Myths and Legends: The Kelpies

Scotland’s “Kelpies” are the largest equine structures in the world but what is a Kelpie?

In a recent visit to Stirling, we went to see the ‘Kelpies’ at the Helix Park between Falkirk and Grangemouth. Standing at thirty metres (just short of hundred feet) and weighing some 300 tonnes each, the statues are the tallest equine structures in the world. Frequently there is so much hype surrounding tourist attractions that when you see them in real-life it can be a bit of an anti-climax. This certainly was not the case with the Kelpies. We peered into the dimming light completely awed by the sheer size and magnificence of these beasts. As night descended the welling yellow and red light in the creatures’ gullets made them seem like dragons about to unleash a blast of fiery flame. This was followed by hues of violet, blue and green. But what is a Kelpie?

Kelpies in Scottish mythology.

A Kelpie is the most common water spirit in Scottish folklore and is said to haunt the deep pools in rivers and streams, usually in the form of a lost horse. This mythological transforming beast allegedly has the strength and endurance of a hundred horses. But beware…this is not some gentle pony but a malevolent spirit who will eat you for dinner!

The Kelpie is typically described as a beautiful, strong, black horse with hooves reversed to those of a regular horse. However, there are regional variations on how the kelpie is portrayed. In Aberdeenshire the Kelpie has a mane of serpents while the kelpie of the River Spey is said to be white and can sing.

The Kelpie is apparently particularly attractive to children, yet once on its back, their hide becomes sticky, trapping the child which it promptly drags into the water, then eats. A tale is recounted of ten children who were out playing when they discover a “pony” on the banks of a river. Nine of the siblings climb onto its back, but one child strokes its nose and his finger becomes stuck. He escapes by managing to cut off his finger. However, the other children are pulled into the water, never to return!

Alas, adults are not safe from these creatures either, for the kelpie’s shape-shifting ability allow them to appear in human form where they will lure members of the opposite sex into the water and feast upon them. In their human form they still retain their hooves.   As well as having phenomenal strength, the Kelpie’s magical abilities allow it to summon up floods to sweep away its unsuspected victims to a watery grave. Its tail, upon entering the water is said to sound like thunder and they warn of approaching storms by producing an unearthly wail.

But, just in case you think that you can prevent an encounter with a Kelpie by avoiding the river banks, think again. The Kelpie pales to insignificant when compared with the ferocity of the “each-uisge” (Gaelic for waterhorse) which lives in the sea and lochs…

2018-01-30T21:19:32+00:00

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  1. […] KELPIE: Kelpies are the most common water spirits in Scottish folklore and they can live both in water as well as on land. These malevolent shape-shifting creatures often appear in legends as strong and beautiful black horses which live in the deep pools of rivers and streams in Scotland. Kelpies are known for preying on the humans they encounter. The hooves of the kelpie are thought to be reversed to those of a regular horse. In Aberdeenshire, the kelpie allegedly has a mane of serpents, while the kelpie of River Spey was known to be white and capable of singing. […]

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