Wigtown showcase sets tongues wagging

authors, book town, D D Hall, Dumfries and Galloway, Gwen Kirkwood, Hugh Bryden, JoAnne McKay, Mary Smith, poets, Sally Hinchclife, Sara Bain, WagTongues, Wigtown, Wigtown Book Festival
WagTongues pop-up bookshop joined the Wigtown Book Festival on Saturday with its own mini-festival of readings, talks, interviews and books.
Run by the Dumfries Writers’ Collective, WagTongues is a bookshop which pops up without warning across Dumfries and Galloway and over the border.
Its remit is to sell precious things: local books by local writers, including poetry, fiction, memoir and history from Sally Hinchclife, Donald Adamson, Hugh Bryden, Mary Smith, D D Hall, Gwen Kirkwood, Margaret Elphinstone, Claire Cogbill, JoAnne McKay, Kriss Nichol, Janet Walkinshaw and, of course, me.
Celebrated poet Hugh Bryden
searches for inspiration for
The Poet Is In

Member Mary Smith, said: “WagTongues runs a programme of events whilst we’re open, so there’s the opportunity to meet authors, listen to readings, hear interviews and attend mini-workshops as well as browse through and buy wonderful books.

“We take books from any writer or publisher in the region and anyone who would like to join us should send an email wagtongues@aol.com
Sally Hinchcliffe and JoAnne McKay

The bookshop has this year enjoyed a successful festival run.

It was invited to be  part of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival in May when it held a two-day pop-up bookshop and mini literary festival in Castle Douglas.
WagTongues recently took advantage of another invitation by The Stove, Dumfries, where it popped-up during the Nithraid and In Our Town events. Its innovative literary venture, the Poet Is In, proved popular with the afternoon crowds.
Last year WagTongues appeared twice at the Wigtown Book Festival and at The Stove, Dumfries, during Scotland’s Book Week in November.
A few weeks ago, they moved across the Border for the first time to collaborate with the Carlisle Writers at the Borderlines Book Festival.
WagTongues member Sally Hinchcliffe, said: “We’re really pleased to have been invited to take part in both Borderlines and Nithraid, two great up-and-coming events in the region, and a chance to build bridges both across borders and with different art forms.”
Chick amused his audience
with a performance of
poems by rote.
On Saturday, WagTongues popped-up in Wigtown during the Book Festival at the Quaker Meeting House and adjoining garden.
An impressive display of books in the outside pavilion attracted browsers and purchasers while, inside, festival-goers listened to the many talks and readings by Dumfries and Galloway authors and poets.
I sold three copies of
The Sleeping Warrior on the day!
At the same time, the region’s most talented poets sought inspirational thoughts from the public for a set of spur-of-the-moment poems which delighted audiences.
Poet and WagTongues member JoAnne McKay said: “It’s fantastic that WagTongues has popped-up three times during September, and each appearance has so far had a very different flavour.
“We would like to say a huge thanks to all the writers and publishers who came along and to everyone who volunteered to help out.
“We exist to promote local writing, and love doing it, even if it does mean a few sleepless nights!”
WagTongues takes no commission with the full price of sales going directly to the authors and the events will raise funds for Arthritis Care Scotland. Further information from http://wagtongues.wordpress.com

The horrid sinne of Witchcraft

Daemonology, Dumfries and Galloway, Kirk sessions, superstition, Witch Hunter, witchcraft
‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ says the Bible (Exodus 22:18) and two hundred years of witch hunters ensured that The Word was spread. In Scotland thousands of men and women stood accused before their Kirk Sessions for the ‘horrid sinne of witchcraft’ and, just over three hundred years ago, Dumfries and Galloway saw the very last witch trial in the United Kingdom.
AGNES Commes, Janet McGowane, Jean Tomson, Margaret Clerk, Janet McKendrig, Agnes Clerk, Janet Corsane, Helen Moor head and Janet Callon — the names as they would appear today could all belong to the members of a local rural.
These unrelated women with the unremarkable titles, however, suffered the same brutal fate in 1659 — they were strangled and burned at the stake on Dumfries Whitesands for ‘the horrid sinne of witchcraft.’
For over a two-hundred year period, political and religious conviction was responsible for the torture and death of many innocent people across Europe.
In Scotland, during the time of the witch trials, 3,867 formal accusations of witchcraft were made.
Of those, roughly half of the defendants were executed. In this region 128 of those cases came before our Kirk Sessions.
In 1514, the Steward of Kirkudbright was commissioned to apprehend and try named subjects who were suspected of witchcraft.
In 1563 the newly established Church of Scotland made it illegal to be a witch or to consult a witch. An Act of Parliament followed that year making the crime a capital offence.
The coming of James VI marked a very dark and terrifying time for all who lived on the fringes of society.
His treatise entitled ‘Daemonology’ in 1597 passionately denounced the practice of witchcraft and instigated a brutal rampage of slaughter that would last for the remainder of his reign.
Later, the General Assembly continued this work by passing a decade of Condemnatory Acts against witches in the 1640s.
The third peak began in Galloway when nine women were strangled and burned on the Whitesands in 1659.
More and more witch finders came forward, demanding their fees for rounding up suspects and torturing confessions from them.
All methods of inhumanity were utilised to extract a statement of guilt. Witch hunters were also known to torture the suspect’s family in front of them in an effort to exchange confession for coin.
Those found with a ‘witch mark’ would be pricked with 3’ needles through the spot. If the accused cried out in pain, he or she would be deemed innocent of the ‘sinne’. If nothing was felt or it did not bleed, she would certainly be a witch.
Throughout Europe men and (mainly) women were either brandished, banished, jailed or burned for their allegedly evil deeds.
Galloway boasts the last recorded witch burning in Scotland, taking place in 1698 when Elspeth MacEwen was found guilty of, amongst other things, ‘a compact and correspondence with the devil.’
The last witchcraft trial in the United Kingdom took place in Dumfries in 1708 when Elspeth Rule was branded on her cheek with a hot iron and banished from Scotland.
Dr Lizanne Henderson, lecturer in History at Glasgow University’s Crichton Campus, Dumfries, is an authority on European folklore and Scottish history.
She said: ‘Scotland was later in persecuting witches than England, Germany, France, etc, but not by much. Other European countries, such as Hungary, were still persecuting witches well into the 18th century.
‘The Kirk in this part of Scotland very rarely employed witch finders. There were, however, some individual ministers who were reluctant to give up belief in witches as they thought it was linked to atheism and an erosion of Christian belief and values.’
But who were these enemies of God and king?
Dr Henderson explained that there was no evidence to suggest that witches actually performed the feats they were accused of.
‘The average person accused of witchcraft generally would have been mainly female — males made up about 15 per cent of cases,’ she said.
‘This was no an attack on a particular gender nor was it founded upon superstition. Witchcraft was part of the belief system at the time and very real to everyone. When bad things happened — like a cow would stop
milking, a hen refused to lay, crops failed or milk curdled in the churn — the victim would look for a logical explanation for his misfortunes.
‘The practice of witchcraft was a logical explanation at the time and the remedy would be to find the person who was causing it.’
Midwives, people with squints, herbalists, those with deformities and those living on society’s social margins were all deemed suspects.
Many of the victims were elderly women who relied on the local landowner or farmer for charitable donations of food to maintain a meagre existence.
In Lanarkshire in 1612, Alison Devise was sentenced to public execution for practising witchcraft. She was 11 years old.
‘What people were fighting against was “the witch”, Dr Henderson explained, ‘and people would look for the most likely suspect.
‘This was normally an older person who was perhaps unpopular in the village; or particularly ill-tempered; or had behaved in a certain way over a period of time that would give him or her a bad reputation amongst the villagers.’
It was this reputation, built up over the years, that would brand them as suspicious. But it was the establishment of the day that would eventually condemn them.
‘The legal system and the clergy were not concerned with the actual result of the alleged witchcraft. They were more interested in how the witch was performing her feats and put this down to a relationship with the devil.
‘Witches were accused of denouncing their Christianity and entering into a pact with the devil. This was a far more serious crime and one that imposed most severe penalties.’
The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1736.
‘After this date it was no longer possible to legally prosecute someone for the crime of witchcraft,’ said Dr Henderson, ‘though you could still prosecute for ‘pretended witchcraft’ which actually happened to Jean Maxwell from Kirkcudbright in 1805. She was sent to prison for one year.’
Today, it is difficult to believe that eminent members of the church and state could actually entertain the notion that a human being could turn into a beetle, speak with the devil or cause lameness in a horse by just looking at it, let alone fly across oceans on a broomstick.
Some of these individuals could indeed have practised witchcraft as we know it today, but most of them were simply innocent victims of their time.
In a modern society where human rights and individual liberty are sacrosanct, certain factions of the pagan religion are now safe to call themselves ‘witches’ without fear of a painful combustion, yet the stigma remains and our need for the existence of the anti-hero feeds it.
Five hundred years on we carry the same perception of ‘the witch’ as people did then — only we no longer kill them.
Instead many of us erroneously acknowledge their existence with a certain amount of trepidation and sometimes even ridicule.

It takes a very courageous individual to admit to being a witch. The link with Satanism and black magic certainly makes for a bad public image, but the majority of witches are gentle environmentalists and the colour of their magic is normally white and often very green.

Strange but true?

Dumfries and Galloway, Dunty, ghosts, hauntings, journalism, Spedlins tower, supernatural

A FEW years ago, when I worked as a journalist for a regional newspaper, I wrote a series of articles on haunted places in Dumfries and Galloway. The research was intriguing, compelling and altogether fascinating. This is one of those strange-but-true stories that I will never forget. It is a tale that is very much believed by a family who truly feel that they are haunted by their past. The picture was taken by the very talented Jim McEwan who, no doubt, was forced to trudge through the undergrowth at my behest.
CENTURIES of history in Dumfries and Galloway have not passed without their fair share of blood-letting and horror.
With soil, coin and title affording ultimate power, the people of these lands have witnessed terrible atrocities in the names of renown and revenge.
It is surprising, therefore, to come across a tale that is so gruesome and horrific, that it is barely believable, but it is one born out of accident rather than malicious intent.
The incident has been well documented in official records and most members of the Jardine clan have at least heard whispers of the terrible fate that befell one James Porteous some time in the 1650s.
It was around this time that Sir Alexander Jardine ruled Applegirth from his stronghold known as Spedlins Tower, near Lockerbie.
A miller called James Porteous was accused of burning down his mill and was confined to a prison in the tower.
“He was kept inside what is called a bottle-neck dungeon,” Sir Alec, head of today’s Jardine said. “This dungeon was approximately 10 feet deep with a base of six foot in circumference. The neck was only two feet across. Porteous was thrown into it and the door was locked above his head.”
All was well until Sir Alexander was called to a sudden and unexpected meeting in Edinburgh. He set off as usual on his lengthy journey that may have taken him four or five days.
It was not until he was passing through the gates of the city that he noticed he was carrying the gate keeper’s large bundle of keys.
To his horror, Sir Alexander realised that he had taken with him the only key to the sturdy door that the hapless Porteous had been confined beneath.
Meanwhile, at Spedlins Tower, the poor miller screamed out against his terrible suffering: “Let me oot! Let me oot! I’m starving! Give me food and water! Let me oot!”
But his pitiful pleas were to no avail, for there was no key to the heavy door and the jail had become a tomb.
Despite Sir Alexander’s attempts to send a man back swiftly to relieve the prisoner of his agony, he was too late in his efforts.
The servant found the sorry Porteous in the dungeon dead. In desperation, the miller — insane with the horror of his ordeal — had gnawed off his own hands.
It was not long before the ghost of Porteous moved in to Spedlins Tower and all hell broke loose.
The angry spirit, who became known as “Dunty” (or “one who knocks”), screamed his complaints across the halls and stairwells of the tower.
One account says that he “rattled chains, banged on doors and moaned incessantly”, making life obviously unbearable for its terrified owners.
Unable to endure any more of Dunty’s shrieking, Sir Alexander sought the help of the family chaplain who performed an exorcism of the restless spirit using the castle’s bible.
Dunty’s ghost finally quietened and confined itself to the dungeon — the place where he had suffered his cruel fate.
The Jardine family could sleep again.
It is said that it was not too long after that the chaplain dropped dead from a sudden and inexplicable illness.
Some years later, the bible showed signs of wear and was sent away to be rebound.
Dunty’s ghost appeared to take advantage of this and became “extremely boisterous in the pit.” It banged on the door so violently that it almost shook off its hinges. It continued the pitiful cries and generally made a nuisance of itself.Even an attempt to flee to nearby Jardine Hall did not deter the obdurate Dunty from making his presence felt.
“My ancestors believed that a ghost could not cross water and the River Annan lies between the tower and the hall,” explained Sir Alec.
 “This was proved wrong and Dunty chased the family across the river, even dragging the lord and lady out of bed.”
The Jardines had the bible returned from its binders forthwith and it was placed in the dungeon wall where it remained until the family moved from the tower.
It is believed that the vengeful ghost of James Porteous left the tower with the Jardines and continued to haunt the Lairds of Applegirth down through the centuries.
Spedlins Tower fell to ruin and has recently been impressively restored by the Grays who are the present owner-occupiers.
Do they ever hear the screams of Dunty?
Mr Gray does not believe in ghosts.
For Sir Alec, heir to the Applegirth name, title, lands, history and ghost, it is a very different matter.
“I have no idea if Dunty still haunts Spedlin because I have the family bible,” he said.
“It was beautifully rebound and lies safely in an oak case. I don’t know whether it is this that keeps Dunty quiet, but I do not relish the prospect of losing it and finding out!”
Amazingly, Sir Alec also holds the key to the dungeon that he keeps in a safe place and has his own theory of this regrettable chapter in his family’s history.
“There is a school of thought that Porteous was the laird’s secret half-brother and that there was a bit of skulduggery going on,” said Sir Alec.
“The Laird of Applegirth was said to have a deformed foot, while Porteous was a big, muscular man. It is possible that there was a lot of rivalry between the two of them and a fair amount of jealousy. I think that there was more to Porteous’ death than has been told.
“A few years ago, I planted an oak tree at Spedlin in the memory of James Porteous in the hope of making peace with him. Ijust felt that it was the right thing to do.”
The Jardines have gone from Spedlin. Their once magnificent hall across the river has disappeared without trace and, if there still remains a dark echo of Dunty, no-one is telling.

If the ghost of James Porteous has found forgiveness at last, then perhaps it is time to let him rest — he certainly deserves it.

Onwards and upwards

Auchencairn, Balcary Bay, Dumfries and Galloway, Inverie, Knoydart, lochaber, Scotland, Walking
Blogging, like my life at the moment, is a bit sporadic and driven by impulse.
That’s not too much of a bad thing though.
I have now finished my first novel, a contemporary fantasy set in London and Scotland called The Sleeping Warrior, and have sent it off to a publisher on a wing and a prayer.
I also suddenly decided to give up a lifetime of habitual cigarette smoking and have managed to go for two weeks without killing anyone or, at least, hurting them a lot.
I have almost quit and now it’s time to get fit and the great outdoors of Southern Scotland provide the perfect training ground for that marathon task of re-shaping a body and purging the lungs – even flesh and organs like mine.
My aim is to visit Inverie, a small village on Loch Nevis at the edge of Britain’s last wilderness – the Knoydart Peninsula – where the only way to get there is by a 20-minute boat ride from Mallaig; catapulting from an enormous mangonel from the mainland; or hoofing it for 16 miles from Kinloch Hourn over what the Gaels call na Garbh-Chrìochan (the Rough Bounds). The first option is for Jessies; the second may end in tears; and the third may well end like the second, but is probably less perilous.
Now I’m more of a Munro Flagger than a Bagger and, if I set off now, it would probably take me most of the year to tramp the path to Inverie, boots and weather willing, complaining bitterly all the way and demanding an emergency airlift by the local mountain rescue team after 50 paces.
So, like all great achievements, I must prepare both my spirit and body for it.
There are no Munroes in southern Scotland but there are plenty vertical ascents with varying degrees of difficulty depending on what angle you choose to tackle them.
There is also some beautiful scenery to keep the mind off the task, like Loch Mackie, Auchencairn, in the picture. Recently I hiked from Balcary to Rascarrel Bay. The walk takes you around the headland with some stunning sea views – including the wind farm in the Solway Firth. By the time I had staggered home to Balcary, chest heaving and lathering with sweat, I thought I must have covered at least 30 miles. I had completed 4.5 in total.
Think I’ve got a long way to go before I tackle 16 but I’m on the case at least.