Nine Maidens

Many tales have never come so close to legend in Dundee as the tale of the Nine Maidens. Whether it be fact, faked, or some half-baked version of the truth, we will never really know. All we do know is that the legend of the nine maidens is great , and has inspired a public house and a school in Dundee to commemorate the tale.

The first clue to the validity of this tale lies in the fact we don’t really know where the story originated or when it was first told, but here it is as we know it:

A man lived with his nine, reportedly beautiful daughters on farmland known as Pitempton. After a particularly busy day tending the land on what had turned out to be a very warm day, the farmer felt that his insatiable thirst could only be quenched by a pail of water fetched from a nearby well. Having been so tired from his day of labouring, he entrusted his eldest daughter to the task.

As time passed, and with no sign of his eldest daughter, the father sent the second-eldest daughter to find out what was taking so long and prolonging his thirst. Once again, when his second daughter did not return, he sent the third-eldest daughter. When she did not return either, he sent the next in line. This continued until he had sent each and every one of the sisters after each other, despite nobody ever returning. Eventually, the farmer decided he should go and see what had delayed his daughters. By this time, he must have been so thirsty and tired that the walk to the well would have taken up most of his energy.

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Imagine his horror, when, upon reaching the well, he saw the nine slain bodies of his lovely daughters strewn over the ground by the well! Coiled around their battered bodies, basking in the blood of the innocent victims, the farmer was aghast to see a huge serpent-like dragon. Fearing he was about to become the tenth kill of the evening for the furious beast, the farmer fled screaming and shouting.

Disturbed by all the commotion, a crowd of neighbours had gathered as the farmer calmed down enough to tell them what he had seen near the well by Pitempton. Although they were scared, the people were also maddened by the deaths of the nine maidens, so they armed themselves with anything they could use as a weapon and set off to slay the dragon. It is said that Martin, a man of “brave heart and tremendous skill and courage” led the angry crowd back to the well to engage the beast. Martin is also referenced as the lover of one of the felled beauties, which may explain his heroism in the forthcoming battle.

Perhaps sensing that it was no match for the baying mob, the dragon attempted to make it’s escape, over the Dighty and into the lands beyond. Martin, however, had other ideas, and caught up with it. Using only a wooden club, he beat the dragon, eventually slaying it as the crowd yelled “strike, Martin”. Incidentally, the place where the dragon was defeated was named “Strike-Martin”, and was subsequently named Strathmartine – a name which has been used as titles for streets and buildings in the city.

In reality, there may not be much credence to the legend of the nine maidens, but it lives on in the city’s culture and will continue to do so for generations to come. If you have ever wondered why we have a green dragon in the high street…now you know!
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Topmost images courtesy of http://www.lyndseyphilipphotography.com/

5 thoughts on “Nine Maidens

  • July 31, 2015 at 3:51 pm
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    I love this story about the Nine Maidens Well at Pitempton. The tale is referred to by J M MacKinlay in his ‘Traces of the Cultus of The Nine Maidens in Scotland’. MacKinlay also refers to an almost identical tale associated with the Nine Maidens Well at Craigs of Logie on the River Don not far from Castle Forbes. In this tale a boar (bear in another version) replaces the dragon/serpent of Pitempton. The hero who slays the boar is the lover of the last of the nine maidens to be killed by the boar – that maiden was named Elizabeth or Bes. On killing the boar the hero shouts “Its a’ for Bes” – hence the origin of the name Forbes. The Boar Stone which marked the site of the killing is now in Castle Forbes. MacKinlay’s article examines the much older cult of the Nine Maidens which seems to go back to Pictish times. The Nine Maidens were the very virtuous daughters of St Donevald and lived with their father in Glen Olgivy. When Donevald died, the daughters moved to the Pictish capital of Abernethy at the time of King Garnard. They lived by a great oak and when they died, they were buried under this oak. A cult of the Nine Maidens developed and was centred on the oak which became a place of pilgrimage but in 17th century this cult was suppressed by the church and pilgrimage to the oak was forbidden. I suspect that the legend of the Strathmartin dragon and the boar of Castle Forbes were both connected with efforts by the church to suppress the Nine Maidens cult. Several wells have been dedicated to the Nine Maidens hence the name ‘Nine Maidens Well’ but also there are a number of ‘Ninewells’ in eastern Scotland and this is thought to be a corruption of ‘Nine Maidens Well’.

    • August 2, 2015 at 1:53 pm
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      Thanks for the information Andrew, it’s always fascinating hearing stories from Pictish times so much of that history has been lost. I hadn’t linked the Nine Maidens to Ninewells, and we hope to do some research on Ninewells very soon!

      • May 28, 2016 at 1:24 am
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        I hope you have better luck than me with that, I’ve always been curious about the connection because Ninewells and Nine maidens well are too similar to be unconnected in my opinion but all I can find out is that both Dundee and Cambridge have areas called Ninewells. Admittedly my research was about 8 minutes long.

  • September 30, 2015 at 8:31 am
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    Don’t know if there is one there but a plaque with the story beside the dragon would be nice.

  • March 24, 2016 at 9:00 am
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    I always thought the dragon to be a protector not a slayer. the comment about the repressions of the church seems to fir with this thinking. these were the times of heros on horse back ridding our lands of the scurge of pagan times. Christianity was on the rise and even the kings and queens were getting involved shock horror. good story. I have a memory like a sieve as apposed to a well so it’s always good to here these stories again.

    ta

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