Just opposite where the road strikes inland over to Ord, we passed the waterlily-fringed Loch nan Dubhrachan, held in direst dread by the natives, who believe it to be haunted by a water-horse, or kelpie. Belief in these and similar evil beings still persists in the Highlands, and endless are the lochs which are the reputed haunts of these monsters. The water-horse, water-bull, or kelpie, is a terrifying monster which causes the water to rise in order to drown some helpless victim; or else rises out of the water and seizes its prey - preferably a beautiful maiden - whom it devours beneath the waves. These kelpies have the power to assume human shape the more easily to snare their victims, and it is only when they have lured their prey to their watery hants that the kelpies resume their true form - all too late for their dupes to escape their clutches. Different localities endue these kelpies with other features - such as that of assuming the shape of a beautiful horse as a lure - all as varied as the districts themselves. Persistence throughout the Highlands in the belief in kelpies is one of the many relics of primitive nature worship, when water and trees especially were considered to be endued with the power to exercise various influences - generally baleful. Let it not be thought that it is Roman Catholics who cling most tenaciously to these pagan beliefs. It is the “Wee Free” Presbyterians who are the most devoted adherents - at least in the Isle of Skye, where there are now practically no Papists.
I was told a most amusing story of the water-horse of Loch nan Dubhrachan by an old man who, as a boy fifty years ago, was present at an organized attempt to catch it. He told me that this water-horse was “more like a cow with a long mane,” and that it left footmarks like the imprint of the foot of a wine bottle! The occasion of which the old man spoke was made a regular holiday in the district, even the children being freed from school, and people in carts and traps came from far and wide to take part in the proceedings. My informant told me that a great supply of provisions was taken, and that there was more whisky drunk there than at a funeral! Two boats had been brought, and when these were launched out on to the loch, a net was stretched out between them. In the course of the dragging proceedings that followed, the net caught in a snag, and the majority of the spectators, thinking that the water-horse was indeed enmeshed, in terror rushed for their horses and carts or fled precipitately from the scene. Beside the snag, all that was caught on this occasion was two pike, so that the fisherman who aspires to a catch out of the common still has his chance of the water-horse.