This is the story of Jeannie who lived in a cave called Hob’s Cave in a small valley called Biggersdale in Mulgrave woods near Sandsend.
The folktales of Jeannie call her a fairy with a notoriously bad temper, given the name of her cave and her intense dislike of being disturbed I’d suggest that she was probably a hob or a witch. Misfortunes suffered by the local farmers were blamed on Jeannie, so who can blame her for her desire to lead a solitary life. The locals were quite happy to let Jeannie live in seclusion, fearing the consequences of angering her.
That was until one local lad, John Roe, convinced himself that Jeannie was a beautiful fairy and a good person who just needed someone to love and marry to cure her foul temper. One evening, after working on the farm, John mounted his horse and rode into Mulgrave woods to try and find Jeannie.
No one knew the exact location of Jeannie’s cave so John began to search the woods. Not far from the old ruined castle John came across the narrow ravine of Biggersdale, he dismounted from his horse and started to scramble his way along it.
He eventually came across a large cave with the remnants of a fire and other signs of habitation outside of it. John approached the cave mouth when all of a sudden a hairy, fearsome, shrieking creature with a long wand in her hand bolted out from the cave. John, scared out his wits, ran for his life with the Jeannie in swift pursuit. He climbed out of the ravine, onto his horse and bolted through the woods with Jeannie hot on his heels.
As John galloped through the woods, Jeannie began gaining on him. John remembered that his Grandmother had told him that evil spirits couldn’t cross running water so John headed for a low cliff, which would allow his horse to leap across the ravine of the Mickleby Beck to safety. As they approached the beck, Jeannie was upon them, scratching and clawing the horse’s hindquarters trying to dismount John. John spurred his horse on and as they leapt across the ravine, Jeannie stuck the horse with her wand killing the poor animal instantly. The horse fell into the beck and John was thrown to the safety of the opposite bank.
John picked himself up and saw Jeannie was shrieking at him from the opposite bank of the beck. He ran and ran until he reached the safety of his farm. Out of breath and traumatised he was unable to speak until the next day. Since that time no one else has ever dared to look for Jeannie or her cave, deep in Mulgrave woods.
Map Image – Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Illustration – John Faed’s illustration for the poem Tam o’Shanter. Copyright Ayrshire Museums and Galleries