Cutty Sark, the most famous tea clipper in the world, is in a beautiful glassed-off dry dock on the riverside in Greenwich. Her name comes from Tam O’Shanter, a poem by Robbie Burns.
Tam was on his way home from market after a few drinks in a local tavern. It was late on a stormy night and Tam and his horse Maggie were in a hurry to get home, when Tam heard an unearthly wailing through the wind and rain.
Close to a local church he saw a flickering glare and, as he edged closer, he saw that the sound had come from a group of witches who were dancing around a green-flamed fire while the devil played the bagpipes!
They were dressed in floating rags, except for one who was younger than the rest and wore a short skirt, known in the local dialect as a ‘cutty sark’. Her name was Nannie, although Tam didn’t know that, so when he forgot that witches don’t like to be spied on and yelled out his appreciation at Nannie’s energetic dance he shouted “Weel done cutty sark!” It was a big mistake.
The fire went instantly black and the whole coven of witches tore after Tam as he frantically spurred Maggie on towards the river. Witches can’t cross running water, so he knew that if he could get across the river he’d be safe. It was a close run thing. Just as Tam and Maggie reached the bridge, Nannie caught up with them and grabbed Maggie’s tail, which came away in her hand.
She was left waving the tail in fury as Maggie and Tam panted their way home and swore never to cross the river ever, ever again.
You can see Nannie today – she’s the figurehead of Cutty Sark and she still has Meg’s tail in her hand.