By Tim Porteus

A FAMILY were having a picnic by a sparkling river one hot summer’s day.

It was a place called Dunglass and the river there marks the southern boundary of the county of East Lothian. It is a hidden paradise where the trees lean over to listen to the water as it tumbles towards the sea. It was the summer holidays and the children were on a day trip with their parents.

What they didn’t know was the place they were having their picnic was the border of two worlds; for just beyond the small rocky cliff they were sitting under was a land very different. They knew nothing of this as they ate their packed lunch and then paddled and threw stones into the dancing water.

It was the older child, Maggie, who fist saw the strange carving on the rock.

“Look dad, come see this,” she called out.

Her dad pulled himself up from where he was sitting. He had been enjoying the sunshine, closing his eyes for a few moments to take in the warmth and listen to the sound of running water. But he could tell that his daughter was excited and so was curious to find out what she had discovered.

He couldn’t quite believe what his daughter was pointing at. There in the rock there was a carving of an animal’s head.

“What is it?” asked Maggie.

“Well I’m not sure,” said her dad, “it looks like a carving of a crocodile to be honest.”

“Naw, I think it’s a dragon,” said Maggie.

Then Maggie screamed and her dad jumped two feet into the air with fright as the carving winked at them and smiled!

The mum Catherine came running in a panic, thinking some terrible accident had happened.

“What is it, are you both alright?” she asked, almost breathless with worry.

Maggie and her dad said nothing but looked at the head in the rock. Catherine followed their gaze and saw the head.

“It’s just a carving?” she said, annoyed. She had been really worried and now she thought they had been playing a joke on her.

“That wasn’t funny, I was really worried,” she said.

“Mum, it moved, it winked its eye at us,” said Maggie.

“Oh really?” she asked sarcastically.

“It did darling, it really did,” said her husband.

“Chris you are worse than the children sometimes,” Catherine said with a bit of a smile, as she headed back towards the picnic spot where the two younger children were still entertaining themselves by dangling their feet in the water.

Maggie and her dad looked at each other and began to wonder if they really had seen the head move and wink at them.

“It must have been the way the sunlight was making shadows,” said Maggie’s dad.

“Yeah, suppose,” said Maggie, but she was not convinced. She knew what she had seen and she stared at the creature, but it didn’t move. She gathered her courage and touched it. It was stone.

“Maybe dad’s right,” she thought, “it’s just a carving in the rock.”

“Let’s go explore,” said the dad and so the family packed up and headed towards the beach. As they passed the head in the rock, they didn’t see it turn and watch them go.

Within minutes the family were in a very different landscape. Instead of being lush and green it seemed barren, with huge rocks littering the beach. Large cliffs loomed far into the horizon. The cliffs had hidden corners and in places curved out of sight.

“Over there,” said the dad, “is where the giants live.”

“Giants! Let’s go and fight them!” said the three-year-old daughter Sophie holding a stick she had found. The dad smiled.

Catherine was walking behind the others with the wee boy Harris, who was taking ages to scramble over the rocks. Then suddenly they were in shade. Catherine looked up to see where the cloud was, but when she screwed her eyes she realised it wasn’t a cloud causing the shade. They were in the shadow of a giant.

He loomed over the family. They could see up his enormous hairy nose, the end of which glistened with slimy snot. His teeth were crooked and mostly black and he had dark bushy eyebrows. He was dressed with animal skins woven together, and his bare legs and feet looked like fuzzy tree trunks. Maggie noticed his bare feet had long and dirty toenails.

“He needs to wipe his nose real bad and have a manicure,” said Maggie, who didn’t seem scared of this terrifying sight.

Then with great speed the giant bent down and swept the dad up with his huge hands, turned and ran away with him towards the cliffs, laughing all the way. The children and their mother were hysterical, screaming at the giant, but he just kept on laughing.

He stopped for a moment, turned round and raised the hand which held the dad as if he’d won a trophy and laughed. Then he seemed to vanish into the face of the cliff.

The children and their mother stood shocked for a moment. It had happened so quickly they could hardly take it in.

“Dad!” called the children, but he was gone.

The mum looked for her mobile phone but there was no reception.

“There’s no time to call the police, mum,” said Maggie, “we’re goanie have to rescue him ourselves.”

So they set off over the rocks. The mum carried Harris while Maggie and Sophie held hands. Soon they were deep amongst large boulders and close to the cliff.

And there, sitting on a great rock, was the giant. He had their back to them and seemed to be preparing something, while the dad was in a great bowl carved out of a boulder. As they got closer they could see that the bowl was also full of bones!

The giant hummed to himself as he prepared. Maggie knew this was the moment.

She charged towards the giant screaming as loud as she could. He turned round, looking startled. Then the sight of this small girl standing by him threatening him with a stick made him laugh out loud.

“Well I suppose I will put you all in my salad now,” he said with a grin.

“Don’t think so,” said Maggie and she stuck the stick under the giant’s big toenail.

He hopped about, saying “ouch ouch” and, while he did so, Maggie and her mum helped the dad out of the bowl. They then ran as fast as they could back to the river. When they reached it they turned to see if the giant was following. But there was no sign of him. They scrambled back into the lush green by the river and collapsed with exhaustion.

“Don’t worry,” said a voice, “you’re safe.”

They looked around to see who was talking to them but it was Maggie who first realised.

“It’s the creature in the rock!” she said. And sure enough she was right.

“Who, er, what are you?” asked Maggie.

“I think I need a drink,” said the mum as she still couldn’t quite believe what she what she was seeing. But then again, they had just escaped from a giant so it now seemed anything was possible.

“I am one of the guardians,” said the creature.


“Yes. There are many of us, mostly hidden. We guard the entrance to the forbidden land.”

“What is the forbidden land?” asked Maggie “Well it has had many names but you will know it as East Lothian,” said the guardian. “The giants are forbidden to enter it and they know the consequences if they do. We were placed at the entry to the land to ensure they keep their promise.”

“But who made this rule, why is East Lothian forbidden and what are the consequences if the giants break it?”

“I must go now,” said the guardian, “I have used up my time. You must cross the river to be completely safe.”

Then the creature turned back to solid rock, but with a wink on its face.

And so the family crossed the river, scrambled up the hill and went back to the car, safe on the East Lothian side of the river.