The Spirit Of Wigtown – From Kirkyard Ghosts To Witchcraft & Fine Whisky

The spirit of Wigtown – from kirkyard ghosts to witchcraft and fine whisky
Image credit - credit Colin Hattersley.

 

  • Karen Campbell’s Ghosts of Wigtown to be read by actress Kate Dickie
  • Bladnoch’s master distiller leads an online whisky tasting
  • A modern Scottish witch offers spells for beginners
  • Chance to buy art, craft and artisan food and drink

From ghosts in the historic kirkyard to online whisky tasting and spells for 21st century witches – this year’s Wigtown Book Festival is a magical and spirited event.

Among the attractions is a reading of The Ghosts of Wigtown, a specially-commissioned short story by leading Scottish writer Karen Campbell. It will by read online by award winning stage and screen actress Kate Dickie – who spent much of her childhood in Wigtown.

Set in the town’s historic Kirkyard and at the nearby Martyr’s Stake it’s a tale of collective action by female ghosts (though there are still a few restless male and female Covenanters around). Campbell, a former police officer who has written seven novels including her most recent WW2 Italian-set story The Sound of the Hours, says entering the realm of the supernatural is a new departure.

She said: “I’m not one for thrills and spills and scary stories and don’t really believe in ghosts – but since coming to Galloway I have found it’s a place so redolent in history, and that there are places which feel like they have memories and that evoke strong emotions.”

Indeed, certain characters are based on notable women from Wigtown’s past, some of whom are less well remembered than its menfolk.

Campbell said: “The story is about women who need to be heard and the only way they can make that happen is by working together.”

Wigtown Book Festival has a record of collaboration with local businesses such as the 203-year-old Bladnoch Distillery. This year it has adapted to being a digital festival by organising an online whisky tasting where people have miniatures posted out to them. They then sample them during a live streamed session led by Master Distiller Dr Nick Savage.

Image credit – credit Colin Hattersley.

Each year the festival also organises The Kist, a specially-curated market in a marquee that showcases more than two dozen artisan food and drink producers and artists and craft makers from Dumfries and Galloway and beyond.

This too is going online and will take place from 2-4 October, with video tours of studio and premises, meet the maker sessions and demonstrations – plus the chance to buy from the producers. See www.facebook.com/TheKistWigtown and www.wigtownbookfestival.com.

Dr Alice Tarbuck, academic, teacher, published poet, editor and practicing witch, is also taking part in the festival where she will talk about her new book A Spell in the Country, which is a year-round guide to witchcraft, its uses and history – with a few spells to try at home.

She believes that interest in the magical is very much on the increase right now and said: “In times of turmoil people often turn to the occult. I have certainly found that interest in witchcraft is on the increase, as well as its connection to stewardship of the environment.
“This is a book for people who are interested in gentleness and kindness, and for people who are interested in becoming a witch, think they may already be one or who know they are a witch and want to learn more.”

Alice is also aiming to dispel the many myths that surround witchcraft – arguing that it is based on practices that are intended to do good and create harmony between humans and the natural world.

A Spell in the Country is a wide-ranging exploration of everything from weather and sex magic through to a cultural history of fairies, ley lines and divinations.

She also looks at the way that the state and church used false accusations of witchcraft, often resulting in hideously cruel punishments, to shore up their authority at times when they felt threatened.

Wigtown itself will also be a star of the festival. Sound artist Stuart McLean has recorded an hour-long walk around Wigtown that aims to bring the town alive wherever the listener is. The recording will be released on Wigtown’s website on Saturday 26 September and the festival will also be tweeting individual sound throughout the week.

Adrian Turpin, Wigtown Book Festival artistic director, said: “There have been pros as well as cons in being forced to go online by the pandemic. While we can’t welcome the world to Wigtown, we can share Wigtown – its spirit and its magic – with the world.
“And we’ve tried to find some innovate ways of doing that – so hopefully people will want to come here themselves next year.”
  • This year’s Wigtown Book Festival runs from 24 September to 4 October. Events are free but donations are requested as part of a £20,000 fundraising drive to assure its future.
  • For full details see wigtownbookfestival.com.