5 Fearsome Fae of the British Isles

Today we are continuing our exploration of mythical monsters from around the world with a trip to the British Isles. This particular journey was inspired by a comment by writer S.J. Howland of Norfolk, England who popped into our Instagram discussion on 5 Creepy Canadian Creatures. If you haven’t read it yet, don’t miss out on those beasties or the 5 Goulish Monsters of Serbian Folklore!

Now, onto the good stuff. The British Isles are chock full of mythological creatures both benign and beastly. It was tough to narrow it down to five. These are the ones that caught my eye… probably that means I’m doomed.

#5 Kelpie

These pretty little Scottish water spirits are anything but benign. The kelpie may appear as a beautiful woman bathing by a stream or river, or sometimes a ragged hairy beast ready to pounce on unsuspecting travelers. Most often, thought, the kelpie appears as a horse drinking at the stream.

Naturally, these equine spirits appeal particularly to children, which makes them even more malevolent. The kelpie will present itself as a wild white pony, an irresistible treat to a child. But if the child is silly enough to try to touch this creature they will never be released. The kelpie’s sticky hide fastens itself to human flesh and, with its prey in tow, the creature then dives into the water to drown its victim and feast upon their corpse.

There is something particularly horrifying about carnivorous horses, isn’t there?

#4 Gwyllgi

Black dogs are an especial favourite of folklore from the British Isles. But this Welsh demon is particularly sinister. It appears to travelers as a huge black hound or mastiff, sometimes a black wolf, with blazing red eyes and the stinking, sulphuric breath of hell itself. Naturally, crossing paths with this monster is considered a bad omen. But if you only cross paths with it, you can consider yourself lucky.

Gwyllgi, or “The Dog of Darkness,” will trot alongside you in the shadows of a lonely road. Sometimes it will stalk a person for hours before attacking. If you are caught by the baleful eyes of the Gwyllgi, you will be instantly paralyzed by its gaze, making you a convenient snack for the ravenous beast.

Black Dogs go by a variety of regional names, including Black Shuck, Skriker, Trash and the Padfoot. You may recognize the latter as J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the character Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

#3 Alp-luachra

This Irish spirit’s name literally means “joint-eater.” Now, before you get too horrified, the thing doesn’t actually eat your joints. That would be disgusting. However, this nasty little creature will take the form of a newt and crawl down your throat while you are sleeping to feast on the contents of your stomach. That’s much better, right?

#2 Dearg-Due

Ireland’s very own vampire myth is one of my favourites. Meet Dearg-Due. She was once a beautiful young woman who fell in love with a common man from her village. You know how this story goes. Her family did not approve of her relationship with such a low-born boy, and arranged a more fitting union for her instead. Distraught over her lost love and at the thought of her upcoming wedding, Dearg-Due killed herself. (Some versions of the story say she wasted away after her marriage, but I like the more dramatic version!)

But that wasn’t quite enough for dear Dearg-Due. After her funeral, she dragged herself out of the freshly dug grave and slaughtered her entire family, including her husband-to-be, and in a frenzied blood-lust actually sucked the life right out of them. Fresh blood made her feel alive again, and she thirsted for more and more. She went on to seduce countless young men, only to sink her monstrous teeth into their necks and have their lives in order to extend her own.

The remains of Dearg-Due are said to be buried at Strongbow’s Tree in Waterford. She only arises on the anniversary of her death, so the locals cover her grave with heavy stones in hopes of keeping her below ground. Sometimes, thought, the stones are misplaced or not heavy enough, and she is able to escape for a night of bloody revenge upon the countryside.

#1 Nuckelavee

What is it with the Scots and making horses scary as fuck? The Nuckelavee is an Orcadian legend similar to the centaur. Not so bad, you think. But these creatures are to centaurs what zombies are to humans. These horse-like demons pull themselves from the ocean in order to ravage nearby farmlands and villages.

Nuckelavee is described as having a man’s torso upon a horses back–so far, familiar–but the creature’s arms are so long they drag on the ground and it has no skin. Exposed veins and ligaments writhe around raw muscles and bone. Their rotting bodies ooze contagion, and they sicken crops and livestock wherever they roam. It was believed to be at fault for epidemic disease, crop failures, and the death of livestock, which often led to starvation of the people. The Nuckelavee was so feared in the Orkney Islands that locals wouldn’t say its name without uttering a prayer.


Did I miss one of your favourite Fearsome Fae? Where would you like to see this series go next? Let me know in the comments!

Check out S.J. Howland’s Book!

As a thank you for this fabulous inspiration (particularly the Padfoot detail!), please check out Book One in S.J. Howland’s The Haven series:

From Amazon:

Xander King does not believe in fairytales. He prefers rational explanations, keeping his head down and trying to avoid the inevitable comparisons with his genius mother. The last thing he expects is to have his life turned upside down by terrifying shadows and an encounter with a mysterious stone tablet, challenging his entire view of reality and catapulting him into the parallel world of Haven.

Faced with extraordinary creatures, ancient secrets and a heritage he does not understand, Xander is drawn into the struggle to protect the border between his own reality and Haven, and prevent disaster overcoming them both. But, as darkness spreads, he must confront new questions. Where does he belong, and is anything in Haven really as it seems?

Discover the mesmerising world of Haven and the truths long-hidden in the ancient stories in this gripping fantasy adventure.

17 thoughts on “5 Fearsome Fae of the British Isles

    1. There are so many from this area, too. It seems disproportionate to the population size! There are lots of logical reasons for why people come up with stories to explain the horrors of plague, starvation, death, etc. But none of them ever explain why they become the particular monsters. Why a rotting horse corpse? Why blood drinking? Thatโ€™s the funnest part to wonder about for me!

    1. Not even the Kelpie?? I knew of that one and the various black dogs.

        1. Well. I donโ€™t know what to say about that ๐Ÿ˜… Iโ€™m glad they were all a surprise!

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