Friday 20 July 2012

Folklore Snippets: The Fairy Rade

Sir Joseph Noel Paton: 'The Fairy Rade: Carrying Off A Changeling - Midsummer's Eve

In honour of my recent stay in the beautiful Scottish border country (it rained every day, but we had a lot of fun anyway), here's an eye-witness account, from an unnamed 'old woman of Nithsdale’,  of a Fairy Ride or cavalcade of the fairies, also known as the Seelie Hunt.

It’s taken from Thomas Keightley’s Fairy Mythology which was first published in 1828 - my second edition copy dates from 1850 – and, as is often the way of folk accounts, is strangely convincing.  (A Scots mile (now obsolete) was about 220 yards longer than an English mile.)

“In the night afore Roodmass I had trysted with a neebor lass a Scots mile frae hame to talk anent buying braws i’ the fair.  We had nae sutten lang aneath the haw-buss till we heard the loud laugh of fowk riding, wi’ the jingling o’ bridles, and the clankin’ o’ hoofs.  We banged up, thinking they wad ride owre us.  We kent nae but it was drunken fowk ridin’ to the fair i’ the forenight.  We glow’red roun’ and roun’ and sune saw it was the Fairie-fowks Rade.  We cowred down till they passed by.  A beam o’ light was dancin’ owre them mair bonnie than moonshine: they were a wee wee fowk wi’ green scarfs on, but ane that rade foremost, and that ane was a good deal larger than the lave wi’ bonnie lang hair, bun about wi’ a strap whilk glinted like stars.  They rade on braw wee white naigs, wi’ unco lang swooping tails, an’ manes hung wi’ whustles that the win’ played on.  This an’ their tongue when they sang was like the soun’ of a far-away psalm.   Marion and me was in a brade lea fiel’, where they came by us; a high hedge o’ haw-trees keepit them frae gaun through Johnnie Corrie’s corn, but they lap owre it like sparrows, and gallopt into a green know beyont it.  We gaed i’ the morning to look at the treddit corn; but the fient a hoofmark was there, nor a blade broken.”

Here's my tamer English version:

In the night before Roodmas [the Feast of the Cross, May 3rd] I had met up with a neighbour lass, a Scots mile from home, to talk about buying pretty things at the fair. We hadn’t been sitting long under the hawthorn bushes when we heard the loud laugh of folk riding, with jingling bridles and clattering hoofs.  We jumped up, thinking they would ride over us.  We assumed it was drunken folk riding to the fair in the early evening. We stared round and about and soon saw it was the Fairy-folks Ride.  We cowered down as they passed by.  A beam of light was dancing over them, prettier than moonshine: they were tiny little folk with green scarves on, all but the one who rode in front, who was a good deal bigger than the rest, with lovely long hair bound about with a ribbon that glinted like stars. They rode on fine little white horses, with uncommonly long sweeping tails, and manes hung with whistles which the wind played on.  This, and their voices when they sang, was like the sound of a far-away psalm. Marion and I were in a broad pasture field, where they came by us; a high hedge of hawthorn trees prevented them from going through Johnnie Corrie’s cornfield, but they leaped over it like sparrows and galloped into a green hill beyond it.  We went next morning to look at the trodden-down corn, but devil a hoofmark  [ie: not a single hoofmark] was to be seen, nor a blade broken. 

Richard Dadd: Bacchanalian scene


  1. Excellent. It's strange that there are so many similar stories of faery rides, that left no mark as they passed. What *really* got me buzzing is that these stories often seem to pass/go towards prehistoric burial mounds, which makes me wonder if they are folk memories of burial processions, that have evolved into faeries over the centuries.

  2. What a fantastic idea, Esmeralda! You have sent a shiver down my spine. It could be, indeed! Like the gold cape found at Mold, where there was a tradition that the hill was haunted by a 'golden boy' - and the cape is too small for an adult man... I've got a post about it on here somewhere.

  3. Excellent idea by Esmeralda. Also used, sort of, by Mary Stewart in her Merlin series - the old man herding his cows mutters to Arthur about it being good to see the king here again at the fort that would be Camelot - but it had been generations since any kings were there at all! Yep, shiver down the back time...