Topped with 5 cursed ‘homing stones’ it is perhaps only the brave or the foolish who dare to approach the grave of clan chief Seath Mor Sgorfhiaclach, also known as ‘The Great Shaw’.
His grave lies in the kirkyard of St Tuchaldus, once the traditional burial place for the Shaw family who held the seat at Rothimurchus in the Scottish Highlands before it passed to the Grant family.
Written on his gravestone is a tribute to the man who was ‘Victor in the Combat at Perth in 1396’, the only man to survive the Battle of The Clans. Seath himself would not pass away until 1405.
Lying deep in ancient woodland on the Rothiemurchus Estate in the Scottish Highlands, this 14th-century grave is linked with ghostly sightings and elf-like spirits; the Guardian Spirit of the Grave.
Nowadays, the grave is encased in an iron cage for people’s own protection, but legend speaks of men who have fallen foul of the grave’s curse after touching the stones on top. Some not living to tell the tale. But just what makes this site so eerie?
The Cursed Stones Of The Doune
Nestled on top of the grave of Seath Mor Sgorfhiaclach, clan chief of the Clan Shaw, in the Doune at Rothiemurchus, there are 5 cursed homing stones. Said to represent those who survived the Battle of the Clans in 1396, people who tamper with the stones are said to suffer a serious illness or even death. In 1983 an iron cage was placed over the grave to protect visitors from the curse.
The cylindrical granite stones, which have been described as ‘cheese shaped’, rest on top of a curved stone covering on top of the grave.
This stone covering has six rectangles etched into the top, and the homing stones are placed in a ‘typical’ pattern of five.
Tamper with any of the stones on top of the grave of Seath Mor and the Bodach an Duin will come and get you, but it is only the centre stone that is said to be the one that will kill you.
Guardian Sprit Of The Shaws Or The Bordach An Duin
Guarding the grave is the ‘Guardian Spirit of the Shaws’, an elf-like spirit with a raging temper known as the Bordach an Duin or Doune.
The spirit, also known as The Old Man of the Duin, was said to once guard the estate while it was held by the Shaws. When ownership of the estate fell into the hands of the Grants, the Bordach began to guard Seath’s grave instead.
But who has been brave enough to test the legend and have any of them lived to share their story?
Touch the cursed stone of the Doune and chances are you probably won’t be lucky enough to tell the tale.
Despite the well-known folklore that surrounds the grave, there are still people who are willing to push their luck and see if these stories are true. Research points to five main victims of the cursed homing stones.
The Footman And The Cursed Stones Of Seath Mor’s Grave
During the early 1800s, when body snatching was just starting to take hold in Scotland, a footman said to be in the employment of the Duke of Bedford, wanted to prove to everyone that the legend was purely fictitious.
After walking bravely up to the grave he clasped his arms around one of the stones and hurled it into the nearby Spey. Reports say that the stone was missing for 3 days and all was well.
On the 4th day, however, the stone was found returned to its rightful place and the footman was found drowned in the nearby river.
The Journalist Who Tried To Mock The Legend Of The Cursed Stones
Tales of folklore from another century have a habit of not being believed.
In the inter-war years, a journalist had strong ideas of discrediting the story of the cursed stones and decided to visit the site himself.
During his visit, he took hold of one of the stones and held it high above his head, reportedly in a ‘mocking fashion’ showing everyone how little he believed the stories. It was to be on his way back home, as he was travelling south in his car that he perhaps began to believe the tales that he’d heard.
He was to die in a car crash on his journey south.
A Twentyfirst Century Curse?
In 1978, the stones cast individual curses on three men who were renovating the churchyard at the Doune.
Leslie Walker and his two friends were carrying out work in the churchyard when Mr Walker turned one of the stones around to show it to some friends. In an interview in the Aberdeen Evening Press, he recalled how he was taken ill later that night with a temperature of 103 degrees.
This quick touch of only one stone landed him in hospital for a period of 6 weeks together with a weight loss of 3 stones (19kg).
One of the men he was working with, however, wasn’t quite so lucky. He too had touched the stones, but instead of only turning them a little, it’s reported that he ‘completely rearranged’ them.
Less than 24 hours later, he was found dead in the graveyard having suffered a cerebral haemorrhage.
The final curse resulted in the third man in this group being hospitalised with severe stomach pains after he was called to identify the man who had died.
Is Seath Mor’s Grave Really Cursed?
In 1977, it was reported that two of the stones from the top of Seath Mor’s grave had disappeared. After being missing for only a few days, they were recovered and replaced back on top of the grave.
The last known foolish attempt to tamper with cursed stones was made in August 1982 when all five stones were reported missing for two weeks.
They were thrown off the road bridge into the river Spey only to reappear just as mysteriously as they had gone. The Aberdeen Evening News stated that although the police had ‘a good idea’ who carried out the first theft, and who incidentally has remained in the best of health, they could only guess as to who the culprits of the last ‘high spirited prank’ could be.
The Iron Caged ‘Mortsafe’ Over Seath Mor’s Grave
Although the Aberdeen Evening News reported that the police didn’t know who’d thrown all five stones into the river, the memory of one Aviemore local can shed some light on the story.
When researching for this post I came across a FaceBook page for the Outlander Scottish Language Group where the legend of the cursed stones had been posted. A reply to the post gave ‘first-hand knowledge’ to the story, which I have summarised below.
After all five stones had been thrown into the river Spey in 1982, they were retrieved by a John S, and the Gamekeeper on the Rothimurchus Estate, Jimmy Gordon. The stones, once identified, were returned to the grave, it seems by a member of the Shaw clan (?).
No mention of anyone falling foul of the curse was included in the post. It was at this time that the now famous ‘mortsafe’, made by the gamekeeper Jimmy Gordon, was placed over the grave to protect not only the homing stones and the grave itself, but also to guard against any future thefts.
Scotland’s Real Mortsafes
The mortsafe over Seath’s grave is often mistakenly linked with the mortsafes erected in Scotland’s kirkyards during the 19th century to guard against body snatchers.
Unfortunately, as you now know, this is not the case.
Rumour has it, however, that there is a genuine mortsafe embedded in the grass here, lying within the walls of the ruined kirk itself. Was there a body snatcher brave enough to venture into the kirkyard at night or was the mortsafe a mere precaution?
The Headstone On The Grave Of Seath Mor
The Ghost Of Seath Mor
Surrounded by ancient woodland, there’s bound to be a tale or two of spirits walking through the trees.
Seath’s spirit is seen by many who visit the area and is said to appear to hikers who perhaps stray too deep into the forest. Show fear to the challenge supposedly given by Seath and run away from the ghostly apparition, then you are never heard of again.
If, however, you accept the challenge, Seath is said to just disappear and leave you in peace.
Fair Warning Dear Reader…
You may no doubt be familiar with how petrified I am of any type of ghostly tale. You only need to read my blog about ‘Body Snatching Along Scotland’s Most Haunted Road The A75’, to see that I’m what is termed a ‘total wimp’.
But, there’s something inside me that tells me to keep well away from this site, even if I do visit with a friend.
I recently tried to find the Doune on my own and spent a good hour travelling along the A970, back and forth without success. I take this as a sign that I have perhaps strayed far enough for I did pull up to what I now know is the gate to access the site, but on the day I visited it was well and truly locked.
If you are brave enough to venture on the Doune, please dear reader, don’t attempt to touch the stones, you never know what fate awaits.