If there’s one thing that Scotland has in abundance, it’s a rich variety of folklore.

Every town, village, mountain and loch seems to have their own supernatural story or local tradition. With such a varied landscape and dramatic past, Moray Speyside is no exception.

While modern readers might think folk stories are just far-fetched fairytales or made-up nonsense, look a little closer and plenty of them are firmly rooted in historical fact. Things often happened in life that couldn’t easily be explained at the time, leaving plenty of space for fear and superstition to take over.

The Disappearance of Culbin

Today, Culbin is a varied natural habitat made up of vast woodland and a beautiful beach, an ideal haven for wildlife and wandering. However, it was also once a thriving community known as the Granary of Moray, full of bountiful orchards and fertile fields. Then in 1694, during a great storm, the village of Culbin simply disappeared, swallowed up by mountains of sand.

The constant harvesting of the vegetation that kept the sand dunes in place was the most likely cause of the devastation, but that didn’t stop local legends from taking hold. The Great Sand Drift had arrived without any warning, happening so suddenly that it didn’t feel natural to the people of Moray.

Word spread that Culbin had been cursed, although nobody could agree on the exact reason why.

Some believed it was due to the local blacksmith’s secret life. By day he was a respectable businessman and upstanding member of the community but by night an evil warlock with dangerous connections. He furnished fairies and other malicious creatures with special arrows known as elf bolts and was eventually punished by the sandstorm. His smithy was said to lie underneath the large dune known as The Armoury.

For many, the blame rested solely on the laird of Culbin, Alexander Kinnaird. He was a harsh taskmaster, demanding his tenants worked the land every day of the week including the Sabbath. As if that wasn’t enough, he committed an even greater sin by playing cards from late Saturday night into Sunday morning. Nobody else was brave enough to continue past midnight, but Alexander bravely declared he would play with the Devil himself.

The Witches of Delnabo

A large farm at Delnabo had been split between three married tenants, each couple being allocated an equal share. Although they all seemed to work just as hard as each other, two of the allotments prospered greatly while the third lagged behind. Every day, the farmer worked until his body ached and his hands bled, but it seemed to make no difference.

The three farmer’s wives would often sit together as they worked their chores and the poor man’s partner complained to her friends about their troubles. She wished that there was something within her power to help improve her husband’s lot. The other two women glanced at each other with a smile, then asked if she would really be willing to do anything.

They told her to meet them again at that same spot long after dark, leaving her broom in the bed where she should be sleeping. There was no need to tell her husband, if he woke up then all he would see is his snoring wife lying next to him.

The only other thing that the women would disclose was that their farming troubles would soon be over.

She wasn’t somebody who kept secrets from her husband though, so when the day’s work was over, told him every word. The farmer knew without a doubt that the other men’s wives must be witches, trying to lure her into their coven. He wasn’t about to let that happen, dressing up in his wife’s clothes and hurrying out to play her part for the evening.

In the darkness, the excited women didn’t notice that their companion wasn’t whom they were expecting, simply handing over a new broom and a sieve. They led the way into the hills, climbing through heather and crossing small burns until they came to a deep pool. A hundred torches lit the scene, making the water look more like a fiery pit, full of witches speeding around in their sieves all shrieking and cackling.

Directly across from him, the farmer saw the Devil in form of an enormous black dog, grinning at his crowd of loyal minions. His companions told him to wait where he stood while they spoke to their master about performing the initiation. As a taste of what was to come, he could help speed them across in their sieve by shouting encouragement in the name of the unholy beast.

The two began rowing their sieve across the surface of the water, but the farmer had seen more than enough for one night. He shouted out loudly so that all could hear, “Go then, in the name of the Best” and at the sound of the name of God, the dark magic was broken. Every torch went out, the Devil disappeared and the unusual vessel holding his neighbours began to sink rapidly.

Escaping back home as quickly as possible, he shared the remarkable story with his wife. In the morning, he was forced to explain to the other farmers why they had woken to find brooms in their beds instead of their partners. Over the months that followed, with the devious spells broken, the third farm became far richer than his neighbours and none of them saw the Witches of Delnabo ever again.