There was a soutar, or cobblar, who lived in Selkirk (Borders, Selkirkshire). He was such a dedicated shoemaker that he always started work each day before dawn.
One grey and misty morning a cloaked and hooded man walked into his workshop. Without uttering a word he looked at the shoes displayed, selected one of the best pair and tried it on. It fitted perfectly so the mysterious stranger offered to pay for it in gold. Curiously he said he would return the following morning before the break of day to buy the other shoe.
There was something about the stranger that made the soutar feel very uneasy, but his gold coins were sound enough, even though the shoemaker was disgusted when he saw that there were also worms in the man's moldy, old purse.
True to his word however, the stranger return the next day and purchased the second shoe.
The soutar rubbed the gold coins on his apron, inspected them, then closely observed the man leave the workshop and fade into the morning mist. Intrigued, he decided to follow him.
The stranger went straight to the local graveyard, and there he suddenly seemed to disappear into an unmarked grave.
The soutar later told the tale to a group of neighbours, but they didn't believe him. Determined to prove it was true and that he wasn't suffering from hallucinations, he persuaded them to come with him to the graveyard to find the unmarked grave, and help him to dig down to the corpse, which they reluctantly did. There, incredibly, they found the cadaver wearing the brand new shoes.
Before replacing the earth, the soutar decided that a dead man has no need of new shoes, so he carefully removed them. On return to his workshop he cleaned and re-polished them.
Very early the next morning, before the cock crowed, the soutar's wife was awakened by a terrible scream that came from her husband's workshop. She ran down to find some of his tools scattered on the workshop floor, but there was no trace of her husband.
When the neighbours learnt of this, it made them wonder. Having already seen the proof of what they were previously certain was impossible, they decided to go to the graveyard and open the grave once more. This they did, and they discovered with horror that the corpse was not only wearing the new shoes again, he also had the soutar's night-cap in his hand.
But the soutar was never seen or heard of ever again.
Scottish myths 5
Scottish myths 3
Illustration and retelling © Mirino, The Soutar of Selkirk from various sources
including Scotland, Myths and Legends (Beryl Beare) with thanks.