THE LAST WOLF

Tilda McRae gathered her plaid tight around her shoulders as she felt a cold shiver of fear run through her body. Her grip grew firmer round the curved head of the hazel wood crummock she held in her right hand as he raised her head to sniff the warm breeze that blew from the south. Mingled with the strong, familiar scent of juniper and pine that rose from the vast forest around them she caught the acrid smell of burning.

She looked nervously around, the two bairns Hazel and Dougal, sensing their mothers anxiety, gazed at the deep and dark forest on both sides of the rough path, not sure what they were looking for but sensing that It was something very bad.

Before leaving their turf roofed house on the fringes of Cawdor Widd that morning, their father had warned them to be careful as they crossed over the hills through the great forest of Darnaway to visit their Grandmother who lived in a black house on the banks of the river Findhorn. He had told them of the great wild fires raging to the south, by the river Dulnain, and of how the animals and beasts of the forests were fleeing northwards to escape the danger.

Looking at the tired faces of her bairns, Tilda decided that all three of them would feel the benefit of a wee rest in the shady glade that she could see just up ahead  They lay on the grass and ate some of the oatmeal bannocks that Tilda had made that very morning.

Tilda suddenly sat upright as she realised that there was an eerie silence about the glade and that the wee birds in the trees were no longer singing. A few moments before the air had been filled with the sounds of their cheerful songs. Tilda once more sensed that danger was present and began to rise in order to look around the surrounding trees.

Too late, Tilda heard the crash of splintering wood as the great black beast bounded from the trees behind them and she screamed horribly as she vainly tried to wrest the beast from the body of her daughter as the wolf, for wolf it was, tore at the wee lassie’s throat, killing her in an instant before turning his attention to the mother.

Tilda was badly bitten by the beast as she tried to drive it off with her crummock, blood streamed from wounds to her arms, legs and back and she watched, lying helpless, as the beast bounded after wee Dougal who was stumbling away in the direction of his home. The wolf leapt onto the terrified bairn’s back and the forest was filled with Tilda’s terrible screams of anguish as she saw her second child die in a bloody and frenzied attack by the beast. She cried aloud and sobbed, beginning to lose consciousness as she saw the wolf lope off into the forest his jaws and coat covered and matted with the blood of Tilda and her bairns.

Tilda knew not how long she lay on the bloodied forest track where she was found by three hunters as dusk fell The distraught woman identified the creature as a wolf and, once they had carried her to safety, one of the men set off to alert the local MacIntosh chief,  as anyone who discovered the presence of a wolf was obliged to do in those days, so grave was the danger felt to be presented to people by these creatures.

Upon hearing of the tragedy, the Maclntosh clan chief dispatched messengers with the news that a “black beast,' had appeared in the glens and that the men of the area were summoned to arm themselves and attend a "Tainchel" (gathering)They were to gather together in the morning. Their aim was to hunt the wolf, find its lair and kill it.

A local man named McQueen of Pol-a–Chrochain, had a great reputation as a hunter  and was one of the first men summoned to attend, with his hunting dogs, known to be the best in the area. He was a giant of a man, some say six feet seven inches tall, and renowned for his strength, courage, and skill as a hunter. McQueen asked the Laird’s messenger some questions about the place of the attack and if the wolf had been seen elsewhere before he agreed to join the hunt in the  morning.

The men gathered early the next morning but they grew increasingly impatient as they waited with no word from  McQueen and no sign of his dogs, they grew ever more sullen and restless. They were preparing to begin the hunt without him when  McQueen, emerged from the surrounding forest. His faithful dogs at his side.

The hunter was greeted angrily by the Laird and was roundly abused and insulted by the, now ill - tempered gathering.  McQueen is said to have calmly asked them:

"Ciod e a' chabhag?" (what was the hurry?). 

He then smiled and, lifting his plaid, drew out the bloody head of the wolf and tossed the grisly trophy  at the Laird's feet, saying

 “Sin e dhuibh!” “There it is for you!"

 McQueen then told the now embarrassed band how he had killed the wolf. These are said to be his words:

"As I came through the slochd by east the hill there, I foregathered wi' the beast. My long dog there turned him. I bucked wi' him, and dirkit him, and syne whuttled his craig (cut his throat), and brought awa' his countenance for fear he might come alive again, for wolves, they are very precarious creatures.”

This, according to tradition, was how the last wolf in Scotland was slain.

The wolf was killed by McQueen on the upper reaches of the River Findhorn, at a place between Fi-Giuthas and Poll-a-Chrocain, in the year 1743. The McIntosh chief rewarded him with a gift of a land called Sean-achan "to yield good meat for his good hounds in all time coming". McQueen of Poll-a-Chrocain later became chief of Clan McQueen. He died in 1797.

WOLVES IN SPEYSIDE

 

 Since the earliest times, wolves have featured in the folklore of Speyside and the North East of Scotland. They are carved on some Pictish stones and there is a simple medieval carving of a wolf being slain by a man armed with a bow and arrow at Darnaway Castle.

 

About three and a half miles to the north of Grantown on Spey is a ravine between two low lying hills, Carn Luig to the west and Carn na Croiche to the east. Here you will find Huntly’s Cave. Local legend claims that this was formerly a wolf's den that became a favourite bolt hole for the 2nd. Marquis of Huntly in times of trouble.

 

There is a local tradition that, following his victory over the Danes at the battle of Mortlach (by Dufftown) in 1010, King Malcolm II was attacked by a wolf in a forest as he made his way to celebrate his victory with his Queen who was awaiting him at the place called the Queens Green at Daluine on the Spey. As the wolf attacked the king, a son of Donald of the Isles wrapped his left hand in his plaid and jammed it into into the creature's mouth then stabbed the creature to death with the dirk he grasped in his right hand.

 

Clearly no respecters of rank or status, wolves appearing anywhere were deemed to be a common enemy to be hunted and killed by the people in the area. Anyone who discovered the presence of a wolf was obliged to alert the local chief, who would summon his men to the local gathering place to track the beast down.