Local Folklore

Wanlockhead - Tales, Myths or Facts?

The Cannibal Sheep of Wanlockhead 

In the 19th Century, a small dam on Stake Moss, known as the Mossy Burn Dam, was used to supply the Village with its water.

One summer, villagers were worried about the quality of the water because of the unusual taste, colour and smell.

A decision to drain the Dam was agreed upon to try and find the cause.

Nobody was prepared for what they would find at the bottom of the Dam.

The floor, littered with bones, mostly from lambs and sheep, shocked the villagers, although animals had been disappearing.

As the last of the water drained, the villagers got a big surprise to find a huge, ugly-looking sheep-like creature that was still alive, had gills on both sides of its neck and had evolved to underwater living.

Nobody had heard of or seen anything like it, and it was cautiously captured and tied up. It was agreed, by the majority, to send the creature to the University of Edinburgh to find out if they could help and identify the animal.

The journey by horse and cart to Edinburgh took several days, and sadly the strange beast died on the long journey.

When the scientists received the strange-looking beast, filled with curiosity, they had it dissected, studied and then stored away in a preservative.

The results and what became of it have not been recorded, and although enquiries have been made, nobody has been able to find the preserved remains.

Somewhere in the deep and dark recesses of the University is what remains of that extraordinary beast.

Jack (Skinny) Hall

Jack Hall, known as 'Skinny' to his friends, came to Wanlockhead to work in the mines in the late 1700s. Jack worked in many of the area's mines and was ultimately employed in the Meadowfoot Smelter for five years.

One day in a freak accident, a brick fell from one of the buildings hitting him on the head, which, sadly, was fatal and killed him.

Jack was buried with his favourite work boots and cap.

A year later, on the anniversary of his death, workers turning up for their shift at the Smelter noticed a pair of boots and a cap sitting at the entrance door. All the workers agreed and acknowledged that they were Jack's boots and cap.

All of them knew that Jack was buried with these, his favourite boots and cap, it was impossible they could appear at the work site, but they did.

For the following five years, on the anniversary of his death, his boots and cap appeared at the same place at the Smelter.

To this day, nobody knows how Jack's work boots and cap appeared at his last workplace.


There are many stories of giants roaming the country, some seeming gentle and some not, all given their different names. Lowther Hills was no exception, and it was said that Lother the Giant helped the Picts and their way of life and customs.


The Picts were a group of people who lived during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Scotland was divided into a series of kingdoms in the early Middle Ages. Of these, the four most important to emerge were the Picts, the Gaels of Dál Riata, the Britons of Alt Clut, and the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia. After the arrival of the Vikings in the late 8th century, Scandinavian rulers and colonies were established on the islands and along parts of the coasts. In the 9th century, the House of Alpin combined the lands of the Scots and Picts to form a single kingdom which constituted the basis of the Kingdom of Scotland.

Lother roamed these hills and left some indentations found at locations showing maybe his giant footprints, also areas where he sat and rested, or indeed, is it just nature that has formed these anomalies on the hills?

Stoats Graveyard

There is a tale that down the Mennock Pass when Stoats died or were killed, other Stoats would carry the dead bodies on their backs to a location near the burn (stream). 

After many years, many skeletons were found, thus apparently proving that this was indeed a unique graveyard formed by Stoats. Though the behaviour to form this site was never understood as Stoats are not known to be social animals.

One possible theory, but only a theory, is that the main prey of Stoats and Weasels are rabbits and small birds, therefore, the bones may have been the remains of their meals.

The Witches Ball

In the past, many stories have been told of witches visiting the village, to the extent that the residents grew fearful of what these witches could do. 

So to protect them many bought glass balls to hang in their window.

The reason for this was if a witch looked into the house window they would see their true reflection from the glass ball and think there was a witch living there. 

The hope was they move to another home and leave the resident in that house alone.  

The Hanging Tree

 A few miles from Wanlockhead was a large tree, this tree was known as the hanging tree. 

When criminal acts occurred in the village, a short hearing was convened, usually organised by respected people in the village. 

All were almost certain to be found guilty and marched to the hanging tree where a swift execution took place.

This way of justice was seen to be the best way of looking after the local community. 

It has been told that the main stump of this tree still exists today.

The Pheasant Tree

A resident in Wanlockhead decided to cut a tree within his property in the shape of a pheasant. 

It became an attraction to all in the village and all who visited. 

Postcards were issued of this unusual tree. 

But after his death, the tree was never shaped like a pheasant again and now looks like any other tree as you pass it.

The Story of Jenny Miller

 A young girl called Jennie Miller, born at Leadhills in 1858 set out to walk over the hills from Kirkhope farm, where she worked, to her sister's wedding in Wanlockhead.

She had changed into her Sunday best dress and carried a wicker basket, in it was a teapot, a present for her sister.

As she crossed the hills, she was caught in a blizzard but Jenny bravely battled through the fierce wind and snow.

Unfortunately, the atrocious weather limited her vision and Jenny fell into the mine workings. Her body was not found for several days.

The locals were saddened by her tragic death and built a stone cairn near where she died in this tragic accident. On one of the pieces of stone someone carved. 

"In memoriam, Jenny Miller 1877".

 She can still be seen with her wicker basket in the hills above Wanlockhead when it's misty.

The 'Horse's Head' Gold Nugget

The names of the participants are fictitious and only for the benefit of the narrative.

This story is well known in the village by folk who follow the gold and go gold panning.

Many years ago, a local man (Whom we'll call Robert) had heard a rumour about a large gold nugget located in the village's lower part and made countless attempts to find it.

One day Robert's hard work paid dividends when he found a large gold nugget, which was reported to be the size of a horse's head.

As it was so large and heavy, he couldn't bring it to the side of the road, where it could be transported easier to a safe location.

So that night, Robert visited a friend, Tony, and told him what he had found but never mentioned the location of the nugget.

It was agreed that if Tony helped him the next day, he would benefit from a substantial reward.

The next day Tony waited at the agreed time for Robert, but he never appeared. After a while, he became concerned and set out to locate Robert. 

On approaching Robert's home, he was informed that Robert had sadly passed away during the night.

Tony returned home shocked and saddened by Robert's passing but also with the knowledge that the 'horse's head' nugget was still out there, in an unknown location and worth a fortune which he could've shared.

Is the 'horse's head' still out there? ........ Ready to be found again.

'Evil Deviants'

Murderers and even those that committed Suicide were deemed as 'Evil Deviants' in the local communities in the past.

Any of the Deviant's remaining family Members were almost certainly excluded from Village life and forced to leave the community.

Because of the severity of the action to commit murder or take your own life, Deviants were not to be buried in the graveyard. They were taken to the top of a hill and placed in a shallow grave, face down.

They were buried face down in the belief that if the 'Evil Spirit' that had possessed them returned to their bodies, it would dig down to try to escape the grave.

There is a hill locally where you can still see many small graves like mounds. 

Could these possibly be the "Deviant's graves"?