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The Blue Men Of The Minch

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Where sea and land meet. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

As a new day breaks on a calm island morning, the view from the summit of Todun in north Harris takes in Loch Seaforth, and looks east to the shimmering Shiant Islands.

The cold sea is a rare mirror calm, the rising sun burns orange in the sky, and is reflected in the deep waters of the normally wild sea straight which separates our island from the wider world.

It is a magical sight and one that reminds us of the myth of The Blue Men of the Minch that are rumoured to inhabit that area of water...

Sunrise on the Minch seas. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

The poet and author, Donald Alexander Mackenzie in his 1917 book ‘Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend’ describes The Blue Men as this...

"They are of human size and they have great strength. By day and night they swim round and between the Shiant Isles and the sea there is never at rest. The Blue Men wear blue caps and grey faces which appear above the waves that they raise with their long restless arms..."

Apart from their colour, the creatures look much like humans, have the power to create storms, but when the weather is fine they float sleeping on or just below the surface of the water. 

Natural arch and caves, Shiants, Isle of Harris. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

Other accounts describe them as living in underwater caves and being able to converse with mariners, being especially vocal when soaking vessels with sea spray and roaring with laughter as a ship capsizes in the wild waters they have created.

The only way sailors can curb an attack on their vessel is to respond to their rhyming calls promptly in quick-witted rhyming verse to their leader 'Shony'...

Shony: Man of the black cap what do you say, as your proud ship cleaves the brine?
Skipper: My speedy ship takes the shortest way, and I'll follow you line by line!
Shony: My men are eager, my men are ready, to drag you below the waves!
Skipper: My ship is speedy, my ship is steady, if it sank, it would wreck your caves!

The real blue men? Image © Lewis Mackenzie.

The origins of the myth extend as far back as the picts or vikings and has some similarity to the tales of ‘kelpie’ water spirits widespread in Scottish folklore.

But, we suspect these mad tales are just the imaginative personification of a particular turbulent stretch of water we're forced to sail across in all manner of weathers.

More likely, the stories stem from the mammals often seen around the Shiant Isles like common dolphins, grey seals, Risso’s dolphins, and porpoises all of which are known to be exuberant swimmers in rough seas.

A Common dolphin makes a splash in the Minch seas. Image © Lewis Mackenzie.

While many pictures have been painted of these creatures, imagined or otherwise, they are all only artistic interpretations and it's probably best to let you form a likeness in your own mind.

Some help with this may be found in a bottle of Isle of Harris Gin, even without drinking a drop!

The sea shades of aqua blue provide ample inspiration for you to embellish your very own Blue Men of the Minch stories, and all from the safety of the shore...


Words By Lewis Mackenzie 

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