Margaret lunged forward and grabbed baby Angus from the arms of the Fairy servant. She turned and threw herself out of the mound into the darkness, stumbling across the ploughed field. She thought that if she could reach the burn and get to the other side she would be safe, because the Fairies hate running water. But she could feel them just behind her, playing with her hair, scratching her back with their long, sharp fingernails...
This is from Margaret and the Three Gifts, a story from the collection Highland Folk Tales, one of my favourites. I began telling stories in earnest in the early 1990s after moving to the Highlands, fascinated by the ways the legends of my new home were linked to landscape and place. I like the old, tough, unbuttoned stories, and try to tell them without ceremony, as if they happened just yesterday. Storytelling has taken me to Scandinavia and all over northern Britain, working in venues varying from St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney to a Viking long house in the wilds of Iceland.
Here's a link to a film in which I tell The Seal Killer, another story from Highland Folk Tales. It comes from Caithness, moving between remote Duncansby Head and the Otherworld on the ocean's bed, where the People of the Sea live. My tales are interwoven with song, and with music played on instruments like ocarinas and Native American flutes, as well as stones and shells from the seashore. The Seal Killer has performances on penny whistle and the Siberian khomus.
For 16 years, from 1992 onwards, I was an arts worker for Ross & Cromarty District Council. During this time a small but decent budget (those were the days!) made it possible - with the help of Mairi MacArthur - to run an annual November storytelling festival in the district, Tales at Martinmas. The festival took place in venues from Applecross in the west to Cromarty in the far east, and featured local storytellers, guests from the Northern and Western Isles and Scandinavia, and some of the finest entertainers from the Scottish Travelling community.
Sheila Stewart of Rattray in Perthshire was a frequent visitor to Tales at Martinmas - a great ballad singer and a fierce storyteller, the last of the famous Stewarts of Blair family. Stanley Robertson was another regular, here playing his electronic bagpipes. Heir to the repertoire of his aunt, celebrated ballad singer Jeannie Robertson, he was also a riveting raconteur and a droll storyteller, and would entertain children who came to the festival with the story of the great, big, hairy legs that came down the chimney.
Photos by Fergus Fullarton Pegg.