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Master of Scaremonies
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THE HOGBOON
Truth factor: 1/5

The idea of spirits guarding ancient burial chambers is persuasive. Yet descriptions of these creatures vary wildly and although it may be a great story, few beyond Orkney would argue the case for hogboons' existence.

SCATTERED across the lush green islands of Orkney there are literally thousands of grass-covered mounds which conceal chambered cairns once used for burying the dead.

Many of the mounds are 5,000 years old, and had been there for hundreds of years prior to the Vikings settling in Orkney.

One reason so many of these neolithic mounds remain is because of the belief of Orcadian folk in the hogboon, a kind of grumpy ancestral spirit who acted as the guardians of the burial places.

Farms were often built close to the turf-covered cairns and, even in the mid-19th century, it was common practice to pour an offering of milk on to the grassy earth to keep the household hogboon happy.

Stories abound of unhappy Orcadians who forgot to make the traditional offerings to mark a wedding, a christening or the birth of a new calf - and suffered the wrath of the hogboon as a result.

The great mound at Maeshowe, which is one of the most important chambered cairns in Orkney, was said to be the home of a particularly bad-tempered and powerful spirit.

In 1862, Maeshowe archeologist James Farrer wrote: "The country people state that the building [Maeshowe] was formerly inhabited by a person named Hogboy, possessing great strength."

Very few people claim to have seen a hogboon but, in one account which dates from 1911, a foolhardy farmer decided to plough through a burial mound and was confronted by the guardian of the mound, who warned him to desist.

The creature appeared to the farmer as "an old, grey-whiskered man dressed in an old, grey, tattered suit of clothes, patched in every conceivable manner, with an old bonnet in his hand, and old shoes of horse or cowhide tied on with strips of skin on his feet".

The apparition warned the farmer: "Thou are working thy own ruin, believe me, fellow, for if thou does any more work, thou will regret it when it is too late. Take my word, fellow, drop working in my house."

The hogboon told the farmer that if he didn't put down his shovel immediately, six cattle would die and six funerals in the family would follow. He then vanished.

The folklorist who recorded the story arrived at the farmhouse just as preparations were underway for the fourth funeral.

Hogboons appear to be native to Orkney and are neither found on mainland Scotland or in Shetland.

Many believe the continuing tradition of the hogboon is the survival of a form of Viking ancestor worship. The name hogboon is derived from the Norse Haugr, for mound.
'I heard a crunch; someone was following me'


GREY MAN OF BEN MACDHUI

Truth factor: 1/5

Norman Collie would seem a reliable witness, but mountains are famous for tricks of the light and strange effects on the mind. Yetis have been the stuff of legend for centuries, but no concrete evidence has been found.

NORMAN Collie was a respected scientist and mountaineer and not the sort of person to scare easily. But he was also the first person to claim publicly to have encountered what has become known as "The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui" or Scotland's own Yeti.

A professor of chemistry, his research led to the development of fluorescent light and the first medical use of X- rays. He pioneered numerous climbing routes in Scotland, the Alps, Himalayas and Rockies and took part in the world's first attempt on a peak of more than 8,000 metres, Nanga Parbat, in 1895. A more credible figure of Victorian respectability is hard to imagine, but, in November 1925, as honorary president of the Cairngorm Club, Collie gave a speech at its annual dinner in which he told of a terrifying encounter with a beast on the slopes of Scotland's second highest mountain.

Some 34 years earlier, he had been walking alone in the mist and snow, when he began to think he was being followed, he told the rapt audience. "I began to hear the sound of noises in the loose rock behind me. Every few steps I took, I heard a crunch, and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own," Collie said. Despite trying to dismiss his fears, he succumbed and fled down the mountain. Collie never returned and always insisted there was something very queer about the top of Ben Macdhui."

Dr A M Kellas and his brother, Henry, later reported seeing what they described as a "giant figure" on the mountain walking towards them and fleeing when it was momentarily lost from sight in a dip in the ground; Honorary Sheriff George Duncan claimed he saw the Grey Man, dressed in a top hat and cloak, in 1914; and a number of other climbers have reported becoming gripped by fear on the mountain for no apparent reason. One reported seeing a brown animal of about 20ft in height "swaggering" down the mountain with "an air of insolent strength".

In 1941, author Wendy Wood was walking in winter on the Lairig Ghru pass to the west of Ben Macdhui when she heard a voice of "gigantic resonance" speaking something that sounded like Gaelic. She tried to find the source of the voice, but failed and decided she was alone. But then she heard footsteps behind her. Initially she thought these were echoes of her own steps, but realised they did not match up. In 1965, 14in footprints apparently made by a creature with a stride length of 5ft were found. The myth has even inspired a short film, called the Old Grey Man of Ben Macdhui, which will be shown at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival on 21 October.
 
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