Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Lavender Witch: serialised

I am going to post 'The Lavender Witch' as a twice weekly series which I hope you will enjoy reading and that you won't get too frustrated that it's in dribs and drabs! ( what a lovely expression, makes me think of old spinster aunts!) Anyway I hope you enjoy it....

evon, a beautiful green county of gentle rolling hills and woodlands. Steeped in history, and home to the Anglo Saxon tribe the Dumnonii from which the county reputedly gained its name. Dumnonii meaning ‘deep valley dwellers’; an apt name for this beautiful countryside.  Hiding scores of small villages and hamlets deep in the fertile valleys of the Blackdown Hills and reached by a maze of winding single track lanes enclosed on either side by high banks and hedges which in high summer grow together and meet overhead forming long green tunnels.  Within just a few miles of the bustling towns and roads you enter a different world where the past is so close that it could be just around the next bend of the road.

The small village of Medbury, worthy of mention in the Domesday book is bounded by the river Yarty to the west and the county border of Dorset to the east, its single street winding its way along the valley and rising gently to the slopes of Castle Hill. The street petering out at the rambling buildings of Castle Farm, originally the last residence on that road but with the overgrown orchard to the side of the barn recently having been sold, a new dwelling had risen inside the old stone walls of the orchard. The builders rubble had gone, lush green turf had been laid and a new gravel drive led up to the front door. Orchard Cottage was finished, and deep in the soil something stirred


There were a few early fallers under the two remaining apple trees in the orchard behind the house, the old neglected trees had long since stopped producing a decent crop but the wasps had found the few apples that had dropped and were drunkenly crawling over the rotting fruit.
 One stray wasp flew in through the kitchen door and buzzed slowly around the room until it found the empty tubs of the Indian takeaway on the table. Kitty flicked it away with a tea towel and swept the debris into a carrier bag.
‘Thanks for bringing the Indian.’
Gordon pushed his empty plate away and stood up. ‘Well, I thought it would be easier for you, after all,’ he said looking at the piles of boxes in the hall. ‘You’ve had a busy day. So what time did the removal company finish?’
Kitty sighed and pushed her greying hair back from her face.
 ‘I think we finished unpacking the van about five, so then they had one last cup of tea and went on about five thirtyish.’ She picked up the dirty plates and piled them in the sink. ‘I’ve run out of milk as well, they drank so much tea and coffee. I was brewing up the whole time they were here.’
‘Oh well, at least they worked hard for it and moving all our junk in one trip! I’m sure they deserved all the tea they could drink for that.’
A cool breeze blew in the door, outside dusk was falling and the last few minutes of bird song drifted over the newly landscaped garden.
‘Thank goodness it stayed dry, there’s nothing worse than trying to move in the rain.’
Gordon opened the fridge. ‘Yeah.. We were lucky this time, is there enough milk left for a cup of tea?’ he picked up the carton and shook it. ‘Nope, it’s dry,’ he complained. ‘It will have to be a black coffee.’
Kitty pulled a couple of clean mugs out of a cardboard box on the table.
‘I hope I’ve got enough coffee left, there’s some tea, but black tea? And by the way there’s something wrong with this door,’ she indicated the back door.  ‘It won’t stay open.’
Gordon raised his eyebrows and sighed mockingly. ‘A new house and you’re finding fault already.’
‘I’m not finding fault, it just won’t stay open. And the front door is just as bad. It kept shutting when we were trying to bring things in. I’m sure the men thought I was doing it for a joke, so Greg propped it open with your armchair. He had a look at it; he said it might be the hinges.’
Gordon rubbed a hand over his face. ‘Okay, I’ll look at it tomorrow; have you found the coffee yet?’
‘The coffee,’ he said impatiently. ‘Oh never mind I’ve got it,’ Gordon opened the jar. ‘There’s not enough here for one cup let alone two,’ he looked at his watch. ‘I wonder if the village shop is still open.’
Kitty looked up from the box. ‘I shouldn’t think so, not at this time of night.’
Gordon sighed. ‘How about a beer then?’
‘A beer? Well,’ she hesitated. ‘Yes, that would be nice, I could do with getting out of here for a while,’ she looked at the dog who was pushing his now empty bowl around the floor. ‘And Nero could do with a walk,’ she bent down and fondled his ears. ‘You’ve been such a good dog today, haven’t you?’
Kitty straightened slowly wincing. ‘I’m going to ache tomorrow,’ she complained rubbing her back.
‘Why didn’t you let the men do the lifting?’
‘I had to help Gordon; I couldn’t stand back and just watch.’

 She turned away from him to shut the back door and noticed an elderly grey cat sitting in the doorway.
‘Hey, we’ve got a visitor, our first one. Hello puss.’ She put out a tentative hand and gently tickled it behind its ear. ‘Now who do you belong to?’
Gordon came back in from the hall, he had taken off his jacket and tie and had pulled on a thick jumper.
‘A cat,’ she turned back to the door. ‘Oh it’s gone already.’
‘It’s probably from the farm or a stray.’
‘It looked too plump to be a stray.’
‘Then it’s from the village or the farm, and no... we are not taking it in,’ he warned her.
‘I wasn’t thinking of that,’ she muttered. ‘Anyway Nero wouldn’t like it, would you boy?’
She patted his head and stepped over him to shut the door and caught sight of her hands, they were covered in the black ink from the newspapers.
 ‘I had better wash my hands first, they are filthy from unpacking this lot,’ she looked at the box of crockery.  ‘I should have got rid of all this china before we moved, who uses cups and saucers these days anyway?’ she said moving the box off the table. ‘We’ve got far too much now.’
‘Didn’t you wash them before we ate?’
‘Nope,’ she grimaced. ‘I forgot, I was too hungry, never mind,’ she rinsed them under the tap.  ‘A bit of ink won’t kill me.’
Gordon waited impatiently as Kitty dried her hands and got the dog lead from the utility room.
‘Are you ready now?’
‘Yes I am,’ she replied calmly. ‘Oh where’s my handbag?’
Gordon was walking to the front door and called back over his shoulder ‘You don’t need it, I’ve got some money, will you come on Kitty?’
Gordon pulled the door shut behind him and followed his wife down the drive. He glanced back at the house.
‘Once we sort out the front garden the place will look as though it has always been here.’
Kitty stopped and turned round, she smiled contentedly. ‘It blends in nicely with the old farm buildings, doesn’t it? And it feels like home already.’
Gordon put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug as they walked out into the lane.  ‘We need to plant some more apple trees in the back garden, we can’t call it Orchard Cottage if it hasn’t got an orchard.’
‘Perhaps we ought to grow some of the older types of apple, I wonder if Mr Beamish can remember what varieties the original trees were.’‘Maybe, it’s a shame we couldn’t keep a few more but I think most of the old trees were past saving.’
They turned right and followed the old stone wall of the orchard past the farm and walked down the lane into the village, the dog running a few paces in front of them
 A bat swooped over their heads and disappeared into the farm buildings.
‘What a lovely evening.’
The lights were still on in the shop as the couple walked past.
‘It looks open,’ said Kitty surprised. ‘Shall I try the door?’
An elderly woman stood behind the counter reading a newspaper, she looked up, sensing she was being watched and smiled when she saw Kitty peering in through the window.
Kitty opened the door making the bell over the door tinkle madly.
 ‘Are you still open?’ she asked.
‘Yes dear,’ she looked at her wrist watch. ‘Oh goodness! Is that the time? I didn’t realise it was so late,’ she shook her head and folded the newspaper.
‘We’ve run out of milk and coffee, are you usually open this late?’
‘No, I just lost track of time, I don’t usually work on Friday night but my nephew had an appointment so I volunteered.’ The woman watched as Kitty wandered around the shop picking up the milk and coffee, she also picked up a crusty loaf of bread.
‘Freshly baked this morning, dear.’
‘It smells lovely; I’ll have one of these as well.’ Kitty placed it all on the counter. ‘Do you have any eggs?’ she asked looking around the shelves.
‘Over there by the newspapers. They’re free range; they come from Mr Squire’s farm.’
Kitty placed a half a dozen next her other purchases on the counter. ‘I’m afraid I didn’t bring a bag, we weren’t expecting the shop to be open.’
The woman pulled a carrier out from under the counter and started packing Kitty’s groceries.
‘How’s the move going?’ she asked suddenly. ‘William’s a good friend, he’s been keeping me informed,’ she smiled at Kitty’s surprised face. ‘It’s a small village dear, you’ll get used to it.’
Kitty smiled back at her. ‘It’s lovely here, it feels like home already.’
‘I’m sure it does,’ the woman said quietly. She passed Kitty’s shopping over. ‘That will be six pounds fifty please.’
Kitty opened Gordon’s wallet and handed over a ten pound note. The women’s hand closed over the money and Kitty’s hand.
‘Sybil,’ she said.
‘Sybil Leavenham, my name,’ she explained. ‘I know you’re going to be happy here Kitty, and if you need help with anything,’ she shook Kitty’s hand as if to emphasis the point. ‘Anything at all just ask.’
Kitty smiled hesitantly. ‘Thank you, that’s very kind of you.’
Sybil smiled and released her hand, she nodded towards Gordon standing outside, ‘He’s getting impatient and he wants his beer.’
Kitty glanced around; her husband was gently tapping on the window and gesturing at her to her to hurry up.
‘I’d better go,’ she gathered up the bag and her change. ‘Thanks, see you again.’
‘Oh you will. Goodnight.’
Kitty smiled and pulled the shop door closed behind her. Gordon looked at the carrier bag in her hand and smiled ruefully.
‘I thought it was just milk and coffee you needed?’
‘Well I thought I would pick up a few things for breakfast as well.’ Kitty handed back his wallet and looked up, Sybil was standing in the window calmly watching the couple outside.
Kitty waved and she smiled slightly in response.
‘She seemed very nice, she’s a friend of Mr Beamish. She knew all about us.’
‘She even knew I was called Kitty.’
Gordon looked puzzled for a minute. He started to say something but behind them the shop lights suddenly turned off leaving them standing in the dark.
 ‘Oh, time to go I think,’ as he said this he turned and glanced back into the darkened interior of the shop, just on the other side of the window a dim figure stood, arms folded watching them through the glass. Gordon shrugged off the strange feeling of unease and took Kitty’s hand.
‘Come on; let’s get off to the pub Kitty.’
The street was deserted, pools of light shone out of the cottage windows lighting their way down to the public house. They crossed the narrow lane leading to Castle Hill and walked the few yards to the traditional square red brick building, which had a brand new sign hanging over the front door.
‘The Witch and Broomstick, huh! They’ve changed the name. It used to be The Red Lion,’ said Gordon.
‘I don’t remember coming here before,’ said Kitty surprised, looking at Gordon in the dim light.
She looked up at the lurid painted sign, a fearsome looking witch was riding across the night sky on a broomstick.
‘What a strange thing to call a pub.’
‘Remind you of anybody?’ Gordon said raising an eyebrow at her.
Kitty looked puzzled ‘Not really.’
‘No? I thought it was quite a good likeness of your mother,’ he laughed at her indignant face and pushed open the door to the public bar and reminded her. 'I used to play darts here many years ago with the Young Farmers Club.'
‘Ah.. Your wild and woolly past.’‘Half a pint of cider and a bag of chips on the way home,’ Gordon grinned at her and shrugged.  ‘Yeah, really wild!’
‘Yes and I suppose you still had change from a shilling or was it a farthing?’
‘Half a pig actually, so who’s buying, you or me?’
‘You are, I left my bag at home remember?’
‘Oh yeah,’ he said ruefully.
Inside it was deserted except for the landlord who was wiping down the bar; it looked a traditional pub with horse brasses hanging from the old beams, however there were a few unusual additions to the decor.
Gordon bumped his head on one as he approached the bar.
‘Good evening, what can I get you?’
‘Evening, it’s quiet in here,’ said Gordon looking around the small room. ‘Well now let’s see, what local beers have you got?’
The landlord smiled. ‘It’s a bit early for the regulars yet, they’ll be in  later. Now,’ he said turning to the pumps. ‘We have Plymouth Pilgrim, Hunters Gold, or there’s Palmers IPA, and I’ve just put on a fresh barrel of Otter.’
‘I’ll try a pint of the Otter thanks, what will you have Kitty?’
‘I think I’ll have the same but just a half.’
Kitty stared at the toy witches hanging from the beams.
 ‘Why all the witches?’
‘That’s all to do with our famous local witch, The Witch of Medbury.’
‘Who? I’ve never heard of her,’ said Kitty puzzled.
‘Oh well you can’t be local then if you’ve never heard of Hannah.’
‘Well my family are local, from Axmouth, they used to run The Ship Inn,’ said Kitty.
‘Really? Here you are sir,’ and placed a foaming beer glass in front of Gordon who took a mouthful. 
‘Ahh... that’s good... that doesn’t sound like a Devon accent, where are you from?’
‘My partner and I are from Woking, in Surrey that is. We think it’s important to keep the local traditions alive. It’s surprising that so few people around here know about her.’
‘Hmm, really,’ Gordon said drily.
‘Rumour has it that she was an evil old woman, terrorised the village, it’s even said that she killed several people. She was snatched away by old Nick himself at the end.’
‘Where did you find out about all this? It sounds like nonsense to me,’ said Gordon disparagingly.
‘Well Sheena is very interested in the occult, she has been researching the witch and thought it would be great to try and bring local history alive. She was even thinking of having a séance here.’
‘A séance! Wow,’ said Kitty.
‘Perhaps you’d be interested in attending?’‘Oh I don’t think so,’ said Gordon firmly, picked up the glasses and pushed Kitty towards a small table near the fireplace. ‘I don’t think we want to get involved in anything like that.’
Nero plodded over to the smouldering fire and sat down on the hearth with his nose just inches from the burning embers. Kitty hooked a finger through his collar and pulled him away from the fire.
‘Move you silly dog, you’ll burn,’ and pushed him under the table. ‘Now sit there, I hope they don’t mind the dog coming in but the landlord didn’t say anything did he?’
Gordon placed the glasses down on the table and sat down.
‘The dog is fine Kitty, stop fussing.’ He put a glass in front of her. ‘There you are.’
‘Thanks,’ she picked up a beer mat off the table. ‘Look, the witch is on here as well.’
Kitty handed it to Gordon for him to read and while he searched for his glasses in his coat pocket she took the opportunity to gaze around the pub. Her examination of the many obligatory horse brasses hanging around the fireplace was cut short by the sound of Gordon laughing as he read out the text on the mat.

‘The Witch of Medbury
In the early 1800’s at Castle Hill near the village of Medbury lived a witch called Hannah who was reputed to possess great powers. She was the most famous witch in East Devon and could change into a hare, bewitch animals and it is said her powers caused the death of several residents of the village. Hannah died a horrible death dragged out of her cottage on Castle Hill by the Devil and left hanging in a tree.’

‘For God’s sake where did they dig this nonsense up from?’
‘Perhaps they’re going to turn this into a theme pub with a hologram of a hags head coming out of the wall.’
‘They could hire your mother to sit in the corner of the bar, an authentic witch. Can she cackle?
‘Oh how cruel!’ she laughed. ‘Anyway she would scare all the trade away.’
‘Very true....well here’s to the first day in our new home,’ Gordon raised his glass to his wife. ‘Here’s to our new home, at last!’
 Gordon settled back in his chair and closed his eyes and sighed. ‘I’ve been looking forward to this for months, no maintenance, no painting windows, no worrying about guttering or dodgy drains, great!’
‘The old house wasn’t that bad.’
‘I was tired of having to continually patch things up and we don’t need all that space, not now.’
Kitty looked a bit glum. ‘Will we have room for all the children at Christmas?’
He stared at her over the top of his glass. ‘They’re not children any more, they have all got their own homes and families. We can go to them for Christmas, let the kids wait on us for a change.’‘The grandchildren will still be able to come and stay if they want, we’ll be able to squeeze two or three into the spare room, that would be nice,’ she said hopefully.
Gordon took a few mouthfuls of beer and sighed contentedly. ‘They don’t need to stay, they only live a few miles away. I’m looking forward to a nice peaceful retirement, no kids, no decorating, just fishing!’
Kitty shook her head. ‘I’m sure you don’t mean that and anyway you’re not retired yet.’
She sipped her beer slowly and stared at her husband.
Gordon put down his glass. ‘Just one more year and that will be it.’
The landlord came over and gave the smouldering fire a vigorous poke and then placed a fresh log on the rekindled flames.
‘It’s a bit early for a fire but it gives the place a welcoming feel, don’t you think?’ he asked, addressing Kitty.
‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘Well it’s getting chillier in the evenings now; I think our Indian summer is over.’
He nodded in agreement. ‘Are you here on holiday?’
‘No, we’ve just moved into Orchard Cottage, at the top of the village.’
The landlord looked blank. ‘I don’t think I know that one.’
‘It’s the new house at Castle Farm,’ explained Kitty.  ‘We bought the orchard off of Mr Beamish.’
‘Oh Castle Farm, I know the one you mean. We walked up the lane a few weeks ago, it’s those lovely old buildings at the top isn’t it?’
‘That’s right,’ said Kitty.
 ‘We haven’t seen Mr Beamish in the pub yet.’
Kitty looked at him in amusement.
‘I don’t think you will, he is rather elderly.’
‘Did you say you were from Axmouth?’ he went on. ‘That’s a busy little village isn’t it? Right on the holiday route. There is a nice pub there; I can’t remember what it’s called.’
‘It’s The Ship,’ put in Kitty.
‘No, no, I’m sure it was The Admiral. We stayed there while we were viewing different properties. Very busy little pub and it is a nice area. W e didn’t realise how quiet this village was when we leased this pub.’
‘Medbury is off the beaten track,’ agreed Kitty.
‘Yes, but,’ he brightened. ‘We do have plans, we’re going to concentrate on food and try and get a regular clientele and give it a bit of atmosphere. Sheena is working on the menu this morning. She’s going to experiment with a Caribbean theme; she wants to get away from the usual pub grub. Gastro pub I think she calls it.’
‘Good food will attract customers, even out here,’ said Kitty. ‘Well, we’ll look forward to seeing how you get on.’
‘We’ll be launching the new menu in a few weeks, I hope you will be able to come and join us?’
Kitty glanced at Gordon uncertainly. ‘Yes I’m sure we will be able to make it, won’t we?’
‘Wonderful, I’ll be able to tell Sheena that we have had positive feedback already.’
Kitty nodded and smiled faintly at him as he hurried back to the bar.
‘Hmm... He’s going to have a table reserved for you now.’
‘Oh well, it might be okay, I not sure how that is going to go down with the locals though, I’m sure they would rather have good cooked English food.’
Kitty yawned and rubbed the back of her neck.
‘I’m so tired and stiff, everything is aching and I’m really looking forward to a long soak in the tub tonight. It seems a long time since the removal van came this morning,’ she hesitated. ‘It’s a shame you couldn’t get the day off to help, it would have made it a bit easier.’
‘That’s why I hired that removal company, so they could do the work, not you.’
‘Yes but even so...’
‘I told you that we are really busy at the moment and I couldn’t spare the time Kitty. Now would you like another drink?’
‘No I’ve had enough.’
‘Okay let’s get on back then as you’re tired, we can have an early night. We can finish unpacking in the morning.’
Gordon picked up the empty glasses and took them back to the bar.
‘Thanks,’ he said, ducking his head to avoid the witches.
‘Thank you, hope to see you again,’ called the landlord from behind the bar.
‘I’m sure we will be back and we’ll give your regards to the witch if we see her on the way home.’

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Glaistig of Scotland

The Glaistig is a water faerie who is part alluring woman and part goat. She hides her cloven hooves under long flowing gowns and uses her good looks to entice men to dance with her, and when they are completely under her spell, she feeds on their blood. But on a gentler note she is kind to children and old people. On the island of Iona local women used to leave offerings of milk on the Glaistig Stone every evening as she lived nearby in a cave. In return for this kindness the Glaistig would guard their livestock during the night.

At Lochaber in Scotland a smith once caught a Glaistig and refused to release her until she gave him a herd of cattle; the cattle duly appeared. But the smith was still not satisfied; he demanded a house that neither enemy or faerie could harm.
The Glaistig summoned all the goblins from the surrounding countryside and they set to work building the house. It was completed in one night; the last piece was put in place just as the cock crowed. The goblins disappeared but not the Glaistig as she was still a captive of the smith.
She offered her hand to complete the bargain but the smith , obviously not trusting the faerie, burnt it with a red hot poker. The poor creature ran screaming into the hills where she bled to death. 
The surrounding ground and plants have ever since been stained red with her blood.

Faeries and Folklore of the British Isles

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Candle Auction


The Candle Auction in Tatworth, the small village where I live takes place annually on Old Lady Day, 6th of April; this date apparently is linked to land tenure.
Records for this auction go back as far as 1832 but previous records were burnt in a fire so it is unclear how long this custom has been going on, and it is now the only one that takes place. Chedzoy and Congresbury also used to hold a candle auction, but both died out in the mid 1900's.

The piece of land auctioned is known as Stowells Meadow, a meadow and watercress bed. Only certain people, those who rent or own property in the parish, have the right to attend the meeting which is held at The Poppe Inn.

A length of tallow candle, about an inch long, is lit on a board hung from the pub ceiling –where it is invisible to the assembled hopeful bidders; the highest bidder before the flame goes out wins the field for the year. It takes around 20 minutes and a traditional supper follows of bread, cheese and watercress. The custom started when local farmers set up the Stowell Court to regulate landuse in the area following the enclosure of common land

The watercress bed is long gone although it used to give a good income to the lucky bidder. Stowells Meadow is now used for grazing as the land is too boggy for much else.
My daughter can testify how boggy it is as she made the mistake of trying to walk through it one day on one of our rambles. It took quite a lot of pulling to get her out, and left her wellies behind buried deep in the mud!

There is a good account of it in Ruth Tongue's Somerset Folklore, although she refers to the  meadow as 'No Man's Land'

One old farmer in the district had fallen on hard times and wished to bid for the meadow as he hoped the profits from the watercress beds would help him back on his feet. Everyone wanted him to have it so only two farmers turned up on the day to bid against him. The inch of candle was lit and one of them made his bid quickly, it was kindly meant but to everybody horror the candle began to splutter.
The poor man's son gave his father such a tremendous dig in the ribs he almost choked as he got his bid out. If he had of coughed the bid woul;d not have counted and he would have been fined.
The candle recovered and burnt brightly on and everyone looked sadly at the old farmer who was now in deep despair. It was no use the other farmer who hadn't already bid trying to cough before he put his bid in as the Auctioneer would have probably known what was going  on.
The second man winked at the first and started to wrinkle his nose, he took out a red handkerchief, 'You can't sneeze in in here while the candle is lit,' said the Auctioneer hopefully looking at the candle which was down to a quarter of an inch by now.
So the second man carefully tiptoed to the door with the red handkerchief to his nose, the candle flickered but recovered as he opened the door. Unseen by the Auctioneer he flicked his finger to his sheep dog waiting outside. Barking with joy that the long wait was over leapt up at him wagging his tail and the candle went out. The Auctioneer solemnly explained that the poor dumb beast could not be held to blame and amid great good humour the poor man was given the field for the year. Then everyone went cheerfully for the yearly supper with the  watercress. The old man never guessed how his friends and fellow farmers had helped him.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

True Thomas the Rhymer

True Thomas The Rhymer: 
Many people have been seduced into leaving the mortal world and travelling to Faerieland; some never to be seen again, for once there it is very difficult to escape. One such was Thomas, the young Laird of Erceldoune who, one May Day, saw a beautiful woman riding towards him across the grass. He was so smitten by the woman that he promised then and there to love and stay with her for ever if she would only give him a kiss: although in some versions it’s more than a kiss he received! Once the kiss had been given Thomas watched in horror as the woman’s appearance changed before his eyes, her hair turned gray and her face became lined and haggard, her clothes became tattered and there before him stood an old crone where two minutes before there had been the beautiful woman with whom he had fallen in love.
Thomas knew that he could not go back on his promise and as she made to leave the hill where they had met, he gave one backward glance to the mortal world. Then followed the old crone to a cave in the side of Eildon Hill and from there into the otherworld. They travelled for many days in pitch black surrounded by strange sounds until at last they came to an enormous cavern and in the middle stood a Faerie Castle surrounded by a beautiful garden.
Thomas turned to the old crone to exclaim at the wonder of the place and there in place of the old crone stood the beautiful woman as she had been before.
Thomas gazing on her face then knew that it was the Faerie Queen herself that he had made his promise to.
To Thomas, it seemed as though he had only been there for a few days and when the Faerie Queen told him that in fact he had been there for seven years he could not believe it. She warned him that if he stayed another night then he would be bound for ever in Faerieland and for the sake of their love he would be given a chance to return to his mortal home. With a blink of her eye Thomas found himself once again standing on Huntlie Bank. The Faerie Queen gave Thomas a parting gift: the ability to be a master harpist and also that he would answer every question with truth. For seven years his wisdom and prophecies were sought by many. But he never forgot the beautiful Queen that had stolen his heart; and one day he received a summons from her; Thomas walked out of his home and was never seen again in the mortal world.

True Thomas lay on the grassy bank,
And he beheld a lady gay.
A lady that was brisk and bold,
To come riding o’er the ferny brae.

Her skirt was of the grass green silk,
Her mantle of the velvet fine,
 And on every lock of her horse’s mane,
Hung fifty silver bell and nine.

True Thomas he took off his hat,
And bowed low down to his knee,
All hail thou virgin, Queen of Heaven,
For your like on Earth I ne’er did see.

Oh no, oh no, True Thomas she said,
That name does not belong to me,
I am but the Queen of Fair Elfland
That has come for to visit here with thee.

And you must go with me now, Thomas,
True Thomas you must go with me,
And you must serve me seven years,
Through good or ill as may chance to be.

She turned about her milk white steed
And took True Thomas up behind,
And  aye when’er the bridle rang,
The steed flew faster than the wind,

For forty days and forty nights,
 They wade through red blood to the knee,
And he saw neither sun nor moon,
But heard the roaring of the sea.

Oh they rode on and further on,
Until they came to a garden tree,
Light down, light down, you lady fair,
And I’ll pull off that fruit for thee.
Oh no, oh no, True Thomas she says,
That fruit may not be touched by thee,
For all the plagues that are in hell
Are upon the fruit of this country.

But I have bread here in my lap,
Likewise a bottle of red wine,
And before that we go further on,
We shall rest, and you may dine.

When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
She said Lay your head down on my knee.
And before we climb yon high high hill,
I will show you wonders three.

Oh do you see that broad broad road
That lies by the lily leven?
Oh that is the road of wickedness,
Though some call it the road to Heaven.

And do you see that narrow narrow road
All beset with thorns and briars?
Oh that is the way of righteousness,
Though after it few enquire.

And do you see that bonny bonny road
Which winds about the ferny brae?
Oh that is the road to Fair Elfland,
And together there you and I will go.

But Thomas you must hold your tongue
Whatever you may hear or see...
For if one word you chance to speak,
You will never get back to your own

And he has gotten a coat of woven cloth,
Likewise the shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were past and gone,
True Thomas ne’er on earth was seen.

Faeries and Folklore of the British Isles 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Folklore of St Johns Wort

This plant blooms during the summer solstice and is at its most powerful on the 24th of June, St Johns Day. On this day it is ceremonially burnt on bonfires in honour of the festival.
It is  very powerful against faerie spells and will protect against demons, witches and evil spirits, hence its ancient name of Fuga Daemonum.

'St Johns Wort doth charm all the witches away
If gathered at midnight on the saints holy day
And devils and witches have no power to harm
Those that do gather the plant for a charm
Rub the lintels and the post with that red juicy
No thunder no tempest will then have the power
To hurt or hinder your house; and bind
Round your neck a charm of similar kind'

The plant is imbued with magical powers and can be used for divination, but gathering the flowers can be difficult as the plant sometimes moves away from anybody trying to pick it.
It is also dangerous to step on, if you were careless enough to step on a flower during the day faeries would whisk you away on a wild ride across the countryside and then drop you in a ditch miles from anywhere. Stepping on a flower just before bedtime would ensure that you were kept awake all night by mischievous elves, but to ensure a good night's sleep, with no bad dreams, place a sprig of the plant with some thyme under your pillow.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Rollright Stones.
A Bronze Age site, the stones are widely believed to be a King and his Army that were turned to stone by a local Witch.
The circle of stones is a 100 ft in diameter, to one side stands the King stone.
This was a conquering  army that marched as far north as Little Rollright until the King came upon a local wise woman.
She told the King that if he could see Long Compton within seven strides he would be King of the whole country.
Taking the seven steps up the hill his view was obscured by a mound, jubilant, the Witch turned the King and all his men to stone.
And there they still stand waiting for somebody who has enough strong magic to break the spell.

The Witch then turned herself into an Elder tree  close to the stones to stand guard against the spell being broken.

There was once a farmer who wished to use one of the Whispering Knights in the construction of a new barn, ignoring his neighbours warnings that nothing good would come of disturbing the stones, he yoked up his best oxen to his strongest wagon and set to work moving it. The stone was very heavy but they managed to get it onto the wagon and started for home. The beasts struggled all the way back to the farm and as soon as the three oxen reached the yard they all fell dead and the wagon crumbled to pieces. But the farmer carried on despite this and built the stone into the wall of the barn and from that day forward he never had a moments peace and misfortune after misfortune occurred to him and his family. He had to mortgage his farm and sell his stock until all he had left was one poor old shaky horse and a ricketty cart that he could not sell. He carried on struggling in this way until one day it dawned on him that it was, as everybody had warned him, the stone that had brought this misfortune. He dragged the stone from the wall and levered it onto the cart and then hitched the poor old horse to the front. It stepped out like a young horse and dragged the cart briskly back up the hill to the site of the Rollright Stone, The farmer dropped it back into it's original position and set off for home with a light heart. Within a few days his luck changed and he soon became as wealthy as he had been before, but he had learned his lesson, he never meddled with the Rollright Stones again.

This site is also a favourite spot of the Oxfordshire Faeries. 
At certain times of the year ,at the full moon, the stones will come to life and perform strange dances with the Faeries . Then they will dance down to a nearby spring for a drink to quench their thirst.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Faerie and the broken pitcher

Once upon a time there were two sisters, one called Orange and one called Lemon. Their mother loved Lemon much more than Orange, and made Orange do all the hard work in the house, and fetch water from the well every day. One day Orange went to the well as usual taking the big pitcher. While she was stooping to draw the water from the well the pitcher slipped from her hand and fell down into the deep water. Orange was very upset and dared not go home; so she sat down on the grass and cried and cried. Before long the ground was wet with tears and finding herself sat in a pool of tears she looked up and found a little faerie stood next to her wearing a pair of bright pink wellies. She asked Orange 'Why are you crying so much, I ask because you are making my home very wet.'
Orange replied 'Because I have broken the pitcher and mother will be very angry with me and beat me.'
'Dry your tears,' replied the faerie. 'I will help you as you are such a good little girl and so ill used.'
The faerie struck the ground with her wand and from the well Orange could hear a splashing noise. She drew back in alarm but was delighted when the pitcher climbed out off the well. It had no damage and was the same as before except it had arms and legs.
'See,' said the faerie. 'Now this pitcher will be your friend and help to carry the water from the well. Now go home and tell nobody about it.' With that the faerie disappeared back to her home.
Orange was delighted with her new friend, taking its hand she led the full pitcher back to her home but as soon as they reached the back door the pitchers arms and legs disappeared. So Orange picked up the pitcher and carried into the house, and remembering what the faerie said, she told no one.
The next morning Orange awoke early as she always did and thought about all the hard work she would have to do but when she got down stairs to the kitchen, she found the pitcher hard at work, sweeping and washing, and doing all the hard work for her. 
So the faerie was right, the pitcher was for ever after Orange's faithful and helpful friend.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Faeries Tea Party

"Granny was good at telling stories, Chloe would cuddle up 
next to her on the big old squashy sofa and listen to
 wonderful bedtime tales about the faeries, goblins and 
monsters that lived in the big wood at the end of the garden.
Granny had just finished a really good story about a giant who
 ate six faeries for breakfast every day when Chloe asked her 
'Do you really believe in faeries granny?' "
'The Faeries Tea Party'

Ideal bedtime story for your little fairy!

Available from or 
Amazon as a book or kindle

Lavender folklore

Lavender has been used for hundreds of years in many ways, medicinally as well as in love spells and rituals. By carrying lavender flowers you can attract spirits as well as bringing peace, love and good health, but it will also give protection against the evil eye. It was traditional to pin lavender to the clothes of young children for this reason.
Where there is lavender there will be faeries, so if you wish the fae to visit your garden, plant lavender in your borders; the faeries will bring healing and protection to your house. Lavender mixed with mugwort, rose petals and chamomile at midsummer will attract the inhabitants of faerieland.
It is also prized by witches as it increases their power of clairvoyance.

Faerie Flora 2013

Friday, 18 July 2014

    Strawberries in Winter
    This is a traditional Slovakian folktale, very similar to our Cinderella faerie tale.
Ella lived with her stepmother and stepsister in a large house at the edge of the forest. Her father had died the previous winter from a fever leaving her alone. Although Ella was not as pretty as her stepsister she was kind and good and was a great favourite with all the visitors to the  house. Her father had been quite wealthy and Ella was due to inherit the estate on her sixteenth birthday. But  her stepmother was not happy that her own daughter would be left with nothing so she and her daughter hatched a plan to be rid of Ella for good.
So the stepsister took to her bed feigning illness.
‘Primroses,’ she declared. ‘Were all she needed, the beautiful scent would raise her spirits and make her well again.’
The stepmother hurried down the worn  stone steps to the kitchen ‘Ella get your coat, you must go out and find some primroses for your poor sister, I think she will die if she does not have them.’
Ella was dismayed, it was the middle of the winter with deep snow on the ground.
‘I wish to help my sister, but it is too early for primroses,’ she said.
But the stepmother would not listen and pushed her out of the door into the cold. They were hoping  that Ella would get lost and die in the snow.
Wrapping her jacket about her, Ella pushed her hands deep into her pockets and headed  towards the forest.
In the spring the floor of the forest was thick with primroses but there was only thick snow beneath the trees now.

 Dusk began to fall but in the forest it was very dark and Ella became so cold that she lost all feeling in her fingers and toes. She desperately wanted to go home but dare not without the flowers. Just as she was giving up hope she saw a glow off in the trees. Gathered around the flames was the Council of the  Faerie Seasons, too cold to feel afraid Ella stumbled forward and asked if she could warm herself by their fire.
‘Come forward child and warm yourself,’ Faerie Spring beckoned her forward. ‘Why do you disturb our council? ‘
Ella explained her search for the flowers for her sick sister.
‘I will help you,’ said the Spring Faerie. ‘As you have such a pure soul.’ She lent over and breathed gently on the snow covered ground and from under the mantle of ice six beautiful primrose blooms appeared.
‘Thank you so much,’ Ella said gathering them carefully; and hurried back through the dark forest to her home.
The stepmother’s face when she answered the door to Ella! She snatched the flowers from Ella’s hand and sent her back down to the kitchen.
That night the stepsister took to her bed again declaring that she was ill. ‘What I really need are strawberries, something to tempt my appetite and make me well again.’
 The stepmother hurried down the worn  stone steps to the kitchen. ‘Ella get your coat, you must go out and find some strawberries for your poor sister, I’m sure she will die if she does not have them.’
‘I wish to help my poor sister, but it is much too early for strawberries,’ she said.

 The front door shut with a bang behind Ella leaving her alone in the cold once again.
Ella hurried back into the forest to find the Council of Faeries, hoping that they would help her again.
Far off she could see their fire burning brightly.
‘Please may I warm myself by your fire again?’
The Summer Faerie beckoned her forward. ‘Come child and what do you seek now?’
‘Strawberries for my sick sister otherwise she is sure to die.’
‘I will help you,’ said the Summer Faerie. ‘As you have such a kind heart.’
The faerie opened her hand and inside nestled in a basket of leaves were four large strawberries.

Thanking the faeries Ella hurried home.
Her stepmother was amazed that she had  come back  but the stepsister was delighted with the fruit and ate them all quickly.
‘They are so delicious, why didn’t you bring more?’ she asked greedily.
All the next day her stepsister lay on her bed complaining how ill she was.
‘Apples! I need apples,’ she exclaimed. ‘And tell her to bring more this time.’
The stepmother hurried down the worn  stone steps to the kitchen.
‘Ella get your coat, you must go out and find some apples for your poor sister, I know she will die if she does not have them.’
‘I wish to help my poor sister, but it is really  too early for apples,’ she said.
So Ella set off to the forest again struggling through the snow until she could see the faerie’s fire in the distance.

 ‘Oh please help me kind faeries for now my stepsister wants apples.’
The faeries smiled and beckoned her forward into
the warmth of the fire.
‘I will help you,’ said the Autumn Faerie. ‘As you are so patient.’
The faerie walked to a nearby tree and caressed the bark, whispering words of enchantment to the spirit of the tree within. And on a branch over Ella’s head  two small  apples appeared which grew and grew until they were big and ripe.

She carefully picked them and put them into her apron pocket. ‘Thank you so much,’ she said politely and hurried home.
The stepmother was most disappointed to see Ella back but her stepsister was delighted with the apples and snatched them quickly, exclaiming at the delicious flavour.
The step mother took a bite of the second apple ‘Why didn’t you get more of these wonderful apples?’ she scolded Ella, but Ella was not listening. She was so tired that she had fallen asleep in a chair by the fire.
‘Come daughter, let us go and find some more apples ourselves.’
They wrapped themselves up against the cold and set off for the forest. The snow was deep and they became increasingly cold and weary until at last like Ella they saw the fire in the distance. The four faeries were gathered around the fire watching as the two figures stumbled into the clearing.
‘Out of the way and let us near the fire, for we are freezing.’
The stepmother pushed her way past the Winter Faerie to warm her hands over the flames but as she

and her daughter stood there the fire died and dwindled down to ash.
‘You didn’t say please,’ whispered the Winter Faerie, and as she spoke the wind whipped up a blizzard of freezing snow and ice and engulfed the two mortals.
The snow piled up high around them and they froze into two solid lumps of ice, still holding out their hands to the fire.

As for Ella, needless to say, she lived happily ever after!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Ugliest Witch in the North Country

Alison Gross, 'the ugliest witch i' the north country,' lured a young man into her cottage and with many fair speeches tried to persuade him to become her lover. He withstood all her bribes and honeyed words even though she offered him a scarlet embroidered cloak, then a cap embroidered all over with pearls, then a cup of red gold. But he would not bend and would not given her even one small kiss. Becoming angry the witch blew three blast on a grass green horn and taking a silver wand in her hand, turned round three times, muttering words that chilled his blood until he fell down senseless at her feet and slowly turned into a dragon. She gloated over the fallen youth and spitefully chanted,

'And gard me toddle about the tree.'

Every Saturday his sister Maisry came with a silver basin and silver comb and took the dragon's head upon her knee to tend it. There seemed no way to break the enchantment until at last on Hallowe'en the fairy court rode by. The Queen spied the dragon coiled around the apple tree and dismounting from her horse, took it's head and stroked it three times over her knee, and the dragon was restored to it's proper human form.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Excerpt from The Lavender Witch

The Lavender Witch is a chilling ghost story based on the strange but true events surrounding the death of Hannah Beamish, accused of being a witch by a wealthy farmer in the small remote village where she lived in the early 1800's.
One hundred and seventy years later these strange events, only now remembered by a few, come to light when Kitty and Gordon move back to the Devon village where they were born. They buy an old orchard from a neighbouring farm and build a small house, all is fine until they move in.
Over the course of their first week in the house chilling apparitions appear and events spiral out of control bringing the past and present together until the shocking truth emerges as to what really happened to Hannah.

They walked slowly along the drive to the lane; time had passed since they had driven up to Orchard Cottage and it was now dark, the night sky was filled with winking stars and high up on Castle Hill a fox barked.
‘Right, down to Sybil’s Gordon,’ Queenie said firmly.
‘No,’ he replied sharply. ‘That’s it! We’re out of here; we’re not getting involved in any more of this.’
‘Now let’s calm down a minute, I want to know what’s going on and what my grandfather has to do with this.’ The old man had stopped and stood in front of them determined to get an answer.
‘This is a story that shouldn’t be told in a dark lane William,’ said Sybil taking hold of his arm and pulling him towards the village.
‘Well let’s go into the farmhouse then,’ he said impatiently. ‘It’s closer.’
‘No,’ Kitty put in weakly. ‘Not in there, sorry,’ she apologised to the old man. ‘But you see it’s his house.’
‘Kitty is right we shouldn’t set foot in there.’ Queenie warned. ‘Sybil’s cottage will do. Come along.’
 She led the way along the darkened lane until they came close to the entrance of the farmyard. She slowed to a halt, from across the paved yard came the sound of approaching footsteps, footsteps that Kitty immediately recognised.
‘Who’s that?’ bristled William. ‘Hi,’ he shouted striding forward, pushing past Queenie who put out a restraining hand, but he brushed impatiently it aside. ‘Who’s there? You’re trespassing.’
 His voice echoed around the buildings but the footsteps did not slow, they drew closer and closer to the group huddled in the lane.
‘It’s him,’ whispered Kitty trying to pull away from Gordon’s tightening grip. ‘It’s him Queenie,’ she hissed again.
Queenie nodded in recognition. ‘Yes Kitty it is,’ she said quietly. She raised her voice ‘Well Robert? What are you going to do now eh?’
William glanced at her quickly before returning his gaze to the entrance of the yard.
A dark shape slid into the shadows of the wall, and as they watched it gathered itself together pulling in the darkness of the night and becoming more solid.
 A figure walked slowly out from the shelter of the wall and stood in the middle of the lane and raised his head. Dark sunken eyes stared across the intervening space between him and his grandson.
‘Oh my God!’ whispered William in horror. ‘It is him.’
The old man staggered back and would have fallen if Gordon hadn’t grabbed his arm to steady him.
‘William, are you alright?’ Sybil whispered to him urgently gripping his other arm to support him.
‘What in God’s name is this? He’s dead!’ William’s voice echoed around the lane making the apparitions face wince.
Queenie took a few paces forward and peered at the shade of Robert Beamish.
‘So that’s it! William is the key,’ she said triumphantly. She turned back quickly to the others. ‘Back to the house, all of you.’
‘Are you mad woman? We’re not going back in there,’ Gordon shouted at her.                                      
 He stared at the figure in the lane and watched in horror as it approached slowly towards them.
Queenie pulled Kitty back towards the house. ‘You have no choice now, he’s not going to stop. He’ll come after Kitty where ever she is.’
‘You don’t know that,’ he shot at her.
 ‘Look at him!’ Queenie shouted at him. ‘He is on the road! This road doesn’t belong to the Beamish family, it never has done. He’s not on his own soil!’
They backed slowly away down the lane to the entrance of the drive, William last of all. He stood frozen to the spot staring at his grandfather’s form approaching along the road.
Sybil pulled at his arm. ‘Come on William,’ she shouted at him.
‘I thought I had forgotten him,’ he whispered. ‘But one look at his face and it has all come back.’
Clouds drifted across the night sky casting even darker shadows onto the road but the shadow of Robert Beamish was darker still as he paced slowly forward; the regular thump of the stick hitting the tarmac echoing off the buildings.

The Lavender Witch is available on Amazon, Kindle and Paperback, also on