The River Shin – A Scottish Christmas Legend

Contributed by Marilyn McPhie

Visitors to Scotland have always admired – and photographed – the River Shin near Inverness.  They say that there is no more beautiful spot in all of Scotland than the west bank that leads to the Shin Falls.  The steep bank of the river is covered with birches, bracken, moor flowers, deep pools, and shimmering waterfalls.  All who visit there say that it is lovely – and what they also say is that long, long ago even Christ found it surpassingly beautiful.  He loves all of the world, of course, but he has a special fondness for the Highlands, with their incomparable glens and vistas. Over the centuries, Christ has often visited this favorite spot – usually in winter, when there are few humans about.  The beasts, birds, and even fish come out to greet him.

The legend tells that one clear winter night, near the time when Christmas is celebrated, Christ came to the River Shin.  The moon was full and bright, and it shone down upon the frost-covered branches of the trees, transforming everything into a wonderland.  In the midst of admiring and rejoicing in the beauty, Christ noticed that the fish in the river seemed distressed, in trouble.  He called upon a large salmon, asking what could be troubling the fish in the midst of all of this winter beauty.

The salmon replied that the world they lived and swam in was indeed beautiful, but their pleasure in it would not last.  The salmon explained that the fish could sense a freeze coming, a deep and penetrating freeze.  The very river, the salmon explained, was likely to freeze, and that would mean the death of all the fish who lived there.

“A freeze is the one thing we fear,” said the salmon, “the one danger against which we are helpless.”

It is said that Christ took pity on the salmon and other fish in the Shin River.  He stretched out his hand to bless the river, and in doing so, he assured the salmon, “You do not need to be afraid.  The waters of this river will never freeze again.”And it is well known among those who dwell near the River Shin, those who fish in that river, and those who visit to admire its beauty – that the River Shin never freezes.  And this, according to legend, is the reason.