Andre Brink, Witches’ Stone and summer skies

I’ve just finished reading Devil’s Valley by the South African author Andre Brink. Published in 1998 (I bought my copy in a charity shop) the book is a horrifying and humorous tale of a world weary crime writer who seeks to know the truth about the Devil’s Valley, where a white community lives in isolation from the modern world. It is a very strange community, which appears to be very strongly religious and upholds strict apartheid – there are no black people here and it is rumoured that when black children have been born, they have been killed. There’s an array of characters, often with strange names e.g. Lukas Death and Hans Magic. The more Flip Lochner, the journalist, seeks to find out the history of the community, the more he becomes aware of the half-truths and lies which his interviewees tell him. There are aspects of magic realism in the story, which is told at great pace and is often quite funny. I enjoyed the book, with its reflections on community, history, religion, race, family, law and love, although there were perhaps too many weird characters. I’d recommend it.

We had one of my Australian ex-colleagues visiting Dunbar over the weekend and we took her on a trip around the town and up the country to give her a flavour of the town and its environment. We drove through Spott village and stopped at the Witches’ Stone. The stone itself (Photo 1) sits behind iron rails and is an ordinary stone. It is claimed on the plaque next to the stone (Photo 2) that it was the site of the last burning of a witch in southern Scotland, although this is disputed. The woman accused of witchcraft in this instance was Marion Lillie, who was called the Ringwoody, meaning thin and bony, and was found guilty of being rude to a pregnant woman and of swearing. It did not take much for any woman who might show signs of eccentricity to be deemed a witch by her supposedly good Christian peers, and then burned.

Each year about this time of the summer solstice (and of course winter solstice in the southern hemisphere), we get some vibrant colours in the sky and on the sea at sunset. Each year I take photos from the back of my house and each year I think – should I have gone out to take photos 15 minutes earlier? Would I have taken a better shot? Would the colours have been at their peak? I have to say that looking out on to a fiery sky and fiery sea is one of the great pleasures of living by the sea. See Photos 3 and 4 which were taken just after 10pm.

Witches stone at Spott

Witches’ stone at Spott

Witches' stone plaque at Spott

Witches’ stone plaque at Spott

Summer skies at 10pm

Summer skies at 10pm

Summer skies at 10pm

Summer skies at 10pm


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