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The Bewitched Woman of the Maiden Rock

This natural sandstone sea stack, known as the Maiden Rock, is a popular stopping point for people walking the Fife Coastal Path, who enjoy the views out to sea, yet at night the atmosphere becomes more oppressive.

For many years, the ghostly figure of a young lady has been seen walking on the beach around the rock, pausing to look out to sea, and it is said that it is from this haunting, being the rock where the phantom maiden is seen, that the name still used today was derived.

It was originally thought she was the wife of one of the many sailors who have lost their lives in St Andrews Bay. Long strips of rock extend from the shore for some distance that are covered by the tide, which combined with the rough conditions and difficult harbour to negotiate, have caused many shipwrecks. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland gives details of the wreck of a 19th century ship named ‘The Mary’ that lies on the seabed to the east of the Maiden Rock. In October 1884, this ship was sailing from South Shields to London with a cargo of coal, when a gale drove the boat north and into St. Andrews bay. Despite anchoring, she was dragged and completely wrecked.

Local Folklore

While it is entirely plausible that the Maiden could be still looking for her lost love returning from sea, local folklore offers another, more tragic tale behind her haunting presence. It is said that details of this tale became known when an old house in the town was being demolished. Ancient papers were found hidden within it, which had been written by an early owner of the house and tells the story of his daughter, Ermentrude.

The young lady was gifted with great beauty and she attracted much attention from the local men, but she eventually fell in love with a St Andrews University student named Eugene. The romance went well and, with the couple due to be married at St Andrews, relatives from France came to stay including Ermentrude’s cousin, Marie. There was an instant attraction between Eugene and Marie, which grew over the following weeks, and Eugene realised he was falling in love with her.

Eventually Ermentrude heard of the blossoming romance, and that her fiancé had plans to run away with her cousin just weeks before the wedding. Ermentrude is said to have been distraught, for all her adult life she was used to men falling for her beauty, yet now she faced not just betrayal but rejection.

A Risky Pact

Furious, she sought the advice of a local wise woman, who was known to be able to heal all ailments, including a broken heart. After telling her story, the wise woman asked Ermentrude what it was that she desired, and she replied that she wanted her cousin gone so she could try to win her fiancé back. The wise woman asked if she was prepared to deal with all consequences of her desire, to which Ermentrude confirmed she was. A potion was mixed and given to her, along with a small dagger, and she left with the dagger concealed and instructions to drink the potion when she was alone with her cousin, and she would get what she desired.

Later that night, Marie had gone to bed early and the rest of the family had gone out for the evening, giving Ermentrude her chance. She drank the potion and waited. Contrary to what she expected, she found herself becoming more and more angry about the situation, and she went to her cousin’s bedroom to confront her. Seeing Marie sleeping soundly, as though she didn’t have a care in the world. Ermentrude was overcome with rage, she drew the dagger and stabbed her rival through the heart.

The Tragedy Concludes

A short while later, the effects of the potion began to wear off and she realised what she had done. Her cousin was gone, just as she desired, only in circumstances she never envisaged and leaving consequences she had never imagined. With her family due back soon, she wrote a note to her father before fleeing the house. Upon returning and discovering what had happened, her family searched for her and her body was later found in the sea at the Maiden Rock, where it is believed she had drowned herself. She was only 22 years old.

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