Laird of the Comrie House
Legend tells us about different types of fairies and there were all sorts of fairies around the village. They could, one supposes, be classified into good fairies and bad fairies. All the best stories revolve around the latter. Bad or mischievous fairies were known because of their ability to cast evil spells. They included in their ranks, goblins, ghouls, spirits, sprites and trolls. Another category included warlocks and witches, seers and others. These folks had kinetic powers and could point a knurled finger at a tree and make some prediction that if a branch fell from it then evil would strike the village! They did the same thing with people. I am quite sure I met one face to face in Crieff when I was young! Most sane people had a healthy respect for the lot of them, as no doubt they still do today!
The Laird of Comrie House was out walking on a glorious summer’s evening and tiring took a rest in the shade of an old oak tree. When he awoke he found himself in fairy-land! Fairy-land consisted of a huge brightly-lit hall filled with dancing fairies---naturally! They were light on their feet and danced in wide circles and this scene of great beauty and wonderment was only marred by the approach of a rather unsightly and ungainly goblin. In truth the goblin was very ugly, haughty and imperious. He ordered the Laird to join in the dance as the dancers wove intricate patterns of movement throughout the hall. Our hero did not like being ordered about and objected strenuously that as a Christian and a son of Adam he did not deem himself fit to join in the dance of the unholy! Brave words and no doubt said with some conviction although also no doubt with a dry mouth!
He found himself immediately struck in a paralytic state. Today this phenomenon is called “learned helplessness” or being totally inebriated! It sometimes happens today when it comes around to paying income tax! Control over his will and mind was taken from him, and he found himself in an instant in the middle of the magic ring of swirling dancers and whirled away with the lot of them.
He later stated that he never knew how long he had been in their clutches but somehow or other was able to contact one of his servants who secured his release. To secure the Laird’s release required undertaking certain things which, one could say, were rather hair-raising! The servant whose name was Allan McRostie knew about a wizard who lived in Muthill.
Muthill lies about ten miles from Comrie and amongst its population this wizard apparently, when not mixing potions in a large iron pot and muttering weird incantations, was always seen consulting large bound-books. In these books were all the rules and regulations about fairies as well as instructions on how to deal with them. How to release the bewitched from a spell, how to heal a sick cow, how to offer a cure for the “itch” - everyone, high and low suffered from the “itch”, and how to negotiate for the release of anyone who had fallen into their hands. It was an original self-help book!
Allan, no doubt with great trepidation, steeled himself for the encounter with the wizard and went into the low-slung thatched cottage. It may even have been the spot where my sister lives in Muthill! In the corner of the room a dwarf was mixing a potion into a large cast-iron pot stirring it every now and again with a large wooden spoon. Under the direction of the wizard he was adding colourful natural herbs. The mixture took on different hues as the herbs mixed in the pot. Sometimes they were black, and sometimes brown, and sometimes red with yellow sulphur fumes emanating from it. Billows of coloured smoke came from the fire and pot when new potions were added. Whilst the dwarf was doing this the wizard was muttering strange sayings and making incantations and consulting one of his big, black books on a table whose centerpiece was a skull. Sounds like a visit to the local library!
As the wizard was in touch with the spirit world he immediately knew the remedy required to secure the release of the poor Laird. Allan, no doubt, would have preferred another task to do that day, but he gritted his teeth and carried on. The wizard looked at him and said, “I know, Allan, for what you have come. Your master is among the men of peace, and cannot return to mingle with the polluted sons of earth, unless you have the courage to obey my behests. You know the Black Rock of Dunmore (the Melville Monument is at its summit). It is the entrance to fairy-land. Here, take this candle which I have prepared for you. The candle contains the life of your master, and must be used to effect his deliverance. You must stay here for three days and on the night of the third day, you must take this candle and set out for the Black Rock. On your constancy depends your own and your master’s safety; for if you look behind you on your way, both he and you are lost forever, beyond hope or redemption. When you reach the Black Rock, light the candle at both ends and cry out thrice. At the third summons, the door will open. Enter without fear, but beware of touching anything. You will be invited to dance, but beware of complying. Should you feel an inclination to do so, rub your eyes with this ointment which I give you. Then desire to see the Laird. At first this will be refused you, but say that you will not keep him longer than the candle lasts. He will accompany you out of the hall. As soon as you are in the open air, put out the candle and make the best of your way home.”
In compliance with these directions Allan waited in Muthill for the three days and then set out on his mission. Just as he reached Crieff something very odd occurred. The heavens opened and the rain came down in buckets! Onwards towards Comrie he faced black clouds, flashes of lighting and the roaring of thunder. He was surrounded by noise but remembered, unlike Lot’s wife, not to look back. All the noises of the storm and weird cackling sounds were heard to his left and right as he passed Locherlour (the Devil’s anvil) and then, passed Lawers into Comrie. At Comrie all noise ceased and the night was very still with a clear moon to see by. It was as if the storm had never been.
He passed along the Back o’ Toon lane and up by the Balloch and on passed the Lechkin and Drum a’ Hopple to the coachman’s turn above the Deil’s Cauldron. There, following the wizard’s instructions, he cut up into the rock face of Dunmore Hill. Half-way up he stopped to catch his wind and lit the candle and called out three times and lo, at the third call a secret doorway opened before him. This was the entrance to the fairy stronghold. It was very close to where Malise had found the eagle’s eyrie!
With beating heart and bags of fear Allan entered and went along a brightly lit passageway to the hall which was filled with beautiful dancing fairies. All dancing fairies are beautiful! They were friendly to him as they danced away in pairs and then he was accosted by the ugly goblin who ordered him to dance. Allan felt persuaded but resisted the temptation knowing that he would be lost. He reached in to his pocket and took out the ointment the wizard had given him and slowly rubbed it on his eyes. The scene before him immediately changed and the lighting in the hall turned blue and darkened and furthermore all the beautiful dancing fairies became skeleton-like figures. I have been to dances when that happened!
The goblin too changed in character demanding to know what Allan was doing in his house. Allan replied that he wanted the Laird of Comrie, and that he would keep him no longer than the time it took for the candle to burn out, adding, “that cannot be very long since it is lighted at both ends,” “then hold this rod of mine,” replied the goblin, “till I go for him.”
This Allan refused to do and as the Laird was dancing by he lunged at him and got a grip of his jacket. Pulling him out of the magic circle he rubbed the ointment on to the Laird’s eyes all the time pulling him along the corridor to the entrance. Outside, and on the face of the rock, he blew out the candle and instantly the door to the fairy kingdom slammed shut.
They both returned to Comrie House much relieved however there was more yet to come. For years afterwards the house was invaded and infested with fairies and they were not nice fairies either! Every night they set up a wailing, like banshees. Things were moved in the middle of the night and there were bangings and clatterings so that the occupants could get only a little sleep,
The characters of both the Laird and Allan began to change. The Laird became morose, melancholy and withdrawn. He would not venture outside and was always warning his family not to open either a window or a door for fear that the fairies would come in that way, as well as the other ways.
Sometime later one of his female relatives came to spend a few days with him at the house and it was felt by the Laird that it would be better not to tell her about the infestation of fairies in his house, (after all how would you explain it to a distant relative?!) Hearing shrieks in the middle of the night Allan McRosty got up and went to the window. There streaking across the sky with sparks trailing behind her he saw a fiery dragon who cried out three times. Being dragged by the hair behind the fiend was the form of the unfortunate girl and both then disappeared from view. The unfortunate lass was never seen again on this mortal coil! On inspecting her room the next day they found the walls blackened and charred as if hit by a bolt of lightning, but no trace of their relation.
Thereafter, silence descended on the house and they were troubled no more. However their relative had vanished forever. Perhaps the fairies took her as a sacrifice which was sad but on the other hand, as she didn’t come from Comrie, possibly her sacrifice fulfilled their purpose and had appeased the fury of the fairies! It must have been difficult to explain this situation to her, no doubt, much distraught family!
The Laird never recovered and died shortly thereafter. Allan McRostie lived on to be over a hundred years old but he, like the Laird, was never the same again. He began to delve into the unnatural and became quite well known as a seer. Perhaps an encounter with the “beyond” or fairies elongates life! The old wizard, I am led to believe, still lives in Drummond Street in Muthill!
Perhaps the moral of the tale is that if you hear shrieks and cackling or the rattling of the windows in the middle of the night just pull the bedclothes over your head...it might be the wind, or it might be revellers, or ... it just might be those