An old tale from the Western Isles gives sends a chill up your spine in these dark autumn nights

Here is another unnerving tale from our archive just right for the darker nights of late autumn.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 9th November 2018, 1:37 pm
Updated Monday, 12th November 2018, 10:21 am

It is a yarn about a disturbing bad omen to send a chill up your spine.

The story was first featured in a sister title to the Stornoway Gazette, ‘The Hebridean’ under the heading ‘Hebridean Connections’and was first published in September 2004.

It is said that coming events cast a shadow before them and such was true of Murdo Maclean of Kinloch.

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He was a skilled craftsman who was in great demand for his work and when he was asked to repair a boat in Harris he thought nothing of it, even though the work took him away from home for a few days.

Had he had an inkling of his journey back home he might not have been as eager to accept...

Murdo gave a sigh of relief when the repair to the boat was finished, not that he minded the work, carpentry and joinery was what he did for a living, but he wanted to get home and he knew the long trek ahead of him.

The Harris-man clapped him on the shoulder saying: “Well Murdo you have done a wonderful job, the boat is as good as new now, they don’t call you Murchadh Saor for nothing.

Pointing to the wood that was left over he said: “Take that with you, it’s of no use to me.”

Murdo eyed the planks of Larch and Oak longingly. Yes, they would be useful and wood was so hard to come-by, so he gathered as many planks as he could realistically carry, tied them securely together and hoisted them on to his back.

Waving farewell to the Harris-man he headed for Kinloch Resort, from there he would have to walk to Morsgail then Kinloch where he lived.

He thought of his family waiting for him and quickened his steps.

The bundle of wood was heavy on his shoulders and made the long journey harder still, to add to his troubles the year was well on her way and a chill had come into the air.

Crossing Mointeach a Loin darkness started to fall, Murdo turned his collar up, pulled his cap further down over his ears and tried to ignore the growling in his empty stomach.

Murdo thought of the things he could make with his wood, a dresser maybe or a table he could sell to help pay the rent or a bench ‘ for the meeting-house.

He was startled out of his reverie by a hammer tapping the wood on his back three times; tap..., tap... tap...

He spun round expecting to see one of the local boys playing tricks on him. There was nothing to see. There. was nothing to hear but the usual sounds of the winter moorland.

Turning back and adjusting his burden to a more comfortable position, he started off again concluding that he must have imagined it.

He hadn’t gone too far when he heard the sound again; tap...tap...tap...

It was the unmistakable sound of a hammer on wood.

He stopped, lowered his bundle on to a rock and walked round trying to see in the fading light the source of the sound, but as before there was nothing out of the ordinary.

A sense of unease was beginning to settle on Murdo, he was normally a calm and sensible man, but there was nothing normal about this evening.

With one last, nervous look around he lifted the wood onto his back and headed for Morsgail.

Darkness was now almost complete and the chill in the air was quite intense. The regular fall of his footsteps sounded so loud in the still evening; tap...tap...tap...

Murdo’s heart nearly stopped with fright. This time he didn’t look back, seeing the lights of Morsgail ahead, he quickened his steps never pausing to draw breath until he reached home.

The light from his cottage window was the most welcome sight he had ever seen.

Storing the wood in the barn he hurried to the door, opening it to be enveloped in light, warmth and the wonderful smell of mutton broth simmering in the pot over the fire.

The tension slowly drained out of him, he closed the door on his disquiet, sat down to supper and smoked his pipe before going to bed.

Around three in the morning he was roused from his sleep by a loud knocking on the door.

Still groggy from sleep, he made his way, with the aid of a lamp, to the door.

Standing there shivering, sorrow etched on his face, was a young boy from Carishader.

He blurted out that his mother had died and that they needed a coffin.

Murdo’s heart melted with compassion for the boy and he told him that if he returned tomorrow afternoon he would have prepared a coffin.

After breakfast the next morning Murdo went out to the barn where he had fashioned a workbench and where most of his carpentry was done.

He untied the bundle of wood and thought back to yesterday when he was leaving Harris, little did he suspect then how he would utilise the wood.

Laying a plank on the bench, and with his hammer held loosely in his hand, he automatically did what he always did when testing wood; hit it three times with the hammer.

The colour drained out of his face and the hair on the back of his neck stood up when he heard the familiar sound; tap... tap..tap...