Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Old Scottish Customs
By E. J. Guthrie (1885)


IN placing before the reading public this small book on a great subject, it may be desirable to give a few words of explanation regarding its compilation. Some fifteen or sixteen years ago, in connection with other literary work regarding parochial and local matters throughout Scotland, the writer had occasion to consult somewhat fully, many of the works on such subjects,—namely, works regarding topographical history and description. In these volumes, mostly either large, rare, or expensive and difficult of access by the general public, numerous references, it was observed, were made to old customs of all sorts, now either quite obsolete or rapidly becoming so.

Getting increasingly interested in these frequent references, jottings were taken in many instances. Since then the accumulation has been added to from time to time, and from many sources,—by personal contact with the people and otherwise,—and now there being a goodly number, it has been suggested that they would form an interesting little volume, which might not be altogether unacceptable to those fellow-countrymen who are interested in the manners and customs of our fathers. In the circumstances described, the result of the protracted but pleasing process of research, sadly imperfect as it may be, is laid before the public in all humbleness of spirit, and as such it is hoped that criticism may be withheld. As the customs themselves only are given, and, not being burdened with remark or comment, the style of the collection must necessarily be fragmentary and brief; perhaps however, this latter feature, in these days of the making of many books, may not be altogether a disadvantage.

With regard to the works already referred to, as the source from which the writer is indebted for most of the various customs described in these pages. Almost all authoritative and standard authors likely to be of assistance have been consulted. Among many others the following may be specified :—Skene’s The Highlanders of Scotland, 2 vols.; Chalmers’s Caledonia, 3 vols., 4to.; Martin’s Description of the Western Islands; Pennant’s Tour in Scotland, 3 vols.; Johnson and Boswell’s Tour in Scotland; Roger’s Scotland Social and Domestic, and other writings; Sir Walter Scott’s various writings; Chambers’ Picture of Scotland, and other writings; Forsyth’s Beauties of Scotland, 5 vols.; Miss Gordon Cumming’s In the Hebrides, etc., etc. But chief of all, is the magnificent collection edited by Sir John Sinclair entitled the Statistical Account of Scotland, in 21 volumes, and written by the respective parish ministers. The value and interest attaching to these latter volumes is far beyond all ordinary estimate, and yet the work is not at all easy of access, and is seldom seen by the general reader.

London, May, 1885.


Chapter I.
Introductory—The Beltane Customs—Origin of many Scottish Customs to a great extent unknown —Holy-wells—Water Spirits—The Father of Northern Magic—Fancy’s Land—The Study of Old Customs.

Chapter II.
The Curfew— Curious Foot Ball Custom at Coldingham—Hand Ball—Rural Festival at Lochtie—Old Scottish Funeral Customs — Burgess Customs at Selkirk — Customs at Forfar commemorative of Queen Margaret—Charitable Feast at Kirkmichael — Singular Custom at South Queensferry—The Burry Man.

Chapter III.
Women playing at foot ball—Singular wedding custom in Ayrshire and the Border—The ancient game of golf—Unpleasant Burgess custom at Edinburgh —The Robin Hood games—The Poor Folks in Edinburgh—The Siller Square—Customs in connection with the Blue Blanket banner —The old custom of Handfasting.

Chapter IV.
The Herds’ Festival at Midlothian—Old customs in connection with Archery—The Hangman’s Right at Dumfries—The Cure for Scolds at Langholm— Customs regarding Holy wells—Curious customs at Rutherglen—The feast of Sour Cakes—Riding the Marches—Foot-Race at Biggar—Riding the Stang.

Chapter V.
Old Marriage Customs in Perthshire—Superstitions regarding the cure of disease—Scottish customs regarding the observance of Hallow e’en—General description of this festival—Pulling the Green Kail —Eating the Apple—Burning Nuts—Sowing Hemp Seed—Winnowing Corn — Measuring the Bean Stack—Eating the Herring—Dipping the Shirt Sleeve—The Three Plates—Throwing the Clue— Illustrative Anecdote—Pricking the Egg—The Summons of Death.

Chapter. VI.
Carters’ Plays at Liberton—Superstitions in connection with St. Catherine’s Well—Old customs at Musselburgh-—Riding the Marches again—Lanark and Linlithgow—The Polwarh Thorn—Gretna Green Marriages—Curious Land Tenure Customs— Traditions regarding Macduff’s Cross—Singular customs regarding Licensed Beggars in Scotland.

Chapter VII.
Customs connected with St. Filan’s Well—Scottish Custom regarding May Dew—St. Serf a festival at Culross—Palm Sunday held at Lanark—Riding the Marches at Lanark—Killing a Sheep at Lanark Old Custom at Kelso—The King’s Kase at Ayr— Burning the Chaff after death—Creeling the Bridegroom in Berwickshire—Marriage customs and Superstitions in Invernesshire—Ancient customs at Carluke—Scottish funeral customs—Horse-Racing in Scotland—Farmer’s Parade in Ayrshire—Shooting for the Siller Gun at Dumfries.

Chapter VIII.
Interesting Hand-ball custom in Perthshire—Old custom in connection with Scottish Coronations—The Game of Shinty at Roseneath—Playing Football on Sunday—Christmas Sports in Aberdeenshire —Festive Games at Cullen—Marriage and Funeral Customs at Knockando—Superstitious customs in connection with the Dhu Loch—The Well of Lorretta at Musselburgh—Chapman’s Festival at Preston— Cock-fighting at Westruther—The Wapin-sliaw at Perth—Horse-racing at Perth in Olden Times — The Mount of Peace — Holy-wells at Muthill.

Chapter IX.
Marriage and Funeral customs at Pettie—The Duke of Perth and the Crieff Fair—Fairy doings in Inverness-shire—Curious marriage custom at Ardersier— Superstitious customs at Foderty—The old Scottish game of curling — Farmers’ custom at Elgin — Happy and unhappy feet—Funeral customs at Campsie—Gool Riding in Perthshire.

Chapter X.
Old Customs at Kirkmichael—The Pedlar’s Tournament at Leslie—Superstitious custom at St. Mon-ance—The Touch Hills—The Maiden Feast in Perthshire—The Society of Chapmen at Dunkeld— Announcement of Death at Hawick-—The customs in connection with Nicknames—Religious custom on the approach of Death—Riding the Marches at Hawick — Scottish Masonic customs — Candlemas customs.

Chapter XI.
Strange Custom at Kirkmaiden—Singular obituary announcement at Bo’ness—Holy-well observances in Kincardineshire—Ancient races at Kilmarnock— Creeling the Bridegroom again—Old Border customs—Alarm signals—The right hand unbaptised —The fiery peat—Good faith of the Borderers— Sunday dissipation—Punishment of matrimonial infidelity in former times—Riding the stang— Marriage processions—Odd football custom at Foulden—Strange holy well superstitions—Curious customs with regard to fishing—The siller gun of Kirkcudbright.

Chapter XII.
Old Lammastide customs at Midlothian—Some Galloway customs—Throwing the hoshen— Fykes Fair—Giving up the names—Old games—The priest’s cat—Customs at new moon—Oid marriage ceremonies—Bar for bar—The game of Blinchamps —The game of Burly Whush—The game of king and queen of Cantalon.

Chapter XIII.
Superstitious customs with regard to good or bad omens—Yule boys—The rumbling well in Galloway—-Marrying days in Galloway—Michaelmas custom in Argyleshire—Saint Cowie and Saint Couslan—The lucky well of Beothaig—The bridge of one hair in Kincardineshire—The old custom of Rig and Rennel—Some old customs of the Sinclairs.

Chapter XIV.
Some old customs at Wick—Funeral processions at North Uist—Marriage customs among the poorer classes in the North—Going a rocking—Old customs in the Orkney Islands—Fisherman’s customs in setting out for the fishing ground—The sow’s day—St. Peter’s day—Dingwall Court of Justice—Old custom at Eriska—Singular fisherman’s custom at Fladda — Interesting Highland custom — Old customs at the Island of Eigg.

Chapter XV.
Interesting customs at St. Kilda—The water-cross at Barra—Ocean Meat—Curious wooing custom in the Western Islands—Annual Festival in honour of St. Barr—The fiery circle—Old customs in the Island of Lewis — Singular cute for Scrofula — Strange custom regarding forced fire—Devotion to St. Flaunan — Salmon-fishing Superstition — The Sea-god Shoney—Burying custom at Taransay— Michaelmas custom at Liaguy—Customs regarding fowling expeditions.

Chapter XVI.
Form of prayer used for blessing a ship in the Western Islands—Dedicating horses to the sun at Iona— Curious harvest custom in Island of Skye—Drinking Custom in the Clan Macleod—Old customs in connection with a holy loch in Skye—The Evil Eye in the Western Islands—Signalling customs in olden times—Evening amusements in the Western Islands ill former times—Curious belief regarding quarreling and Herrings—Belief in Brownies in the Western Islands.

Chapter XVII.
Some interesting customs and superstitions in Shetland—Observance of Yule-tide—Strange funeral custom—The water of health—The healing thread — Curing ringworm — Curing burns — Elf-shot — Wearing charms—Singular calving custom—Belief in fairies—The doings of fairies—The high land of the trows—’Superstition regarding neighbour’s profits.

Chapter XVIII.
Some old Highland customs—Courtship in former times—Marriage ceremonies—Manner of inviting guests—The bridegroom and the bride—The procession—Winning the kail—The Marriage feast—The dance — Funeral customs — Laying out the corpse—The lyke-wake—The coronach—The fiery cross—A Fasten’s Eve custom—Some Lowland and general customs—Penal statutes at Galashiels— Peebles to the play—Marriage and kirking customs again—Family spirits or demons.

Chapter XIX.
Holding Kate Kennedy’s Day at St. Andrews—Golf again—Amusing account of its origin and history— Holy well customs at Dunkeld—Holy wells at Huntly—Numerous holy wells over Scotland— Superstitious customs connected therewith—The burning of the Clavie at Burghead.

Chapter XX.
Description of some of the old Druidical customs and their remains—The Ancient Gods of the Britons —The manner of celebrating the Bel-tein—The first day in May—The Relics of Druidical Worship in Kincardineshire—The day of Baal’s fire—The day of the Fire of Peace—Druidical Sacrifices—May and Hallowe’en observances of Druidical origin— Tinto Hill in Lanarkshire—Remains of Druidical customs at Mouline—In Perthshire—At Cambuslang—Passing children and cattle through the fire.

Return to our Online Books Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus