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White Lilacs blooming in springtime.

Mary Leslie: The Rose of Rothes 

The Tale of Mary Leslie is forcibly brought to my mind every spring. I had a little white dog named Susie, which I loved with all my heart. She was a gentle soul and the most obedient of dogs. After a long and happy life, she sadly passed away. Susie was buried under our lilac tree. The lilac tree had been growing for several years and had yet to flower. Lilac is a firm favourite of mine, not just for the appearance of the blossom but for the strong, heady scent of the flowers. It remains one of my favourite scents.  

Imagine our amazement when, the following spring, the lilac tree flowered for the first time. It was not a purple lilac but a beautiful white lilac like little Sue. 

Mary Leslie the Rose of Rothes

Mary Leslie was known as the Rose of Rothes and there was nobody fairer in all of Scotland. As a result, ballads were composed by wandering bards telling of her great beauty. Her father was Alexander Leslie, Earl of Rothes, and he was famed as a great warrior throughout the land. Nobody could wield a two-edged sword with such skill and power. 

Obviously, with such great beauty it wasn’t long before her fame reached the grim fortress of Lochindorb. This was the lair of Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, infamous for burning down Elgin Cathedral and for allegedly gambling with the devil. He also was the King’s Lieutenant in the North.  

Thus, determined to see the maiden, Steward, dispatched a messenger and declared that he would be hunting in the vicinity and that he intended spending the night at Rothes Castle. 

The Feast 

This caused a great stir in Rothes Castle. Preparations had to be made, to give Stewart a welcome befitting of his rank and noble status. As the sun set, the Wolf and his retinue appeared. Upon their arrival, the drawbridge was lowered, and the cavalcade marched through. Leslie and his family were waiting to receive them. Hearty greetings were exchanged between the Wolf and his host, and the Wolf turned and kissed the hands of Leslie’s wife and daughter. Stewart was satisfied. The rumours had been true; Mary Leslie was a true beauty. 

That night, a great feast took place in the Great Hall with Leslie, his family and his distinguished guest all installed on the raised dais at the upper end of the hall. Leslie’s greatest treasure was on display: a mighty suit of armour with a coat of mail. This was known as ‘Haco’s Hide’, the armour of a giant Dane who had fought and been slain at the Battle of Mortlach by one of Leslie’s forebears. 

In Stewart’s retinue was a dwarf named the ‘Hawk.’ There was something about the ‘Hawk’ which Mary found disconcerting. A sense of foreboding swept over the young maiden. 

Mary Leslie and the Hunt 

The next day Leslie offered his guest a chance to go hunting on his land. Mary mounted her pony, complete with her hawk on her shoulder. Stewart saw this as his opportunity to win the maiden’s affections. During the hunt, Mary’s hawk took to the air after a smaller bird. To her horror, a kestrel swooped down, intent on attacking her bird. Mary cried, “Will nobody save my bird?” Then taking the gold chain from her neck, offered it as a reward for the person who could save her bird. 

Immediately, a hundred bows were drawn, and a hundred arrows took flight. Unfortunaetly, all fell short of their mark. Just when it seemed that the smaller bird was doomed, one last arrow sped through the air and struck the kestrel mid-flight. The unseen marksman had taken aim from the other side of the river.  

There was nothing for it but to discover who had come to Mary Leslie’s aid. A small boat was fetched, and the rescuer was brought before the hunting party. The Wolf’s eyes narrowed. Malcolm Grant of Arndilly was as handsome as he was skilled. Fecently, Malcolm had returned from the Crusades, and he could have a promising career in the church under the tutelage of his uncle, the Bishop of Moray. However, it was obvious from the coy looks exchanged between Malcolm and Mary that his heart lay elsewhere, and that Mary reciprocated those feelings. 

Jealousy and Treachery 

A banquet was held that evening to celebrate the hunt, but a dark cloud hung over the Wolf. Alexander Stewart was a man who always got what he wanted. The Wolf drank deep from his ale cup but hardly tasted his food. His mind was preoccupied. How can he get rid of his rival suitor? How could he win the heart of the fair Mary? 

When the party broke up, Malcolm and his servant Findlay made their way down to the river. The boat was missing. As the pair stood contemplating how they were going to cross the River Spey, a dozen men jumped out of the bushes and surrounded them. Malcolm’s hand reached for his sword, but it was too late. Before he knew it, he was trussed up like a pullet for the pot. Fortunately, in the mêlée that followed, Findlay was able to escape. 

Then, Malcolm found himself dragged across the wilds of the Dava Moor and thrown into the dungeons of the island Castle of Lochindorb. There was little prospect of escape. 

The Rescue  

However, Malcolm was not without friends and his loyal servant Findlay began a plot to rescue his master. He collected Macolm’s dog and dressed as a travelling bard. He performed in the great hall at Lochindorb Castle while the wine and ale ran freely. When, the Wolf and his retainers had retired to bed, Findlay followed the dog to where Malcolm lay incarcerated. Hastily they made an escape plan. Findlay would leave early the next morning. Then, in the evening when the jailer would bring Malcolm his food, the captive would rush past and jump from the tower into the dark, freezing waters of the Loch. He was to swim to the nearest point of the mainland, whereupon Findlay would give him hie beggar’s rags. 

The plan succeeded. The jailer sounded the alarm, and the pursuers lost no time in jumping into a boat and rowing to where they thought the fugitive would be found. However, by now Malcolm had changed into the minstrel’s rags. Disguised, and with his dog by his side he returned home. There was great rejoicing at both Arndilly and Rothes Castle. 

Mary Leslie and Malcolm Grant Reunited 

Mary fearing for her love, demanded that he make haste to Elgin Cathedral, and take refuge with his uncle. However, he refused to go unless Mary accompanied him and there the couple could be wed by his uncle. The Earl of Rothes was only too happy to accommodate the young lovers’ wishes. 

However, the Wolf came knocking on the doors of Rothes Castle and demanded that the Earl give him the hand of his daughter in marriage. But the earl promptly cut off the Wolf in mid-sentence and announced that his daughter was already betrothed to young Arndilly. The Wolf’s wrath knew no bounds. As soon as he left the precincts of Rothes castle, he called his servant, the one called the Hawk, and told him that he would not look upon him again until the Hawk’s Skean-dhu ran red with Arndilly’s blood. 

Mary Leslie and Malcolm bound Eternally 

That evening the love-struck couple strolled along the path by the Burn of Rothes and, at length came to a well. There they sat down to rest and enjoy the beauty that surrounded them. Alas, no sooner had they sat down, when the dwarf plunged his dagger into Malcolm’s left shoulder. The Hawk pulled out his knife and raised it for a second attack. However, as the blade descended, Mary threw herself on Malcolm’s prostrate body and received a mortal wound herself. The dwarf stared in fear. He had meant no harm to the maiden. Finally, he ran away, leaving hte lovers to bleed to death in each other’s arms. 

In the morning when the lovers were found, a bush had grown up overnight and covered the lovers’ bodies. Then, for many years after, the bush would blossom on the anniversary of the lovers’ death. From then on the well’s name was changed from Toprun Well to Lady’s Well. It is said that Mary Leslie’s Ghost haunts the well to this day. 

Today the well is used as the water source for the Glenrothes Distillery, home to another ghost by the name of Byeway. 








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