The beach at Mellon Udrigle, in Wester Ross, is stunning: aqua blue waves lap against white sands, giving the shoreline an almost tropical feel. However, the backdrop is distinctly Scottish, with views of Suilven, the mountains of Coigach and An Teallach, ‘the Forge’. Yet, for all the tranquillity of the spot, once upon a time, something more sinister was said to lurk in the depths of the nearby loch, Loch na Beiste or ‘The Loch of the Beast.’ The Loch was said to be the home of an Each-Uisge or a shape-shifting water horse.
The water horse is similar to a kelpie, but whereas the kelpie is said to dwell in rivers and streams, the each-uisge is the denizen of the freshwater and sea lochs of Scotland. However, this water spirit is said to be far more vicious than a kelpie. It can disguise itself as a fine horse, a handsome man or even a giant bird called the boobrie. Whilst in the horse form, a human is only safe to ride the each-uisge on dry land. Once it smells water, its skin becomes adhesive, its rider is held captive and the creature returns to the deepest part of the loch. After its victim is drowned, the each-uisge tears its meal apart and devours it, leaving only the liver which floats to the water surface.
Understandably, the locals, who lived in this remote corner of the western Highlands, were clearly not impressed to have such a ferocious neighbour living on their backyard. Who could tell when they, their children or even their livestock, might become the Beast’s next meal?
Getting rid of the Water Horse
Depending on where you read, the next series of events occurred either in 1840 or 1864. Apparently, the locals could no longer tolerate the prospect of becoming the creature’s dinner and implored the owner of the estate, Mr Banks, to take measures to put an end to the Beast. Alas, initially his tenants’ beseeching fell on deaf ears, until one fateful Sunday when Sandy McLeod, an elder of the Free Church of Scotland was returning from the service at Aultbea. McLeod was in the company of two other witnesses when they saw the Beast, a creature which was said to resemble the upturned keel of a good-sized boat.
Soon after, Kenneth Cameron, also an elder of the Free Church saw the water horse. Who could be more reputable than two elders of the Kirk? It seemed there was nothing else for it. Banks decided to jump into action by pumping out the water from the Loch. With the water now standing at half a meter, the Beast was still at large. Banks sent his boat, the Iris, to Broadford in Skye to procure fourteen barrels of lime.
Water Horse No More!
Banks could not persuade any of his terrified tenants to enter the Loch, so he called on two of the crew from the Iris to do the job on hand. Entering the Loch in a small rowing boat, James and Allan Mackenzie began probing the waters with their oars. At length, they found a hole two and a half fathom deep. Surely this must be where the Beast had its lair. They poured the lime into the cavity.
Strangely, the Beast has not shown itself in the Loch ever since.