WHEN summer finally arrives, wild swimmers rush to the nearest loch, river or ocean. In Scotland, it’s hard to find a swim without a breathtaking view and, according to mythology, you’d be lucky to find a body of water that doesn’t have a monster hiding in its depths.

Everyone knows about the Loch Ness Monster, but fewer are aware of her cousin, Morag, who resides in Loch Morar. First sightings were recorded in 1887, and she has re-appeared as recently as 2013. Locals consider Morag a malevolent force, since she only appeared in the wake of death, in particular, the deaths of those with a hereditary connection to the loch.

Alexander Carmichael, a collector of folklore, documented tales of Morag from residents in writings thought to date back to 1902. Uncovered by the University of Edinburgh’s Carmichael Watson Project, his reports describe Morag as a “black heap or ball slowing and deliberately rising in the water and moving along like a boat waterlogged”.

Carmichael noted some witnesses attributed more human features to Morag, akin to those of a mermaid: “Like the other water deities, she is half-human, half-fish.” Despite this observation, Morag is more commonly associated with the appearance of Nessie. However, there are plenty of other mermaids occupying Scottish waters.

The Ceasg, known as the mermaid of the rivers, is said to have the upper body of a beautiful woman and the lower half of a salmon. In his book Scottish Folk-Lore And Folk Life – Studies In Race, Culture And Tradition, Donald Mackenzie described a mermaid sighting in Orkney: “She had a small black head, white body, and long arms. Somewhat later, a creature, believed to be this mermaid, was shot not far from the shore but the body was not captured.”

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In contrast to many mermaid myths, which typically involve sirens singing sailors to death, Ceasg is said to grant a sailor three wishes if he captures one of them. Other stories detail the Ceasg marrying a human man and any sons they have are destined to be great sailors. A more sinister aspect of her lore is that she swallows men whole. In order to save them, the Ceasg’s soul – often stored in a magical egg – must be destroyed.

But the Ceasg are not the only mermaid-like creature in Scottish folklore. Another is the Selkie, a being capable of changing from seal form to human by shedding their skin. Selkie is Orcadian for seal, a name derived from their frequent spotting around Orkney. Their origin is not primarily embedded in mythology and has been linked to explorers who wore heavy furs on their visits to Orkney.

A common story is that a fisherman found two seal skins on the shore next to two beautiful women. After spotting him, the women fled to collect their skins. One succeeded and returned to the sea as a seal but the fisherman stole the other skin and forced the woman to become his wife.

The fisherman hides the seal skin from her, preventing the Selkie from returning to the water. There are varying versions of the tale after this point. In one, the children of the Selkie and fisherman discover the seal skin and return it to their mother. The Selkie then returns to the ocean and takes her children with her.

In another, the woman discovers where the fisherman hid her skin herself and abandons him and their children. The sentiment of lost loved ones becoming Selkies is a comforting folktale because instead them being truly gone, they have just found a new home in the ocean. Therefore, the tale of the Selkies would have brought comfort to coastal communities, as noted by Duncan Williamson, in Tales Of The Seal People: Scottish Folk Tales: “... if their loved ones were never found. They probably joined the seal people, became seal folk. And you’ll see them again.”

One of the most popular mythical creatures in Scottish waters is the Kelpie. In the Highlands, these water horses, which live deep in lochs, are believed to be evil creatures that drag people to their deaths. To draw victims to the water, the Kelpie took on different forms. To lure in a young woman, stories describe the Kelpie transforming into a handsome man, his seaweed hair the only hint of something untoward.

According to several myths, the Kelpie took the shape of a beautiful pony to draw in children and then devoured their flesh after drowning them. Most often, the Kelpie appears as a horse to entice its prey towards the water, as it proved to be its most disarming disguise. The horrific allure of the Kelpies is depicted in the Robert Burns poem Address To The Deil: “… Then, water-kelpies haunt the foord By your direction, An’ nighted trav’llers are allur’d To their destruction …”

The Kelpie, despite its malevolent depictions, has remained a prominent part of Scottish culture, leading to the creation of the famed sculpture in Falkirk.

Although there isn’t any evidence these mythological creatures exist, the stories have great importance to Scottish culture and wild swimming. Many folktales and mythological creatures served as a way to warn people about possible dangers.

While many Scottish folktales have been passed down over the years to keep everyone safe, don’t be too concerned about mythological creatures when you go wild swimming this summer. But maybe keep an eye on the seals …