WE HAD a trip over the Easter weekend to a famous faery tree. It’s not in East Lothian, but can be found on top of Doon Hill, by Aberfoyle.

The hill, and the tree, which is a beautiful Scot pine amidst an oak wood, are connected to the legend of Rev Robert Kirk, who, according to the traditional story, was kidnapped by enraged wee folk as he walked by the hill in 1692. According to this account, he’s still trapped there.

When I explained the plan to my kids, they understandably wanted to know why the faeries were so angry with Robert Kirk that they kidnapped him and still keep him prisoner.

“Might they kidnap us too?” they asked.

I reassured them that wouldn’t happen, because the faeries were punishing Kirk for the unforgivable crime of betraying their trust and revealing their secrets.

“We’d never do that,” they said.

“Exactly, that’s why it’s safe for us to go.”

So off we set, on what was a sunny and almost warm day which, as I write, feels like a different season.

Before we ventured onto the hill, we paid a visit to the kirkyard at Aberfoyle where Robert Kirk’s gravestone lies.

“But how’s he buried here when he was kidnapped by the faeries?” asked my daughter Skye, who’s a sharp cookie.

Cue the story.

“Well, Robert Kirk was the minister here. But he was very interested in the world of faeries and other creatures from the faery world. So he spent lots of time asking people about their experiences, not just about faeries but other magical creatures. He collected lots of stories and information about them from people who believed in them, just as he did.

“Some say the faery folk heard about what he was doing and eventually he gained their trust and they revealed many of their secrets to him. But the deal was he’d never tell.”

“Did he break his promise and tell?” asked my son Lewis.

I paused and looked down at the gravestone.

“Well, kind of. He wrote all the things he’d discovered in a journal, which he titled The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. Maybe he planned to publish it as a book, but if he did, the faeries discovered this and planned to stop him.”

Lewis was following the story closely and exclaimed: “That’s why they kidnapped him!”

“Yes, he was walking by Doon Hill over there, where the faeries famously live, and suddenly he just fell down seemingly dead.”

“I thought he was kidnapped?” asked Skye, confused.

“Well, the wee folk wanted people to think he was dead. So they grabbed him quickly and laid a fake body on the ground, so people wouldn’t go looking for him. But the minister who took over said he knew what had really happened. He wrote about it in a book, saying Robert Kirk appeared soon after his funeral to a relative, saying he’d been kidnapped by the faeries, but had a plan to escape.”

“What was the plan? And did it work?” asked my now-curious wife Kate.

“I’ll tell you when we get to the faery tree,” I said.

“You’re sometimes so annoying, dad!” complained Skye.

But off we set for the legendary hill.

We made it to the top, and the tree was decorated with ribbons and clootie cloths. Some visitors had left notes and small gifts of stones. It was a beautiful and magical place, and after our Easter egg hunt, I told the rest of the story as the kids gorged on the chocolate.

“Well, according to Rev Dr Grahame, Robert Kirk appeared to his relative and asked for help to escape. He said there was only one chance to escape. He would appear at a baptism where his cousin would be present. He asked that his cousin, as soon as he saw him, throw a metal dirk over his head. That would break the faery spell and release him. He must do it quickly, for there would be just a few moments before the faeries would drag him back.”

Despite the focus on eating their eggs, the kids were listening.

“So, did he do it?” they both asked, with happy-looking, chocolate-stained faces.

“Robert Kirk did appear, but his cousin was so shocked and taken aback at the sight that he didn’t throw the dirk. So Robert Kirk was dragged back and he’s still trapped in this hill. Some say he’s embedded in this tree, others say the tree hides the entrance to the faery world. Whatever version, this is a place of magical legend.”

“So Robert Kirk was a legend, he wasn’t a real person?” asked Skye, inquisitively.

“He was most certainly a real person and he definitely wrote the journal, which was later published, and he clearly believed the things he wrote. But the legend is he was kidnapped by the wee folk as revenge. Or is it more than a legend? Is he really trapped here by the faeries? You decide.”

The kids were clear what they believed. But I promised I wouldn’t tell you, just in case the wee folk read the East Lothian Courier.

On our way back, the kids wanted to remove as many coins as they could from the trees. Literally thousands of them were embedded in the beautifully carved tree stumps which lined the path, causing obvious damage. People had even hammered them into the faerie tree itself. Many were decayed and the forest floor was littered with them.

It was the only thing this day that made us sad. This fashion of hammering coins into trees, both dead and living, is both harmful to the trees as well as the living things which rely on them. Even dead stumps are full of life. And they destroyed the beautiful carvings of faerie houses.

If you go to this, or any other, magical place, please don’t hammer or leave coins anywhere. It’s basically pollution and litter, and isn’t a gift the faeries would want anyway.

I understand the desire to leave a gift, and the woodland was full of pine cones, moss, acorn shells, twigs, dried leaves, and other organic materials waiting to be made into a creative offering.

The kids pulled out hundreds of coins from the poor trees. Many were too decayed to use but those which were still usable will go into a charity box.

We agreed we’d take pliers to help pull the coins out next time we visit.

And the faeries may just come out and give us a hand!