A soft wind pulled at my jacket and the ends of my hair as if to coax me forward into the Wild Garden. I had been warned of Scottish faeries, and their habit of spiriting away unwary visitors to the garden, so it seemed wise to wait for the breeze to pass before making my way down the stone stairs and into yonder wilderness.
Before entering the Wild Garden, which lay behind a freshly painted black door and a sign that begs visitors “close door behind you,” I ran into a boy of about five and his father. “Did you see any faeries in there?” I dared to ask. (I’ve been told this is a subject most Scots take seriously.) The child shrugged and shook his head before scurrying on his way and I was alone with the door and all the mystery that supposedly lay in wait beyond.
The handle felt cool and smooth to the touch as I pressed my way through the door, closing it behind me, and turned to survey the surrounding garden. Somewhere in the distance I could hear a low river making its way along a rocky bed, accompanied by the various aria bird song. I have to admit, despite age or reason, I had hoped to see a circle of wild faeries dancing in naked elation as foxes played fiddles on two legs. Instead, the back walls of Cawdor Castle provided a picturesque forest scene complete with crawling floral vines and wise-looking trees. Maybe the faeries here don’t care too much for Americans, I thought, and began the short hike toward the river below me.“The faeries of Scotland are not like Tinkerbelle,” our tour guide, Diana, had earlier informed us. “They may take many shapes, and have good or ill will toward humans. It is a serious thing to meet a faerie.”
In truth, I knew that my chances of meeting a magical being, often relegated to pages of children’s stories and nursery décor, were slim to none. I have a whimsical spirit, but in an age of technology and social media, it’s hard to imagine that the Fae would truly have been able to remain hidden for millennia only to be discovered by me. What, then, was I really seeking in the Wild Garden behind Cawdor, where witches once stirred spells into cauldrons and men slew men for the throne of Scotland? Was I simply amusing myself with fantasy, or was there something more to it?
As I walked, I looked carefully at the roots of mossy old trees, and peered as closely as I dared into dark twisting tunnels of brambles. Slowly I began to realize that I wasn’t looking for faeries, I was looking for the reason that such lore is still so richly engrained in the Scottish culture. Was there something special about these woods that can’t be found in Vermont? Is there a Scottish gene that allows for the suspension of disbelief that those in America have forgotten or lost, willfully or otherwise?
Another wind blew against my back, this time with more strength, as I walked through a natural tunnel of fragrant branches. I began to consider that the faeries do exist in Scotland; in the whisper of a spider web across your cheek, the call of a bird that seems to reply to your thoughts as you walk, the voice of the river over its rocky bed, and, most importantly, in the hearts of the Scottish people.