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Folklorists who define kelpies as spirits living beside rivers, as distinguished from the Celtic lakeside-dwelling water horse (each-uisge), include 19th-century minister of Tiree John Gregorson Campbell and 20th-century writers Lewis Spence and Katharine Briggs.

But the distinction should stand, argues one annotator, who suggests that people are led astray when an each uisge in a "common practice of translating" are referred to as kelpies in English accounts, of Shetland and the tangie of Orkney; in other parts of the United Kingdom they include the Welsh ceffyl dŵr and the Manx cabbyl-ushtey.

In their human form, kelpies are almost invariably male.

One of the few stories describing the creature in female form is set at Conon House in Ross and Cromarty.

In some variations the lad cuts off his fingers or hand to free himself; he survives but the other children are carried off and drowned, with only some of their entrails being found later.

Such a creature said to inhabit Glen Keltney in Perthshire is considered to be a kelpie by 20th-century folklorist Katharine Mary Briggs, The same tale set at Sunart in the Highlands gives a specific figure of nine children lost, of whom only the innards of one are recovered.

The surviving boy is again saved by cutting off his finger, and the additional information is given that he had a Bible in his pocket.

Gregorson Campbell considers the creature responsible to have been a water horse rather than a kelpie, and the tale "obviously a pious fraud to keep children from wandering on Sundays".

It was a magnificent piece of work resplendent with gold piers and posts, but sank into the water to become a treacherous area of quicksand after a grateful onlooker tried to bless the kelpies for their work.

Progeny resulting from a mating between a kelpie and a normal horse were impossible to drown, and could be recognised by their shorter than normal ears, a characteristic shared by the mythical water bull or tarbh uisge in Scottish Gaelic, similar to the Manx tarroo ushtey.

Kelpies have been portrayed in their various forms in art and literature, most recently in two 30-metre (98 ft) high steel sculptures in Falkirk, The Kelpies, completed in October 2013.

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