Caves, Tunnels, and Dogs in Scottish legend

Great Hand and the tunnel beneath Edinburgh Castle

Tis said the tunnel beneath Edinburgh Castle leads to Holyrood Palace, used in times of siege for soldiers to sneak from the castle and surround their enemies. This tunnel also allowed resupply for the king’s men protecting the castle. A large cave led to the tunnel and once-upon-a-time a grisly monster took up residence within it.

Twas said the monster was a spirit of the underworld, but who’s to know? All anyone ever saw of the monster was its huge hand. They called it Great Hand for its enormous size and for the nails like eagle’s talons sharp and curved.

Once Great Hand took up residence in the tunnel, it became useless since every man who entered disappeared and was presumed slain. One brave–or foolish–piper decided to enter the tunnel with his faithful dog. He played a merry tune and entered the cave. Soon, the notes of the pipe could be heard beneath the streets. Many tracked his path.

Abruptly, the music stilled. A baying began and several minutes later, the dog flew from the cave, all his hair scraped away as if by long, sharp nails.

Dogs versus Faeries

Dogs play a large, but often unfortunate, role in legend. Tis said dogs are the enemies of faeries; they often fight and many a dog has returned bald from such scuffles, its fur scraped completely off. Dogs are loyal and tend to stand between their masters and the faeries who desire to harm them. Dogs can be the difference between a successful flight from a malevolent faerie and becoming its prey.

Often dogs sense the presence of spirits or wandering faeries. Their barking can alert a wise person to the otherworldly visitors. Sometimes the noise will even scare the spirit or faerie away.

Some dogs fight faeries and successfully get away only to fall dead at their masters’ feet. Other masters seem quite willing to abandon their dogs to capture, taking advantage of the distraction to escape and leaving the dog to its gruesome fate.

In my stories involving faeries I have included several dogs. My dogs are part fae themselves. They are as large as a Mastiff, black, and extremely intelligent. They can mindspeak to those who share the gift and are usually protectors or guides aiding their young charges as they come into their full powers and gifts. The dogs provide a calming presence that prevents disastrous leaking or escaping power.

Bruin — Photo by Dan Cook on Unsplash

Sometimes they lead the way into tunnels, or fight enemies of the Patterner. The dogs in my stories are loved, and, while they still live dangerous lives, they are not mistreated. They share a bond of love and trust with their chosen being.

One such dog sacrifices himself for a young heroine who risked her own life by rescuing him from a trap. The act becomes a source of pain initially for Rowan, but later, Bruin’s sacrifice becomes a source of strength for her. She even meets Bruin’s littermate who agrees to be her guide.

Do you enjoy legends that include animals? Which are your favorites? I’d love to connect with you on this or any topic. Simply leave a comment or send me an email @

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Check out this past blog post for another Scottish legend.