Thursday, 17 December 2020

Old voices from an earlier day


Elder, birch and willow

old voices from an earlier day

We woke with a rustling rhythm

A stamped percussion,

The rattling beat of twigs on bark.

We woke, 


Creswell Crags on the eastern edge of Derbyshire holds some of the most significant prehistoric cave dwellings in the UK. Here, Neanderthals lived. Here, early Homo sapiens carved and drew and etched into bone. Here, mammoths walked and reindeer ran and wolves waited.

And here, sometime a few tens of centuries later, people carved witch marks into walls and slabs and hoped they could keep some wickedness away. Or maybe not. The witch marks are there: the biggest collection of such marks in the country. Usually found in ones and twos in homes, on lintels and thresholds, a symbol to keep the house safe. Here there are hundreds, piled on top of each other: line and cross and curve, the Virgin Mary invoked through letters, a prayer against danger

A line beside a line beside a line

Strike the line and strike and strike.

Each line a blow, a beat, a bolt,

This line is an arrow, a knife to cut a witch’s flesh.

With the witch marks as a theme and with the dwindled numbers of visitors this year, the Crags have organised a weekend of digital events: the Creswell Crags Midwinter Festival of Folklore

Starting tomorrow (18th December) through to the Solstice, Monday 21st,  there is a programme of storyteller and musicians. There will be learned talks and discussions about gaming. The Whitby Krampus Run are (I hope) unleashing a Krampus or two upon our screens. And if you don’t know what or who Krampus is, drop in and discover!

Festival programme to download

I am “on” twice: Friday 18th, 3pm and Saturday 19th 11am. From me there is a story-poem weaving the spirits of landscapes together with scared people carving witchmarks and the wild witches who don’t really care about marks and Mary. Read by myself and a cast of eight other people, we invite you to make a hot drink, find a biscuit or a mince pie or three and settle down for a 20 minute tea break and an adventure into mystery and the bitter taste of ancient anger 

The events are free but as this is a fund-raiser for the caves there is a Just Giving page so why not give the cost of an evening ticket somewhere for a whole weekend of entertainment!


to join the festival:

Just giving page:



  • birch leaves: Gordon MacLellan
  • witch marks c Paul Bahn (from Creswell main website)
  • pool and morning mist: Adam Nardell
* Poem pieces are from my story poem "When the Elder Tree Laughs" which is my contribution to the festival....

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