Saturday, 29 June 2013

Return to Rerrick

A LONELY tree stands twisted and
silent on a hill near Auchencairn.
It has a beautiful panoramic vista which includes the Solway and the mountains of Cumbria.
It is apparently the last of a line of trees that were planted on the site of the former Ringcroft of Stocking a few hundred years ago.
They have come to be known as “The Ghost Trees” and were put there either to contain evil spirits or to remind the living world that there are many more realms to this existence.
Some locals believe that, when the last of the ghost trees dies, the evil spirit that haunted a farmer and his family over three hundred years ago will return.
The Rerrick Parish Poltergeist is a chilling tale and one of the most well-documented
events of its kind.
In 1695 a farmer and his family were subjected to three months of violent paranormal activity in and around their farmhouse in the parish of Rerrick.
Five priests performed an exorcising ritual for two weeks, but the angry spirit only got worse.
In the end, it suddenly left of its own volition and, so far, has not been back.
There are a number of houses close to the site and one of them in particular is purported to be haunted.
An Auchencairn man and his teenage daughter, both of whom prefer not to be named, lived in a small cottage possibly built on the ancient boundaries of the steading.
The man told of strange occurrences in the house while he was living there a few years ago.
“We used to find teaspoons in the hearth in the mornings,” he said.
“I don't know why something should want to put these objects among the ashes but we got so used to it that it didn't really bother us.
“One day my daughter was walking out of the kitchen and heard a loud crash behind her.
“A pan had apparently fallen off the shelf and landed on the floor by her feet.
“There is nothing particularly unusual about something falling off a shelf, only that particular pan must have travelled about five feet through the air and across the kitchen.
It could only have been thrown.
“One morning I was in the kitchen and the kettle switched itself on.
“I tried switching that kettle on and off a hundred times afterwards to see whether it was possible for it to come on by itself.
“The button actually takes quite a bit of pressure to switch it on, so I put that down to the
There were also strange knocks on the door and something twanged the guitar strings on more than one occasion.
The man, who still lives close to Auchencairn, was also told by an elderly local that he was one of the longest serving tenants in that house.
People often came and then left quite swiftly after.
“There were strange things going on in the house, but I never once felt frightened or apprehensive about living there" the man said.
"Whatever it was, didn't particularly bother me.”
The Ringcroft of Stocking did have a reputation for being haunted before the MacKie incident and it appears that perhaps it still is.
Hopefully though, whatever it was that subjected Andrew Mackie and his family to three months of torment and horror over three hundred years ago will never return in our lifetimes.
Let’s hope so.

The Rerrick Poltergeist

THE GHOST TREE: Pictured is the twisted oak that stands in a field just outside the village of Auchencairn. It is the last tree to remain on the site of the Ringcroft of Stocking where one of the most bizarre and violent hauntings ever to have been recorded took place. Local lore says that, when the last of the ghost trees dies, the Rerrick poltergeist will return.

IT seems strange that, despite thousands of years of perfecting our native speech, we have to rely upon our European neighbours to accurately describe a symptom of paranormal phenomenon.
The word “poltergeist” derives from the German “poltern” to make a racket, and, of course,“Geist” which could only mean ghost.There is no alternative translation in the English (and Scots) language.
Perhaps this is why this exotic word strikes fear and apprehension in the unsuspecting.
How can the dead touch the living world and, moreover, what harm can it do?
The supernatural remains unproblematic and simple, provided it keeps itself to itself. When it poses a danger or a threat to the living, however, it is time to worry.
In 1695 a real event happened to real people in the parish of Rerrick (now Auchencairn.On a windswept hill on the outskirts of Auchencairn lies the site of the Ringcroft of Stocking. 
This was once the home of farmer Andrew Mackie and his family.
Apart from a singular tree that stands in a forlorn field, there is little else to mark the existence of one of the most bizarre and violent chapters in the paranormal history of Dumfries and Galloway and probably the world.
The events have been well documented, even in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and someone has yet to come forward and dispute the written testimony of a learned priest at the time and 14 eminent members of the community who bore witness to the strange happenings on the Mackie steading.
One morning in February 1695, farmer Mackie woke up to find his cattle had been set loose from the byre and their ropes had been cut. He thought it strange and remained vigilant.
The property had apparently had a bit of a reputation for being haunted, but nothing could have prepared farmer Mackie and his family for the supernatural onslaught that befell them over the next few months.
The cattle roamed free the following night, only this time a cow had been tethered to a high beam in a shed, so much so that the animal's feet could not touch the ground. No man could have performed such a feat and Mackie's anxiety grew.Soon stones were being hurled at the family and, despite the many efforts to detect their origins, there was no explanation for the vicious assaults.
Household items went missing, only to turn up later in ridiculous places; children were spanked by unseen hands in the middle of the night and strange fires were kindled inside the byres and the farmhouse.
The house was set alight as were sheep and stables.Visitors were cruelly beaten by stones and staves and the unseen entity was purported to: “drag people about the house by their clothes.
One account stated: “A blacksmith narrowly escaped death when a trough and plowshare were hurled at him. Small buildings on the property spontaneously burst into flames and burned to cinders. During a family prayer meeting, chunks of flaming peat pelted them.A human shape, seemingly made out of cloth, appeared, groaning: 'Whisht... whisht'.”Strangely enough, although battered and bleeding, no-one was badly hurt.Numerous searches of the grounds and night-time vigils came up with no explanation for the strange occurrences.
And so the fame of the Mackie Poltergeist, as it became known, grew wider.There were many efforts to bless and exorcise the seemingly impromptu and malevolent spirit but they were all beaten off with flying stones or clods of earth.
The family and neighbours became so perturbed that they enlisted the aid of the local clergyman, one Reverend Alexander Telfair, whose account was supported by 14 upstanding members of the Scottish community, each of whom personally bore witness to the poltergeist manifestation.
Telfair recorded that the entity: “threw stones and divers other things at me, and beat me several times on the Shoulders and Sides with a great Staff, so that those who were present heard the noise of the Blows.”
It was Mrs MacKie who found a small pile of bones underneath a loose stone at her threshold. They were wrapped in flesh.Witchcraft and murder were suspected.On April 8 a magistrate in the area came up with an idea.
He appealed to the laird of Colline to find every living person who had lived in the house to be examined and made to touch the bones — believing that the guilty person would have an effect on the earthly remains of his victim.
Nothing happened, however, and five local ministers performed an exorcism the following day.On April 9, the ministers began the exorcism of the Ringcroft of Stocking, but this proved an almost hopeless task.
A few of them, including Telfair, claimed that “something had grabbed them by the legs or feet and lifted them into the air.”
The ritual turned into a nightmare as they prayed for deliverance under a hail of flying missiles. The house was said to shake and a huge hole was ripped in the roof. The exorcism took two gruelling weeks.
On Friday, April 26, the evil spirit spoke. With a few furious oaths and a number of hair-raising curses, it told them it would take them all to hell and then said: “Thou shalt be troubled 'til Tuesday.”
As if by magic, on the Tuesday of May 1, 1695, a dark cloud roiled in the corner of Mackie's barn. Many witnessed the strange manifestation and watched it grow and blacken.
As it filled the building, great clods of mud flew outwards and spattered the faces of the horrified witnesses.
Some were gripped with vice-like fingers but this last violent event marked the exit of the Rerrick Parish Poltergeist from the world of men.
For reasons best left to God or coincidence, it took its leave of Rerrick and the Mackies, never to be seen or heard again.

Strange but true?

A FEW years ago, when I worked as a journalist for a regional newspaper, I wrote a series of articles on haunted places in Dumfries and Galloway. The research was intriguing, compelling and altogether fascinating. This is one of those strange-but-true stories that I will never forget. It is a tale that is very much believed by a family who truly feel that they are haunted by their past. The picture was taken by the very talented Jim McEwan who, no doubt, was forced to trudge through the undergrowth at my behest.

CENTURIES of history in Dumfries and Galloway have not passed without their fair share of blood-letting and horror.
With soil, coin and title affording ultimate power, the people of these lands have witnessed terrible atrocities in the names of renown and revenge.
It is surprising, therefore, to come across a tale that is so gruesome and horrific, that it is barely believable, but it is one born out of accident rather than malicious intent.
The incident has been well documented in official records and most members of the Jardine clan have at least heard whispers of the terrible fate that befell one James Porteous some time in the 1650s.
It was around this time that Sir Alexander Jardine ruled Applegirth from his stronghold known as Spedlins Tower, near Lockerbie.
A miller called James Porteous was accused of burning down his mill and was confined to a prison in the tower.
“He was kept inside what is called a bottle-neck dungeon,” Sir Alec, head of today’s Jardine said. “This dungeon was approximately 10 feet deep with a base of six foot in circumference. The neck was only two feet across. Porteous was thrown into it and the door was locked above his head.”
All was well until Sir Alexander was called to a sudden and unexpected meeting in Edinburgh. He set off as usual on his lengthy journey that may have taken him four or five days.
It was not until he was passing through the gates of the city that he noticed he was carrying the gate keeper’s large bundle of keys.
To his horror, Sir Alexander realised that he had taken with him the only key to the sturdy door that the hapless Porteous had been confined beneath.
Meanwhile, at Spedlins Tower, the poor miller screamed out against his terrible suffering: “Let me oot! Let me oot! I’m starving! Give me food and water! Let me oot!”
But his pitiful pleas were to no avail, for there was no key to the heavy door and the jail had become a tomb.
Despite Sir Alexander’s attempts to send a man back swiftly to relieve the prisoner of his agony, he was too late in his efforts.
The servant found the sorry Porteous in the dungeon dead. In desperation, the miller — insane with the horror of his ordeal — had gnawed off his own hands.
It was not long before the ghost of Porteous moved in to Spedlins Tower and all hell broke loose.
The angry spirit, who became known as “Dunty” (or “one who knocks”), screamed his complaints across the halls and stairwells of the tower.
One account says that he “rattled chains, banged on doors and moaned incessantly”, making life obviously unbearable for its terrified owners.
Unable to endure any more of Dunty’s shrieking, Sir Alexander sought the help of the family chaplain who performed an exorcism of the restless spirit using the castle’s bible.
Dunty’s ghost finally quietened and confined itself to the dungeon — the place where he had suffered his cruel fate.
The Jardine family could sleep again.
It is said that it was not too long after that the chaplain dropped dead from a sudden and inexplicable illness.
Some years later, the bible showed signs of wear and was sent away to be rebound.
Dunty’s ghost appeared to take advantage of this and became “extremely boisterous in the pit.” It banged on the door so violently that it almost shook off its hinges. It continued the pitiful cries and generally made a nuisance of itself.Even an attempt to flee to nearby Jardine Hall did not deter the obdurate Dunty from making his presence felt.
“My ancestors believed that a ghost could not cross water and the River Annan lies between the tower and the hall,” explained Sir Alec.
 “This was proved wrong and Dunty chased the family across the river, even dragging the lord and lady out of bed.”
The Jardines had the bible returned from its binders forthwith and it was placed in the dungeon wall where it remained until the family moved from the tower.
It is believed that the vengeful ghost of James Porteous left the tower with the Jardines and continued to haunt the Lairds of Applegirth down through the centuries.
Spedlins Tower fell to ruin and has recently been impressively restored by the Grays who are the present owner-occupiers.
Do they ever hear the screams of Dunty?
Mr Gray does not believe in ghosts.
For Sir Alec, heir to the Applegirth name, title, lands, history and ghost, it is a very different matter.
“I have no idea if Dunty still haunts Spedlin because I have the family bible,” he said.
“It was beautifully rebound and lies safely in an oak case. I don’t know whether it is this that keeps Dunty quiet, but I do not relish the prospect of losing it and finding out!”
Amazingly, Sir Alec also holds the key to the dungeon that he keeps in a safe place and has his own theory of this regrettable chapter in his family’s history.
“There is a school of thought that Porteous was the laird’s secret half-brother and that there was a bit of skulduggery going on,” said Sir Alec.
“The Laird of Applegirth was said to have a deformed foot, while Porteous was a big, muscular man. It is possible that there was a lot of rivalry between the two of them and a fair amount of jealousy. I think that there was more to Porteous’ death than has been told.
“A few years ago, I planted an oak tree at Spedlin in the memory of James Porteous in the hope of making peace with him. Ijust felt that it was the right thing to do.”
The Jardines have gone from Spedlin. Their once magnificent hall across the river has disappeared without trace and, if there still remains a dark echo of Dunty, no-one is telling.

If the ghost of James Porteous has found forgiveness at last, then perhaps it is time to let him rest — he certainly deserves it.