The Dionard Wolf

Graham Bruce, the Head Teacher of Durness Primary School in the far north of Sutherland, and a great enthusiast for old tales, gave me the newspaper clipping which I reproduce in full below. It's from The Northern Times From Our Old Files section, of September 2004. The publication date of the original piece was September 26th, 1929:

Standing midway between Brora and Helmsdale is a stone on which there is an inscription in effect that here, between 1690 and 1700, the last wolf in Sutherland was killed. From the following excerpt from an article to a Northern paper by a gentleman of veracity, it would appear that a wolf was seen in Sutherland as late as 1888.

The author of the article, who was the guest of a shooting tenant in Sutherland, went out on the hill one day alone. During the afternoon a thick mist came down, which resulted in his losing his way. Night coming on, he decided to put up in a cave which he accidentally came across in the valley of Dionard. He made a fire and fell asleep.

"I awoke with a great start and looked at my watch. It was one o'clock in the morning, and the weather had cleared. The moon appeared and the stars shone with a flickering and a frosty lustre like great diamonds on the black corsage of night. The musty odour had become most intense, and as my sleepy eyes threw off their shattered torpor, I saw with a shiver of apprehension a pair of sunken baleful looking eyes regarding me steadily and stealthily across the dying embers of the fire.

"I slipped a couple of cartridges into my gun, and as I did so I heard a low painful whine. I could now make out a white form like a huge dog lying not more than three feet from me. Its head rested on its paws and so far from showing any signs of hostility, it seemed to exhibit symptoms of friendliness. Its coat was a kind of silver-grey in colour and was thick and curly, but the face showed signs of great age.

"I stood up with my gun at my shoulder, but the beast did not move, and I could not find it in my heart to shoot; instead I threw it a ham sandwich. It nosed wearily, but did not attempt to eat it, so I tried it with a gorgonzola one, which it rejected with some evidence of repulsion. It then rose, and I saw to my unbounded astonishment that I was faced by a great silver-grey female wolf. She whined again, but kept her distance, and I then saw that in her eyes brooded a look of unutterable loneliness and misery.

"A female wolf, and the last wolf had been killed in Sutherland between 1690 and 1700. I could have gained lasting glory by shooting her, but my hand was stayed. It was I who had invaded her poor little dwelling, and she had shared it with me without hostility. She should suffer no harm from me. Her ancestors had wandered here when Scotland was joined to Greenland, and had shared these wan wastes with the majestic elk and the ivory-tusked boar; fighting and suffering and dying in those vast oak and pine forests, the remains of which are still visible in the great mosses which abound all over Sutherland."