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Updated: Jun 17, 2020

‘Had I but kenn’d Tamlane” she says,

Before ye cam frae hame,

I wad ta'en out your heart o’ flesh,

put in a heart o stone." (The Fairy Queen, in this legendary ballad of the Scottish borderlands)

FOLKTALE ABOUT FAIRIES (with a little bit of teaching about ALLITERATION!)

Everybody enjoyed imagining that we might be in Wales last week, so I'm going to take you on another trip - this time to Scotland - 'Land of the Brave'. And you'll need to be brave with this one because the fairies in this particular tale aren't all that nice!



The ancient tale revolves around the rescue of Tam Lin from the Queen of the Fairies. Brilliantly, the rescue is carried out by a lassie called Janet who has to ambush a fairy parade, pull Tam Lin off his white cob and hold him tight while the Queen of the Fairies turns him into a snake, a bear, a lion, a hot iron and finally a burning torch! So, she's made of strong stuff this Janet!

I'm lucky enough to have permission from the author of one of our favourite folktale books - bought for us by a good friend this year during a visit to Scotland. In 1999, a highly illustrated version of the Tam Lin story was published as one of six stories for younger children.

The pony on the front cover is actually the

author Judy's pony 'Barney'. The book was launched at Kennoway Primary School in Fife and the staff and Judy organised a surprise for the kids - the children were all in assembly and the curtains were drawn. Unbeknownst to them all, Judy's friend Jenny was dressed in a costume that fitted the description in the book and mounted upon Barney behind the curtain. At the end of the assembly, the curtains were drawn and there they were!

So, what actually is a fairy?

When many of us think of fairies we picture tiny winged creatures waving magic wands, but history and folkales tell a different story! Did you know that the word “fairy” comes from the Latin word for 'fate', and Old French 'faerie' means “enchantment”? Way back in time, when belief in fairies was common most people didn’t like to mention them - they did a kind of 'Voldemort' thing and referred to them only as the 'Little/Hidden People'. That way, you didn't risk making them angry - because a cross fairy was a fairy to be feared! (Dodging bumping into them in the first place is definitely the order of the day yet tricky as there are hundreds of different kinds of them for one thing – minute ones, ugly ones, ones that can fly, and ones that can make themselves invisible.) Most of these fairies live in a parallel universe called the 'realm of the fey' and, according to legend, they've gone into hiding to avoid us because we invaded their land - and continue to invade their land causing all sorts of problems (see article below about the road construction in Iceland that have faced delay because it goes right through the land of the little people!

Fairies are best described as supernatural beings - the Greek word daimon (which means “spirit”) is a good starting point. They are not divine gods or goddesses but they are also not mortal. They've also been around a lot longer than everyone perhaps realises, with the earliest form of faeries found in the form of naiads and dryads, nymphs, satyrs and sileni in Greek mythology, and the penates, lares and genii of Roman mythology...

For those of you that are sadly lacking in fairy education, here's a brief run down of some of the types you might have unknowingly encountered:

  • Gobgoblins/hobgoblins are guardian fairies. They are actually quite useful ones - doing housework and odd jobs. (Apparently, the ones in Aberdeenshire, Scotland are hideous to look at, they have no separate toes or fingers and in the Scottish Lowlands they have a hole instead of a nose! Urgh!)

  • Banshees are a bit scarier - they foretell a tragedy and in Highland tradition the Washer-by-the-Ford (this hag's only got one web footed, one nostril and buck teeth and if you see her washing blood-stained clothes then someone is about to meet a violent death! Run way!

  • Goblins and Bug-a-boos are always up to no good - definitely avoid at all costs!

  • The nature fairies are the nicer ones - originating from pre-Christian mythology's gods and goddesses or as the spirits of trees and streams. Don't be fooled though, they can still be mischievous! Mermaids, mermen and and water spirits are perhaps the most well-known.

  • Then there are the Jack-o-Lanterns/Will-o-the-Wisps (seen the Disney film Brave? These are actually quite dangerous fairies that haunt marshy ground, luring unwary travellers into the bog to meet a sticky end! ...then there are the pixies, elves, trolls, leprechauns etc!

So, how many of these fairies have YOU actually encountered? I'm keen to hear your stories!


1. Watch the classic Disney film Peter Pan together!

2. Listen to Storynory's tale about 'The fairies of Merlin's crag'

3. Enjoy Cbeebies version of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream - and try out some of these brilliant activities online -

4. Read some of your favourite fairytales together that involve fairies - both good and bad! e.g. Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina etc

5. Grab some props - of the general household variety - and check out just how dramatic you can make your own re-working of our tale about Tam Lin!

6. Try writing the story from the Fairy Queen / Tam Lin's perspective - here's a funny little video to help remind you how to organise your story -

7. Using story stones/dice (see my blog post about outdoor activities for kids), devise your own adventure for the white dragon now it's escaped!

8. Educational resources for writing -

9. Draw and craft your own fairy / goblin / elf / water spirit / fairy garden! -,

10. Check out Judy Paterson's brilliant book for more fabulous folktales!

11. Visit Puzzlewood when this is all over - the kind of wood you imagine Janet riding through!


1. Find the Forest of Carterhaugh on Google maps!

2. Browse through some Scottish castles and imagine yourself in the story! - (If you're really keen on history then maybe add this to your birthday gift list - and you have to see how many times you can find Judy's pony 'Barney'!

5. Sharpen your skills before you break out your story scribbling equipment. Check out,

7. Write your own version of what happened from the Queen of the Fairies / Tam Lin's perspective. This might help remind you about how to structure your story - ,

9. Check out Judy Paterson's brilliant book for more fabulous folktales!

10. Visit Puzzlewood when this is all over - the kind of wood you imagine Janet riding through!


“I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?”John Lennon


1. Listen to Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer's song 'Tam Lin' -

2. Discover the full story behind the tale of Tam Lin -

5. Visit Carterhaugh when this is all over!

6. Listen to Melvin Bragg's podcast on fairies -

7. Read Stephen Fry's Mythos and find out whats the Greek Gods got up to with all these fairy folk!


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