A long time ago way up in the hills of Scotland near Upper Obney, there was a little boy named Robbie MacFarlay. He was a well behaved young boy of ten years. Robbie always obeyed his parents and looked after the cattle and took care to keep the sheep out of the garden.
He was a good lad and did his chores as best he could, but he couldn’t help feeling there was more to life than just looking after the stock. Sometimes, he felt very lonely being up so far away from town and other lads and lassies. As the time went on, he tried his best to tame his restlessness.
One day his mum asked him to take much of the wool that had been spun into town for trading. He was instructed to get as much silver coin as he could but a trade for new tools would be a blessing for his father, a wood cutter. The boy was so pleased and excited to go to town on his own that he could hardly wait. It was a long walk to Perth, but that was where he could find the best price for wool.
On his way into Perth, he decided to rest and have his bannocks and cheese. As Robbie rested and took his lunch, he noticed there were a great many stones lying about. Seeing as how he had some time, he began to stack them into cairns. Robbie felt it was great fun stacking the large stones into pillars as tall as he could reach. After he’d built a few cairns, he set out on his way again.
Another time he rested his bones, as the sack of wool would get quite heavy over the miles. Again, he found himself building the cairns. He did this three more times before reaching Perth. While in Perth, he found merchants willing give silver coin as well as tools for a wood cutter. Happily, he tied the coins to his waste purse and took the tools in his bag.
When he returned home, his mother and father were delighted. His father said, “Robbie! I thought you were standing in the hills just dillying aboot and jammerin’ away to the rabbits and mice. Och! Nay, you were doing all things good and right brining what yer dear family needs!” And so, when Robbie was asked again by his mum to go to Perth to trade the wool for silver and tools, he jumped at the chance.
While walking on to Perth, he admired his cairns. Still standing proud and true. He had never felt so proud. This time he stopped at different spots, here and there, eating his bannocks and stacking stones. Again, when he returned, his parents were delighted at the prices they were receiving for their fine highland wool.
On one particular trip as Robbie was coming in to Perth, he overheard a merchant’s conversation to another saying, “Och! Aye, there’s definitely a brownie aboot! All these cairns popping up all over the place…noo one right in the mind would be building cairns all over the hills for noo reason! It’s a brownie alright. And that brownie’s up to mischief!” Robbie had heard about brownies. Wee little men who were kin to the fairyfolk. It was said they lived out in the hills and sometimes in houses. He knew people were always careful not to upset a brownie for all the mischief they could bring on. Still, he couldn’t help chuckling to himself about the merchants thinking he was a brownie! It was such an interest to him that he decided to keep it a secret.
As time went on, Robbie built more and more cairns and the people in the town of Perth began to talk more and more about the Cairn Brownie. “What’s he buildin’ all them cairns fer? They be wit oot rhyme or reason.” one would say. “Might be the brownie’s got plans for building some stone huts but he can’t make up his mind where to put ’em.” said another. All the while, Robbie would chuckle. Although, one merchant, Allan Gow, asked Robbie on one particular trip if he’d ever seen the brownie building any of those cairns. Robbie said he had never seen the brownie building a cairn. And, that was true as Robbie had built every single one of those cairns himself. However, fearing what some might say, he didn’t offer to Allan that he had built them. Robbie decided he mostly likely ought to stop building cairns.
On his was back from Perth, Robbie decided he just might take some down. He started to dismantle one not so far from town when one of the merchants who was heading out to his farm saw what Robbie was doing. “Robbie MacFarlay! Doon’t you lay one finger on that cairn!” Allan Gow came running. “What in the blazes are ye doing, Robbie? Ye want to bring the brownie’s mischief upon Perth!” Robbie was stunned and was unsure what to say next when Allan said, “Robbie, you put that cairn just like you foond it as fast as you can. I’ll help ye.” After they had placed all the stones as they were, Allan said, “Robbie, take some ye bannocks and cheese and leave them here fer brownie. Last thing ye’d want is a right cross brownie thinking ye rather noo see his cairns. Best to leave a token fer his belly. Best to make a brownie happy wit bannocks, Robbie.”
Robbie did as he was told and bid Allan good day. He pondered this on his way home. He decided it was best to let the cairns be. They belonged to the brownie now. Robbie still made his trips and over time, the people of Perth became less and less concerned with the cairns. But, to this day, they still make sure the cairns are still standing outside of Perth. Anytime one of the cairns falls, someone restacks the stones and makes sure there’s a bit of bannocks and cheese because it’s best to make a brownie happy wit bannocks.