To the Editor of the Stirling Journal and Advertiser – June 1860)
Sir,—As the two letters which lately appeared in your paper respecting the antiquities and traditions of Gargunnock, have been, I believe, well received by a goodly number of your readers, so I trust that the subject of the present one will not be uninteresting to them, although it relates to things that seem absurd even to a generation which believes in table-turning and spirit-rapping.
The first chapters of most histories tell us wonderful stories of demons, giants, and heroes; but we like those introductory chapters, notwithstanding, whether they be of our country or of our parish, because they contain not only facts of physical science, but also give us some insight into tho manners of those rude ancestors of ours who lived in those unloading days, when there were few books and no newspapers.
In our own locality we have many traditional legends of fairies and witches, and even of the prince of darkness himself. In a sequestered spot of the glen of Gargunnock there is what is called tho Muckle Stane, around which in my younger days I believed that not only “ghaists and howlets nichtly cried,” but also those curious beings called fairies held their nightly orgies.
There is a tradition here of a woman of the name of Marion, who along with a companion happened to pass near to tho Muckle Stane about the witching time o’ nicht, when they saw a beautiful sight, namely, a fairy dance, and as they stood gazing on those tiny creatures – clad in the colours of the rainbow – as they reeled and set and crossed and cleekit, a pause took place In their dance, when one of the fairies called out ” Who will you take up next time?” to which a voice replied, “I’ll take up Marion”; but Marion declined tho honour of joining in tho fairy dance, as she and her friend ran off as fast as they could, and as the sound of their feet made them believe that the fairies were behind them, they did not stop their race until they arrived at the Back Brae – which is close to Gargunnock village. The famous witch conjuror, Doctor Ure, or as he was sometimes called, Warlock Ure – who may be said to have lived before his day – resided in this neighbourhood, and made frequent visits to the village of Gargunnock, and of whom many anecdotes are still related by the inhabitants, though several generations have passed away since the Doctor’s time.
It is said that the Doctor once paid our village a visit on a Sacramental Sabbath, and as he was taking a stroll through the church yard, he was observed to stop, and looking eagerly in the direction of the Keir Hill – which is near to the church-yard – was heard to exclaim, “Ah, Maggy Clayhurry, you have come a long way this morning; ye loup weel after your march across the moor.” The Doctor then turned to the person who was standing near him, and who saw nothing unusual in the Keir Hill, and said “Put your foot on mine and look again,” when to the man’s astonishment he saw not only the well-known Maggy Clayhurry, but also other witches louping and dancing to music played to them by Auld Nick himself, who on that occasion did not make the bagpipes skirl, but used the wee sinfu’ fiddle. The doctor then went to the opposite aide of tho churchyard from where he had seen the dancing witches, and a drizzly rain happened to fall at tho time; he said to a man who was beside him, “Do you see that woman coming up the brae?” The man said, “What is to be seen about her?” But, said the doctor, “do you not see any one along with her?” “No,” was the reply, “Then put your foot on mine and look again,” said the doctor, which the man did, and observed not only Maggy Clayhurry, but the prince of darkness also holding a cloak above her head to keep the rain off. Maggy and her companion then passed into the church.
Brisbane, a minister from Stirling, and a celebrated witch exorcist, happened to be officiating in the church on that day, and getting his eyes on Maggy ordered her to leave the church immediately, and to take her companion with her. No doubt the rev. gentleman expatiated on the daring presumption of the evil one “presenting his smoutie phiz ‘mang better folk.” He then ordered a young man to depart from the church because he had in his pocket a stolen bible.
More of the Gargunnock traditions must be reserved until another time.—I am, &c.,