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Main > Scotland folktales > Fairy tale "The Haunted Ships"

The Haunted Ships

“Though my mind’s not

Hoodwinked with rustic marvels, I do think

There are more things in the grove, the air, the flood,

Yea, and the charnelled earth, than what wise man,

Who walks so proud as if his form alone

Filled the wide temple of the universe,

Will let a frail mind say. I’d write i’ the creed

O’ the sagest head alive, that fearful forms,

Holy or reprobate, do page men’s heels;

That shapes, too horrid for our gaze, stand o’er

The murderer’s dust, and for revenge glare up,

Even till the stars weep fire for very pity.”

Along the sea of Solway, romantic on the Scottish side, with its woodland, its bays, its cliffs, and headlands; and interesting on the English side, with its many beautiful towns with their shadows on the water, rich pastures, safe harbours, and numerous ships, there still linger many traditional stories of a maritime nature, most of them connected with superstitions singularly wild and unusual. To the curious these tales afford a rich fund of entertainment, from the many diversities of the same story; some dry and barren, and stripped of all the embellishments of poetry; others dressed out in all the riches of a superstitious belief and haunted imagination. In this they resemble the inland traditions of the peasants; but many of the oral treasures of the Galwegian or the Cumbrian coast have the stamp of the Dane and the Norseman upon them, and claim but a remote or faint affinity with the legitimate legends of Caledonia. Something like a rude prosaic outline of several of the most noted of the northern ballads, the adventures and depredations of the old ocean kings, still lends life to the evening tale; and, among others, the story of the Haunted Ships is still popular among the maritime peasantry.

One fine harvest evening I went on board the shallop of Richard Faulder, of Allanbay, and, committing ourselves to the waters, we allowed a gentle wind from the east to waft us at its pleasure towards the Scottish coast.

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