Kelpies & Water Horses

Falkirk’s 30m tall, steel horse head sculptures are known all over the world, but did you know they are based in Scottish legend?

Kelpies are shapeshifting water spirits which usually take the form of a horse. Commonly found near rivers, they lure lost and weary travellers to ride them. But the kelpie’s skin is strongly adhesive – meaning once you are on, there’s no coming off! The kelpie will race and plunge into the depths of the nearest river or loch, and it’s passengers are never seen again…

The kelpie’s shapeshifting abilities even allow them to grow their back to accommodate more riders – up to seven according to one legend in Aberfeldy. Kelpies can also appear as human – usually as young men trying to woo a beautiful young highland lass by inviting her to comb his hair – but can be spotted by their hoof-like feet and tangles of water weeds in their eternally wet locks. Some even believe the Loch Ness Monster is a kelpie…

Despite being a fearsome beast, kelpies can be captured and put to work like any working horse – if you’re able to fasten a harness over it’s head. Long ago in Angus, a kelpie haunted what was known as the “Ponage Pool” in the River North Esk. When in horse form the kelpie was captured and soon set to work, driving the stones to build Morphie Castle. One day, a stable maid took pity and removed the harness. The kelpie immediately vanished through the back of the stable, laughing:

“O sair’s my back and sair’s my banes
Leadin’ the Laird o Morphie’s stanes;
The Laird o Morphie canna thrive
As lang’s the kelpie is alive”

The curse worked – the family died out, and no trace of Morphie castle remains.

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