Witchcraft, Kidnapping, and the Cobbles Between

cobbles of Correction Wynd in Aberdeen

I do seem to have a habit of running up and down the medieval cobbles of Aberdeen in the name of research. Here I am again, travelling down Correction Wynd, site of the 17th century House of Correction. But it’s not the old poorhouse/jail that I’m investigating. Not today anyway…

I pass St Nicholas Kirk, where people accused of witchcraft were held in the 16th century.

sT nICHOLAS kIRK, aBERDEEN

It’s time to move on from that now.

On from THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR.

Researching and writing those times have led me to another.

Over the cobbles towards The Green, in Aberdeen

Over the cobbles I go, glancing up at the modern city above.

Archway in Correction Wynd, Aberdeen

Through the beam of light and into the, also rather modern seeming, Green.

The Green, Aberdeen

The kidnapped children of Aberdeen were held here in the 1740s. In a barn.

Cobbles of The Green in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Passers by sometimes heard music coming from the place, as the kidnappers tried to keep the children entertained.

The Green is mentioned in Fireflies and Chocolate (out today!):

“Another barn,” notes Peter, when we are ushered into a large ramshackle wooden building. Again we find a space to sit together, among the others. Again, we are on the floor, this time an earthen one. No chairs are provided for the likes of us anywhere now it seems. “I was kept in a barn in Aberdeen,” he tells me. “Down at The Green.”

I ken The Green. I used to think it was a nice place to walk through, a space between buildings, like a city version of a forest glade.

The children were also kept in the Tolbooth at times. There are tales of desperate parents trying to break down the door to get to them. Peter Williamson, who appears in the above quote, would be held there again in later life as punishment for his book, in which he accused the town magistrates of involvement in the kidnappings. You can read a large print version in the Tolbooth museum today beside a life size cut out of Peter!

He’s not the main character in Fireflies and Chocolate though. That’s Elizabeth Manteith, who is entirely fictional. But I love her. In their press release about the book the publisher describes her like this:

Fiery and forthright, Elizabeth isn’t someone to be argued with. She knows her own mind, and isn’t afraid to speak it. Through her experiences, the reader sees her grow from a girl, into a woman with a powerful voice… a woman of her time, but very much of ours too.

The cobbles of Correction Wynd in Aberdeen, dark Kirk behind.

Those dark cobbles do take me places!

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE, inspired by the 600 children and young people who were kidnapped from Aberdeen during the 1740s and sold into indentured servitude in the American Colonies, is out today. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s proper derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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A Swashbuckling Adventure, Through Hospital Windows

hospital window
St Nicolas Kirk through a hospital window

The start of the title is a bit of a lie. In fact it’s a total fabrication. There’s no derring-dos on the high seas recounted here. I do have crutches, so am a bit peg-legged and I like to think there’s an (imaginary) parrot on my shoulder. I have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, so my body has basically been trying to kill me. I’m now on medication to stop those efforts, but I have to be checked once a week in case the drug makes its own attempts to kill me. So there are elements of a thriller genre at work in my life.

During my month of cannulas, needles, tests and scary procedures I sought beauty where I could find it. Through the hospital windows. I woke the first morning to a beautiful pink sunrise and a rather wonderful view of St Nicholas Kirk steeple, the church that features in THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR. Despite the fact that I wrote of truly terrible events involving that steeple, I found it somewhat comforting to see it there. I felt a connection to the place. It lit up in the evening sun too.

hospital windows

But I was soon moved. This was something that was being done due to Covid. Constant rearranging of patients between wards. Decisions made by ‘bed managers’, not medics. It didn’t make any sense to me, and the medical staff were pretty unimpressed by it too.

However, I saw through many different windows. This next ward had the worst view, just a small box of buildings, but the best bed. Air mattresses are magical things; lying in them is a little bit like being hugged as they inflate and deflate to maximise your comfort.

hospital windows 2

I was soon off to sparkling chimney sunrises and sunsets:

shiny chimneys through the hospital windows
chimneys

Then, finally, the last of the hospital windows. At first I was quite annoyed about this move. Diagnosed and treated, just awaiting final tests, I was shunted away to what felt like a far flung area of the hospital, and I no longer had my own room. I posted a somewhat morose quote from Lord of the Rings about the sunrise that morning on Instagram.

red sky

But, it really worked out very well. The other three ladies I was with were lovely. There was kindness and understanding between us all and we shared frequent laughing conversations, our room being referred to as the party room by the nurses.

And it had a swashbuckling sea view… just.

sea view from the hospital window

While I was in, a rather wonderful review went up on The Rose and the Thistle blog. Reading the opening line cheered me up instantly! “Before I go any further, I just have to say, this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Yes, it is written in one of my favorite time periods, and yes it takes place in one of my favorite places in all the world, but when you combine that with the almost poetic style of Sinclair’s writing—sigh!” See the whole review here.

Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, features an often overlooked event in history, the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, and a love story.

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Turn Left for Tyrebagger Stone Circle

Tyrebagger Stone Circle in the distance, misty trees beyond

Tyrebagger Recumbent Stone Circle is near Aberdeen, situated on the hill behind the airport and overlooking the Kirkhill Industrial Estate. So, when my family and I went seeking this circle we thought it would be easy to find. Yes. Well. Google maps took us close. Very close in fact. But there’s nowhere to stop a car and get out on the dual carriageway, so no possibility of taking the app’s advice to ‘walk the rest of the way to your destination’.

We turned to directions found on the internet which took us up the side of the industrial estate and into the woods. But the last instruction, to turn right along the line of trees… there was no right there. We ended up lost and peering over gates and up tracks and across fields. But then, Google maps pinpointed the exact location of the stones and we retraced our steps.

‘”It’s somewhere in that direction…”

“Just the other side of those trees…”

“But how can we get through there?”

Until:

Continue reading “Turn Left for Tyrebagger Stone Circle”

Walking the Witchy Ways of Aberdeen

cobbles, or cassies, as they are called in Aberdeen
Galllus Quines. Wonderful street art in Aberdeen honouring those persecuted for witchcraft.
Gallus Quines

I ran through St Nicholas Kirkyard, and down and round Correction Wynd, an old medieval lane in Aberdeen, to see this recent street art. I was due to meet people for breakfast, but determined to see the ‘Quine Shrine’ first. The reason being? That first part, on the left, honours those who were persecuted for witchcraft in Aberdeen, and one tile names a few of them, including the three women I chose to write about in The Mermaid and the Bear.

Tile naming some of those accused of being witches in Aberdeen, Scotland

The spellings are different, because spellings weren’t set back then, not like they are today. I chose to go with the way the names are recorded in the Survey Of Scottish Witchcraft from Edinburgh University. It was there that I learned, contrary to popular belief, that only a tiny proportion of those accused were midwives or folk healers; a mere 9 of the 3837 ‘witches’ in Scotland were midwives, and only 141 had some mention of healing in their cases (see the background page of the database).

In my fictional account of these women’s lives, one of them is a midwife and healer, but this is not the reason for the accusations brought against the three quines.

Continue reading “Walking the Witchy Ways of Aberdeen”