Myths and legends of Caithness

With a history dating back to prehistoric times, it’s no wonder that Caithness is shrouded in myths and legends. From ancient giants to mysterious sea creatures, there are stories to tell in every corner of the land. Here are some of our favourites to explore while you stay at Mackays Hotel.

Caithness Selkies

With so much coastline, it’s no wonder the sea plays a large part in the fabric of legends in Caithness. One of the most beloved is that of the selkies. According to local folklore, selkies are seals that can shed their skins to become human. These shapeshifters are often described as incredibly beautiful in their human form. The story goes that a fisherman once found a selkie’s skin and hid it, preventing the selkie woman from returning to the sea. She stayed with him, becoming his wife and bearing children. However, she eventually found her hidden skin and, despite her love for her human family, returned to the ocean. She left behind a legacy of children who were said to have a touch of magic in them.

A beach in Caithness.

The Legend of the Grey Cairns

The Grey Cairns of Camster are some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic chambered cairns in Scotland. According to folklore, these cairns were built by giants who once roamed the land, one of whom was called Camster. The giants were said to possess great strength and knowledge, and the cairns were constructed as their burial sites or as places of ritual and worship. On certain nights, some believe that the spirits of these giants can still be seen wandering among the cairns, particularly when the moon is full.

The witches of Caithness

During the 1500s and the 1600s in Scotland, the fear of witchcraft was real. So real in fact that the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 made witchcraft a capital offence in Scotland. This meant it was punishable by death.

Born in Caithness, Elspeth Reoch was supposed to be such a witch. She claimed from a young age to have discovered the ability to see the future, and for many years this was how she earned a living. When she went on trial on the 12 March 1616, it is said she could cure illness by reciting chants. The trial did not last long. Reoch was found guilty and executed by strangulation and her body was burned that afternoon. This is but one of many stories of witches to be found around Caithness. 

Ackergill Tower next to a beach.

The Ghost of Ackergill Tower

Ackergill Tower is a 15th-century castle overlooking the North Sea. The castle is renowned for its ghostly inhabitant, the spirit of Helen Gunn. Known as the “Beauty of Braemore,” Helen was kidnapped on her wedding night by Dugald Keith, the laird of Ackergill, who was infatuated with her beauty. In a desperate attempt to escape her captor, Helen flung herself from the tower, falling to her death. Since then, her ghost has been said to haunt Ackergill Tower. Many visitors and residents have reported seeing a spectral figure of a young woman in a flowing white gown, believed to be Helen Gunn, especially on moonlit nights.

A land of stories and legends

Take a trip to Caithness and immerse yourself in stories, legends and myths. A stay at Mackays Hotel is your first step to enjoying a world of sorcery, giants and the mysterious creatures of the deep. Take a look at our special offers and book your stay with us today.

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