardly ever see a tourist with a telescope trying to spot the Loch Laggan Dragon. This is because the monster is really quick at nipping out of the water and gobbling them up. The Urisks of Loch Katrine seem to have ganed a bit of traction though...

But where is the mysterious Coir-nan-Uriskin? No one seems to know...  © Ronald Turnbull
But where is the mysterious Coir na Urisgean? No one seems to know...

10. Lochan nan Corp, high on Ben Ledi, lies on an ancient coffin road. And it's a body of water with real bodies. In the depths of winter, a funeral party paused for a dram right on top of the lochan. The ice broke, and everybody drowned (except the chap in the coffin, he was already dead). "The lochan is not deep enough to reach past your waist," points out a sneery contributor to Wikipedia. What they don't realise is the reason the lochan's so shallow – it's all the bones and coffins down there.

Lochan nan Corp - it's all full of bones. Maybe  © Ronald Turnbull
Lochan nan Corp - it's all full of bones. Maybe
© Ronald Turnbull


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31 Oct

" The Kelpie can also manifest as a hunky and gorgeous young man, so this is a legend with something for everyone..." Well maybe not quite everyone

Well spotted!!