Of Kelpies and Other Wonderful Creatures.

Picture © C  L Czerkawska
Last week, we visited the astonishing public sculptures known as the Kelpies, Scotland is rich in these kind of public artworks, but the Kelpies are in a class of their own.

To describe these 30 metre high equine sculptures, rising from water, in the middle of a beautiful park (albeit one in a populous and industrial part of Scotland), as 'horse heads' is to do them an injustice. These are fabulous creatures, so wonderful that their numinous quality as well as their sheer size, brings a lump to your throat. Even remembering them now on a dreich summer night here in Ayrshire gives me a buzz!

In truth, Kelpies are very dangerous creatures. Back when I was a little girl, briefly in the Brownies (I ran away and never went back, but that's a story for another day!) there were kelpies. I was a pixie as far as I remember. We were expected to dance around a big plastic toadstool in a dusty church hall, chanting 'here we are the jolly pixies, helping people when in fixes.' I can't remember what the kelpies sang, but the pixies and kelpies and elves -'helping others, not ourselves' - were, like the awful toadstool, poor reflections of the real thing. Maybe that's why I ran away.

Kelpies were not to be messed with.

Back when this 200 year old house was new, in the very early 1800s, and in spite of all the efforts of the kirk to dampen it down and replace it with good, god fearing presbyterianism, belief in a host of supernatural creatures was still widespread. Only a few years earlier, in the late 1700s, Robert Burns had written about 'water kelpies' luring poor travellers to their doom while a hundred years before that, the presbytery at Dingwall had been deeply disturbed by reports of bull sacrifice on Isle Maree!

A kelpie was a water spirit - and a shapeshifter. Most often, it would appear in the form of a horse,  but woe betide the child who stroked its mane because it would inevitably drag them deep below the water.

Sometimes, the kelpie might appear as a beautiful young woman, a siren, enticing young men to their doom, but there are also spine tingling (and strangely enticing) tales of girls who meets handsome young men on the banks of a river or loch. Typically, he would charm her with his dark good looks, but when he lay down with his head in her lap, and she stroked his long, dark hair, she would find it strangely damp, and her hands are covered in sand ...

There are, of course, many such tales worldwide. And many of them have the prosaic and practical purpose of keeping children out of danger. The terrifying Jenny Green Teeth, who haunted mill ponds in the North of England was clearly designed to keep the kids well away from deep water! But there is something older, magical and multi-layered about the kelpies, and it is reflected in these extraordinary sculptures. Visit them if you can.

Picture ©C L Czerkawska