The Witchburn

A typical but n ben

A typical but n ben

Earlier today, one of my Twitter chums mentioned how much she hated bonfires. I had to admit that I loved the smell of a good bonfire – although, I joked, it was always better with a witch thrown on top… And instantly I was taken back to my childhood holidays in Campbeltown, Argyleshire.

Perhaps I should explain.

My gran owned a wee cottage at the bottom of what was known as ‘the Doctor’s Road’, so named as the local GP used to live down there and used this narrow country lane as a short cut to the town. The lane was lined with bramble bushes and wildflowers and cut across fields of cows.I remember picking the ripe fruit, the juice staining my fingers and chin, and collecting small posies of whatever I could find. I used to wander the lane and fields on my own, dodging cow pats (and cows) and only going home when I was hungry.

It was blissful.

My gran’s cottage was a But n Ben – a small two-roomed cottage. The kitchen was the but and the bedroom, the ben. We had an open fire and an outside toilet which was a fearful thing at night. Using the loo after dark meant braving the jennies (mayfly) and snails which slimed up the distempered walls.

The cottage was called The Witchburn. We were never sure if it’s name came from the “Witch Burn”, a stream in which witches were drowned or if it was built on the spot where witches were burned. Either way, there had been a dwelling called Witchburn on the site for as long as living memory and beyond.

At the end of the summer season, when we shut up the cottage for the winter, we’d always have a bonfire. My dad would gather all the cut grass, shrubbery trimmings and general garden refuse and we’d stand and watch it smolder and burn on our last evening at the cottage before heading back to Glasgow.

It smelled wonderful. It smelled of freedom and sunshine and long grass and ice cream and summer and fun.

But we never burned any witches. Did we…?

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8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    Mar 5, 2013

    What a lovely memory to share, Nettie! Thank you. I can just picture how delightful it must have been during the summer to go outside in the morning and not come home until whenever. And the bonfire sounds like fun. I know that woodsmoke smell and to me, it’s part of the scent of oncoming autumn…

  2. Margot Kinberg
    Mar 5, 2013

    What a lovely memory to share, Nettie! Thank you. I can just picture how delightful it must have been during the summer to go outside in the morning and not come home until whenever. And the bonfire sounds like fun. I know that woodsmoke smell and to me, it’s part of the scent of oncoming autumn…

  3. Fabulous, Nettie. You paint such lovely pictures with words. Weren’t we both so lucky to have such carefree childhoods?

  4. Fabulous, Nettie. You paint such lovely pictures with words. Weren’t we both so lucky to have such carefree childhoods?

  5. Abi Burlingham
    Mar 5, 2013

    Aw, this is lovely, Nettie, beautiful images. I have never heard of a But n Ben – what a lovely name!

  6. Abi Burlingham
    Mar 5, 2013

    Aw, this is lovely, Nettie, beautiful images. I have never heard of a But n Ben – what a lovely name!

  7. ERMurray
    Mar 5, 2013

    I’d heard of But ‘n’ Ben but never knew what it actually meant – and it had been lost in my consciousness so thank you for enlightening & reminding me in one go. The memory is lovely, and the piece evocative. A delight to read.

  8. ERMurray
    Mar 5, 2013

    I’d heard of But ‘n’ Ben but never knew what it actually meant – and it had been lost in my consciousness so thank you for enlightening & reminding me in one go. The memory is lovely, and the piece evocative. A delight to read.

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