Witch Wood HTML version

Time, my grandfather used to say, stood still in that glen of his. But the
truth of the saying did not survive his death, and the first daisies had
scarcely withered on his grave before a new world was knocking at the
gate. That was thirty years ago, and to-day the revolution is complete.
The parish name has been changed; the white box of a kirk which served
the glen for more than two centuries has been rebuilt in red suburban
gothic; a main railway line now runs down the Aller, and the excellent
summer service brings holiday-makers from a hundred miles distant:
houses and shops have clustered under the Hill of Deer; there may be
found a well-reputed boarding school for youth, two innsÑboth of them
reformedÑa garage, and a bank agent. The centre of importance has
moved from the old village to the new town by the station, and even the
old village is no more a clachan of thatched roofs straggling by a burn-
side. Some enemy of the human race has taught the burn to run straight
like a sewer, and has spanned it with a concrete bridge, while the thatch
of the houses has been replaced by slates of a metallic green. Only the ru-
ins of the old kirkton have not been meddled with; these stand as I re-
member them, knee-deep in docks and nettles, defended by a crumbling
dry-stone dyke against inquisitive cattle from Crossbasket.
The old folk are gone, too, and their very names are passing from the
countryside. Long before my day the Hawkshaws had disappeared from
Calidon, but there was a respectable Edinburgh burgess family who had
come there in the seventeenth century; now these have given place to a
rawer burgess graft from the West. The farmers are mostly new men,
and even the peasant, who should be the enduring stock, has shifted his
slow bones. I learned from the postman that in Woodilee to-day there
was no Monfries, no Sprot, but one Pennecuik, and only two bearers of
the names of Ritchie and Shillinglaw, which had once been plentiful as
ragwort. In such a renovated world it was idle to hope to find surviving
the tales which had perplexed my childhood. No one could tell me when
or why the kirk by the Crossbasket march became a ruin, and its grave-
stones lay buried in weeds. Most did not even know that it had been a
I was not greatly surprised by this, for the kirk of Woodilee had not
been used for the better part of three centuries; and even as a child I
could not find many to tell me of its last minister. The thing had sunk
from a tale to an "owercome," a form of words which every one knew
but which few could interpret. It was Jess Blane, the grieve's daughter,