The Fairy Bridge: A Bridge of Sorrows

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Image: The Fairy Bridge on the Waternish Peninsula, Isle of Skye.

Just off the A850 between Dunvegan and Edinbane is a small road that cuts across the Waternish Peninsula, the B886. Turn onto the single track road, and the Fairy Bridge sits to the left. It has been closed to anything other than foot-traffic for a long time. This is a very old bridge, but not as old as the story tied to it. I would like to believe stones from the original bridge were used to form the current one.

This is believed to be the very bridge on which one of the Macleod clan chiefs said a sad farewell to his fairy wife. She was the daughter of Oberon, King of the Fairies. He had agreed to the marriage, but only for a year and a day, after which time she must return to her own people. A son was born to the happy couple, but she had to honor her father’s agreement and said her goodbye to her husband and son at this very bridge. It was a much lamented farewell. (This is one of many versions of the story and my personal favorite.)

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Image: Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

Dunvegan Castle, home of the Macleod chiefs for centuries, is where the story gets even more enchanting. Some say she gave her husband a fairy shawl to remember her by, a magic shawl of protection. It could be raised three times, and three times only, if he or any of his clan were ever in need of help. On the third time, aid would come but at the expense of the clan standard and all their possessions. It has been raised twice with great success and is kept in a glass case for preservation and viewing inside Dunvegan Castle.

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Image from Dunvegan Castle website: Am Bratach Sith (The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan)

There is little left of the fairy flag, it is quite faded. It was such a thrill to see this remnant of an enchanted tale. It was magical, indeed. Experts have never been able to determine it’s origin. Possibly Persian, 4th century, or maybe it is the missing battle flag of King Harald Hardrada of Norway, of whom the Macleods descend. I like to believe it is the shawl of the fairy princess.

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If you are fortunate to visit this wonderful bridge, you must remember this: anyone who walks across the bridge must acknowledge the fairies by waving to them and greeting them politely. Of course, I waved and spoke a genuinely friendly “Hello.” Mustn’t be rude to our hosts.

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Sitting on the Fairy Bridge on a recent visit, I recalled a story my friend, George Macpherson, the Skye Storyteller, shared about one of the battles that took place on the hillside behind his home in Glendale, just a few miles away. It was one of the times the Macleod’s raised the fairy flag and called for aid from King Oberon and his fairy army. It’s a wonderful story. A story for another time, perhaps.

If you could possess your own wee family heirloom, given to you from a fairy princess, what might it be? How might it be used?