Tales from End to End
The Mermaid’s Tail
A True Legend?
The stretch of coastline from Nigg to Tarbet Ness is called the Easter Ross Seaboard. Halfway along the coast are the three villages of Shandwick, Balintore and Hilton, described collectively as ‘the Seaboard Villages’ or just simply ‘the Seaboard’.
The Seaboard Villages are built above a raised beach and flanked on either side by cliffs. Old tales abound about mysterious rescues by mermaids of endangered fishermen from the cliffs and from the sea. Here is one such tale.
One day a young fisherman was walking along the shore at Balintore when he saw a beautiful girl sitting on a rock. As he drew nearer he realised that the adorable creature was, in fact, a mermaid. He summoned up courage to speak to the mermaid. He had never seen a mermaid before but he knew from old fishermen’s stories that if he could walk around her, sunwise, three times, he would be able to charm away her tail. So he kept her in conversation whilst he slowly circled her rock.
The mermaid was intrigued by the young man and listened carefully to all he was saying. She was so fascinated by his manner that she failed to realise her danger until too late – she had been circled three times and her tail immediately fell off! She was mortified. She pleaded with the fisherman to give the tail back to her but he refused all her protestations. All fishermen dreamed of meeting with mermaids and he had now had his dream fulfilled. Instead of giving the tail back, he offered to marry the mermaid.
She considered his proposal. It was now impossible for her to return to the sea but she had no-one to care for her on the land. At least the young man appeared to be kind and promised to look after her, so she agreed to become his bride. She became a good and faithful wife; she appeared to be happy with her husband and she delighted at the children she bore for him.
Then one day when her husband was away fishing, the children were playing in the garden shed when they made a most unusual discovery. They uncovered from amongst all the garden tools, fishing equipment and other paraphernalia, something that looked like an old leather coat. ‘Mummy, what’s this?’ the eldest one asked. Immediately she saw it, the mermaid recognised her lost tail. It had been hidden from her by her husband who knew that she would never have ventured down to the dirty old garden shed.
For the rest of the day the mermaid remained quiet and thoughtful. Then just before her man was due home from the sea, she gathered her children together, hugged each one in turn, gave to them all a mother’s tender kiss and bade them a tearful farewell. With a last wave of the hand, she hurried down towards the shore. The children did not understand but thought that she must be going to meet their father as his boat came in.
When the fisherman returned home, his house was cold and dark and his children were crying. At once he rushed to the shed; but it was too late; his wife taken back her tail, regained her true form and gone back to her home in the sea. Neither the fisherman nor his children ever saw her again. Sometimes as they watched the dolphins at play in the sea at Balintore, they imagined that their mermaid wife and mother might be among them. But it was not to be. She had gone for ever. Yet, their family was blessed with safety and good fortune at sea for many generations after.
Editor: This Tale is based on a story told by Mrs Dolly Macdonald of Hilton and displayed on the information board at Balintore harbour where it is described as ‘a unique legend from Balintore’. The village is a well-known location for dolphin-spotting and the recently installed ‘Mermaid of the North’ sculpture is one of several commissioned for the refurbishment of the sea-front.