1877, September (pub): Legend of the Children's Lake
About seven miles from Farr, Scotland, there is a lake called Loch-na-Cloinne, the "Children's Lake"... and there is a story about how it earned this name.
One Sunday, a number of children were playing by the banks of this lake when they saw a beautiful bay horse come out of the waters onto shore. Almost all of the children ran over to it, wanting a ride, and mounted on its back... but one child, a boy, didn't want to ride. He did want to feel the horse's sleek coat, though, so he touched its shoulder with a finger to stroke the animal... and discovered his finger was stuck in place! As the horse started to move, the boy pulled out his knife and cut off his own finger... just as the horse rose up and ran straight back into the lake with all of the other children stuck to its back, and they all disappeared beneath the surface.
When people arrived the following day to search for the children, they discovered the children's 'sgamhan' -- which translates roughly as lungs -- floating at the water's edge.
My Source's Source... and a Couple of Variations
The above version of the tale was collected verbally in 1887 from a student at Aberdeen University, named Cathel Kerr. Kerr came from Sutherland-shire in Scotland. Alexander MacBain, the author of the collection that I got the story from, had apparently run into other variations of the tale as well, so it was a popular story at the time. MacBain notes that he usually heard of the horse as being a dapple-grey (which reseambles water) rather than a bay, and notes that it appears to be a moral tale that punishes children who play on Sunday, a sacred day in Biblical religions. That the creature being described is an 'ech usige' -- "water-horse" -- is undeniable, as it resembless a horse, lives in a lake, sticks people to its skin, and eats them... all being classic traits of this Scottish water monster.
Two different versions of this story were printed in later collections. Published in 1896, we have the following story:
On a fine day a party of young Highlanders had spent many hours in the shade of the forest exploring every remote corner and sharing stories of wood-spirits that lived there. The path home took them past a lake, on the edge of which a gentle looking horse grazed. The boys walked over to the animal and, as it didn't run, all but one boy stroked its sleek coat and its soft muzzle. Before the single boy who had not joined in could react, the 'gentle horse' plunged into the water dragging all the other boys with it. This is why the lake is called Loch-na-Cloinne, the lake of the children.
Note how in this version of the tale the event is not stated to happen on a Sunday, nor do the boys witness the horse rising from the water (which I would hope should be a very clear warning!).
The next version was published in 1900, and the story is set in an entirely different part of Scotland:
Ten children went to play at Loch-na-Dunach -- the "lake of disaster" -- near Sunart, on a Sunday. As they played they spied a horse and caught it and all mounted it but one child, who had a Bible in his pocket. No one seemed to notice that the horse's back had stetched out to make room for nine riders; but the one child who didn't mount it did notice when his finger stuck to the animal when he touched it. The boy had to cut off his own finger to save himself as the horse rushed into the lake with the other nine children. All that was ever found of them was a liver that washed ashore on the following day.
What appears to have happened is that the original story -- which may or may not be the one printed and presented above -- had become popular enough by 1900 to start to be told of as true for varying lakes through Scotland, likely because it was a good way to both scare children into church on Sundays and make them be careful of strange horses and lakes!