Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Kyle of Tongue

The Kyle of Tongue, with Ben Loyal as a backdrop, presents a striking scene. Ben Loyal, easily recognised by its four rocky peaks and composed chiefly of granite, is a ‘magnetic mountain’. It apparently distorts compass readings and creates the illusion that water and other substances flow uphill. Although I’ve never seen this phenomenon. The scientific reason for this is its abundance of iron ore. Tradition adds that a great furnace at its heart, tended by dwarves, smelts the metal.

The ‘kyle’, or estuary, derives its name from the township of Tongue, situated on the distant hillside. Here once lived a doctor named Farquhar. An Edwardian writer recounts an oral tradition that Farquhar gained his talent for healing after meeting a stranger fascinated by his walking stick. The stranger instructed Farquhar to visit the tree from which the stick had been cut and look in a hole beneath its roots to find a white serpent. Farquhar was to boil the serpent and give the resulting broth to the stranger without touching it. He followed these instructions but accidentally touched the hot juice with his finger and then put his finger in his mouth. From that moment, he acquired his unrivalled skill as a physician, while the juice lost its virtue.

This tale of a burnt finger in the mouth conferring a gift is a recurring theme in Scottish folklore. Beyond legend, the story echoes traditional folk medicine. For instance, a cure for epilepsy involved water in which a live snake had been kept, and a remedy for a serpent’s sting involved water in which the head of another snake had been placed.


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