Scottish Mythical Beasts & Monsters

Written by Chris Thornton | 16th of September 2023
Scottish Mythical Beasts & Monsters

Scotland has a long history of fascinating legends and myths connected to Scottish folklore mixed with Norse mythology linked to Viking invaders. Let's take a brief look at Scotland's supernatural beings; try not to get too scared, and don't let it put you off visiting our bonny country!

Table of contents

  1. Loch Ness Monster
  2. The Wulver
  3. The Bean Nighe
  4. The Kelpies
  5. The Blue Men of the Minch
  6. The Bodach
  7. Selkies
  8. Brownies
  9. The Ghillie Dhu
  10. Marool
  11. Trow
  12. Noggle
  13. Nuckelavee
  14. Each Uisge
  15. Bogle
  16. Dundee Dragon
  17. The Grey Man / Am Fear Liath Mòr
  18. Big Ears
  19. Cù-sìth
  20. Baobhan Sith
  21. Glaistig
  22. The Fachan - The Great Hand
  23. Jenny wi' the Airn Teeth
  24. Shellycoat
  25. Linton worm
  26. Wisp
  27. The Phantom Piper of the Fairy Caves
  28. Red cap
  29. The Pech
  30. Gruagach
  31. Beithir
  32. Cirein-cròin
  33. Ceasg
  34. The Brollachan
  35. Lavellan
  36. Stoor worm
  37. Dhu Guisch - Beast of the charred forests
  38. Grin iron wife
  39. Ly Erg
  40. The Sluagh
  41. Scottish Folklore
  42. Conclusion

Loch Ness Monster

"Nessie" is the most famous mythical creature on this list; known around the world it is a significant driver of tourism to the highlands of Scotland. Although there have been many photos taken of Nessie over the years, no definitive proof has ever been found of its existence.

However, Loch Ness is very deep and rumoured to have deep tunnels that stretch far into the earth's crust. If the monster is real, it's been proposed it could be a plesiosaur type dinosaur due to the descriptions of long necks over the centuries.

The Wulver

Scotland's very own werewolf! Said to live in the Shetland Islands, it was never a man, but a man with a wolf's head (creepy!). The wulver lived in a cave and was covered from head to toe in brown hair; it had a particular favourite fishing spot upon a flat stone named the Wulver's Stane.

Local legend said the wulver was not aggressive or evil and should be left alone; it was even considered benevolent and would leave fresh fish on the windowsills of the poor, help the lost return home and protect the wounded. The wulver doesn't sound that bad, but still a little scary!

In truth, the wulver was a work of fiction by imaginative author Jessie Saxby and only dates from the 1930s.

The Bean Nighe

Meaning the "washer woman" in Gaelic, Bean Nighe is described as an ugly old woman dressed in a green hooded robe. Her nose had a single nostril and she had a single large tooth in her mouth. Her bare webbed feet were visible from the ankle down.

The Bean Nighe could be found crying and wailing by shallow streams and pools of water, washing the blood from the clothes of those who were about to die. She was considered a fairy or banshee and an omen of upcoming death, but she was not evil and did not kill people herself - she just knew who was to die.

Legend has it that if you quietly and gently approached The Bean Nighe and politely ask her for the name of who was to die, she would tell you. Other tales say that she could also appear as a beautiful young woman. If you were to sneak up to her, she would grant you one wish.

The Kelpies

Immortalised in the Kelpie sculptures in Falkirk, these are not horses but mythical creatures! Kelpies are shape shifting water spirits and do take the form of horses, but also humans and other animals. They are said to be as strong as one hundred horses!

The first of our "evil" creatures on this list are considered demons and haunt the rivers of Scotland. Kelpies are said to appear as beautiful black horses or fine pony that will entice people into riding on their backs only to be taken into the water and eaten alive!

One sure fire way to know if a Kelpie is approaching you is by its dripping wet mane, and if you are still foolish enough to jump on its back, grab its bridle and take control of it and ride anywhere, you wish.

Jokes aside the Kelpies are well worth a visit in the Falkirk area and the Falkirk Wheel a short distance away.

The Kelpies in Falkirk.
The beautiful Kelpie statues located in Falkirk.

The Blue Men of the Minch

The large expanse of water between the Isle of Lewis and mainland Scotland is known as The Minch and with all good bodies of water, there is a creature legend here too!

The Blue Men of Minch are blue skinned men that resemble mermaids with tails and webbed hands. Also known as storm kelpies, they can use their powers to create storms to capsize ships and drown sailors. The Blue Men are the source of many sea shanties.

Poetry was the primary form of defence against the Blue Men. The chief "Blue Man" would recite two lines of poetry, and the captain of the ship would have to complete it to stop the attack.

The Bodach

Another version of the bogeyman, the Bodach, resembles an old man with a hob goblin like figure. He is said to creep down the chimney at night and kidnap naughty children. Obviously, a tale meant to scare children into doing as they are told.

The Bodach Glas is a related creature said to foretell a death.


Although it sounds similar to the kelpies, the selkies are unrelated and considered gentle, often take human form and live amongst humans. Shape shifting in nature, they shed their skin to live on land.

Selkies are considered very attractive in their human form and forge romantic relationships with land dwelling humans. There are many romantic tragedies involving selkies. They must always return to the sea unless the Selkie's seal skin can be found and hidden. Without their skin, they can never return home and will live out a normal human life; however, if they discover the skin, they will immediately return to the sea... so yeah, if your husband or wife is a Selkie, make sure to hide that skin well!


Brownies ("broonies" in Scots and "brùnaidh" in Scottish Gaelic) are considered helpful household spirits in Scottish folklore. Through the night, Brownies will help with chores or farm work... sounds great, really, but they could be easily offended if you were lazy and didn't carry out your fair share.

Reparations could be made with a bowl of milk left at the fireplace; otherwise, brownies would turn to practical jokes and become a nuisance. I wonder if this legend was the inspiration for the brownies in the popular fantasy film "Willow".

The Ghillie Dhu

Although a bit wild in nature, the Ghillie Dhu or Gille Dubh was a solitary male fairy with a reputation for kindness. He lived in birch woods on the shores of Loch a Druing in Gairloch, and had a particular fondness for children.

Ghillie Dhu is described as dishevelled in appearance with clothes made from moss and leaves. He had dark hair and was smaller than a man.


Another mythic creature from the seas around Shetland, the Marool, is an evil marine devil that appears in the form of a fish. Covered in eyes and a crest of bright red flame, it is said to sing with joy when ships capsize in stormy weather. Marool appears on seafoam when it is phosphorescent.

The Marool devilfish illustrated by Ellie.


Staying in Shetlands and Orkney, the trow is a mischievous fairy that can appear as a giant or a tiny fairy dressed in grey. The trow has links to Scandinavia and is Scotland's version of its "troll". They are said to leave their trowie knowes (homes made from mounds of earth) at night and enter homes as people sleep.

It was considered very unlucky to catch sight of these elusive creatures but lucky to hear them speak. They love music and play the fiddle; some of the traditional songs of Scotland are said to have been learned from these supernatural creatures - "Trowie tunes".


The noggle is a mythical water horse linked to the Shetland Islands and is also known as a shoopiltee or shoepultie. Its origins are linked with Norse mythology and associated with the rivers and lochs of Shetland. He is male only and has a wheel like tail, and is about the size of a Shetland pony. Noggle is not considered evil but more playful and mischievous.


Thought to be related to the noggle, the nuckelavee is part horse and part devilish man, but considered the nastiest demon of all of Scotland's northern isles. It had no skin, and its yellow veins had black blood coursing through them. Its breath could sicken livestock and wilt crops; its mere presence was said to be responsible for droughts and sickness.

The nuckelavee cannot tolerate fresh flowing water, so if you find yourself being chased by one, run to your nearest river or stream for safety. It is said it can only escape outside of the summer months as the Orcadian spirit "Mither o' the Sea" can keep it under control.

Each Uisge

Again related to the noggle and nuckelavee, the each uisge is another water horse demon and resides in the Scottish highlands. It is considered the fiercest of all the water horses, more so than a kelpie.

Each uisge appears as a fine horse, pony or even a handsome man or bird. While in horse form it can be ridden as long as it's not near water... if it smells water, it is "game over" for the rider as they will stick to its skin and not be able to dismount. The creature will run to the deepest part of the water and tear its human prey apart, devouring them, leaving only the liver, which floats to the top of the water. Lovely. Each Uisge is said to have a particular taste for women!


A bogle/boggle/bogill, is Scotland's version of a ghost, the most famous being Tatty Bogle who was said to resemble a scarecrow, attack humans and cause potato blight.

In 1866 there was said to be a problem with Bogles in Ballygowan, with certain homes being targeted with rocks - terrifying the locals. There is mention of a bogle at the beginning of Robert Burns's poem Tam O' Shanter.

Dundee Dragon

A large green dragon sculpture exists in Dundee's city centre. A bit random maybe but it has interesting Scottish folklore take behind it.

It's said that a farmer in Pitempton had nine daughters, and he sent each one, in turn, to get water from the local well. After none of his daughters returned, he went to the well himself to investigate, only to find the gruesome remains of all of his daughters, eaten alive by a dragon!

The farmer returned to the village with his tale of woe and raised a small army of villagers to slay the dragon. One man named Martin, who was the lover of his youngest daughter, is said to have pursued the dragon and slain it at the foot of Craigowl Hill. A mysterious Pictish stone exists here depicting a man slaying a snake-like creature. "Martin's Stane" is an interesting curio in the countryside near Strathmartine.

The Dundee Dragon in Dundee town centre.
The Dundee Dragon by Ashley Russell.

The Grey Man / Am Fear Liath Mòr

Scotland's very own big foot or yeti is known as the grey man or "Am Fear Liath Mòr" and lives on Ben Macdui, in the Cairngorm mountain range. One of the first eyewitness accounts comes from 1925 with the highly respected Professor Norman Collie recounting his experiences, mainly unexplained footsteps out of time with his own.

The few eyewitness accounts from the following decades describe it as both a figure or a presence. Standing 10ft tall, very thin, covered in dark hair, it has long arms and broad shoulders. The most common experience with the grey man is the crunching sound as it walks on the gravel behind climbers.

Big Ears

"Big ears" is a large demonic cat with enormous ears and yellow eyes. The cat was summoned through an awful ceremony, where cats, for four days and nights, were roasted alive one after another. Big ears was said to appear and grant wishes to the torturers.


Cù-sìth is a mythological hound that is said to roam the moors of the Scottish highlands. It is normally described as being about as large as a small cow and a distinct shaggy dark green coat of grisly hair.

Capable of hunting in complete silence, the only sound it would make is three terrifying barks that could be heard for miles and even out to sea. Safety would have to be reached by the third bark, or you would be overcome with terror.

Baobhan Sith

This Scottish fairy/female vampire is common in Scottish folklore and appears as a beautiful young woman wearing a long green dress to hide her feet that resemble deer hooves. She is also commonly known to take the form of ravens or hooded crows.

There are many tales of baobhan sith killing male hunters by draining their blood or opening their chests to feast on their internal organs. The vampire normally strikes after men desire female companionship; their wishes are granted with women magically appearing before them. The women's fingernails turn to claws and are plunged into each man's chest, draining all his blood!

Iron is meant to protect against attacks from baobhan sith.


A glaistig is a type of female ghost, often linked to the green lady myths in many Scottish castles. They can appear both malevolent and benign, either a beautiful woman or a monstrous creature looking half woman half goat. The Green Lady of Fyvie Castle is a famous Glaistig.

The Fachan - The Great Hand

This is a very strange one. The fachan/fachin/fachen/peg leg jack is a giant said to have a single eye, one hand extending from its chest (without an arm) and only one leg extending from its torso.

It is said to hate all other forms of life and will kill anything that comes close with its spiked club. It can destroy farms and orchards in a single day and, if gazed upon, is capable of giving the viewer a heart attack!

The very strange looking Fachan.

Jenny wi' the Airn Teeth

This is a poem by Alexander Anderson about a vampire/monster named Jenny who will come out at night and snatch away young children who won't go to sleep at bedtime.

In 1954 the poem inspired a group of children to hunt the vampire in the Southern Necropolis in Gorbals, Glasgow, after they heard two children had been eaten alive. Armed with makeshift weapons such as stakes and clubs, they hunted the vampire for three days to no avail. They believed the vampire was 7ft tall with blazing red eyes. Brave kids!


Shellycoats are goblin like creatures that like to haunt rivers and streams in Scotland. The name comes from their coat of shells that rattle when they move. They are considered to be harmless but can mislead people who trespass on their territory.

Linton worm

The Worm of Linton, or "Wyrm" in old English, was a monster that terrorised the countryside in the town of Linton in the Scottish Borders region. Known to leave its lair at night and eat people, crops and livestock, its hide was invulnerable to weapons.

A chap called William De Somerville, known for his "reckless courage", had observed the beast and noticed that it would not swallow anything larger than itself, and it would hesitate with its mouth wide open before attempting any meal too big!

Seeing an opportunity he had a blacksmith forge him an iron spear, and covered it in tar and brimstone so it could be set alight. Then, he approached the worm's lair with his new weapon burning brightly. It emerged and approached De Somerville, but knowing he would be too large a meal for the worm on his horse, he held steadfastly and waited for it to get closer.

The worm stopped, mouth agape - the burning lance was plunged down the worm's throat, killing it. During its death throes, it's said to have created the interesting hills and valleys in the area and even destroyed an entire mountain!


A wisp is a ghost light seen by travellers, usually over swamps or marshes. They are linked to ghosts or other supernatural phenomena and are said to mislead travellers by resembling a flickering lamp. The lamp will flicker but never get closer even if the traveller keeps going towards it.

The Phantom Piper of the Fairy Caves

Locals in Stranraer believed the dark caves of Grennan and Clanyard Bay were home to fairies and were strictly off limits for fear of disturbing them.

A bag piper decided to enter the caves with his trusty dog and could be heard playing for hours, but the music slowly got fainter as he delved deeper into the caves until it could no longer be heard.

The dog rapidly exits the cave, howling and whimpering, missing its fur and in some versions of the tale, also missing a leg! The piper is never seen again, but on a quiet summer's night, the faint sound of bag pipes can be heard emanating from the cave.

Red cap

The red cap / Redcomb / Bloody Cap is described as a murderous goblin from the Scottish Borders who would use his victim's blood to stain his cap deep crimson. If travellers were to wander into his lair, he would crush them with huge stones.

He is described as looking like a short old man with long teeth, skinny fingers with talons, large red eyes and wirey hair to his shoulders. He wore iron boots and wielded a pike staff in his left hand.

Alternatively, Redcap is also a class of spirits said to haunt old ruined castles.

The Pech

The pech were said to be gnome like creatures, very short but very strong and had a love for brewing heather ale. They are accredited with raising many of Scotland's stone circles associated with giants.


This being is said to be a type of hob (mythological household spirit) and is considered helpful as they look after cattle in farms and villages in return for an offering of milk. They are seen as female and have long golden hair, and are dressed in green.

If the milk is forgotten, they can turn sour and wreak havoc on crops and livestock.


Described as a large deadly serpent or dragon (but did not have wings or breathe fire), Beithir's were fearsome beasts with a venomous sting. Said to live in the mountains and carries, it was considered one of Scotland's water spirits or "fuath". If you were stung by a Beithir you had to run to the nearest body of water to be cured; the Beithir would race you there, and if you lost, your fate was sealed.

Beithir's were created when a normal snake is killed and not properly destroyed. The head and body must be separated and destroyed; otherwise, the parts will come together again, creating the beithir! A very strange myth!


In Galeic folklore, ceirean / cirein-cròin / cionarain-crò was a huge sea monster. The legend says it was so colossal that it once fed on seven whales to feed its monstrous appetite. Cirein-cròin could disguise itself as a shoal of small silver fish to trick fishermen into taking it on board before transforming back into its monstrous form.

Alexander Forbes believed the origin of the story to come from Atlantosaurus, an extinct dinosaur.


The Ceasg are Scotland's version of the classic mermaid - a beautiful young woman in the upper body and the tail of a young salmon. Also known in Gaelic as maighdean na tuinne "maid of the wave", or maighdean mhara "maid of the sea".

Ceasg are not only sea dwellers but also live in Highland lochs, rivers and streams. Three wishes are granted if you can capture one!

The Brollachan

One of the stranger creatures on this list, the brollachan, is a shape shifter and inhabits lonely places far from civilisation. Because it is formless, it appears as a dark cloud with two menacing red eyes in the centre. It can be as wide as 2 metres in its fully grown form, with infants appearing much smaller.

Its formless nature makes the brollachan covet the form of humans and animals and given a chance, will possess one. The possessed look darker in colour and have a red glow in their eyes; they would often flail around to try and rid themselves of the brollachan.

Exorcism is one way to remove a brollachan, with the ritual requiring rare herbs and singing. Once removed from the body, the brollachan must be driven away with bright light/fire to stop it from entering a new host, care must be taken to hurt it otherwise, other related brollachan may seek revenge upon you!

Brollachan illustration.  Scottish fairy book.
Illustration of a Brollachan by Ellie my 12 year old daughter.


Described as a large rat like creature, the lavellan lived in deep pools in rivers and had an incredibly potent poison/venom. It was said to have the ability to hurt cattle from over one hundred feet away; the cure was to skin a lavellan and dip the hide in water, which the cattle then drank.

Stoor worm

Also called the Mester Stoor Worm, this legend is attributed to the Orkney area and described as an enormous sea serpent with putrid breath, capable of killing humans, animals and crops.

It's possible this legend is linked to the world serpent of Norse mythology - Jörmungandr.

The King was advised to sacrifice seven virgins to the stoor worm each week, but due to an outcry from the dwindling locals, he was forced to offer his own daughter in an attempt to get the creature to leave for good. Before this happened, he offered marriage to the princess to anyone who could slay the beast before her sacrifice.

Many heroes came forward, but none would face the beast. The day before the sacrifice, Assipattle, a young farmer decides he will be the one to face the stoor worm. Then, with a small boat and armed with some burning peat, he successfully navigates into the creature's mouth while it yawned, makes his way through its enormous interior and finds its liver.

He uses the peat to set the creature's liver on fire, causing a massive fire, it regurgitates him back to the beach, and Assipattle makes his escape. The writhing worm creates enormous tidal waves and earthquakes and finally coils up and dies, forming what today is known as Iceland. The creature's teeth formed the Orkney, Shetland and Faroe Islands.

Assipattle is wed to the princess and becomes King.

Stoor worm
Stoor Worm.

Dhu Guisch - Beast of the charred forests

This dragon like beast was said to have been born in forest fires in the north of Scotland in the Dornoch area of Sutherland. Scandinavian invaders burned huge swathes of forest to control the trade in timber; this terrible act was said to have led to the creation of the beast after a seven-year fire.

The beast roamed the countryside burning villages and causing much destruction. It had a curious ability to be indestructible by those who it had seen first; only those who it had not seen could slay it.

Dornoch was the creature's next target but met its match in St Gilbert of Dornoch Cathedral, who had cunningly dug a hole to hide within, and awaited his chance to strike at the beast. The terrible beast approached and spoke aloud. It said, "Pity on you, Dornoch!". St Gilbert repeated the statement back to the creature and killed it with a single arrow.

Grin iron wife

A sea witch named the Grin Iron Wife is said to inhabit the caves near Hopeman on the Moray Coast. She stole children away who strayed from the well-trodden path.

There is even a plaque at Hopeman warning visitors that Grin Iron Wife is still spotted lurking amongst the rocks!

Grin iron wife plaque. A bleak and stern character.
Warning plaque of the Grin Iron Wife.

Ly Erg

This Scottish fairy is associated with the Glenmore Forest, near Loch Morlich and Aviemore. It is usually seen dressed as a soldier, and is indistinguishable from a real one if it were not for its bright red right hand - stained with the blood of its victims!

It would stop by the water's edge and raise its right hand, challenging passers by to fight it. Whoever fought the Ly Erg would die within two weeks, even if they had won the fight. Something to look out for if you are camping in Aviemore!

The Sluagh

This particularly nasty group of spirits were said to inhabit the Western Isles of Scotland. These apparitions could fly and were considered by some to be fallen angels... they would swoop down and snatch people, either burying them deep in the earth or raising them to great heights in the night sky only to drop them to their deaths.

Also called Sluagh na marbh or "host of the dead", many believed they were the spirits of the unforgiven dead.

Scottish Folklore

None of these Scottish monsters are real but were likely used as an explanation for harvests failing, unexplained deaths, or as scare stories to control children. The tales were probably very good at scaring people into staying away from dangers, i.e. don't go near the cliffs, or the witch will get you. A child would be much less likely to be curious about the cliffs if they felt there was a killer supernatural menace there!

It does make you wonder, though if some of the tales are grounded in reality, with some undiscovered species being labelled as dragons or sea creatures as sea serpents.

Conclusion - Scottish mythical creatures

I hope this was a fun article for you to read about Scottish mythology. The olden days must have been truly scary times if you really believed these creatures were real!

Why not read this follow-up article written by Kieran MacRae of the Generally Spooky podcast for more on the most haunted places in Scotland.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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Liz Fraser
22nd of June 2023 @ 21:33:19

Hi we are regular visitors to Hopeman and just noticed at the beach a wildlife board that also mentioned the Grin Iron Lady. not seen the plaque you mentioned yet but will check that out on my next visit. Thanks for the explanation about this legend . Liz