A Cautionary Tale

By Bernie Bell

Pic by McB

On Christmas Day, we went on the RSPB ‘Birdy Walk’ by Stenness Loch.  We’ve done that walk many times, in many weathers.  We’ve seen the loch frozen, and we’ve  – more often – seen it rippling. On the 25th December, 2019, it was part frozen, and part rippling.

I don’t know what produces this effect, but there was a clear dividing line between water, with swans swimming on it, and frozen water, with a confused cygnet, trying to walk towards the other birds, and slithering all over the place!

The ice was making ‘chirruping’ noises – was this caused by the liquid meeting the frozen?  Again, I don’t know, but it all added up to an extra-ordinary atmosphere by the loch that day.  No wind.  Perfectly still – changing light in the sky, loch part solid, part liquid.  It was the perfect place to be, for the day that was in it, as my Mum would have said.

Stenness Loch and Hoy Hills

We met a lass out walking with her dog.  She lives nearby, and we were speaking of the strange effects which can be produced there by the water, the ice and the light.  She warned her dog not to lose another ball – he’d previously made a hole in the ice, and dropped his ball into it – but of course, the ball didn’t come up, where it went down, and he couldn’t get it back.

I asked would she like to hear a spooky tale, along those lines – she said yes – so I told her this one…..

My family are originally Irish, and I still have a large contingent of family, in Ireland.   There’s a place in County Limerick, called Lough Gur, which I’ve liked, a lot, since we first went there when I was young.  It’s one of those lakes, that people threw things into as offerings, in times past.   I was talking about Lough Gur with the mother-in-law of one of my nephew’s, when she was an old lady, and she said that she hated the place – wouldn’t go near it, if she could help it.  Naturally, I asked why, and this is the tale she told me……..

When she was a girl, she used to help out at one of the farms, across the Lough, from where she lived.  One Winters day, The Lough had frozen, solid, and Mary was crossing the lake, on the ice.  She noticed a collie dog, running back and forth along the opposite side of the lake, barking frantically, and wondered why he was there on his own, and what was bothering him.  She looked down, and saw……the face of a drowned man, under the ice.  Very wisely, she went back rather than forward, on the basis that the ice which she had already crossed, was safe, whilst the ice ahead, was an un-known.  She ran home, and told her parents, and the local farmers went out to see what they could do.  The body was recovered.  It was thought that he must have been crossing the ice, and his weight was too much for it, and he went through.  The trouble is, when you go through ice, you don’t come up, where you went down, you tend to come up, under the ice, and your way to the air, is blocked.  Include panic in the equation, and people rarely come up, back through the hole which they went down through.  It’s likely that Mary’s lighter weight, is what saved her from going through as well.  The barking dog, was the man’s collie, who was frantic at what had happened to his master.

Since then, Mary hated Lough Gur, and refused to go near it.  Understandably.

The moral is, don’t walk on a frozen lough, or loch, however tempting it might look.

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5 replies »

  1. An excellent cautionary recollection, especially as the extreme cold of winter, is still to come. This is especially so in tidal waters where freshwater meets salt as their respective freezing temperatures vary depending on the actual ‘salinity’ of the water column. If my memory serves me correctly Stennes Loch is ‘tidal’ and going back to last week and why it has such fine sea trout fishing. It also probably explains why there was iced-over and open water?

    On the funny side, I love watching swans coming into land as they line-up their approach and descent, reminds me of watching ‘Concorde’. Many times I’ve watched a flight of swans landing so gracefully on the ice and skidding onwards until the edge of the ice and they tumbled in to quickly emerge shaking themselves and you could just imagine them asking each other, “What’n the hell happened there?”

    Anyway, Bernie have a guid yin when it comes and never forget Granpa’s advice, always add a little water – Slàinte mhath or if you prefer Sláinte mhaith.

  2. That’s it Charlie!!! Why didn’t we think of that? Of course – Stenness Loch is connected to the sea – that’s it. It was a truly strange thing to see – and hear.

    My Dad used to say he’d take water out of it, if he could!

    And another tale, for the day that’s in it………

    On Sunday evening, we went out for a meal – all part of the festive do-da’s. We got talking with a group of people in the restaurant. One couple in the group live on Orkney, the rest had come for a get-together. They were all at college together, in the early ‘70’s, and had decided to have a gathering, on Orkney, for the holiday.
    They were having a rare old time – a lot of bottles of wine, a lot of memories, going round the table. We got involved because one of the women said they hoped they weren’t disturbing our evening – we said no, not at all, it’s good to see folk having a good time, and we got chatting – as you do.

    This reminded me of my old mates from Uni – and one Christmas party at a house shared by four lads – of those ‘lads’ – one passed from this life, last year, the rest are getting their pension, and one, having turned 60, took up the saxophone and is now getting gigs! He always was a funky old dude – even when he was young, he was a funky old dude.

    The specific memory conjured up by meeting that group of friends, at this time of year, was of that Christmas party, with friend Goldie lying, drunk, under the Christmas tree, singing ‘Hotel California’.

    Good times.

    “Should old acquaintance be forgot…..”

    • Aye Bernie, to old friends especially those who have died and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

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