The History of Leith

May 10, 2004

The Legend of Shelly Coat

Before ignorance and bigotry were banished by education and the advancement of science. Leith possessed its full share of superstition in common with the rest of the country. Amongst the most imaginary and remarkable with whom the good folk of Leith had to deal was Shelly Coat. A spirit of the waters and so named from his outward covering or coat being formed by seashells.

This spirit had many haunts throughout the country and wasn’t confined to Leith as he frequented lakes and rivers as well as the sea. One of these places was a large boulder which was removed when Leith Docks was expanded but over two hundred years was an open beach called the short sands in North Leith.

To run round this boulder and repeating a certain rhyme three times was considered an act of great daring as this could raise the spirit of the Shelly Coat.. This story of the Shelly Coat comes from “Minstrely of the Scottish Border.

“Two men on a very dark night were approaching the banks of the Ettrick when the heard a sad and moaning voice crying “Lost, Lost!” They followed the sound which seemed to be the voice of a drowning man and to their surprise they found they were going uphill and by dawn the voice was now going downhill. The two men soon were exhausted and gave up the quest and as soon as they gave up they heard bursts of laughter all over the hill and a noise of applause it was Shelly Coat.”.

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