The Each-Uisge (pronounced ech-ooshka) is a Scottish water horse from the Highlands of Scotland. It is similar to the kelpie, but much fiercer and lives in the sea, sea lochs or fresh water lochs, whereas kelpies live in rivers or streams. It can shapeshift to turn into a horse, a pony, a handsome man or an enormous bird and will drag unsuspecting victims down into the depths of the sea.
The creature will eat sheep and cows but likes to attack humans on land, or will allow itself to be ridden. Having touched the horse, the victim will become stuck, unable to free himself and the horse will dash into the loch, drowning the rider so the horse can eat him. People who lived in the Highlands were wary of lone animals or people at the side of lochs and kept away, for fear that they might be the each-uisge.
In the shape of a human man, the each-uisge can be recognised by the weeds and mud in his hair. He will attempt to seduce women, probably to eat them, but there are tales of women escaping, either through their own efforts or the intervention of their father and/or brother.
There is also a version of the each-uisge in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales. The one on the Isle of Man is like the each-uisge in that it will eat humans, but the Irish and Welsh versions can be tamed and ridden like an ordinary horse. In the Isle of Man, it is called the cabyll-ushtey, in Ireland it is named the each-uisce and in Wales, it is the ceffyl dwr. I know a bit more about this Welsh version, having read more folklore about it.
It is much the same as the others, but will tempt a traveller to ride, then gallop away, throwing the traveller to his death. The horse can be dappled, grey or the colour of sand. There is a tale of one particular ceffyl dwr at St Bride’s Bay in Pembrokeshire. After a storm, a horse appeared in the bay and was captured by a farmer who used the horse to pull the plough in his fields. However, one day, the horse, with no warning, whisked the ploughman and the plough into the waves, dragging them to the deeps. We are not told whether the man survived.
In my paintings here, I tried to captured the essence of the sea in the horse and to show that the each-uisce is of the sea, a sea spirit, if you like. I couldn’t decide which version to do, a close up or a horse in the seascape, so I did both.
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Myths and Legends of Wales retold by Tony Roberts