Kelpie (Mythical 'Water Horse' in Folklore of Scotland)

A Kelpie in the Celtic mythology of Scotland was originally a name given to a ‘Water Horse’. This supernatural entity could be found in the lochs and rivers of Scotland and also has a place in Irish folklore. The description of their appearance can vary in different tales. Sometimes white with smooth cold skin, or black and grey. Some of these variations and the stories associated with the Kelpie are regional in origin.

In some stories they are described as ‘shape shifters’. They are able to transfer themselves into beautiful women who can lure men and trap them. However, the Kelpie does not always take a female form and are mostly male. They are also described as posing a particular danger to children when in the shape of a horse. Attracting their victims to ride them they are taken under the water and then eaten.

In Orkney a similar creature exits known the “Nuggle”. Again this creature takes the form of a horse and waits by the waterside. Any human mounting the horse is taken into the river or loch and drowned. In the Shetland Islands the water horse is known as “Shoopiltie” and again lures people to ride but then plunges into water with its doomed human cargo.

Versions of this creature exist in the other Celtic nations. In Wales the “Ceffyl Dŵr” is another spirit associated with water. A shape shifter that can also take the form of a horse, sometimes with wings that can take any unfortunate rider into the air from where they plunge to their death. In Manx mythology there is a water horse known in Manx Gaelic as "Cabbyl-Ushtey" and also associated with another creature of streams and river the “Glashtyn”.

Further reading

If you would like to read more Scottish myths and stories, we recommend An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales by Theresa Breslin. You can buy it from (US$) or (GB£), which we have linked to below. 


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