"The grey paw." One of the most widely known and most popular story in the Highlands.
In the big church of Beauly (Eaglais mòr na manachainn, i.e. of the Monastery) mysterious and unearthly sights and sounds were seen and heard at night, and none who went to watch the churchyard or burial-places within the church ever came back alive. A courageous tailor made light of the matter and laid a wager that he would go any night, and sew a pair of hose in the haunted church. He went and began his task. The light of the full moon streamed in through the windows, and at first all was silent and natural.
At the dead hour of midnight, however, a big ghastly head emerged from a tomb and said, "Look at the old grey cow that is without food, tailor." The tailor answered, "I see that and I sew this," and soon found that while he spoke the ghost was stationary, but when he drew breath it rose higher. The neck emerged and said, "A long grizzled weasand that is without food, tailor." The tailor went on with his work in fear, but answered, "I see it, my son, I see it, my son, I see that and I sew this just now." This he said drawling out his words to their utmost length. At last his voice failed and he inhaled a long breath. The ghost rose higher and said, "A long grey arm that is without flesh or food, tailor." The trembling tailor went on with his work and answered, " I see it, my son, I see it, my son; I see that and I sew this just now."
Next breath the thigh came up and the ghastly apparition said, "A long, crooked shank that is without meat, tailor." "I see it, my son, I see it, my son; I see that and I sew this just now." The long foodless and fleshless arm was now stretched in the direction of the tailor. "A long grey paw without blood or flesh, or muscles, or meat, tailor." The tailor was near done with his work and answered, "I see it, my son, I see it, my son; I see that and I sew this just now," while with a trembling heart he proceeded with his work.
At last he had to draw breath, and the ghost, spreading out its long and bony fingers and clutching the air in front of him, said, "A big grey claw that is without meat, tailor." At that moment the last stitch was put in the hose, and the tailor gave one spring of horror to the door. The claw struck at him and the point of the fingers caught him by the bottom against the door-post and took away the piece. The mark of the hand remains on the door to this day. The tailor's flesh shook and quivered with terror, and he could cut grass with his haunches as he flew home.
This or a similar story is told of many other old churches in the Highlands, among which the old church of Glassary and the one of Beauly. In Skye it is placed in the Eglais Uamhalta in Conasta near Duntulm. In the cathedral of Iona there is a small nook called "the tailor's hole" (Toll an tàillear) where it is said the monks kept the tailor who made their clothes. They kept him too long, and too busy at his work, and at last "things" began to trouble him at night. The worst of these was a fleshless hand that used to show itself on the wall and say,
a great grey paw that is without meat, tailor.
Another form of the tale is that the tailor was at the aire cladh, i.e. watching the graveyard, of a friend when the foodless figure began to emerge. The tailor did not run away until the specter had got up as far as the knees.
- Campbell, J.G. (1902). Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland. Glascow: James MacLehose and Sons, pp. 194-198.