Legend of the Auld Brig O' Ayr

by Anna Blair

Here is a second story from Anna Blair's book, 'Tales of Ayrshire'. This one is not so funny as the first. I have crossed this very bridge many times and until now was unaware of the story connected to it.


Two sisters sat alone one stormy October day of 1263 in a castle keep near St. John’s Church in Ayr. They were trembling like the rest of Ayr’s good citizens at tidings that the fleet of Haco, the King of the Norsemen with his Viking warriors was lying off the Cumbraes at Largs, having moved there from the Bay of Ayr. The sisters, Marian and Mary Craufurd, were young, beautiful and wealthy and faithfully in love with two knights of the Scottish King’s force, waiting with Alexander 111 to do battle with the fierce Norsemen.

The King was young and bold and Richard de Boyle of Kelburn and Sandy Fraser were young and bold too, the flower of Scottish chivalry. While the sisters loved them for their spirit and courage they feared for their lads when they were in battle.

That morning they had sent Allan Boyd, one of their servants, to Largs to bring back news of what was happening…whether the two sides still stalked each other, snarling, or had finally joined battle. Now the sisters took turns of watching from their chamber window to see him when he rode home again.

At last Boyd came, waving his bonnet joyfully as he rode, then throwing his reins to a stable-lad, he ran upstairs two steps at a time bringing good word to his ladies that Haco was defeated and his fleet scattered. The battle had raged on land, in the shore shallows and father out too in the deeps all along the coast from Knock Castle to Portencross. But it had been at its height at Largs where Alexander had led the final onslaught himself. Richard of Kelburn and Sir Sandy Fraser had covered themselves with glory and had been saluted even by the enemy. Mistress Marian gave good Allan Boyd a purse of gold and Mistress Mary drew down his rough cheek and kissed it gratefully.

“Make ready the greatest banquet ever held here in this castle”, Marian told him, “Bring out the best wines, throw on the sweetest-smelling logs and turn the spit, for our lords will surely make back to us here with all speed”, ordered Mary. And then paused with head bowed, rosary in hands, for a word of prayer to the good Lord for keeping safe their men folk.

And home towards Ayr the young knights rode to the beautiful and loving women waiting for them in the castle. The squalling wind followed them from Largs, and then through a rising storm of battering, deluging rain and blatting (blustering) winds. The River Ayr rose and seeped on to the banks, breaking them down here and there, all along a hundred ell (thirty-seven inches) length.

The torrent surged and foamed cream: and common sense paused the two knights briefly. But love was on the other side, they were light-hearted, invincible and flushed with victory, and they plunged their horses into the swirling river. The weary beasts fought bravely for a moment and then, with their riders, were swept in even faster circles, until the high waters carried them out to sea. The flood tide of next morning carried their blae (purplish-blue) bodies ashore beneath the castle wall in full sight of Marian and Mary Craufurd, and the ladies’ chamber echoed to their weeping.

The sisters never married after the tragedy but grew old together in the castle. And so that no other waiting bride or wife or mother would ever again have her life so blighted, they gave their wealth to have a bridge built to cross the river where their lords had perished.

It was the ‘new’ bridge for a long time but it has been the Auld Brig for much longer and two effigies, that are said to be of Marian and Mary, are rounded, washed smooth and almost undetectable now, on the outside of the most easterly parapet.

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