The Shean where Hatton the fairmer spent a year and a day with the fairies.

HATTON THE FAIRMER

 

High atop the eastern bank of the River Spey, overlooking the village of Aberlour, sits the farm of Hatton. The farm house is said to on the site of the medieval hall from which it takes its name (Ha ' Toun) and the surrounding area bears evidence of ancient burial mounds, cairns and hut circles. A short distance below the farm is a round conical mound known locally as The Shean, or Fairy Knowe. Until recent times, this was a favourite picnic spot with local children.

Many, many years ago, at the Fairy Knowe, a strange and mystical encounter occurred between the farmer of Hatton and the fairy folk who were believed to live in the mound. This encounter happened following a visit by Hatton the farmer to the old “Kirkton Mill” of Ruthrie that was situated on the bank of the Lour Burn and served the local farming community.

Sheltered by trees on what is now the site of the Aberlour Distillery, it was both a corn and saw mill. The waterwheel was powered by the peaty waters of the  Lour burn that flow from the slopes of Ben Rinnes before tumbling wildly over the Linn o' Ruthrie just above the mill

 The miller in those days was a sociable soul who would entertain the farmers who used the mill with ancient tales and stories about his family history.
He often related the story of his grandfather who had fought and fled from the disastrous battle of Culloden. The old man lay hidden for many a day in the Brockhole,  a cave in the cliff above the mill as red coated government troops scoured Strathspey in search of Jacobites who had ‘been out’ with Prince Charlie.

Some say that this was the very cave used by St Drostan when he came bringing Christianity to the local Pictish tribes.

 The miller's father, a local worthie (for whom the son had no respect) had been married four times and the miller used to entertain his customers with a dismissive rhyme about his father’s wayward life.

 " First he got a wife, an' syne he got anither,

Then he got the deevil, an' then he got my mither."

 In those days it was the custom when the farmers brought their grain to the mill, for them to stay until the grinding was finished. The servant girls from the farms were taken to sift the meal as it was being ground

When the melder (the quantity of oats to be ground) was large and the water in the burn was low, the wheel turned slowly and it was often late before they finished and left for home, their cairts laden with the newly ground meal, and the quines sprawled half asleep on the sacks.

 While the grinding went on, the miller and the farmer would wash the dust out of their throats with something stronger than meal and water and the evening was usually rounded off by the miller telling a spooky story. He would tell of how he was frequently woken in the night by footsteps, music and laughter mingled with the sound of the water wheel turning after the fairy folk who lived nearby had turned on the water in the lade. The wee folk never caused any damage as they capered aboot in the mill and the miller was not bothered by their shenanigans.

 And so it happened that this day Hatton brought his melder to the mill. He was in an affa  jovial mood as his wife had given birth to a wee loon that very day and was back at the farm being tended to by the howdie, the scots name for a midwife. Hatton and the miller wet the baby’s head with more than a dram or two as they news'd and craic'd the day away while the hefty millwheel ground Hatton's cairt loads of grain.

 Many say that it was gone two o'clock the following morning before the milling was done and the lasses shook aff their dusty aprons and wearily clambered onto the cairts at the mill door.

 Hatton was in a right cheery mood and he told them to take the main track up to the steep brae that led past the Shean to the farm while he would take a shortcut over the burn.

   ' Gang yer wa's ; I'll tak' the near cut by Stripeside an'' Hillockhead, an' be hame afore ye.'

 However when the cairts had finished the long haul up the steep brae from Ruthrie mill to the farm, there was no sign of Hatton

  As you now know, the guidwife had given birth the previous day, and was resting. Not wishing to have her disturbed and upset, the howdie demanded that someone should go down the track and look for the wayward Hatton.

The farmhand set off and followed the footpath down the brae until, as he approached the Shean, He heard music and saw a strange light shining out of a hole in the side of the mound. As he warily approached, he saw it was a door and there, sure enough, stood a. rather boozy Hatton, throwing shapes as he danced and jumped around like a feal, giving it laldie as he cracked his thumbs above his head and hoochin' loudly as he listened  to the wild music coming from the Shean.

 The man took Hatton by the shoulder and pleaded with the merry fairmer;

  ' Come awa' hame, Hatton; the guidwife is wearyin' for ye.'

Hatton turned to him but was clearly under the spell of the Fairy music.

 ‘Bide a wee, man,' said Hatton, fit the deil's a' the hurry? Wait till the spring's finished.'

 The man waited, but the spring (a quick, lively tune) never stopped. He gazed in amazement at the scene inside the Shean which he would later describe, for a dram, to all who would listen.

 " While the dancers quick an' quicker flew,' Hatton clappit his han's an' roared oot       ' Weel dune, little mannie; gang at it wi' the wee woman.' This was said in praise o' a little mannie dressed in a green coat wi' yallow knee breeks, blue stockin's, an' siller buckles on his sheen .When the man saw that Hatton was creepin' farer ben, he made a last effort tae pull him oot, but a' in vain. ' Deil ae fit will I gang oot o' this till the spring's finished an' the dancins deen,' said Hatton.

 When  the man returned to tell his tale to the fowk waiting  anxiously at the farm, the howdie, an elderly dame who was well acquainted with the ways of the wee folk, predicted  that they:

 ' wud see nae mair o' Hatton. the bairn*s faither for a twalmonth an' a' day.'

 And sure enough, nothing more was seen of Hatton during the following year as the seasons turned and the work of the farm went on under the supervision of the guidwife who would often sit on the grass by the farm gate, staring wistfully down towards the Shean as she suckled her wee bairn who kept good health and thrived under his mother's care.

 The farmhand returned to the Shean, late at night, a year and a day after Hatton had disappeared, and there he found Hatton still standing in the doorway. Wasting no time in discussing the matter, the man pulled him roughly from the doorway and as soon as he tumbled outside the door the  fairy spell was broken.

 On the short walk from the Shean to the farmhouse Hatton remarked that he was ' gettin' gey hungry.' 'Nae wonner,' said the man; 'ye've stood in there for a hale year.'

"Dae ye think,' said Hatton, ' that I'm a feal a’thegither? They hadna finished the spring, man.”

However, when he got home and saw how the bairn that was born the day before he went to the mill had grown, Hatton was convinced that he had been seduced and 'taen awa' by the fairies!

 Sadly, there is no physical trace now of the old Mill o' Ruthrie. The present Aberlour distillery was built on the site by James Fleming who had lease of the land at the Mill of Ruthrie in 1879 and much of the old mill was demolished at this time. In 1898 a fire destroyed several of the distillery buildings and most of the whisky stocks. Although the rest of the mill disappeared when the distillery was rebuilt, the Mill o Ruthrie’s memory lingers on in the building at the distillery known as the Sawmill.

 

As for the fairies in the Shean..........................?