The Mountain Boat

There was once a farmer who worked hard and who always had a kind word for his sheep, a crust of bread for the birds, and a song for the wind. Seeing this, the fairies favoured the farmer by leaving one of their treasures for him to find. One bright morning, when the farmer was out taking care of his sheep, he picked up a large acorn with a split in its side. The farmer could see the acorn’s heart was made of gold. He buried the acorn at the top of his field, to see if the gold would grow and to keep it safe. The farmer imagined a great oak taking root with golden leaves, but instead the soil of the field filled with specks of gold dust and it shone here and there among the grass.


One evening, a stranger arrived at the farmer’s field with the rain. He was a tall man, cloaked in grey, and he asked the farmer to invite him in through the gate. Rain streamed from the sky, but it didn’t seem to touch the stranger, who settled himself at the bottom of the field beside the river.


As the rain fell, gold flooded down the hillslope, where it gathered round the stranger. The stranger called for the farmer to bring him a meal as he had travelled far without food. Seeing how gold gilded the stranger’s cloak, the farmer did as he was asked and served up a feast of lamb. As the stranger chewed on his meat he said, ‘Fairy gold sewn with greed won’t make for a good harvest.’


As the rain poured, gold collected at the edge of the riverbank. The stranger called for the farmer to bring him a new pair of boots as his own were worn through. The farmer took the fine boots from his own feet and handed them to the stranger. As the stranger laced up the boots he said, ‘Fairy gold is easily lost and tricky to catch.’

As the rain thrashed the ground, gold washed away into river. The stranger called for the farmer to bring him three sheep. The farmer reluctantly herded up his sheep and picked out the three finest for the stranger. As the stranger looked over the sheep he said, ‘Fairy gold will cause nothing but trouble if you let it slip away.’


When dawn came the stranger had vanished. The farmer grumbled aloud that he’d left without thanks or payment, but snagged on the fence by the old oak was a tiny white boat as small and light as a tuft of wool. The farmer set it on the grass where it swelled with the morning dew into a fine mountain boat that hovered just above the field like mist.


The farmer sailed the mountain boat up and down his field and using its rain-strung nets he was able to haul in a fair catch of gold. He anchored the boat at the bottom of his field, so the fairy gold could no longer wash into the river with the rain. Ivy and ferns wrapped themselves around the boat, but if you look carefully you’ll see it stands there still.

This project was supported by  EPSRC grant EP/L023636/1 which is related to EP/L023555/1 and EP/L023237/1