I have a confession. I’m drawn to graveyards. Which is just as well because there are no less than
two in the lane where I live and sometimes – just sometimes – I take a detour walk around one of them with the dogs.
I don’t know why, but they hold a certain morbid fascination for me. In particular, the very old gravestones. The inscriptions can tell so much about someone’s death, but also, they make me ponder how they lived.
The nearest one to me is where they bury people that have more recently passed. And by that I don’t mean just strolling by as Sally the lab cross and I do now and again, thankfully.
The other is Stonehouse Old Kirkyard, which is a fabbie – if spooky – place full of real historical significance. Here is where I really like to hang out, trying to decipher some seriously old headstones. My family will tell you I don’t often go out and visit the living, so they’d be amazed if they knew how much time I spend visiting the dead.
Stonehouse is in the heart of old Covenanter country, so the old Kirkyard is full of people that died in the name of religious freedom. (Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland). But even more interestingly, it has a witch’s stone. Yep, at the end of my road.
Witchcraft was (allegedly) rife here in Stonehouse between the 16th and 18th centuries. In fact, at one time people would only dare travel through the village whilst carrying a branch of Rowan, said to keep bad spirits away – and a handy thing for swatting all the midges. The Rowan tree remains ever present in some of our gardens to this day, swaying quietly in the breeze while keeping us safe. That is, if you believe in all that mumbo jumbo, which I, being of sane mind and character of course, do not.
The witch’s stone, or ‘bloodstone’ is, to put it in my own words, ‘a stone that bites you when you prod it.’ It’s a table stone with a skull carved on, that has a hole below the mouth. It belongs to one James Thomson, who died at the battle of Drumclog in 1679. And one day, a wise person, let us call him, ‘Thomas McThumb’, came along, poked their finger in the hole and pulled it out to find blood on it. Gasp!
Now, thanks to Thomas running home to tell everyone about it, this eerie phenomenon brings visitors to the village, queuing to have a go at getting their own fingers bitten too. NB: This has nothing to do with the red ocre running through the stone – nothing I tell you! The witch’s stone is spooky and it maims you. Keep coming here, the local Coop needs your sticky plaster buying business.
What is the Covenanters’ grave to do with witches? Legend would have us believe that Stonehouse, being almost encircled by the river Avon, has its ancient witches trapped, due to their inability to cross running water; hence why they are still here biting folk in the Kirkyard.
Where am I leading you with my historical tales of witchcraft and bleeding fingers?
Well, the last time I was there, leaning in for a little look and wondering if the witch would bite me if I just, poked one little digit into…..
Garghhhhhhh! (That was me by the way).
There was a snuffling, scratching sound that made my heart stop. Then a clod of earth hit my back. This was it; the Stonehouse witch had got me and I was going to die here, with my finger stuck under the mouth of this skull like a sort of gone wrong game of Operation.
‘You touched the sides! You touched the sides! Your cardboard patient with the boozer’s nose is DEAD.’
Without removing my finger, because you never know, it could have been plugging the way for a few more escaping ghosties, I turned round to see Sally enthusiastically kicking back earth, attempting to dig up the body of James Thomson.
I. Kid. You. Not. So, let me tell you, he may be mysterious and have a spooky witch sleeping on his head, but his bones smell delicious.
I snapped Sally back on her lead and we ran home to hide… behind our Rowan tree.