Hugh of the Little Head

The best known and most dreadful specter of the West Highlands is the phantom of the headless horseman, which appeared whenever any of the Maclaines of Lochbuie (Locha Buidhe) were near their dissolution.

Hugh was the only son of Hector the Stubborn (Eachunn Reuganach), first chief of Lochuie, in the fourteenth century. On the morning of the fight with his uncle Lachlan the Wily (Lachunn Lùbanach), the first chief of Dowart, he came across an elfin woman rinsing clothes, and singing the "Song of the M'Leans." Her long pendulous breasts were in the way of her washing so she flung them over her shoulders. Hugh crept up silently behind her, caught one of the nipples and put it in his mouth, saying Yourself and I be witness you are my first nursing mother. He asked her what she was doing and she replied, Washing the shirts of your mortally-wounded men. He then asked if he would win the fight and if he would return from battle, but she answered either ambiguously or not at all. When going away the ban-sìthe left him with a parting gift (fàgail) that he should go about to give warning of approaching death to all his race.

Hugh and his followers did indeed lose the fight. The sweep of a broadsword took off the upper part of his head, but instead of falling dead, he jumped on his horse, a small black steed with a white spot on its forehead, and ever since is "dreeing his weird" by going about to give warning when any of his race are about to die.

The spectral horseman is mounted on a small black steed, having a white spot on its forehead, and the marks of the hoofs of which are not like those of other horses, but round indentations as if it had wooden legs. Hugh is heard riding past the house, and sometimes even shows himself at the door. He does not sit straight on his horse's back, but somewhat to one side, and the appearance of the almost headless body is that of a water-stoup tied on the horse's back.



  • Campbell, J.G. (1902). Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland. Glascow: James MacLehose and Sons, p. 111 ff.