Witch Wood HTML version

was that, had I been a general in a campaign, I should have taken special
note of Woodilee, for it was a point of vantage. It lay right in the pass
between the Scottish midlands and the southÑthe pass of road and wa-
terÑyes, andÑshall I say?Ñof spirit, for it was in the throat of the hills,
on the march between the sown and the desert. I was looking east, and to
my left and behind me the open downs, farmed to their last decimal of
capacity, were the ancient land of Manann, the capital province of Pict-
dom. The colliery headgear on the horizon, the trivial moorish hilltops,
the dambrod-pattern fields, could never tame wholly for me that land's
romance, and on this evening I seemed to be gazing at a thing antique
and wolfish, tricked out for the moment with a sheep's coatÉ . To my
right rose the huddle of great hills which cradle all our rivers. To them
time and weather bring little change, yet in that eerie light, which re-
vealed in hard outline while it obscured in detail, they seemed too re-
mote and awful to be the kindly giants with whose glens I daily con-
versedÉ . At my feet lay Woodilee, and a miracle had been wrought, for
a gloom like the shadow of an eclipse seemed to have crept over the par-
ish. I saw an illusion, which I knew to be such, but which my mind ac-
cepted, for it gave me the vision I had been seeking.
It was the Woodilee of three hundred years ago. And my mind, once
given the cue, set out things not presented by the illuded eyeÉ . There
were no highwaysÑonly tracks, miry in the bogs and stony on the braes,
which led to Edinburgh on one hand and to Carlisle on the other. I saw
few houses, and these were brown as peat, but on the knowe of the old
kirkton I saw the four grey walls of the kirk, and the manse beside it
among elders and young ashes. Woodilee was not now a parish lying
open to the eye of sun and wind. It was no more than a tiny jumble of
crofts, bounded and pressed in upon by something vast and dark, which
clothed the tops of all but the highest hills, muffled the ridges, choked
the glens and overflowed almost to the edge of the watersÑwhich lay on
the landscape like a shaggy fur cast loosely down. My mouth shaped the
word "Melanudrigill," and I knew that I saw Woodilee as no eye had
seen it for three centuries, when, as its name tells, it still lay in the shad-
ow of a remnant of the Wood of Caledon, that most ancient forest where
once Merlin harped and Arthur mustered his menÉ .
An engine whistled in the valley, a signal-box sprang into light, and
my vision passed. But as I picked my way down the hillside in the grow-
ing dusk I realized that all memory of the encircling forest had not gone
from Woodilee in my childhood, though the name of Melanudrigill had
been forgotten. I could hear old Jock Dodds, who had been keeper on