This story was written for Slumber, an app that helps put people to sleep, and it's corresponding podcast Get Sleepy.
Tonight’s episode transcends you deep into the past to a quaint island off Scotland’s west coast. You’ll hear a mystical ancient folklore about two great warriors -- one man, one woman -- intertwined with the picturesque views and tiny fairies of this wondrous land.
In the highlands of Scotland, on the windswept Isle of Skye, there's a magical river that trickles through a lush green valley. It’s quite an idyllic scene, but there’s more to this unique place than meets the eye.
There’s the quaint river, which is more like a stream in this particular spot. The river is complemented with chunky round rocks, creating an obstacle course for the gently flowing water. And when looking up from the river, a mighty mountain stands tall, spilling out over the land. An ancient stone bridge also meets the eye. It crosses over this river, known as River Sligachan. It’s the landmark visitors look for when coming to this enchanting spot. The charming bridge arches over to the left as the mountains and hills stand proudly in front.
The air feels exceptionally fresh here. It blows and softly caresses the skin. And the open space feels freeing. It sets a perfect scene for one of Scotland’s favorite folklore stories.
It’s said that here, at this softly slowing river, visitors may be granted eternal beauty thanks to the faeries and a very special young girl who visited it one afternoon. All they need to do is dunk their face into the crispy cold water for a mere 7 seconds and let the water dry off naturally.
The legend, however, dates back many centuries ago, telling the story of two great warriors and the magic that followed.
Imagine a fierce female warrior with long, flowing, fiery red hair by the name of Scáthach. Her eyes were a vibrant green, her skin was fair and dotted beautifully with clusters of freckles. She was native to Scotland and called the majestic hills of the Isle of Skye her home.
Her name meant “The Shadowy One” in Gaelic. During her time, she was the world’s greatest warrior. She was recognized and celebrated for her courageous strength across Europe. As such, she spent her time training great soldiers to become even greater heroes.
However, as word of her talent for fighting traveled around, Cú Chulainn, Ireland’s most beloved warrior, became very curious about her supposed talents.
With Ireland’s narrowest point only just 12 miles away from Scotland combined with their shared Celtic culture, the countries are companions in a lot of ways. Both speak their own version of Gaelic, and their landscapes boast similar rolling green hills, moody skies, and rugged cliff lines. Scots often feel relate better to the Irish than the nearby English who border the south of the country.
So, one crisp Irish morning, this warrior Cú Chulainn was dueling against another local warrior. With his sturdy boots splashing upon the dark, muddy ground, he took his rival out in just a few quick swings. The warrior fell backward, splashing up rain and mud as the sound of his fall echoed through the valley. Cú Chulainn let out a sigh of satisfaction, as the defeated warrior’s wife tended to her husband’s wounds.
It was at that moment that he had had enough of all the talk about Scáthach. You see, Cú Chulainn was not a bad guy; he was just competitive.
He had played out this same scenario day after day. Battling Irish warriors around the country. He effortlessly dueled upon the mysterious Cliffs of Moher, the lush and sheep-dotted countrysides, and along gloomy, windy beaches.
Though his battles took him on an adventure around the hills of Ireland -- and that was exciting for Cú Chulainn -- he still felt quite bored during each of his battles.
But being a warrior was everything to Cú Chulainn, and he wanted to prove that he was actually the best. It would give him a new sense of satisfaction and revive his victorious spirit, he believed.
After that battle in the Irish mud, he made a snap decision. He was going to voyage to Scotland’s enchanting Isle of Skye in pursuit of Scáthach, the world’s greatest warrior. He made the proper arrangements for a ship and planned to sail out the next day.
The following morning, Cú Chulainn awoke just before the crack of dawn. It was a drizzly and grey morning. He rode horseback across the hills until arriving at the northeast coast, near Belfast. A small crew and ship were there waiting for him.
Sailing across the gloomy, choppy Irish Sea was invigorating for Cú Chulainn. He had never sailed away from Ireland, and his purpose for doing so made his sensations run wild.
A light rain softly tapped his muscles as the ship cruised toward Scotland. Fish and dolphins majesty jumped up from the sea, making small splashes with every dive back down. The wind felt fresh and the salty aroma of sea life wafted up from below the deck.
Cú Chulainn settled in for the remainder of his journey.
Upon his pending arrival, Cú Chulainn saw Scáthach waiting by the shoreline. Word must have traveled fast or Scáthach was just that intuitive. He did not know.
She was standing courageously, with her muscular legs apart and hands bravely on her hips. Her bright red wavy locks blew in the wind as the boat continued to approach the shore of the Isle of Skye.
Scáthach continued to stand fearlessly, ready to display her Hercules-like strength. As Cú Chulainn descended the boat, the two did not exchange a single word. Scáthach simply opened her hand up and motioned for him to follow her.
Cú Chulainn followed Scáthach to an open field. It was filled with wild thyme and sage, and the aroma wafted up from the earth. Around them were majestic mountains with a most alluring mist covering layers of the landscapes. It set a moody tone for the weeks of battles that followed.
Scáthach had a young, beautiful daughter named Uathach. She began to worry about her mother.
By this point, the battle had been raging on for days and weeks, and Uathach felt so tired. The battle brought tension and stress to Skye, something this land does not know very much of.
You see, Skye is a tranquil place of little stress. The majestic landscapes are like therapy and wide open spaces create a community of peace.
One morning, as the two rivals battled on, Uathach ran down to the River Sligachan. Her feet patted on the damp soil, running as fast as she could. Her body felt pulled to the quaint, rocky river. She did not know why.
The young daughter took a moment to look around at her surroundings. She stood by an arched stone bridge that connected both sides of the river. The water flowed gently here, with smooth rocks helping to form tiny waterfalls throughout.
As she looked up from the river, she noticed a tall, pyramid-shaped mountain. It was softly painted with snow toward its tip and sheep grazed the earth in front of it. It looked magical to Uathach.
Then, after just a moment, she remembered her mother and began to weep. She hunched herself down by the riverside and her salty tears poured into the water. She began to cry out loud, begging and wishing for all the fighting to come to an end.
A moment later something surprising happened. Magical fairies appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Their tiny transparent wings fluttered energetically as they approached Uathach.
They whispered sentimentally into her ears, instructing her to stick her face in the water for 7 seconds and she will have her solution.
You see, what Uathach did not know was that the River Sligachan served as a portal between the fairy world and hers.
In a state of confusion, Uathach did as the tiny fairies instructed. She stuck her face into the crisp water, counting down from 7 in her head. 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….
She pulled her face from the water, feeling the chilly droplets drip upon her skin. She looked back around. The fairies were already gone, but a cloud of sparkling dust still lingered in the air, marking their presence.
Uathach did not even take a moment to dry her damp face before she ran off once again. This time she had a special mission to complete.
She ran from the River Sligachan, brushing her exposed ankles on blades of wet grass. She felt the light tapping of rain drip upon her as she continued running.
The young girl found herself at a picturesque meadow. Here the sun cast down gently upon the earth, with the help of clouds to create a most atmospheric place.
She proceeded to pluck some of the herbs that sprawled in the meadow. She felt the soft and dainty stem of each herb as she plucked them: sage, rosemary, and thyme. `
The fresh, earthy aroma brought a smile to her face. She knew the fairies’ plan for her mother was going to work.
You see, the fairies instructed her to gather herbs, nuts, meats, and all of the tastiest produce available to her on the Isle of Skye.
Her next stop was the local farm, just across the hill from the aromatic meadow. Here she found the finest meats and potatoes of the entire isle.
From here, she began her journey home. With a sense of triumph already filling her head, she made her way from the quaint farm to her home.
Uathach’s home, shared with her mother Scáthach, was humbly sized and rested on a hilltop overlooking the lightly crashing waves of the Irish Sea.
It was made of rough stone that was held together with dusty grey colored clay around each uniquely shaped stone. There was a tall stone chimney that had smoke slowly glowing out of it. The woody, cozy smell of crackling oak lingered both inside and out of the house.
Two horses rested within a wooden fence next to the house. One horse was a deep, dark auburn color with hazel-colored eyes. The other was a soft, pure white with sparkling blue eyes and a long blonde mane. They rested comfortably on the hillside, not minding the light drizzle that was still falling from the sky.
As Uathach approached her home, she stopped at the hazel tree that grew sturdily at the bottom of the hill. She plucked off a few of the very best hazelnuts. Her recipe was complete.
Her fragile, wooden door creaked open as she quickly carried in armfuls of ingredients. She burst through the house, energetically making her way to the kitchen.
The kitchen was mostly made of wood. It was dark and rustic with stone flooring and a long picnic-style table. There was not much in terms of decor, other than a bowl of fruit and metal candle holders on every wall and table.
Uathach took a few minutes to light the various egg-colored taper candles that dressed the walls of the kitchen. She then opened the two panels of the kitchen window, ensuring the aroma of her meal would waft out into the outdoor air.
This was her plan after all. She needed to prepare a meal so delicious and aromatic that it would lure in her mother and Cú Chulainn.
She lit a fire and placed water in the thick black cauldron hanging above it. At the wooden counter, she chopped potato after potato, feeling the slightly bumpy skin of the vegetable move through her hands.
She slid the freshly chopped potatoes into the cauldron, watching them plop, one after the other, into the warm water.
The girl proceeded to chop the meats, dusting them with the herbs she had gathered earlier. Finally, she opened up the hazelnuts, chopped them, and added them to the pot with everything else.
Uathach sat down at the table and waited, impatiently tapping her fingers against the wood. An hour or more passed and the aroma of the meal began to fill the air of the kitchen. The smell reached Uathach’s nose and she gasped in excitement.
Just a few minutes later, Cú Chulainn and Scáthach burst through the door with a great sense of hunger.
The delightful aroma of the meal traveled across Skye to the rival's battlefield. When the smell met their noses, they looked each other in the eye and decided they needed a well-deserved feast. Afterward, they would get straight back to fighting, as they agreed.
With a smile on her face, Scáthach’s daughter served the pair two large bowls of her fresh stew and two beverages. They sat down at the rustic table in the center of the kitchen.
The rivals looked at each other and shouted “Slàinte Mhath”, clinking their mugs together before commencing to eat.
“The battle is over,” said Uathach. Looking up from the bowls, mouths full of food, the pair looked confused. A moment later, it hit them, and their expressions followed suit.
You see, the feast marked the end of the battle, just as her daughter wished. By eating in Scáthach’s home, Cú Chulainn had become a guest, and guests are compelled to do no harm to the host, the guest, or anyone within.
On this land, it was said you can’t fight someone who has hosted you -- ever. The truce set them free.
And so, the legend is told. It is said that because of her daughter’s beauty and tears of love she shed into the river, the fairies of the River Sligachan will grant anyone eternal beauty who wishes to stick their face in its waters for just a mere 7 seconds.
Now travelers who find themselves wandering the majestic landscapes of the Isle of Skye often find that they are pulled toward River Sligachan. They do just as the fairies instructed Uathach.
They must stick their face in the chilly, crisp water for 7 seconds and let the water dry off naturally. 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….