Ackers led the horse up the hill at the side o a lonely glen aboot the Cabrach wye. Fin they come tae the heed o the glen the road wiz a wee bittie wider at this point and there wiz a wee green bit jist aff the road. There wiz enough room for the wagon tae pull aff and leave room for anither cairt or wagon tae pass.
Wi darkness comin doon Ackers decided they’d mak camp there for the nicht. He wiz jist aboot tae lead the horse in fin an affa racket got up alang the road a bit. It soondit like somebody wiz draggin chynes ahin a horse gan at full bat. A black shape came tearin past him makkin his horse shy and it teen aa his strength tae haud it fae makkin a bolt.
Onywye aathing sattled doon aifter a meenit but the horse wiz gey chauvin kine wi its lugs staannin and its een lookin wild. His wife Becca and the bairns were oot o the wagon by this time winderin fit aa the commotion wiz aboot. Ackers didna let on aboot the black shape and as his wife said nithing aboot the soon o chynes he jist let it be and said “Ach the horse got spookit at something!”
It wiz fin he wiz soothin the horse that Ackers noticed in the shaddas at the bottom o the glen fit lookit for aa the world like a nun waving up at him. Strange, thought he “Fit wye wid a nun be doon there at sic a time and it comin doon dark?”
He shouted on Becca tae come and hae a look. Fin she saa this she said “ Oh me me there’s something queer gan on here!”
She wintit tae move on but Ackers widna hear o’t pyntin oot that it wid be pick-mirk in a wee filie, an onywye this micht be the only decent bit tae pull in for miles. Aifter their fower bairns were fed and beddit Becca sat a file at the fire an Ackers gaed tae pull some grass fae the ‘lang-park’ tae gie the horse.
That nicht though, Ackers couldna sattle affa weel an neither it seemed could the horse. It chauved and clappered its feet as if its queets were itchy. As Ackers lay in bed he wiz still tryin tae work oot fit hid come past him earlier on. It seemed tae him that it lookit like the form o a black bull but the mair he thocht aboot it the mair he realised he’d been able tae see throwe it. But mind you sayin that the draggin chynes were rale eneuch by the noise they made an the sparks fleein fae them!
He must’ve dozed for he awoke in the early daylicht. This wiz Ackers’ favourite time o day so he rose quaitly so’s nae tae waaken his wife and bairns an slippit oot o the wagon. It wiz a fine saft mornin wi a heavy dew stickin tae the girss. He’d a quick look at the horse and it wiz grazin awa quite contentit nae signs o the skittishness o the nicht afore.
Lichtin his pipe he waakit back tae faar he’d gotten the fleg wi the black bull and lookit for signs on the grun o fitivver hid been. The only marks he could see wiz faar his ain horse hid reared up and the tracks o his ain wheels. On seein this the hairs on the back o his neck fairly got jabby. Mutterin awa tae himsel “Shannish shannish!”
He lookit ower tae whaur the nun hid stood waving up at him the nicht afore. The place she’d been staanin wiz completely covered in whins, nettles and brummels. In amangst them he could mak oot some waa steens though the whins hid maistly covered them aathegither. That wiz faar the nun hid stood and he jaloused there must be a road up tae it fae the ither side. He gey near convinced himsel tae this but decided he’d jist gyang doon for a look.
It wiz a gey steep trauchle doon but on reachin the bottom he wiz confronted wi a gey near solid waa o brummels and nettles. He tried tae push a path throwe but hid tae stop fin he wiz near torn an stung tae daith. Walkin doon the glen for a fair bit afore he found a clear bit tae cross he managed athoot leavin ower muckle o his skin hingin fae brummel thorns. He walkit back up towards the waa steens fin it soon became evident there wiz nae road inaboot ava. If onything, hereaboots the growth wiz even mair dense wi bein the side awa fae the prevailing weens that came up the glen. Try as he micht there wiz nae wye he could get nearer the ruins. Puzzled an mair than a bit feart Ackers loupit fin his wife shouted doon fae abeen “Fit are ye deein doon there min?”
The licht weel up noo he could see a man dressed in black staanin aside Becca. “Oh bugger it must be the peeler tellin them tae move on!”
He shouted back “I’ll be up in a meenit or twa!”
Then tae his surprise Becca shouted doon in the ‘Cant’ tae get some sticks for there’s nae a thing up here tae cause spark or lowe. And mind this wi a peeler nae standin but feet fae her.
It teen Ackers a fair while tae gither some bits o broom an mak his wye back up tae the wagon. Throwin doon the bundle he askit o his wife “Far aboot’s the peeler?”
Becca looked at him “Fit peeler?” Ackers said tae her.
“The man in black that wiz staanin richt aside ye fin ye shouted doon tae ma!” Becca says “Awa min ye must’ve been seein things there’s been nae peeler nor onybody else inaboot here!” Ackers didnae argue he jist said “Aye yer richt eneuch it must’ve been a shadda!”
So sayin he gaed tae yoke the horse an in a fyowe meenits wiz ready tae leave this eerie place. The bairns were still sleepin so he didna waaken them. Becca wiz neen ower trickit an sayin “We’ll hae a cup o tay at least, we’re nae in that much o a hurry!”
But the look ontae Acker’s face gave the game awa an Becca sparkit up noo, grabbit the reins fae Ackers an led the horse an wagon awa lookin ower her shooder as she did so.
Within aboot three miles they came upon a wee clachan o a half dizzen hooses and a sign proclaiming it tae be Dunghobar.
Ackers pulled up at the smiddy an askit if he could bile his kettle on the coals.
“Aye jist pit it there min,” he said raikin the coals tae mak room for it. Newsin awa tae the smiddy Ackers tellt him something strange hid happened back the road. The smiddy wintit tae ken fit bit o the road so he tellt him and also aboot the bull trailin chynes, the nun and the man in black. Ackers wiz startled tae see the smiddy cross himsel and tak a couple steps back. He pyntit tae the kettle an bid him tak it fae the coals an leave the smiddy.
Ackers protested but there wiz nithing else for it but tae tak his leave. He wiz warned nae tae go near anither door in the place but tae leave for he’d get nae hospitality at Dungobhar. The smith walked in front o him still crossin himsel an mutterin prayers as he led Ackers an wagon fae the clachan. Ackers wintit tae tell the smith tae tak a lang lick o his erse but he couldna be bothered for he wiz mair worried aboot fit he’d seen staanin aside his wife back at the glen. Ivvery noo an then jist on the edge o his sicht he wiz sure he kept seein a shadda walkin at the side o Becca.
It would’ve been a stretch ayont Dungobhar afore Ackers calmed doon. Becca wiz mair than pit oot wi him for he’d nae tell her fit wiz wrang. In a soor mood he kennled a fire an set the kettle on the jockey. He wiz ayee lookin ower at Becca wi a strange look on his face. The bairns were waakened by this time and playin at the roadside fin inaboot came the youngest laddie an says tae his father “Wha’s the man staanin aside mither?”
Ackers near chokit on his tea: recoverin he speired at the bairn fit he lookit like. The bairn tellt him and it wiz the self same man he’d seen staanin aside Becca an the same yin he wiz pickin up wi the tail o his ee. Dressed in a black suit and the bairn added mair details that his father couldna see. He said the man wisna aal for his face wiz young and white as snaw an his een were reed like hett coals fae the fire. The bairn started tae cover his een “Daddy daddy it’s girnin at ma and his face looks affa ill-naitert!”
The bairn ran tae his dad’s bosie greetin “The man’s lookin at ma. Dinna let him tak me awa daddy!” and beeriet his face intae Ackers’ oxter. Becca by this time wiz gettin spookit for she wiz weel aware o Ackers watchin her. She saw the bairn greetin in his bosie and her man lookin past her “Whit’s wrang min? Ye’ve got the bairn greetin and ye keep watchin ma like I’m feel. Whit are ye lookin by ma like that for?”
The bairn wiz cooried in and widna lift ee tae his mither and jist keepit his face beeriet intae Ackers. Wi a muffled voice he said “Oh mammy the man in black is staanin at yer side… the big man wi the glowerin yaks . Oh Mammy Mammy!”
Becca gaed intae a swoon like a toff woman faas steys are ower ticht. She hut the grun like a tackit and flailed aboot wavin her airms wailin oot o her “Oh shannish shannish wha’s the man in black wi the reed glowerin yaks?”
The bairn wiz shakkin and clung tae his faither like grim death as Ackers dived ower tae help Becca. The bairn wiz lookin past his mither and set up sic a noise “Oh shannish shannish the man in black’s staanin ower her an he’s girnin at her! Oh me he’s gotten mair teeth in his mooth than twa horses!”
Becca fainted clear awa her eenies rollin tae the back o her heed. Wi aa the commotion the rest o the bairns githered inaboot an afore lang they jined in wi their brither’s wailin although they couldna see fit he could. Ackers handed the bairn tae his aalest lassie “Here pit him an the ither yins intill the wagon an bide wi them I’ll get yer mither!”
Ackers tried tae pick Becca fae the grun an near gave himsel a double rupture, she must’ve been twinty steen if a pun. Instead he rolled her semiconscious body towards the wagon o skirlin bairns. Aifter a gey chauve he got her intae the wagon amongst the terrifeet bairns.
He got the horse gyan as fast as he could awa fae the place. The horse tried tae gallop but she wiz aal and the wagon wiz a fair wecht wi abody in ower so he pulled back a wee bittie. The foam wiz fleein fae her mooth and he wiz feart she’d die atween the shafts. The bairn started tae scream oot again “Daddy daddy the shancoul’s back and he’s leanin in tae reach mammy!”
Ackers shouted tae the horse “Go lassie go!” and the peer aal horse gave her best. Clapperin alang for at least a half mile afore she stoppit o her ain accord wi the braith fusslin fae her mooth an foam fleein like soap. Ackers lookit in the back at his wife an bairns. Becca wiz in an affa state and tried tae shush the bairns tae calm them. The bairn wi his een stained wi tears wiz lookin oot the back o the wagon.
He askit the bairn if he could still see the man in black? The bairn said he could but he wiz far awa noo and jist stood there wavin them back. Ackers mined that witches an demons couldna cross rinnin water and they were stopped in the middle o a wee brig. Becca hid nivver seen the man in black but fin she lookit oot the back o the wagon she could see him staanin way back the road Becca gave oot a skirl that could’ve been heard five miles awa an gaed intae a faint again.
As Becca came tee she asked Ackers if the shancoul wiz awa. He assured her he wiz gone. Later they got a chance tae spik aboot fit hid happened. Ackers thocht it micht hae been the Devil himsel in human form and the nun wiz yin o his demons. Becca thocht it wiz maybe the black airt that’d been workin or the ‘Gweed Fowk’ hid put the comehither ontae them. For the rest o the time they travelled the highways & byways o the Heilands Ackers made sure fin they stoppit for the nicht it wiz beside habitation!
Gillespie Hoose 1968 A.D.
I stood in the early mornin freest awytin the arrival o the solicitor wi the key for the big wrought iron gate. My work’s van wiz tucked in at the left o the big gate and I could see the hoose set well back intae the grounds. It lookit fae here tae be biggit o saansteen. It wiz een o yon Victorian biggins made tae look like a seventeenth century masion but only a third o the size. It wiz a twa storied building wi a big covered entrance held up wi three huge pillars in the centre front. On the richt o the entrance there wiz a big bey windae that wint up twa stories, on the left were twa flush casement windaes een abeen the ither. I coulda be sure fae the distance but een or twa peens o glaiss lookit broken. The gravel drive tae the hoose wiz weel owergrown wi weeds comin up throwe the chuckies. Through the trees at the left o the drive I could jist mak oot the reef o anither building. I teen that tae be a stable, maist likely.
As I waited, I wint ower in my mind the reason I wiz staanin here waitin. I wiz a pinter tae the trade but ae time a couple o years afore work hid been gye scarce. At that time the Government hid teen oot a scheme for trainin up six month tradesmen so I’d managed tae get masel ontae the jinery course. It wiz better than signin ontae the dole an stagnatin through the winter. They taught ye the basics o the trade only. Mair or less jist the roughin work like framin oot the intimmers o biggins an sic like.
A lot o time served lads werena ower happy aboot it though an gave a lot o the sax monthers a gye hard time o’t. But I wiz aaricht wi my bein a pinter tae the trade. Onywye I’d vrocht on plenty o the same sites and kent a lot o the lads fine. I actually enjoyed deein the roughin jinery and the bonus wiz it gave me the chance tae get awa fae the smell o pint for a fylie.
Then comes the reason I’m staanin wytin at the gates o a big hoose. I’d been vrochtin deein the roughin work ae time in a new bungalow fin this toff kindo lad comes in. He jist steed lookin aboot for a while and my thinkin he wiz probably an architect or some sic like jist let him get on wi it. A fyle later he came inaboot an speired if I’d be interested in deein a homer? Well my bein but a sax monther I usually pit onybody needin a job deen ontae some o the real jiners unless it wiz a simple job like pittin up a fence or something the likes o that. So I tellt him there wisna ony jiners on the site that day but if he gave me his number I’d see if ony o the lads could help. He lookit puzzled fin I said that and pynted tae the haimmer in my haan sayin he thocht I wiz a jiner?
I tellt him the oots an ins and he wiz affa interested in this speirin me aboot the roughin jinery and seemed trickit wi my bein a pinter ana. Onywye it ends up he wiz seekin somebody tae expose some jeest eynes intae an aal hoose tae check for ony rot. A customer o his wiz needin tae buy the hoose but wanted it checked oot aforehaan. I wiz reluctant, thinkin tae masel that this wiz a job for a real jiner nae a sax monther the likes o me. The toff lad seemed adamant that he wanted me, so that nicht aifter work I wint an hid a look. I tellt him though that if it wiz ower complicated I’d nae be deein it and he’d need a time served lad in. This suited him fine so we’d arranged tae meet at the hoose.
In the event the job wiz richt straacht forritt, so I did as he asked and exposed the suspect jeest eynes. The gweed news wiz that athing wiz perfect an there wisna one pick o rot aboot the place. Aifter I’d feenished and pittin my tools intae the van he come inaboot fair chuffed lookin. He teen oot his wallet and handed me a twenty pound note.
On seein this I said, “Oh no no min that’s faar ower muckle!”
The look o surprise that crossed his face wiz a picter.
I thocht maybe I’d embarrassed him so I quickly said, “I’ll tak a fiver if ye want tae gee ma that.”
Well he recovered fae his surprise but wid hear nae sic thing aboot a fiver and shoved the twenty intae ma dungaree pooch sayin it wiz well worth it tae him getting the job done at such short notice!
It wiz my turn tae feel embarrassed noo because twenty pounds wiz mair than I earned in a week. He then handed me his business card. He owned his ain firm o solicitors and if it wiz aaricht wi me he’d pit me on his books as the firm’s catch hand kindo lad.
Ower the next couple o years I’d got a lot o work throwe his firm fae changin locks tae emergency repairs on buildings he owned and quite a lot o pintin jobbies for baith him and his customers. I’d started on my own aifter that, as a handyman and michty plenty jobs did I get. But the jobs I got fae him ayee peyed weel.
He eence tellt ma it wiz my complete honesty that hid struck him and laughingly spoke aboot the cairry on wi the twenty pound note. He said nae muckle fowk he kent wid’ve refused that. But fitivver the case here wiz I wytin tae gyan and dee a cracker o a job.
I could hear a car comin alang the narra road but I couldna see it for the hedges that lined ilka side o the road until the funcy BMW came intae view and pulled intae the gateway. I could see it wiz een o the young solicitors fae the heed office. He smiled and gid me a wave fin he saw me as he hurridly jumped oot o the car. He’d nae jaicket on. He wiz weerin a fite sark wi tie, so the caal ween hut him fair an bye and in second he wiz shiverin. He’d thin breeks on and a pair o Italian shoes that lookit for aa the world like cardboord wi some blaik on them for a shine. Nae exactly the type o riggoot a budy maun weer in sic a caal barefaced morning.
He lookit ower ma shooder at the hoose and I saw a fleetin swype o fear cross his face. He’d been here afore makkin oot the list o jobs nottin deen so I winnert why he lookit so feart. He leaned back intae the car takin oot a big folder. He said the job schedule and order numbers were aa in order then he handed ma a huge bunch o keys.
I speired at him if he wiz comin tae show ma the jobs but he jist nervously pynted tae the folder sayin athing’s in there. I saw a look o horror cross his face at my suggestion. A look at his watch then wi a quick, “Affa busy! Must be getting on!”
Anither short look at the hoose, then hurriedly back inower his car. Wi a quick wave he fired up the engine spun the wheels a bit an wint off doon the road as if Aal Leather tail himsel wiz nippin at his heels. I stood there a minty lookin at the hoose tae see fit fleggit him so muckle. But bugger a thing could I see.
I’d a fair chave wi the padlock on the big gate for the key wisna among the bunch o keys he’d geen ma. So I’d nithing adee but tae cut the chyne that keepit baith haafs o the gate secure. Ach well, I’d jist hiv tae get a new lock fin I wint tae the buildin suppliers in the toon.
The drive wiz aboot a hunner yards lang, wi a turnin circle near the hoose like a roundabout. The centre o it wiz full o overgrown bushes and the drive wisna muckle better wi aa the weeds growin thowe the chuckies. Thankfully it widna be my job tae sort that mess oot.
It wiz a richt bonny buildin wi a big covered entrance faar a coach could drive under allowin the fowk tae enter the hoose oot o the elements. The covered entrance wiz held up by three huge ornate pillars and hid a plain flat roof. The rest o facade wiz completely plain, nae carvins or date steen tae be seen. Tae my taste this added tae its beauty because so much saansteen biggins o this kind were destroyed by the builders owerdeein it wi ornamentation.
The door wiz made oot o oak and must’ve weighed haaf a ton. It wiz plain as could be, wi three panels on each haaf an lookit as if it hid jist been varnished weeks ago and nae the years it must’ve been. The lock though wiz a fair chave tae wun open. Eventually it turned and I gave it a shove. Michty though the hinges protested as I shoved it open. They’d nott a liberal dose o WD40 or Wully Donald as we caad it. I’d hiv tae dee that tae aa the hinges an locks aboot the place so’s nae tae braak them.
Inside, there wiz a second door. It wiz glaized wi stained glaiss and in the centre there wiz some kind o coat o arms deen wi the same glaiss. Beyond it I entered a big haal wi a saansteen stair case on the left gyan up tae the next level. The hall wiz plain and apart fae a big ornamental cornice gyan roon the ceilin and a massive plaster centre piece wi a chandelier and globes in it, the place wiz pretty unremarkable. Nae a lot o licht came in apart fae a big windae at the back waa aside the stairs. But maist o it wiz deen wi stained glaiss and that teen awa much o the licht. At the bottom o the stairs on my richt there wiz a big bonny panelled door an tae my left on the opposite waa wiz twa mair.
The rooms themsels were jist big boxes, the only ornamentation wiz the cornices and ceilin centres o the maist basic style and the widwork wiz the same, wi aichteen inch varnished skirtins an fite pinted windaes. The waas were pinted wi primrose eggshell pint, a colour that actually suited the rooms. The pint though wiz peelin here an there and the varnish on the skirtins were aa kill cracked and perished wi time. I could see a puckle bits faar water hid gotten in, particularly ablow the windaes.
Only one room doonstairs could be caad a bit mair interestin. It let in fae ablow the stairs and obviously hid eence been the library. Very few shelves were left but ye could see on the waas faar they’d been. In this room the fireplace wiz made o cast iron wi bonny tiles done in hunting scenes set in the surrounds o the fire. The rest o the fireplaces I’d seen were made o plain saansteen that were cracked an reekit wi years o use.
Up the heed o the stairs ye struck a left alang a dull lichted lobby that let intae the the sax bedrooms. They were much smaller than the doonstair rooms and very plain, even plainer if that were possible. The waas again were o primrose yella eggshell pint. The rooms were hingin wi spider’s wobbs and flakin pint and the timmer fleers were covered in styowe. But upstairs there wiz little evidence o water comin in so the reef itsel must’ve been in gweed enough nick. That’s always a plus in an aal buildin like this. Actually I wiz a bittie disappointed wi the inside really, for it could’ve been so much mair. But ach, I wisna here tae judge but tae get on wi the vrocht.
The best bit for me wiz fit hid been the servant’s quarters in the attic. They were cosy wi licht grey pinted timmer linings. Richt bonny wee rooms that were as functional as they were practical.
There wiz an annex on the left haan side o the main hoose that I’d nae noticed fae the road. This wiz the kitchen and the first thing ye saw on enterin wiz the massive cookin range anent the back waa. It wiz in a dire condition pure hingin wi corrosion. There wiz a wee room aff the main kitchen wi twa big sinks sittin alloe fower wee windaes and the waas were decked oot in marble shelves. At the back waa an aal farrent stove for heatin water. This must’ve been the scullery. The fleer wiz decked oot in sclate flagsteens like the kitchen and I saw there wiz a door tae the ootside at the side o the sinks. I thocht tae mak this the place tae store my tools and ony ither materials I’d be getting for the job.
I read the schedule the young solicitor hid given ma. There wiz a wee bit o history aboot the building. Seemingly it hid been built on the site o a twelfth century castle in the mid nineteenth century by a ‘hen-trippin-ower’ kindo lad faa’d decided tae bigg himsel a mansion. In the event the siller hid run oot. I thocht tae masel that must be the reason for the auster intimmers o the hoose. The big hoose hid remained in the faimily but it wiz nivver tae be the place it’d been intended tae be. The faimily still owned it but bade oot in Sweden and hid decided tae mak it intae a holiday home.
The schedule gave me a rindoon on fit I’d tae dee but it wiz gye sketchy tae say the least. Minin on the young solicitor’s face as he’d lookit at the hoose and the pure fear in it then nae much winder there wiz sic a dearth o information in the schedule. But I kent weel enough fit wid be nottin deen so that wisna a problem. The pey wiz gweed at three pounds by the oor. If I’d been vrochtin on a site I’d be lucky tae be getting ten or twelve bob an oor. On tap o that I wiz tae be given fifty pounds a week for my digs, a bliddy fortune back in the sixties I can tell ye. I’d nae intention tae get digs but wid bide in the hoose for the sax wikks I’d been given tae dee the job.
I spent the rest o the day getting the scullery ready for my occupation. First my tools teen in and pitten on the shelves. There wisna ony electric in the hoose but that wisna a problem as I’d be workin the haan mull tools onywye. I put my camp bed aside the stove and teen in my primus for cookin an makkin tay. As it wiz still gye caal I spent some time ficherin wi the scullery stove and found it tae be in nae ower bad o a condition. Nithing like as bad as the kitchen yin onywye. I checked oot the lum tae see if it wiz clear o birds nests or rubble but it wiz clear. Next I wint on the raik for bitties o sticks fae alloe the trees. A fyowe oxterfaes o that and in nae time I’d the stove lowin. Kettle on and soon I’d a fine brew on the go.
For licht I’d ma Tilley paraffin storm lantern. It gid aff a gweed enough light seein it wiz pressurised, but for mair general use I’d a basic wikk lantern. Basic I’d say, but gweed enough for me at that time. Onywye I planned tae get masel a wee petrol generator lighting set aifter I wiz peyed for this job. That wid mak a gye odds workin in places like this faar there wisna ony sparks and as a bonus I’d get tae use my electric tools instead o the haan mull like I’d be deein here.
That nicht I settled doon cosy pie on the camp bed inside ma sleepin pyoke. The stove wiz weel loaded wi sticks so I jist lay watchin the flickers comin fae the vents and thinkin aboot the job.
I must’ve drifted aff but awoke wi a start. For a minty I windered faar I wiz. The bricht meenlicht wiz comin in throwe the windaes castin its caal eerie glow aboot the room. Thinkin that’s fit must hae wakened ma I turned awa fae it and settled doon. Seconds later I heard a door bangin inside the hoose and wiz sure I heard voices. Anither bang then silence as if faaivver they were hid wint intae a room closin the door ahin them.
I lay and listened for ony ither sounds but apart fae the normal creaks an groans ye get fae empty hooses there wiz nithing. I fellt a wee bittie spookit at this but I kent fine there must be a mair rational explanation than the thocht o ghosts. Then I mind on the look o fear on the young solicitor’s face fin I’d suggested he come in an show ma fit tae dee. I snuggled doon intae my sleepin pyoke wi that, I’m tellin ye.
I awoke early jist as the licht wiz comin throwe the windaes. I fellt surprisingly fresh even aifter my near bein fleggit haaf tae death in the early oors. Wi the daylicht came the reasonin and I put it doon tae masel dreamin and comin haaf awake. Well that’s fit I convinced masel wi.
A blackie wiz singin its hert oot in the trees aside the scullery, so I lay listenin tae it for a while afore getting up and firin up my primus for a cuppy o tay. The stove hid wint oot durin the nicht so I shivered as I fichered wi ma tay things. That day I planned tae gyang intae the toon for some things I be nottin for the job and also I’d need mait an something tae cairry drinkin water.
I’d heen a look at the water supply yestreen and found it came fae a waal but athing wiz choked up so I’d nae be getting ony drinkin water fae there. The hoose water hid come fae the waal by a pump but the pump wiz jist a bag o roost. In the whole hoose there wiz but three lavies, fower sinks and one bathroom and aa run in wi lead pipes so I couldna hae got water supposin the wall and pump were in perfect workin order. Aal lead pipes were notorious for leakin if they’d been aff for ony length o time, nivver mind the fower decades since the twenties like here.
I set off for the toon and set up an accoont at the building suppliers under the name o the solicitors and placed my first order. Next I wint tae the shop for eerins tae masel. Nithing grand jist tay, sugar, dried milk, tins o bullybeef, spam, beans, peys, cheese, oatcakes and packets o pom (dried tatties). Maybe nae the best o mait for noo-a-days healthy fowke but by God it wiz tasty aa the same. Jist fit a man body needs tae get on wi the vrocht. My next stop wiz the ironmongers for twa five gallon plastic containers for water and a couple o gallons o paraffin for my lamps. There wiz a coonty yard near haan and I got my water containers fulled there nae bother.
In gweed fettle I made my wye back tae the hoose and fin I turned intae the drive I could’ve swore I saw movement in een o the windaes abeen the entrance. I thocht tae masel that some bugger maun be bidin in the hoose and mindin on the door slammin in the middle o the nicht, that must be exactly fit it wiz. Bugger!
Hurridly I let masel in throwe the scullery door and made for the hall. As I entered I could’ve swore the place wiz full o fowk aa mutterin awa. I physically didna hear onything barr a pressure in my lugs but the hall wiz fulled wi a brooding atmosphere and an evil presence.
The hall wiz a gloomy place onywye so that could’ve been fit gave me that feelings but fitivver it wiz it fairly stoppit ma in my tracks for a fyowe seconds afore I spoke oot loud;
“Awa min, yer lettin yersel get spookit like a bairn!”
I made for the stairs and jist as I reached the bottom o them a door banged abeen ma, so I ran up the stairs tae catch faaivver wiz up there playin silly buggers. Eence I got tae the heed o the stairs I stoppit and hid a quick look aboot ma. I wiz jist awa tae move eence mair fin I noticed the fleer. It wiz covered in the styowe o decades and the only fitprints I saw were my ain yins fae the day afore. Jist tae prove something tae masel I wint back doon the stairs and aboot haafwyes I saw ither fitprints that must’ve been the young solicitor’s. I could even see faar he’d turned an made his wye back doon. Fit hid fleggit him? Hid he heard a door bang and hightailed it fae the place? Or hid he felt the atmosphere or heard mutterin?
A bit troubled and mair than a bitty scared I made my wye back up tae hae a check in the rooms even as far up as the servant’s quarters in the attic. But nae a thing did I find and apart fae my ain fitprints in the styowe o decades I could see that nae ither person hid walked there. Gye thochtfull and mair than a bittie spookit I made my wye doon tae the scullery.
I unloaded my eerins and water then decided tae hae something tae ait. I wiz bliddy ravenous for I’d nae hin a bite since braakfast the day afore. I fellt much better aifter some oatcakes and cheese wi a fine cuppy o tay. I put aa the strange ongyans doon tae a vivid imagination I nivver even kent I hid afore. Geein masel a bit o a shak I jist lookit tae the front and held gyan wi my work. This pullin masel up tae point fairly workit awa for a wee whilie but I started tae feel I wiz bein watched and ivvery noo an then I’d catch a movement at the tail o ma ee. Eence or twice I’d turn ma heed fast but there wiz nivver onything there.
Fin I did that I’d shout oot loud tae masel; “Awa min an stop this bliddy silly cairryon!”
The words felt as if they came back tae mock ma but jist as a pressure ye’ll understand. In this wye I got throwe the first week. There’d been nae mair doors bangin nor mutterin and my sleep hid been completely undisturbed. But the feelins o bein watched were ayee there. I settled doon fine and wiz fair getting on wi the vrocht.
Ilka nicht I’d hae a wanner aboot the gruns. There wiz fit hid been a vast formal gairden but aa growed ower wi weeds noo but michty it must’ve lookit gweed back in the day. There wiz a cracker o a kitchen gairden wi brick waas aa roon aboot fifteen fit heich. The hinges on the entrance door were seized solid an nae maitter foo muckle WD40 I applied they widna move but I got in throwe the north side faar a bit o the waa that hid fell in at some point.
A big greenhoose wiz at the far eyne; a lot o the glaiss wiz broken in it and the whole structure wiz in a gye unsafe condition so I didna venture in there. Fit hid been the kitchen gairden wiz jist a mass o weeds and gnarled bushes and apart fae that there wisna an affa lot tae see. But michty it wiz fine an warm and I could see plenty fruit trees against the sooth facin waa. I’d love tae see this place in the growin season.
At the ither side o the kitchen gairden I came across fit hid been the stables. It wiz a richt weel set up wee buildin biggit wi the same saansteen as the big hoose. It hid twa stories tae it. Doon ablow wiz the staas for a puckle horses and abeen that must’ve been faar the stable haan hid bade. Up there water hid gotten in an rotted a lot o the fleer so I only got a peek in nae wantin tae faa throwe the fleer. It lookit tae me as if somebody hid dossed in there for I could see a wee shackydoon o course woollen blankets and a dish aside it wi fit looked like tabbies in it. But that must’ve been an affa lot o years ago for aathing wiz covered in a thick lair o dust. I wun carefully doon the stairs watchin faar I put ma feet.
Oot in the licht eence mair I made my wye doon tae faar I did my ablutions. I’d found this place fin I’d geen on the raike for fresh water. There wiz a sheltered pool that must’ve been a water feature for the main gairden, though noo it wiz full o waterlillys and reeds. The bit that fed the pool wiz a bonny clear wee burn, so I’d come doon here ilka forenicht for tae sweel the styowe fae aff masel. The water wiz freezin but it washed awa the swyte o the day an invigorated a budy nae handy.
Ae forenicht I wiz sittin on the doorstep o the scullery haein a bit supper and enjoyin the last o the sun’s rays, fin I noticed an aal craw sittin in een o the trees opposite tae faar I sat. It seemed tae be affa interested in fit I wiz deein by turnin its heed an lookin me up an doon. I threw some crummles o oatcake oot ontae the chuckies and the craw half flew doon tae them. I could see it hid a crookit wing and thocht tae masel it must’ve brook it at ae time peer wee craiter.
I said till it, “Aye aye crawsie!”
It keekit up at ma fin I said that and for a minty lookit ma up an doon then cairried on aitin the crummles. This wiz a starter for ten, an afore the wikk wiz oot the big aal craw wiz feedin fae ma haan. Michty, but it wiz affa fond o the spam an fyles managed a haaf tinny. Afore lang it wid come intae the scullery an flee up tae the shelf abeen the stove an gyang tae sleep for maist o the day. Fin it awoke it wid land aside ma, pesterin ma for anither morsel or twa.
Michty, I wiz fair trickit wi this craw an noo an then I’d even get tae claw its heed. I caad it Jock-in-the-mooth and it fairly answered tae that and wid come doon fae the tree but I’d later find oot ‘he’ wiz a ‘she’, though mair on that later.
As usual, I bankit up the stove wi a puckle sticks an snuggled intae ma sleepin pyoke cosey pie. Hardly did I close ma een but I wiz oot fae the coont. I’d nae need tae set my alarm for at sunrise Jock-in-the-mooth wid be tap, tap, tappin on the scullery windae lookin tae wun in for a morsel an then a sleep abeen the stove. This hid fairly become a mornin ritual.
That nicht though wiz fin the strange dreams started. I’d find masel intae a chamber aboot twinty fit by ten fit. It wiz biggit wi roch steen and a coomed ceiling. The only licht wiz a big rosety stick stuck intae an iron hoop against een o the waas. In my dream I could actually smell the roset.
Slowly I’d become aware o a presence aboot ma as if I wiz being watched. Bit by bit fower monks came intae view mutterin awa tae eenanither. They showed nae interest in me though, but seemed tae lookin past ma. I turned, and that wiz fin I saw a naked man tied tae a frame. Oh me, he lookit gye sair made and I could mak oot lots o wounds coverin maist o his body. I tried tae gyang towards him but nae a muscle could I move barr my heed.
On the poor man’s face I could see sic despair as I nivver in aa ma life afore hid yet seen. But the look o despair changed tae pure horror. I turned ma heed and saw een o the fower monks place a sharpened stake intae a hole in the grun. Although I couldna see their faces I heard the strange words as they started chanting.
This galvanised the man tied tae the frame tae attempt tae braak free. As he struggled I saw the shackles roon his wrists cut intae his flesh as he thrashed aboot.
Three o the monks teen him doon fae the frame and led him tae the sharpened stake. Michty me, the peer man struggled against them wi aa his might but tae nae avaul. They held the still strugglin figure abeen the stake and seemed tae be askin him questions. He shook his heed vigorously jist makkin a low keenin sound.
The fourth monk standin by, nodded his heed tae the ither three and they slowly lowered the now screamin man ontae the stake.
I tried my best tae move but I really wiz fixed and couldna move ava, so I roared oot o ma for them tae stop in the name o God!
This got the attention o the monks and that’s fin I saw their faces fae alloe the hoods. And supposin I live tae be a hunnder years aal I nivver want tae see sic evil faces again. It wiz my turn tae scream and I gye near burst ma very thrappel as I stood there screamin oot o ma. I wiz shakkin and freezin ma hert wiz near burstin its wye throwe ma very breest.
I found masel oot o ma sleeping bag lookin oot the windae o the scullery in a state nae handy. Relief swept ower ma fin I realised it wiz only a bad dream but Christ it hid felt real enough. Shakkin like a leaf and covered in swyte I wint back intae my sleepin bag and lay awake for the rest o the nicht til Jock-in-the-mooth started tae tap on the windae.
I wiz pretty unsettled for the rest o the day and ayee fellt tae look ower ma shooder but aifter ma dream I’d nae be deein that jist in case I lookit intae the evil faces again.
Onywye I vrocht awa but I jist couldna get the image o that poor man’s face oot o ma heed ava. My big aal craw seemed tae hiv changed his habit and instead o gan tae sleep as usual aifter his morsels he follyt ma aboot as if reluctant tae let ma fae his sicht. I wiz so upset that I thocht tae gyang intae the toon for digs and only vrocht here in the oors o daylicht. I fairly considerd deein that and wid’ve if Jock hidna wint oot wi a caw. Then I thocht tae masel fit wid he dee for a wee morsel. Silly though it may sound I wint against ivvery alarm bell ringin in ma heed tellin ma tae get awa fae this place ower the heeds o an aal craw nae getting a tasty morsel.
I’d the same dream a couple mair times ower the space o a wikk, always wi the same result o me stannin oot o my sleeping bag screamin oot o ma. I thocht that I must be gyan aff the gourd.
As I said, the dream wiz the same wi the selfsame results but there wiz ae subtle change. As the monks manifested themsels instead o lookin past me at the man on the frame they first focused on me and boy, did I feel the evil come aff them at this point. I wiz rael sparkit up aboot this but aiterhin I wiz left in peace as they fixed their attentions tae the poor terrifeart man chyned tae the torture frame.
It wid’ve been the beginnin o my third week there, jist aifter I fitted the security wire on the doonstairs windaes, that I saw the fower monks stannin doon aside the kitchen gairden lookin up at ma.
The very hairs on the back o ma neck birrsed up because even fae this distance I felt the menace.
Then a strange thing happened.
My aal craw appeared fae naewye and started tae swoop them. They were neen too happy aboot this and behaved if they were terrifeart o him, coorien doon an wavin their airms aboot. Slowly they wint fae sicht and the feeling o menace wint wi them.
That nicht I’d the re-occurring dream again. It wiz the same dream but this time the fower monks focussed on me as they teen the poor man doon fae the frame. They hissed strange words at ma and their breaths smelled like that fae a rotten sewer. I started screamin as they made a grab for me and dragged me towards the sharpened stake on the fleer.
The next I kent my aal craw wiz there beatin them wi his wings. I wiz still screamin fin I found masel leanin ower the big double sink in the scullery gaspin for breath and greetin like a bairn.
I managed tae calm masel doon a bit, but michty I wiz breathin hard, as if I’d been hill run. Instead o gan back tae ma bed, I made masel a cuppy o fine sweet tay and lichted my we paraffin lamp for it wiz still gye dark. I heard a gentle tap tappin at the windae and saw it wiz my aal craw so I let him in. Michty but it seemed wrocht up, an hopped aboot wi its queer broken wing loup afore comin up ontae ma knee. I petted him for a while as he sat mutterin awa tae himsel and my askin him as if a budy fit wye he wiz oot and it still pickmirk ootside. He widna leave me so I put him up in his favourite place abeen the fire.
By this time I wiz beginnin tae feel mair relaxed and aifter dichtin aff maist o the swyte fae masel, I climbed back intae my sleepin pyoke. I turned the paraffin lampy doon low an tried tae wun back tae sleep. I must’ve dozed a bit but I awoke wi a loup as a door slammed in the hoose, then anither, then anither. Na, na I wisna haein this ava. I wiz eether gyan aff the heed or the bliddy hoose wiz haunted by evil spirits.
I put on ma clyse beets ana and fired up my Tilly storm lamp. It gave aff a gye bricht licht so I thocht I’d settle this oot one wye or the tither.
By the time I wun intae the hall I could’ve sworne the place wiz crowded oot wi fowk. Ivvery door wiz slammin een at a time startin fae the tap o the buildin richt doon here tae the hall then gyan fae the hall richt back up tae the tap o the hoose. Ower and ower this happened but nae one bliddy thing could I see bricht Tilley lamp or no.
I wiz scared aaricht, that I can tell ye but nae as scared as fin invisible haans started tae tug at my clyes and stroke ma face. Aa the while the doors were bangin bangin throughoot the hoose. I almost did tak tae ma heels then but anger started tae replace my fear. Then burnin shame on me, for I believed in nithing at that time, but I roared oot shakkin ma fist intae the air;
“In the name o God and aa the saints in heaven wid ye stop!!”
Nae one mair sound. Nithing! It jist stopped like that. The atmosphere wiz still ‘full’ though. As if a crowd o fowk awaited the next bit. Then slowly even that changed and I could’ve swore I heard the licht scuffle o feet on the treads o the big saansteen stairs. By this time I wiz nearly on the point o collapse and, almost in a daze, I made my wye back throwe tae the scullery and lay oot on my bed.
Bricht sunlicht awakened ma, alang wi the tap tappin o Jock-in-the-mooth at the windae.
Bleary eyed I got up an let him in sayin, “How did you get oot?”
I distinctly remembered him comin in in the middle o the nicht then my pittin him up tae his favourite place.
Oot loud I said, “This is it I’m gan pure aff the crump!”
I’d my breakfast, makkin sure the aal craw got his share ana. He wint tae his favourite place an wiz soon asleep. I cairried on wi the work. Anither fyowe days and that wid be me feenished weel aheed o schedule. I’d nae be sorry tae see the back o this brooding place. I’d hae a word wi the young solicitor aboot it and hear the reason why he bolted.
Onywye I stuck it oot athoot ower muckle bother. I’d nae mair dreams and for that I wiz gye thankful. The only soor note wiz my haein tae leave my aal craw ahin. I could’ve done tae tak him hame wi me but that widnae hiv been practical.
The next day I’d a couple wee jobs tae dee afore I shut the hoose doon. so I settled doon in my sleepin pyoke wi mixed feelins. Seek at leavin peer Jock-in-the-mooth but glaid tae be leavin…
I wiz staanin lookin on as usual but this time the monks were leavin by a door I’d nae noticed afore. They slammed it shut ahin them makkin ma jump then I heard the groan. Lookin doon, I saw the peer man in agony sittin faar they’d left him wi the stake up inside his intimmers. There wiz bleed awye roon faar he sat and I could see he wiz dyin. He lookit up at ma wi sic a look o misery and despair on his face.
I moved towards him.
This time I wisna rooted tae the spot so in seconds I hunkered doon aside him. I tried tae lift him up aff the stake but he howled in agony so I let him be. He spoke tae ma but I didna ken the words he said so he started pyntin at the waa sayin Drostan, Drostan ower and ower.
I’d nae clue fit he meant but tae please him I moved tae the waa and put ae haan on een o the steens. At this he shook his heed so I touched anither steen wi the same result. I keepit deein this till at last he nodded his heed. I made the motion o pullin the steen fae the waa and at this he nodded vigorously. I put my fingers at each side o the steen and pulled as hard as I could but nae a move could I get. I raikit in ma pooch for ma pocket knife and cleaned awa the muck fae the jints. The next time I rived as hard as I could takin the skin and nails fae ma fingers. I’d nae time tae worry aboot it for the man wiz on his last gasps. I pulled an pulled till eventually the steen come free in my haans.
Throwin it tae the side, I put a hann intae the hole. I rummled ma haan aboot till I touched on something. I fellt a strap an jist haaled as hard as I could. Aifter a bit o a chave I got fitivver it wiz oot. There in ma haan wiz a big leather satchel.
I heard the man ahin ma gasp oot o him. Turnin, I thocht he’d died but na he’d baith haans oot wavin ma owere wi the bag. He teen it fae me and held it tae his breest wi tears rinnin doon his chikks unheaded.
Aifter a while o this he lookit up at ma an smiled the pain and despair gone fae his face. He put a haan oot seekin ma tae help him tae his feet so I did that. The bleed and the stake were gone fae the fleer and by the looks o’t he wiz fine.
Jist then my aal craw came in and sat on his shooder and ae me sic a work the hid wi eenanither. Turnin tae me, he made the sign o the cross then steppit inaboot an gave me a bosie. The aal craw next wint ontae my shooder mutterin awa tae itsel and rubbin its heed on ma cheek.
The man spoke but I’d nae idea o the words. He saw this, and tried some ither words but wi the same results. Next, he opened the satchel an teen oot a huge book. On the cover wiz twa words: Drostan’s tears. Fin I read them oot loud he went tae his knees and kissed the book.
Stannin up he handed me the book sayin, “abbee et clova!”
I repeated fit I thocht he said.
“Abbey at Clova?”
He smiled and nodded pointin tae himsel he said, “Kenniff!”
I did the same; “Sanners!”
Wi one last smile he made the sign o the cross as baith him and my aal craw slowly wint fae sicht.
I jist stood there like a gype lookin aboot ma at the torture chamber till even it wint fae sicht and I wiz back stannin in the scullery. Somehow I understood that I’d tae tak Drostan’s book tae the Abbey o Clova. But there wiz a big problem there. I’d nae idea faar aboot the Abbey o Clova wiz.
It’s nearly fifty years ago now since that time and that experience changed me forivver. I did weel in life aifter my adventures at the big hoose and eventually ended up ownin a lot o properties. But that is only the material part which means little really. I got tae see something that changed ‘me’, the person deep inside, in a wye I still canna explain aa these years aifter.
I’d love tae write here sayin that I’d become a deeply religious person but that I canna dee for that nivver happened in my life. That I got tae see the spiritual side o life? Well, I’ve nae doot aboot that for I only need tae pit oot ma haan and touch Drostan’s book tae prove that tae masel.
Wiz I dishonest keeping the book? No I dinna think so. If I’d handed it ower tae the kirk it wid’ve ended up hidden awa and its existence wid maist probably be denied. This wye at least fowk will get tae read it and touch it if lucky.
Inside the pages are twa locks o Drostan’s hair pitten there by his friend Kenniff and some notes written by him aboot Drostan. I used some o his notes tae write the story Drostan’s Tears.
I’m nae sure faa the monks were in the torture chamber but poor Kenniff hid suffered at their evil haans for mair than fourteen centuries protectin Drostan’s book till I came alang and somehow set him free. That’s a mystery that will nivver be solved as tae faa the monks were.
My thinking is that the church hid somehow got wind o Drostan’s book and hid sent the monks tae waylay Kenniff on his wye tae Clova. Now, that’s pure conjecture on my part but it strikes me as strange that the Abbey o Clova only comes doon tae us as merely a name o a place that could’ve exsited. My thocht is that fin they couldna find the book they destroyed Clova and eradicated it fae history.
In the event, history tells us the Abbey o Clova wiz lost in time, roon aboot the 10th century some scholars seemed tae think, but like its location the date is a mystery. But Clova ceased tae exist centuries afore, in the sixth century AD. Wi my huddin ontae the book and this being the first time I’ve ivver lettin dabb aboot it, the scholars will hae a field day fin I publish a copy o the original in the next couple o years. And wi that publication a lot o dates will be changing, as well as lot o details aboot the Picts completely unknown tae history.
I still sometimes see my big aal craw noo an then. Ruby’s her name an she’ll fyles sit up in the rowan tree in my gairden an mutter awa tae ma. She winna come doon for crummles though, jist contented sittin there lookin doon. I think she keeps tabs on ma because I’ve her maister’s beuk, or maybe she jist likes tae look aifter ma?
I winner noo if Ruby will gee me one last bosie like she gave Drostan fin my time comes? I do hope so!
Sanners Gow, Gillespie Hoose Banffshire AD 2018
Drostan arose fae his mornin devotions and closed his book o The Gospels. He’d wrote and bound it fae the original himsel many years afore at Iona and like himsel the book wiz getting the waar o the weer. The thick leather bindin wiz worn by use an some o the folds were like tae disintegrate. Een o the monks back at Deer wiz affa gweed at leatherwork so he’d get him tae look at it fin he returned fae his retreat tae the Abbey.
Drostan heard the tap, tap, tap at the windae that owerlookit the steen altar he’d jist feenished prayin at. He smiled. This wiz the mornin ritual ivvery time he came here tae his cell at Aberdour bay. The tap tap tappin got mair insistent so he made tae open the wee windae. As he made tae dee this he wiz always struck by how clever the Picts were for the wee windae wisna glazed wi glaiss but wi cured fish skin scrappit till ye could near see fair throwe it. The mornin sun cast a warm pale yella licht intae his cell and ower the steen alter and even as important the fish skin keepit the caal breezes that were usual in this exposed place oot. Mair tappin and Drostan laachin tae himsel said
“Aricht ma quinie!” and opened the windae.
Standin there wiz his constant companion. A big aal craw that he caad Ruby. He’d saved her years afore fin she’d brook een o her wings an fae that day till this she’d nivver left him.
She stood there blinkin an haaf turnin her heed she lookit him up an doon afore jumpin in an settin hersel doon ontae the altar. Drostan’s face wiz a picter an fair lichted up as he made a fuss o the big aal craw by strokin her heed an spikkin tae as if a budy.
Her wing hid healed a bitty crookit giein her a bit stoop but she could flee for aa that. A devil’s bird some o the Celtic kirk said but Drostan nivver saw craws like that and in particular nae Ruby. The Picts held the craw in great veneration and even they were impressed fin they saw him walk forth wi the craw sittin atop the Holy Cross on a pole that Drostan always cairried fin he wiz oot and aboot in the district. Though the Picts were by nae means aa Christian at this point they themsels held Drostan in great store as a holy man and this holy man teen een o their pagan birds as his constant companion.
Ruby hoppit ower towards the lowin fire and set hersel doon at een o the binkies mutterin awa tae hersel jist like a budy drawin in aboot tae get some heat. Drostan teen the wee bowl he keepit some scraps for her and in nae time Ruby teemed the wee bowl then settled hersel doon and nodded aff. Drostan smiled kindly. Ivvery mornin she wint throwe the self same routine and Ruby liftit his spirits wi her antics. Drostan himsel hid a bowl o porridge for braakfast but the last speenfae wint intae Ruby’s bowlie for she likit a wee drappy porridge fin she awakened.
Drostan teen oot his wee three fittid stool an set it in front o the altar. Fae a shelf he teen doon his pen and ink pittin it tae the richt o the altar. Then fae a big leather satchel he teen oot his pride and joy. A massive tome o a beuk bound in deer skin. Inside wiz his life’s work faar he’d recorded much o his travels. Nae only that but he’d written extensively aboot the Picts, their beliefs, their wye o life, their language and a lot aboot the herbs they used tae cure illnesses.
The Picts spoke a language much like the Gaelic Drostan himsel spoke though wi a lot o different words and pronunciations. The book also recorded a lot aboot the grasses that grew in abundance here in the lands o the Buchan. There wiz pages and pages dedicated tae the grasses wi a lot o drawins showin their different stages o growth and notes o observations made ablow the drawins. Some hid even been coloured in but nae much o them for Drostan much preferred the ordinary pen and ink. Some o the monks back at the Abbey were affa gweed at makin illuminated manuscripts . But nae wye could he the Abbot let ony o them read his book because it wiz full o stuff that would be viewed as heresy especially aboot the Picts and their belief that stones were alive.
The subject o the stones fascinated Drostan and through time he’d tried tae find oot mair aboot this living stones and fit the carvins on some o them meant? He’d spoken tae a fyowe o their priests but neen were affa forthcomin and wid only tell him the carvins were tae pey homage tae their ancestors. Drostan kent there wiz much mair tae it than that but keepit gweed counsel and accepted fit he wiz tellt.
But his writins recorded some o his thoughts. One entry says that he noticed fae the distance how the Picts approached the symbol steens. They waalkit inaboot tae the steens wi their airms folded then they’d kneel in front wi their airms still folded then say some words. He wished he could hear fit they were sayin but the Picts wid nivver let him near enough for that so he’d jist hae tae dee wi at a distance. He did notice one thing though and that wiz the concentric rings were the maist used symbol. Different fingers o the richt haan wid be used and ran alang the grooves startin fae the ootside towards the centre as the person spoke. This wid often be repeated a fyowe times then the person folded their airms an arose walkin backwyes for twelve paces then turnin fae the steen. It wiz obvious tae Drostan the rings were for prayers o some kind and he observed that some fowk used different fingers. Through time and many observations that wiz the conclusion he’d come tae?
Eence he’d saw aicht men fae een o the bigger boats in the bey come tae een o the steens and there each teen a turn at kneelin and rinnin the first finger o their richt haan in the trochs o the circles while speakin tae the steen. So he concluded they micht’ve been askin their gods for a safe return? Quite a few pages were dedicated tae the standin steens and the different symbols on them.
Drostan’s cell at Aberdour stood faar the ancient kirkyard is noo on the brae on the richt o the Dour waters. At the ither side o the burn there wiz a group o standin steens aboot the place faar Mess John’s well is noo. That wiz the Pictish priests place and Drostan wiz nivver allowed near it because o an stupid act he’d deen as a young man. In fact that is why he preyed wi sic fervour ivvery mornin beggin forgiveness for that stupid act. Mair aboot that later.
Drostan’s cell wiz a steen built building built by the monks fae the Abbey o Deer usin the saansteen that wiz abundant at Aberdour. Jist roch cut blocks thegither wi mortar made fae clay mixed wi the jellied bree fae aff o biled seaweed that keepit the simple buildin ween an waterticht. The reef hid fower cruck trusses that gave the reef a haaf circular appearance like a Nissan hut. The reef wiz then covered by mats made fae woven grass then covered wi divits tae keep oot the weet. The biggin wiz nineteen feet lang an ten fit braid wi side waas aboot sax fit heich an curved gaivels at twal fit. The east waa hid ae wee windae faar his alter stood an richt across fae it on the opposite waa wiz the door tae the wast.
The gaivel at the North eyne hid a simple widdin lum an the fire jist a squaar pit lined wi the hard dark blae steen fae alang the coast. Abeen the fire there wiz an bronze bar stuck oot that could be swivelled abeen the fire tae cook in his bronze pot. At the left o the fire wiz his bed made intae a box oot o saansteen lined wi dry girss for a mattress and a couple o woollen blankets for tae haap himsel. Drostan smiled fin he mind foo the Picts were fair amazed at seein a steen built biggin for the first time. They maistly lived in roonhuts made o timmer wi cone reefs covered in divits or sometimes animal skins shewed the gither. They’d also some simple places undergrun faar they keepit milk and grain, they were lined wi steen though.
The Abbey o Deer itsel wiz o timmer construction but Drostan hid plans tae rebuild it wi steen in the future. He’d even drawins o some plans in his beuk.
Drostan wiz tall and rawbeened wi a slight stoop noo that the years were beginnin tae lay their haan on his tall strong frame. His hair wiz the colour o Summer’s straw wi een o cornflooer blue turnin tae purple dependin on the licht or if he wiz tired. His face wiz pleasin tae the ee wi a short beard the same colour as his hair but a wee bitty darker.
He spoke the Gaelic wi a safter lillt tae it than the Picts used it. They hid lots o different words but found it quite easy tae understand them as they understood him. He wrote in baith The Latin and the Gaelic and wiz kent tae aa as ‘Drostan the Scribe’ because he nivver wint onywye athoot his satchel o writin materials hingin fae his side.
Though Abbot o Deer Drostan nivver wielded the power o sic a man wi onything but decency and tolerance and that mair so aifter his stupid act o so many years afore. He vowed then that he’d nivver again interfere in fowk’s beliefs be they Pagan or Christian.
Drostan lived a gye austere life wi little luxuries but the greatest gift that could be given him wiz sheets o parchment tae write on. In this funnily enough it wiz the Picts that keepit him supplied wi the parchment even though they themsel didnae seem tae hae much in the wye o writin apart fae carvins on steens. That wiz gye handy for Drostan because he couldna hae used the official parchments sent doon fae Moray for tae write his beuk.
A couple o the monks back at the Abbey were Picts. Een o them in particular wiz learnin tae be a scribe and hid an amazing ability makkin illuminated manuscripts. The ither Kenniff by name kent so much aboot the local herbs and grasses that he’d become a particular favourite o Drostan due tae baith their interests on that subject. He vrocht in the infirmary at Deer and lookit aifter the health o the monks and ony locals that came in for treatment.
Drostan wiz soft spoken and hid nivver been heard tae raise his voice in anger.
The clyse he wore wiz as simple as they were austere. A habit wi a hood made oot o the course local wool caad hodden wi a belt o the same wuppit aroon the middle. The locals dyed their wool in different colours but aa monks wore habits o the natural colour. On his feet wiz the Pictish type shoes that came up weel ower the ankles made o deer skin wi a thicker ox leather for soles. In the Buchan a budy needed that for the climate that wiz maistly caal an weet.
Fin he wint abroad on affairs o office his uncle Columbic’s bell wis cairriet tae his front by een o the monks on a pole so that at each step it rang oot tae let the fowk ken the Abbot wiz aboot his Christian business and could be approached for blessings. Passin throwe the various settlements Drostan would be asked for coontless blessings even though maist o the population were as yet Pagan in their beliefs. Drostan himsel wiz once a Pagan till converted tae Christianity as a bairn by his uncle Columba so he understood a fair bit aboot them. Also wi him haein his big aal craw Ruby sittin aheed o the cross he cairriet wint a lang wye in crossin the divide.
Fowk wid gither roon him many askin tae touch his hair for they’s nivver seen onybody wi hair that licht. Drostan allowed them tae dee that even though it wiz a distinctly Pagan custom in so deein. It wiz common tae the Picts in the Buchan faa believed if you touched the hair you were in touch wi the dream o the before an aifter times. And wi Drostan bein so licht coloured getting leave tae handle his hair wiz lookit on as a particulary good omen or blessing.
He’d tour the four Holy healing waals that lay within the policies o the kirk and there hud wee stations and prayers. He did the same wi the one lochan at Pitfoor owerlookin the the Abbey o Deer. Lastly he’d gyang on his ain tae the standin steens at Aikey and there he’d perform devotions while waakin on his knees roon each steen gyan as the sun’s course beggin forgiveness fae God and the Pagan Gods for his stupid act o so many years afore. He’d feenish by sittin atap the big recumbent steen wi the tears o misery and shame rinnin doon his chiks unheeded.
It hid aa started fin he’d been made the Abbot o Deer by his uncle Columba faa hid tellt him tae rule wisely and wi prudence in dealing wi his abbey and the local peoples.
Drostan being young nodded in agreement withoot really understandin fit wise words his uncle hid jist imparted tae him. Columba teen his leave o Drostan doon at the shore o Aberdour and legend tells us that Drostan cast tears at this farewell and faar his tears touched the grun bonny clear water began tae bubble up fae that spot. Now Drostan noted this in his beuk merely as nonsense for the well wiz already there as it hid been for many many years and used by the Picts at Aberdour as a Pagan Holy waal. Drostan indeed did cast tears on Columba’s leavin tae gyang back tae Iona and Columba in one last act on his farewell put his blessings on the waal and embraced Drostan for baith kent they’d nivver meet again. Columba wi a sad hert climbed aboord the vessel that wiz tae tak him tae Iona and stood at the stern wavin tae Drostan till the vessel wint oot o sicht roon the heedland o Fiddes. Drostan hid stood for a lang time lookin oot at the sea his hert feelin like a lump o lead and his stamaach churnin. He knelt and gave a prayer for his uncle’s safe journey and askit o God tae gee him the wisdom tae be a decent and fair Abbot.
For the first fyowe years athing hid wint well and the Picts though distrustful o the strangers in their midst at first began tae accept their presence. It wiz Drostan that hid much tae dee wi this change by his gan oot amongst the people nae as a Christian wieldin a rod o iron as some did in ither places but merely as a man interested in them and their wyes. The lands o Deer hid been granted tae the Celtic church by een o the Monemaer’s that ruled ower part o the Buchan aifter Columba and Drostan hid prayed for the Monemaer’s favourite son that lay near tae death. The laddie hid made a full recovery so in thanks Columba and Drostan were given the lands o Deer for as lang as ‘green girss grew an clear waater ran.’
Noo within the policies o the kirk lay the steen circle spoken o earlier. Fin Drostan started tae dee his rounds as the Abbot he got tae hear aboot the holy rowan tree that grew in the centre o the steen circle and aboot it’s magic healing powers. He’d been tellt by een o the Pictish priests that the tree grew health geein roddens in great abundance for sax years then on the seventh year it grew barren o berries but in that year it grew big pods the size o a man’s heed intae the cruick o the tree. An fae this pods wee man bodys aboot twa fit heich hatched oot like an egg. The priest caad them limpachs and this wee fowk attended the tree and steens ivvery need and made a wine fae the roddens collected and dried by the priests fae the sax years afore. Noo accordin tae legend the medicine fae the roddens cured maist athing that could deeve a body. The Pagan priests handed oot a beaker o this wine ilka mornin tae them as needed.
Noo Drostan for some reason teen a set against this tree and because the tree wiz on the gruns o the kirk he ordered it felled. This created a gye stramash amongst the fowk an they even tried tae get their Monemaer involved tae stop him. But as the lands hid been given tae the kirk for as lang as green girss grew an clear waaters ran nithing could be deen tae save the tree.
Twa widmen were called and they reluctantly set tae work but only as far as the first swing o the aix. The tree screamed fae it in anger and pain. Leastwyes that’s fit they said as they ran awa. Drostan staanin there hid heard nithing o the kind. The result o aa this ongyans wiz that the widmen refused an wid hae nithing mair tae dee wi it. Eventually Drostan got twa monks that were widmen doon fae the Abbey at Clova tae fell the tree. The local fowk were affa angry at losin their Holy tree and it teen many months afore things settled doon. Drostan hid been on his high horsie aa the while even ignorin the words fae Columba ‘Tae rule wisely an wi prudence’ Columba’s words were tae come back and haunt Drostan thus settin the course for a lifetime o shame.
It come aboot this wye. The very next year a plague o sorts hut the district an laid its caal haan o death across the fowk. At first there wiz as muckle wine in storage tae cure the first infections but as it spread the wine seen ran oot an aifter that many fowk deet o the plague. Drostan at last realisin his mistake tried tae mak amends by gan in amongst the ill and sayin prayers for them. Aa his prayers proved useless and he stood lookin on helplessly as men, weemin and bairns deet in their droves. He even asked God tae infect him as a punishment for fit he in his stupidity hid deen tae the peer fowk. But God it seemed hid ither plans for Drostan? A life time o shame wiz tae be his lot poor man. Fae that day on ivvery mornin at the dawnin he preyed for forgivneness and for the souls o them he’d sentenced tae death by cuttin doon their Holy tree. This stupid senseless act though made Drostan een o the best Abbots in the whole o Pictland. Ivver aifter he nivver wid interfere in people’s beliefs be they Pagan or Christian? If they wanted tae convert tae Christianity he wid help them, if no he left them tae believe as they wanted. But he’d help abody tae mak their lives worth the livin and treated all wi decency and tolerance.
As the years passed Drostan wrote as much as he could intae his big tome o a beuk. The only ither person that hid ivver yet read some o it wiz Kenniff the Pictish monk. Kenniff hid become a life lang freen o Drostan’s and a pact hid been made atween the twa o them that on Drostan’s death he Kenniff wiz tae tak the beuk up tae the Abbot o Clova for safe keeping.
Drostan deet at the cell at Aberdour aboot the year 602 AD in his fifty seventh year. Kenniff hid been in attendance at his last illness and hid tried aa the herbs he could tae save him but tae nae avaul. Fin Kenniff entered the cell in the mornin Drostan lay in his bed as if still asleep. Kenniff kent he wiz gone because his big craw lay across his chest in the same state as her maister wi her wings spread and her heed restin ablow Drostan’s chin as if she’d been tryin tae gee him bosies.
Kenniff owerseen his beerial under the fleer o the cell and seen tae it that Ruby wiz placed aside him.
A church wid later be built on that spot and bits o it still staans at Aberdour tae this very day.
Kenniff left the Abbey o Deer and made his wye tae the Abbey at Clova cairryin Drostan’s beuk. On it he’d carved on the leather cover ‘Drostan’s Tears’ but Kenniff and the beuk nivver reached Clova and nae sicht norr soon o Kenniff wiz ivver tae be heard or seen upon this earth again.
Now! Ye’ll be winnderin why a semiliterate man likes o me kens so muckle aboot Drostan fin the scholars ken virtually nithing aboot him ava apart fae wee bitties in different writings aboot ither Saints?
Drostan wiz canonised lang lang aifter his death and apart fae some fragments aboot him nithing now remains. That apart fae on his beerial three locks o his hair wiz teen only one o which is sill known tae be in existence and great cures hiv been attributed tae it. It’s me that his tae tak up the next story aboot Drostan fourteen centuries aifter his time.
Now here’s how it wiz that I ken so muckle?
In the year nineteen sixt aicht I got a job vrochtin at Gillespie Hoose and a richt placie it wiz- - - - - ? But fitivver it’ll mak yer very bleed rin caal an the hairs on the back o yer neck birss up like a cat’s and rob ye o sleep for wikks if nae months tae come? For the next installment ye’d best read Saint Drostan’s Tears part two: Gillespie Hoose next week .
Drostans tears is in twa pairts, as we gang fae Phase 1 to Phase 2 Lockdoon... dinna forget yer dose o' the Doric, an come back neist wik.
Wully Smaa wiwiz een o the Tinker clan. He come fae the Cyack in Buchan far he wintered intae an auaal cotter hoose at Rivenstipe and traiveled the highways an byways o the Noreast fae the month o Mey till near the start o winter.
His real name wiz Wullie Brochan but on accoont o him bein sae lang aboot the back an there bein sae mony Wullies among the Brochans aabody jist caad him Wullie Smaa. In his mid twenties he wiz strong and gey fit an it wiz because he wiz sae fit he ayee came up here tae the Cabrach tae dee a bit o skipperin. Noo for them that dinna ken fit skipperin is I'll jist set ye straacht at the ootset.
At the time I'm tellin ye aboot a lot o Tinkers wid ging skipperin jist aboot the eyn o September. It wiz usually the unmairried loons that did it. They'd range far an wide collectin the rubbit skins fae fairmers, gamekeepers, cotters and shepherds. The skipperin bit wiz the reason only single loons did it because they wid bide in barns an sic like. That's fit skipperin means mair or less- sleepin roch.
Onywye Wully wiz here in the Cabrach wi that in mind, the last season hid been een o the best he ivver mined on and this year he planned tae cross ower tae the Glenlivet an micht even tak a look up at Mortlach. He wiz usin the same wee fairm for his base as he did last year. The man that hid it wiz an affa fine chiel an let Wully use a corner o his byre tae store the skins he collected. Scorranclach sat at the bottom o Glenfetter an wiz the maist fertile bit o grun for miles.
The fairmer gid by the name o Rab Thain, a wee stocky bit man wi a reid mop o hair an a cutty forivver stuck intae his moo. They newsed for a fylie an syne Wully teen his leave tellin Rab that he'd be back in aboot a wiks time. He aye teen his bike wi him fin he gaed the skipperin for it wiz handy for hingin the skins he got up the glens. Nae only that but the bike wiz fair handy for cairryin his pack o swag that wiz full o bogey roll, spunks, pipes an ither things a shepherd in the back o ayont micht nott. But best ava wiz the wee timmer box that held his Sunray melodjin.
Wully wiz a fair haan at the box an fun it een o the handiest things a body could tak up the glens for the shepherds were fair stairved o music an wid dee onything tae garr ye bide a nicht or twa. Whit a skins he'd gotten the year afore mair or less for the takkin because o the box.
A gey fit lad wiz Wully tall an raa beened. The hills an glens were nae a problem tae him an even though he couldna ging the bike alang the tracks he noo an then got a wee hurrl by staannin on the pedal an freewheelin at ony doon slopes. Mind ye sayin that there wid be little eneuch doongyans on this track for he wiz climmin aa the wye. He kent that fae the year afore: even tae him it hid fyles been a bit o a chauve an a lang shove for the bike.
It wiz aboot the middle o the day fin Wully cam tae the mooth o a side glen that he'd nivver gotten the chance tae gyang last season so aifter a bit rest at the burn o Letterach he started up the side glen. There wiz a bit o a track so he held tae it, he could see it wiz made by sheep for the pints o the heather hid been grazed at eether side.
Ae thing aboot the Cabrach if ye saw the signs o sheep, there wid maist likely be a shepherd's bucht somewye aheed o ye. He caad awa wi that thocht in mind but by a half mile or so he began tae realise that this wisna muckle o a glen.It wiz mair like a balloch wi sheer sides and gey narra at bits. A wee runnle o water cam doon the middle o't an the path criss crossed it makkin for a fair yoke wi the bike.
Up aheed he saw the balloch kinkit tae the richt an lookit as if it wiz even steeper. He thocht tae himsel that he'd hud gyan for a file langer at least as far's the neuk. But michty Wully fun it a fair yokin, an swack though he kent himsel tae be, by the time he reached the neuk he thocht his legs wid gyang fae aneth him. Pechin sair he wiz gled tae lay the bike on the heather an sat himsel doon. He could see the balloch noo opened up a wee bit as it held tae the richt an even better the slope livellt aff a fair bit so the goin wid be easier.
The place he sat must've been a well at some time in the past because the watter wiz bubblin up fae ablow and ran ower a puckle steens that were man made by the looks o them. He scrapit een wi his fit tae tak aff the green goore and saa a holy cross rochly carved intae the steen. At the tap wiz an ee an some words he couldna mak oot affa weel. It must hae been a holy well awa back and michta been that fowk made their wye up here for cures or jist tae pray. He kent weel eneuch aboot holy wells for he'd seen plenty as he traipsed the country roon but he'd nivver seen ony wi carvins like this yin The watter wiz fine an clear so he teen a drouth o't tae slake his thirst.
Aifter a wee fyle Wully set fit on up the wee glen because that’s fit it turned intae, the sides werena sae sheer an the goin wiz a lot easier for pushin the bike. His spirits liftit a bittie fin he saa a decent eneuch track and the rowan trees scaittert here an there up baith sides o the glen. There wisna ony signs o habitation though as yet but he could see a twa’r three sheep heich up. Aifter aboot anither oor o waakin on the easier trail he wiz beginnin tae winder if he'd deen the richt thing comin up here. He could see a mist rollin doon the glen an felt the temperature start tae drap. A fyowe meenits later an he could barely see his haan afore him. Noo naebody wints tae be caught oot on the heich grun fin a thick mist comes doon especially if yer nae acquant wi faar ye are..
Wully kent he'd hae tae cairry on throwe it for there wiz nae gan back doon the dangerous balloch an him nae able tae see. He teen it gey canny but the trail that hid been sae clear only meenits aforehaan seemed tae peter oot aathegither and he eynt up waakin throwe heather an big steens. Kennin that he'd wannert fae the trail he tried tae backtrack but tae nae avaul. Well, well he'd jist hae tae bide faar he wiz until it cleared.
He sat doon faar he steed an pulled a puckle heather aboot him that wid keep the caal oot for a fyle onywye. The mist didna bother Wully for he'd been caught like this mony a time, but the thing that did garr him worry wiz the stervation caal that hid gotten as bad that he startit tae chitter. Noo this only bein the month o September there wiz nae wye it should be this caal. He pondered ower this for a fylie an that wiz fin he heard the dog bowffin awa in the distance. Wully wiz pleased tae hear sic a soon for that meant that a shepherd must be aboot. He shouted tae tak the dog's attention an in nae time the dog cam oot o the mist an ran inaboot wi it's tail waggin.
Wully petted the dog an whit a bonny craiter it wiz:;a black an fite collie wi the bonniest wee facie he ivver did see. It started rinnin aroon him wi it's tail still gyan then it started tae nip at his heels the wye collies dee fin they're drivin the sheep. Wully kent fine fit it wiz up tae so he teen his bike and gaed in the direction the dog wintit him tae gang. In nae time he felt the track aneth his feet an fae there on the dog ran in front then wid come back and repeat this action.
Aifter a fair bit the dog led him tae a shepherd's bucht that wiz a simple squarr biggin wi a sod reef and he could smell burnin peats. The dog headed for the side o the bucht an crawled throwe a wee openin intae the biggin. Nae lang aifter an aal man cam oot at the door. He wiz riggit in hamespun hoddin grey breeks an jaicket wi a reed Tam o shanter on his heed.
“Michty min fit are ye deein wannerin aboot up here in sic weather?”
He'd a couthie smilin face an athoot anither word beckoned Wully inside. The bucht wiz jist ae room simply furnished wi a table aneth the only windae he could see, in ae corner a big black timmer press an alangside it a washstaan wi a big blue booie an a joog. The fire though teen Wullies attention wi its bleazin peats piled high and unusual for the normal shepherd's bucht: the fire wiz anent the waa an hid a timmer hingin lum. Aa ither buchts he'd ivver been in hid nae sic a thing , only the fire on a hearth in the middle o the room an nae lum tae let the reek oot. A big deese stood at ae side o the fire an lookit as if it wiz made oot o sods but at the ither side there wiz a big aalfashioned cheer wi a high back an sides that wid nae doot keep oot the drachts in caal nichts. A cloot lay infront o the fire an the dog sattled doon noo, snuggled up on it an gaed tae sleep.
The aal man wiz full o questions tae Wully speirin at him the fit's an it fit wye’s an foo's. At the same time he pyntit tae Wully tae sit doon ontae the deese afore makin him a caapfae o toddy. Takkin the caap fae the aal man Wully thankfully teen a fair drouth o't an felt it deein its work as it heated his cheeled beens. The aal man wint by the name o Hebbie Gow an hid bade aboot here aa his days. Wullie tellt tae him aa the news fae aboot the glens for he kent fine the shepherds were aye hungry for news aboot the ongyans o fowk they ken. Fin it came doon tae the reason for him bein up the glen Wully tellt him he wiz aifter rubbit skins but Hebbie hid nae sic thing and said it wiz only noo an then his dog wid come in wi yin for their supper.
The aal man speired o Wullie if he wiz een o the Tinkler lads that eesed tae bide aboot the Bin. But naa Wullie wisna o that clan- he cam fae anither clan farrer awa nor that . He hailed fae the Buchan at a place caad the Brunty aside Knaven. Aifter a big caap o pottage an anither een o toddy Wully felt in affa gweed fettle and him an Hebbie got doon tae spikkin music an in nae time Wully hid oot his box.It wiz his pride an joy, a Hohner Sunray wi twinty base.
Seen the bucht wiz fulled o music an the aal man's face beamed as he listened tae the tunes.
“Michty me loon ye can fair mak that thing stott!”
An in a meenit he teen doon aa aal battered fiddle fae the heed o the big press an jined in wi Wully. They played for oors an they only dauchled fin the aal man lichted the fir cannle tae pit some licht on the ongyauns an of coorse tae hae anither sup toddy. Wully let him hear some o Scott Skinner's tunes an michty they gaed doon weel: he'd nivver heard ony o his stuff afore. He in turn played tunes by Gow an Marshall- some o them though Wully hid heard afore and could jine in wi.
Aifter a gran nicht the aal man bade Wully tae sleep on the deese an gave him a thick blanket made o hamespun an biggit up the fire wi a load o peat. The aal man gaed tae the back o the room faar there wiz a bun-in-bed wi doors on it, itsel jist like a big press but on its side. Wulliy wiz jist aboot asleep fin the collie cam up aside him an cooried its wye aneth the blanket but Wully wiz far ower tired tae bother and jist left the craiter happit wi the blanket. The neist day wisna ony better regardin the mist an Wully wiz fairly stuck; the aal man though wiz rale chuffed for he enjoyed Wully's company an widna complain o a fylie langer.
So that day Wully helpit the aal man aboot the place, takkin in peats an gettin watter fae the wall. The collie stuck tae him like glue, its tail gan ivvery time he peyed it the least bit o attention. The dogs name wiz Loochy an Wully got a laach at that because a loochy in Cant wiz a rat. Bit whit a clivver dog Loochy wiz seemin tae understand ilka word said tillt. Wully asked the aal man if she ivver hid pups could he get yin, a female of coorse. He promised Wully that he'd get the pick o the litter.
Aboot the middle o the mornin things got a gey bit waar witherwyes fin the snaw startit, an in nae time the grun hid a fair coatin lyin on't. Wully didna like bidin aitin mait fae the aal man but michty fin he let that een slip the aal man gaed tae the big press an showed him that there wiz plenty mait there tae laist months.
Wully felt a bit better seein that the aal man widna be left in stairvation if he'd tae bide for a few days ower the heeds o the snaw. That nicht the music got gyan again an their fingers were fair swaak due tae the toddies an the news inatween.
Anither three days were tae pass afore Wully teen leave o the aal man. He promised he'd come back the neist year wi twa’r three reels o strings for his fiddle. It wiz a sad pairtin fae that place.He'd been trickit wi the aal man's company an he could see by the look on Hebbie's face that he felt the same aboot it.
Loochy led him farrer up the glen tae faar the aal man said he'd find a clear path back doon ontae Glenfetter. He said there wid be nae snaw there because o the wye it faced awa fae the north. Loochy led him richt tae the path an startit bowffin as if tae tell him so. Wully bent doon an pettit Loochy, gie’in him a bit oatcake that he snappit up. He gid Wully’s haan a lick then took aff back tae his maister.
Wi a sair hairt Wully made his wye doo intae the Glenfetter an made up his mind that he'd jist haud back doon tae the fairm at Scorranclach an pick up the skins he'd aaready left there. By the time he got doon tae the fairm it wiz mid aifterneen an for some reason it felt as if he wiz gan inaboot tae a strange place, something seemed different tae him, something he jist couldna pit a finger on.
Athing lookit the same as he mined an then he saw that, in the fyowe days he'd been awa the fairmer hid pitten up a new shed at the side o the hoose. He chappit at the door an Scorranclach's wife came oot lookin gey doonhairtit an speired at him fit he wintit. He askit if her man wiz aboot but tae his surprise she burst oot greetin an said he wiz deed.
“O michty quine faan did this happen?”
She dried her een an telt him he'd been killed in the war.
“War? Fit war?”
She lookit at him strangely as if he wiz a feel.
“The Great War- the war they focht in France!”
Fin she saw the look ontae his face she teen a bit o peety on him an speired him tae come inside.
Wully hid nivver met Scorranclach's wife so he didna ken if she wiz even the richt person but fin he saw the photie o him an her on the mantlepiece he kent at least that bit wiz richt eneuch. She tellt him her man hid been killed at a place caad the Somme in October 1915. At this Wully near took a dwam. Fin he cam tee a bittie, he speired at her fit the date wiz. She nivver lat myeowt but gaed tae the dresser and handit him the People's Freen. On the tap o the page wi a thumpin hairt he read Tuesday 17th September 1920.
“Na na this canna be richt I've only been awa fae here fower nichts an it wiz the month o September 1913 an yer tryin tae tell ma it's 1920!”
She burst oot greetin eence mair sayin, “It's true I'm nae tellin lees My Jock is deed an this is 1920!”
Wully kent then he'd hin the comehither on him and that the aal mannie must've been een o the Gweed Fowk. He'd kept him for syven years an a day for that is fit is said; there is ayewis a day added tae the years- that is your day! Aa but Wully widna rest easy until he kent fit hid been gyan on so he askit the woman if it wid be aaricht tae leave his bike in the byre.
He startit up the glen again an this time wi nae bein trauchled wi the bike he made gweed time. Aboot an oor later he cam tae the wee side glen an made his wye up. He'd rest fin he reached the holy well an nae afore! The aifterneen wiz weel on by the time he cam tae the well but that didna maitter. He hid tae prove something tae himsel. He lookit aroon for the carved steen an sure eneuch, he saa the marks he'd made wi his fit scrapin aff the goor. Nae wye hid syven year gin by or his marks wid be awa lang syne.
He sat doon for a meenit or twa afore he set aff eence mair up the glen. There wiz nae problem this time tae get this far up for nae mist cam rollin aff the hills. He found the shepherd's bucht athoot ony trouble an fin he did he near fell awa. The bucht wiz still there richt eneuch but in ruins, the waas were tummled doon an the sod reef hid faaen in. Nae fowk hid bidden in there for mony a lang year.
Steppin inaboot tae the bit faar the door hid been he saa something lyin there that made the hairs on the back o his neck staan straacht up.It wiz the finger boord o the shepherd's aal fiddle. Wully pickit it up kennin fine as he did that it wiz the fingerboord because o the beaded mither o pearl inlay on the edges. A raik aboot aneth the faaen in reef an he fun tunin pegs, an the broken body o the fiddle wi the bow alangside. Time an wither hid ruined the wid but he githered up aa the bits he could fin an carefully wuppit them in his jaicket.
Sadly Wully startit doon the glen wi his treasure. Faa the aal man really wiz he'd nivver ken, that he'd been wi the powers o darkness there wiz nae doot. But michty he'd been fair trickit wi the aal man's company an felt that sair made that he'd nae get anither chance tae play sic gran music.
A dog barkit in the distance makkin Wully winner if it wiz Loochy barkin but na it wiz only anither dog nae doot wi it's maister takkin in the sheep. Something powkit his leg an there wi it's tail waggin stood Loochy. He clappit her an held a work wi her an fin he lifted his ee up the trail, there stood the aal man wavin doon tae him. He stood up straacht an made tae walk up tae the aal man but the dog growled an pulled at his breeks tae hud him fae gan up. He understood so waved tae the aal man an turned back doon the glen wi Loochy leadin the wye.
The dog nivver left him an teen him richt doon as far as Scorranclach then sat at his heel as if tae say “I'm bidin”! It seemed that Wully noo hid a dog so he petted her an lookit intae her bonny wee facie an felt fair kinichtit. Layin his jaiket doon he unwupped it tae tak oot the puckle bits o the aal man's fiddle but instead o bits it wiz whole an the varnish wiz gleamin. Wully pickit it up; he wiz a box player an he'd nivver tried the fiddle. Could he play? So he pit it aneth his chin like he saa the aal man dee an liftit the bow an…?
It wiz a grey dreich mornin fin the bairn wiz born at Crichie. It hid been a fair chauve for the lassie, nearly thirty oors in labour and she wiz foonert. The doctor and the mid-wife hid been glentin at eenanither wi panic in their een. In the hinnereyn though the olive ile hid deen the trick and the bairn cam intae the world. A skelp on the doup and it startit tae skirl oot o it so that bit wiz aaricht. The lassie lay pechin wi the swyte fleein fae her. The doctor gave the wee laddie a quick gyan ower then turned awa fae the mither and fuspert tae the mid-wife “Big heed and imbecile- pit it in a pail!”
The mid-wife grabbit the bairn and said “Gweed saiks min ye canna dee that!” The doctor grumphed at her sayin, “It’s better pittin it oot o its misery noo! Imagine gyan throwe life wi a broo like that lassie!”
Waikly the mither speired tae see her bairn and the mid-wife gave the bairn a wash an wupped it in a cosy shawl and handit him tae his mither. It wiz love at first sight. She bosied him and fuspert “Douglas!” for that wiz tae be his name, Douglas MacGregor aifter his faither.
The years passed and Douglas wint tae the skweel. A shy laddie wiz he and ayee tried tae hide his big broo eether aneth a bonnet or by swypin his hair doon ower his broo. He wiz really conscious aboot it and his fowks hid an affa job gettin him tae play wi ither bairns because they’d caa him names like “Big Heed, Neep, Brooie and sometimes “Look at the boy’s broo!”
That usually garred Douglas pit his heed doon and charge. His first day at skweel wiz nae different.At play-time the bairns githered roon aboot him powkin at his broo and makkin fun o him. Douglas hid jist hid eneuch and gid for the geets like a rhino and in nae time there wiz nithing but bleed, snotters an eebroos aawye. His education lasted tae aboot the age o twal fin the skweel tellt his fowks they widna tak him ony langer and gave them a pass tae let him leave early.
Douglas wiz fair kinichtit at this. Forbyes he wiz seeck tae daith o bleachin fowk at the skweel for makkin fun o ees broo. He got a job fae his father in the ragstore he echt at Crichie so he vrocht awa getting bigger and stronger wi aa the wechts he’d tae lift ilka day. He ayee wore a big bunnet tae hide his broo so fair an by he got on weel as a rule. Ae day his father tellt him tae tak a cairt load o bales o rags tae the train at Mintlaw. The cairt wiz weel loadit so Douglas teen it canny throwe Aal Deer. It wiz the middle o summer so he strippet doon tae his sark and threw the bonnet on the seat aside him.
A puckle lads were makkin their wye hame fae Mintlaw. They’d been at the Market and hid a twa’r three drams and were in richt fine fettle. Fin they saw Douglas and the cairt comin alang the narra road they steed tae ae side tae let him pass an that’s fin the trouble startit. Ae lad pointed at Douglas an shouted, “For the love o God wid ye look at the size o that napper!”
The rest o the lads startit roarin wi laachter at this an makkin rale naisty comments aboot Douglas. Canny like Douglas stoppit the horse an pulled on the brake. He lookit roon at the lads and this garred them laach aa the louder. Ae lad shouted, “Come on then Big Heed!” and made a show o shadda boxin.
They thocht they were safe in numbers but that wiz a big mistak and some o them must’ve realised jist how big a mistak they’d made in the seconds afore Douglas’s broo connected wi their mooths.
The years rolled on and by the age o twinty Douglas hid growed tae be weel ower sax fit wi a fine pair o shooders on him but of coorse his broo grew ana..
The Great War hid started aboot this time an Douglas like mony ither chiels answered the cry tae jine up. At the medical the doctor couldna believe the size o his broo an speired dizzens o questions aboot it. He even fessed ither doctors inaboot tae see it. This wiz beginnin tae pish Douglas aff big style but he kept his wheesht. Onywye aifter aa the powkin an gyan, he wiz passed as A1 and jined the ranks o the Gordon Highlanders. There wiz that mony new recruits that a training camp hid been set up oot at the Black Dog firing range.
Kitted oot wi his uniform and big TOS bonnet (Tam o Shanter) he really lookit the pairt. At ower sax fit and braid at the shooders he lookit ivvery bit as a Scottish sodjer should. The Tam o Shanter on his heed and Douglas, bein a gweed lookin cheil if it wisna for the big broo, gid doon a treat amongst the weemin fowk at dances in Aiberdeen. Douglas teen tae this army cairry on like a jook tae water. Three gweed meals a day and the very best o rigg suited him doon tae the grun.
Aifter a fyowe fechts wi some o the ither recruits aboot his heed he wiz pretty much left alane. Naebody wiz sikkin tae eyn up in the sick bay nursin a burst mooth. That wiz until Sergeant Redress came. He wiz a complete shite-hoose o a man and gave them hell. He teen a richt dislike at Douglas and wid, at ivvery opportunity pick at him aboot his broo. It teen Douglas ivvery bit o self control nae tae stick the object o his jibes fair squarr in his big raik mooth for it wid mean sax months in the glaiss hoose if he mashed him.
Redress wiz a bully o the worst kine but Douglas bein, quick o wit renamed him Sergeant Reederse because he wint aboot in a bad mood like a sharny bull wi a reed erse hole. In nae time that’s fit aa the recruits caad the bully bastard.
It wiz weel intae 1915 by the time Douglas and his mates arrived at the trenches and some sotter o gutters they proved tae be. It wiz a quate bit o the line though and apairt fae a fyowe shells lobbed ower fae the Germans ilka mornin it wisna ower dangerous. Ivvery nicht there’d be patrols sent oot tae spy oot the laan an mebbe tak back a prisoner or twa.
Ae nicht Douglas wiz in een o the patrols fin they waakit intae a squad o Jerries at work sortin some trench works. The fechtin started but there wisna time nor room tae use their rifles so it wiz haan tae haan, rifle butts or using entrenchin tools in a vicious bloody fecht. Douglas used his broo tae gweed effect and the Jerries didna staan a chance. Flares gid up fae the German lines followed by the rat tat tat o machine guns jist lettin rip at onything.
Sergeant Reederse gaed gyte and teen a dose o the screamin abbdabbs. Tae save him fae rinnin intae the enemy machine guns he’d tae be held doon and Douglas got the chunce tae land a weel overdue blatt tae his face tae quaiten him. Returning tae the British lines they handed ower the unconscious Sergeant Reederse tae the medics tellin them he must’ve teen shell-shock.
Things were gan nae ower bad for Douglas until the army startit tae phase in the soup plate steel helmet. Ye could only weer the TOS bunnet at the rear; in the trenches ye’d tae wear the soup plate. Douglas got the biggest yin that ye could get but wi his big broo he lookit like a bamstick w’t cockit on tap o ees napper. His big broo wiz tae the Jerries like claiggs tae horse shite and shooers o bullets came at him finivver he showed his heed abeen the parapet. It got that bad his comrades avoided him like the plague.
The German even named him ‘Grossa Brow’ and promised the man that got him an Iron Cross 1st class and a months leave in the flesh pots o Berlin. This drew officers and men fae aa pairts o the front tae try their luck. The fine quate bit o the line became like Aiberdeen’s Union Street on a Saiturday nicht.
Douglas’ comrades near gid tae mutiny so Douglas wiz teen oot o the front line an wiz given vrocht deein orra jobs like clearin latrines or takkin up rations tae the trenches. Slowly the quate bit o front returned tae normal.The Prussian officers packed up their pre-war hunting rifles and the ither troops wint back tae their ain sectors.
Douglas wiz sortin throwe timmer sticks ae day fin he lookit up and saa a Jerry sodjer standin aboot twinty feet fae him. The Jerry wiz a wee runt o a man but he managed tae shout oot “GROSSA BROW!” and fired his rifle. The bullet hut Douglas richt on the broo and he gid doon. The wee Jerrie ran up tae him and teen his pey-book as proof o daith and ran aboot shoutin, "Whoopee whoopee Berlin hooers for me!"
His name wiz Vulltums Croint fae Hamburg and he’d been on his wye tae surrender tae the British because he wiz seeck o war fin he’d spotted Douglas. Noo he Vulltums Croint wid be a hero wi an Iron Cross 1st class on his breest and the whores in the 'Vinkle Strassa' in Berlin wid be hingin aff him.
A file aifter Douglas waakened wi a splittin heedache in a casualty clearing station. The doctor says, “Yer waakened?” Douglas managed a painful nod.
“Yer a lucky man. If that bullet hidna been a spent round then it wid’ve been tatties ower the side for you!”
Douglas mined on the doctor back hame bein affa interested in his broo so he replied, “Aye doctor I’m lucky richt eneuch!”
He didna ken fit he’d say if he tellt him the bullet hid been fired feet awa. But on that he keepit his gob shut.
Meanwhile Vulltums Croint wiz hooerin in Berlin, his shiny new Iron Cross 1st class on his breest.
As for Douglas he wiz kept at the casualty clearin station for a couple o weeks, nae because he needed it- he wiz as fit as a flea. It wiz because o the doctor. He’d teen an affa interest in Douglas’ broo and invited ither doctors tae come and see it.
In the hinner eyn Douglas got seeck o the cairry on and returned tae duty. This startit aff a richt chyne o events. First Douglas wiz spotted by a German officer and this led tae a signal tae Berlin sayin that ‘Grossa Brow’ was still alive. Next Vulltums Croint wiz trailed awa fae his whores skirlin an yowlin. A week later at dawn Vulltums Croint wiz sent tae his maker. His last word wiz “FOOKERS!”
Aroon this time the German army started tae gie their troops the coal skuttle steel helmet and Douglas wiz guardin a puckle prisoners fin he noticed een o the Jerries weerin een. An idea came tae him and aifter a fair bit o hagglin he managed tae get the helmet fae the Jerry for a packet o fags and a tin o bullybeef.
Oot o sicht o abody he tried it on back tae front. The lang scoop bit at the back covered his broo as bonny as ye like. He’d get back tae the front wi this!
A fyowe weeks later Douglas got separated fae his squad while on a nicht patrol. He’d nae a clue faar he wiz and daylicht wiz comin up by the time he reached fit he thocht wiz his ain bit o the line. He stood up an startit tae rin towards his ain trenches wavin his airms aboot tae let them ken he wiz British. An officer jist happened tae be lookin throwe a trench periscope viewer fin he saw fit lookit a German rinnin backwards towards the British lines an wavin his airms aboot so he ordered “Stand to!” and abody started shootin.
The Jerries meanwhile saa fae their perspective fit lookit like a German rinnin backwards towards the British lines wavin his airms in surrender so they startit shootin ana. Wi the amount o lead fleein at him it wiz only a maitter o time afore he got hit and that’s exactly fit happened. A bullet clipped the underside o the helmet and tracked roon the inside piercin baith his lugs and makin a track across his broo as it spun roon an roon afore the reed hett bullet stopped and drapped doon the back o his neck.
He wiz brocht hame tae Crichie as an invalid because he couldna hear a thing for the ringin in his lugs. Aabody thocht he’d become dumpish because the only sounds he could mak wiz “blaaaah or Ooooo!”
This laisted till 1927 until he got hut on the heed wi a tattie fin a fairm cheil threw it shoutin “Look at that lad’s broo an twa half luggies!”
Fae that day on he wiz as richt as rain and aifter blooterin the tattie thrower he gaed hame a happy man. Douglas wiz kent for the rest o his days as ‘Bullet Broo’ but nae tae his face ye understaan!
This story can be found in Sanners Gow's Tales an' Folklore of the Buchan (vol 1) paperback and ebook
A series of longer stories from Sanners Gow's collected works to entertain you through lockdoon an' beyont.