Kildonan House is a large estate on the outskirts of a small village in the Parish of Colmonell, South Ayrshire, by the name of Barrhill (Am Barr). Now, the village is nothing special, nor is Kildonan house itself if I’m honest; it’s a relatively new building of the English Manorial Revival and which had been inherited, and then renovated by an MP or some such; pretty and grand, but nothing that you wouldn’t find already nestled in any fine stretch of manicured woodland, or on another large country estate.
Encompassing the House from the North is the Liglaw Wood, which runs south east to envelope the estate grounds entirely, before joining with the mixed deciduous finery of Glen Wood and Wauk Mill Wood below; the long Duisk River wending northwards at points to collect the waters of the numerous Burns that thread through that ancient woodland as it snakes north to the village of Pinwhirry. It’s a lovely place; quiet in the winter, but then filled with the sporadic, throaty bleats of countless lambs come springtime.
And as a bairn, I remember being in there all the time, and exploring all the nooks and crannies, badger sets and rabbit holes that I could pick out from amongst the crowns of ferns and moss and roots, and in fact, the more I think about it, the more I come to realize just how fortunate my childhood was; long lazy walks in the Summer, and afterschool sledding in the Winter; Gypsies and their quaint Romany Caravans drawn in at the parking space that lay at the entrance to Kildonan, and then them showing me and my siblings how to oven-harden conkers in the Autumn. Lowland, Presbyterian Scotland; tiny villages hidden away amid rolling hills of tilled fields and pastureland, with ribbons of gnarled forest intersecting across hill and down glen, where cattle and sheep forever graze regardless of sunshine, rain, sleet or snow; rural, unassuming, and somewhat lost to time.
Anyway, my rosy, sentimental reverie is not really what this post is about, though it does concern the aforementioned Kildonan estate, and, seeing as how it was Halloween (Albeit last month) I thought I’d go on ahead and mention my own mysterious encounter with that which is synonymous with All Hallows Eve, regardless.
I was around seven or eight, and it was mid Spring in Barrhill, and so me, my Mother and my siblings, as well as our Aunt and her four hounds, had quickly decided to go and take a wee sojourn up to Kildonan House; the tree-lined road awash with pools of gold sunlight and shadow, and all cast in a greenish hue from the hundreds of thousands of emerald green leaves that formed a natural tunnel along most of the journey. We passed the playing fields on the right first, and then crossed the breadth of the Duisk a hundred and sixty or so yards further up the road, before turning left and onto the southern edge of Wauk Mill Wood. My Aunt had let her dogs of the lead then, and we all watched them as they happily bolted into the woods; handsome German Pointers bounding over obstacles and loping through the undergrowth at a fierce turn of speed. But then, as dogs are want to do, they seemed to have caught a scent, or had heard some sound that was unknown to our ears, and suddenly took off in the direction of a tumble down old Gatehouse a few hundred yards deeper into the wood. My Aunt, who prided herself on the rigid discipline of her champion, show-winning dogs, burst forward then and clambered into the woods to give chase, and with a few degrees less of the grace her hounds had displayed earlier I might add. Me and the others quickly went after her, and as one warbling, shouting crowd, we made our way deeper and deeper into the darkening woods in pursuit of those excited dogs; the sun, although high, was hazy and cooling then, and with the canopy above our heads so thick and healthy, it felt more like evening than afternoon.
We raced after those dogs for several minutes, and in the most futile of endeavors, such was their speed and agility, though we really needn’t have bothered in the end, for when we reached the spot my breathless Aunt was standing at, her dogs hurriedly marshaled either side of her, we all fell silent and stared for what felt like a few minutes, but was probably no more than a few seconds.
On the half ruined wall of the roofless Gatehouse was sat a jolly seeming Bagpiper. Burly and with a great round belly, the figure made no sound even despite the easy way in which he grinned his teeth and bit the end of the chanter as he worked the bag with practiced ease. He was entirely green in color, but with differing shades to represent the numerous colors of his Kilt, Bagpipe, skin and beard. There was a tone to each hue of green, and a sort of depth to the man, yet I distinctly recall him being slightly transparent. Not see-through, more translucent; not all together there. But there he was, and so for a time we all just stood stock-still and watched him as he continued to grin and play what might have been a spirited tune on his ethereal instrument. His grin wasn’t disquieting or threatening either, but a happy expression; the grin of a burly, yet jovial man who enjoys life. And then he was gone. The old, crumbling stone of the ruin startlingly evident and crystal clear then, as though now seen through eyes only just having woken from sleep; and I didn’t imagine that man; I’m sure of it. Even now, I remember him fairly clearly, as do my siblings, my Aunt, and most convincingly still; my Mother. A skeptical, reasonable, and straight forward woman not prone to flights of fancy or ghost stories, and whose worldview isn’t at all skewed by a belief in what she would refer to as paranormal ‘nonsense’. But she remembers him too, so make of that as you will.
For years now I’ve searched for any tale or story from the area in which the Green Piper is mentioned, but to no avail. I’ve poured over the history of that area, and through countless books on the mythology of the small towns and villages that dot the west coast of Scotland, but there is nothing. No local legend tied to the spot, nor any accounts or reports of a Piper having died at that Gatehouse; nothing at all. So perhaps we were just lucky to have found him there, minding his own business, not meant to have been seen, nor lying in wait to spring himself upon the living, but just there, playing his instrument for no one in particular but the quiet forest.
And that is my tale folks, and you can take it as gospel, for as far as I’m aware he was there and we all saw him clearly, and for a considerable time to boot. Either way, whether or not you believe me, if any of you would like to try and encounter the Green Piper of Kildonan, then you’re in luck, as I’ll helpfully include a map of the area below, and which might just assist you in your adventure.