So, here we are, sitting in the Scottish wilderness. It was inevitable.
We have a long history with Scotland. We first came here when our dog was just a tiny puppy as we couldn't face leaving her (because we are those kinds of people) and were utterly blown away at just how epic and beautiful the landscape is. There have been moments when we would summit a hill in our old camper van and just start laughing. Not because we had gone mad (well, no madder at least), but because the landscape you were driving through was just so stunning it borders on ridiculousness. You would think it couldn't get any better, then you turn the next corner and see in front of you a landscape that makes you realise everything you had been previously driving through was just stretching its environmental muscles, warming up, an amuse-bouche before it showed you the opulence that what would be the main course.
It is not just the landscape, it's the people. It's a cliché to say this (and I feel like an ageing rock star buttering up whatever crowd he has found himself in front of at the beginning of every post). When you spend time immersed in researching something as odd as mythical beasts, you see how we are all fundamentally the same, but you also get to glimpse what makes a culture unique, weird, and wonderful. It's hard not to fall a bit in love. Scotland is home to some of the warmest, friendliest, welcoming, helpful and smart people you could ever wish to meet. And that's to us, and we're English!
- Quick history lesson, and it will come as no surprise that historically England (adding to its long list of countries it has made a bollocks of relationships with) has caused Scotland more than a wee bit of bother over the years. Fortunately, for the most part, the Scottish being the decent people they are, direct this at Westminster and those in power, not at some chap who just happens to be from there. It's a place where going to a check-out is a pleasant 10-minute chat, where you can still have a cuppa and set the world to rights with a neighbour, and if you are in a crisis you don't even need to ask for help, it's on its way. These are the things that kept us coming back for several successive summers and also choosing to get married at the famous Gretna Green Blacksmiths, where young lovers have eloped to be married by the "anvil priests" since 1754.
Along with our love for the outdoors, outdoor sports, and generally being completely and utterly done with city life, we pulled the trigger and moved up here with our family. And we didn't just go for the slightly rural option, we are, as the delivery driver tells us, "pretty bloody far from civilization". We are based in the middle of a vast nature reserve and bordering a National Park, our nearest neighbour is miles up the road, the water is filtered and pumped up from a stream, the heat is supplied via an oil tank, when it's rainy/snowy/windy (which being Scotland it usually is) trees come down and block the roads out, the internet is only accessible through a satellite, and you cannot get a phone signal unless you go wander around the old sheep pens. It is perfect for us.
So with our move here, we wanted to revisit the beasts of Scotland, to take a deeper dive and see what we could uncover. We had previously touched on it with the "Mythical Beasts of the British and Irish Isles" map, so decided it would be nice to use the same palette, typography, and stylistic choices, that way they could sit next to each other nicely. We talk about all the beasts individually in the projects section, so check that out for the full stories. But we will touch on a couple that we either liked or found particularly interesting here.
Firstly "Big Ears", some say demon cat, some the king of cats, some say a demon prince, some the Devil, either way you slice it, you've got a big demonic black cat which you summoned through a horrendous ritual - And for better or worse you've gotten out of the house and created some memories. The ritual in question is "Taghairm nan caht" which amongst other components included....wait for it.... roasting live cats on a spit! The other components really do go out of the window at that bit, it has a tendency to slightly overshadow the rest. The basic idea was that after a while Big ears would appear, and to secure the release of the other cats would answer any question, mine personally would be "how do I get the horrible sound of burning cats out of my subconscious mind and forget this night ever happened?". You've certainly got to go take a good long look at yourself in a mirror and ask yourself some fundamental questions when you've summoned a jet black demon and you're the asshole in the situation.
We have a couple of creatures whose names have come into usage in other ways. From the kindly Ghillie Dhu, we get the Ghillie suit, and from the Bogle, we get the terms "the mind boggles" "it boggles the mind". Bogles are very interesting, unlike many of the creatures that wish you harm, or the few that wish you well, the Bogle lives just to perplex mankind. We are unsure what technique the Bogle employs to perplex people and maybe it can vary from Bogle to Bogle, some preferring the elegant simplicity of a silly face and physical comedy, some employing the Socratic method, and the less subtle ones putting a bag over your head, throwing you in the back of a Fiat Cinquecento, driving you to the Cairngorms and leaving you on a mountain range with a teabag, a knife, a medium-sized squeaky rubber herring and a note wishing you all the best on your retirement. All pretty perplexing options.
There are a couple of creatures that are tartan through and through. Ghostly pipers are a common motif, and this could have gone in several locations. We also have the Ceasg which is a mermaid, but the fishy parts are that of a Salmon, Scotland adores Salmon and if they gain independence I suspect some strong thought will be given to replacing the Lion on the Royal coat of arms with said Salmon. In the interests of full disclosure, Scotland is not the only county to have salmony mermaids, but by golly does it fit. Another creature that was a joy to illustrate was the Shellycoat. It is quite unclear the intent of this creature as some accounts call it a harmless prankster who will pretend to drown to lure you then just laugh at you, the point of this is unclear. Other accounts describe it as an extremely powerful and malevolent creature who delights in torment and cruelty. Nice jacket though.
I think that is all we have time for folks. We could talk about Beasties and Scotland for ages, but that's what books are for, and you are spoiled for choice with literature as Scotland's myths and Legends are as vast as it is beautiful landscape. We hope you enjoy our new map. Check out the projects section for a description of each creature on the map.
The map is now available from our store. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us keep the project alive.
All the best
Neil and Charley