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Wolves Historically in Scotland

Royalty Attacked by Wolf

Tradition has it that King Malcolm II, on his return from defeating the Danes at Mortlach, in Morayshire, in 1010, was pursued by a wolf in the forest of Stochet. Just as the infuriated animal was in the act of attacking the king, a younger son of Donald of the Isles came up, who thrust his left hand, covered with his plaid, into the creature's mouth, and then by his dirk swiftly despatched it with his right. For this timely service the royal follower was rewarded the lands of Skene in Aberdeenshire.

When in later times a wolf appeared in any of the northern forests, the intruder was regarded as a common enemy, and was therefore hunted by the assembled populace. He who discovered the presence of the wolf was called upon at once to convey the tidings to the chief, who forthright to a convenient meeting place summoned his kinsmen and allies. When the wolf-hunt began, the country was scoured in all directions in order to arouse the intruder.

The wolf had his lair in the Caledonian Forest, which almost wholly covered that territory now forming the counties of Stirling and Linlithgow. In 1263 the Sheriff of Stirling was employed in repairing and extending the Royal Park at that burgh, and in connection with a payment by the Treasurer made twenty years later, it is related that a wolf-hunter had been employed by King Alexander III.

The New Park at Stirling, constructed in 1263, was bounded on the north-eastern part by a ledge of rock, which retains the name of the Wolf Crag. In the neighbourhood of Stirling wolves were hunted in the seventeenth century. In Wolf Crag Quarry, in the southern shoulder of the Ochils, near Bridge of Allan, the animals long sought shelter. In the burgh seal of Stirling, the wolf forms a principal charge. [5]

Wolf Crag Quarry, formerly contained a number of burrows, and a tradition obtained that these were the last haunts of the wolf in the kingdom. That formerly this ravenous animal existed in the country is stated by Boyce; and from the immediate vicinity of the Caledonian Forest, it is not improbable that the tradition may be correct. [7]

Royal Hunt Slays Wolves

In 1563 Queen Mary attended a hunting match, employing 2,000 Highlanders to drive deer to the hunting grounds and which resulted in 360 deer and five wolves being killed in the one day. [6]

Last Wolves in Scotland

From the Statistical Account of Glenorchy and Inishail:

"Formerly, the wolf had his haunts in our wilds and mountains, and not only proved fatal to the cattle, but, when impelled by hunger, or inflamed with rage, he even, at times, made depredations on the human species. It is said, that, in the year 1680, the last wolf in Britain was killed by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel. "[1] "The wolves were of a ferocious breed and preyed on the red deer…However, there were many "last wolves". The last was killed on the Findhorn in 1743. The wolf killed by Sir Ewen was probably the last in the Lochaber district."[2]

The wolf killed in Morayshire in 1743 had apparently killed two children, but before the ruling Laird, of MacIntosh could arrange a hunting party for it, his appointed stalker MacQueen had done the job for him. "As I came through the sloch by east the hill there, I foregathered wi the beast. My long dog there turned him. I buckled wi him and kirkit him, and syne whuttled his craig, and brought awa his countenance for fear he might come alive again, for they are precarious creatures!" [10].

Macqueen of Pall-a-chrocain died in 1797. A man great stature and of corresoinding strength, Macquenn kept the best deer-hounds in the country. One day, in the winter of 1743, he received a message from the chief of clan Mackintosh, that a large wolf had on the preceding day killed two children, who, with their mothers, were crossing the hills from Calder. Macqueen was consequently invited by the chief to attend a "Tainchel", or gathering in the forest of Tarnaway, in Moray, and to bring with him his dogs. On the morning of the tryst, Mackintosh waited eagerly for Macqueen, but he only arrived at noon. As Mackintosh was about to complain of his delay, Macqueen raised his plaid, and drew from under his arm the bloody head of the aggressor. "I met the bit beastie," said Macqueen, "and this is his head.". Mackintosh expressed his admiration, and rewarded his vigorous kinsman with the lands of Sean-a-chan for "meat to his dogs." []

The Hunted and Hunter Die

The Rev. Dugald Campbell, minister of the Parish of Glassary writing the New Statistical Account for the Parish [9] tells of the last wolf of that area:

It is said that the wolf was, till a late period in the British history of that animal , an inhabitant of these houseless wilds, and that it was usual to fortify the roofs of the solitary huts and shealings against his depradations by wattlings of strong brushwood. It is told that the last of them which was seen in this parish followed the track of a female who was crossing the country from Lochawe to Lochfyneside. She was seen ascending the hill above Braveallaich with confidence, and, after passing through the moor, had almost obtained the road which leads to Inverary, at the mill of Craleckan, but was found close by it, on the Glassary side of the stream, a corpse. Her right arm was protected by an apron which she had rolled around it, and her hand grasped a knife which she had lodged deep in the heart of a wolf that lay dead beside her. It was supposed that when she discovered the animal on her track, she had fled in the hope of reaching the houses that were nigh at hand; but that being unable to escape, she had assumed the defensive in despair, and died terrified and exhuasted by the effort which left her nothing to fear.

Wolves Threaten Sheep

In "Scotland as it was and as it is " the Duke of Argyll cites that sheep were not allowed to graze by themselves among the Highland mountains in olden days. "The breed was a poor one with thin hairy wool, and considered so delicate that they were habitually folded even at night. Indeed, this was an absolute necessity, for the mountains were haunted by wolves, and among the Statutes of the Baronial Court of Glenurchy there is one expressly enjoining the regular manufacture of weapons for the destruction of this savage animal. Their ravages must have been formidable indeed when at a date so late as 1622 we find that a case came before the Baronial Court respecting three cows 'whilk were slain by the wolf'." [3]

Destruction of Forests to Get Rid of Wolves

The destruction of wolves involved that of many forests. In the districts of Rannoch and Blair-Atholl in Perthshire, in Lochaber in Inverness-shire, in the region about Loch Awe in Argyllshire, and in other places as well, local tradition and definite record assert that extensive forests were burnt down to exterminate the wolves which found refuge there. [4]

Stirling Saved by a Wolf

In the 9th century the Danes were trying to invade Scotland, and Stirling; already invaded by English Northumbrians, aimed to protect the city by use of sentries. However, one fell asleep just as the Danes were furtively preparing to attack.

"The besieging foe was at hand, and was about to take the city, when a wolf, alarmed at the noise and din of the advancing hordes, crept for safety to the crag on which the sleeping soldier lay. But still he found no safety. He growled in terror. It was his wild cry that saved the city. It awoke the sleeping sentinel, who, seeing the position of matters, raised the alarm. Yet he was not too late. The citizens arose, buckled on their armour, and drove the Danes from the district ; thus the wolf saved the city". [8]

Stirling welcomed the new millennium recently with the burning of a giant effigy of a wolf, which does not seem very respectful.

"…it was the custom of our ancestors to cover their burying places with heaps of stones; and the reason probably was, to prevent the bodies from being dug up, and devoured by the wolves, wild boars, and other beasts of prey, which then infested the country." Hence the proverb "Were I dead, you would not throw a stone into my cairn". That is to say, you have not so much friendship for me. []


  • 1] The Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. VIII. Argyll.
  • 2] John Cameron. The Clan Cameron, D. Macleod, Kirkintilloch
  • 3] Duke of Argyll. Scotland As It Was and As It Is. 2nd ed. 1887 p. 200
  • 4] Robinson. State Afforestation in the Highlands. IN Transactions of the Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club Vol. IX 1918-1925. P. 313-314.
  • 5] Rogers, Charles. Social Life in Scotland from Early to Recent Times. Vol. 2, 1884. William Paterson, Edinburgh. P. 256-257
  • 6] Ibid. p.265
  • 7] Rogers, Charles. A Week at Bridge of Allan. 9th ed. Adam and Charles Black, Edinburgh 1859. P.32.
  • 8] Mair, Craig. Stirling The Royal Burgh. John Donald Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh, 1990.
  • 9] Campbell, Rev. Dugald. The Parish of Glassary. IN The New Statistical Account of Scotland Vol. VII. Argyle. p. 680.
  • 10] The Story of Scotland. p. 35
  • 11] Rogers, Charles. Social Life in Scotland from Early to Recent Times. Vol. 3, 1884. William Paterson, Edinburgh. P. 401-402.
  • 12] From the Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-1799 Vol. 1 page 293 for the Parish of Kiltearn.