Friday, 31 December 2010
"In December, various Bonenkai or "forget-the-year parties" are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. Misunderstandings and grudges are forgiven and houses are scrubbed. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in a effort to expel 108 types of human weakness. New Year's day itself is a day of joy and no work is to be done. Children receive otoshidamas, small gifts with money inside. Sending New Year's cards is a popular tradition—if postmarked by a certain date, the Japanese post office guarantees delivery of all New Year's cards on Jan. 1."
Read more: New Year's Traditions
Shameless non-folklore related plug; the scottish tradition of "watching some comedy while getting drunk before the bells" can be observed tonight by watching "/comedy" on STV at 10.45...for which I've written a few sketches.
Anyway...kinga shinnen! Kotoshi mo yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu.
Thursday, 30 December 2010
This was part of a series of M.R. James readings broadcast over Christmas a few years ago.
View this and many more spooky classics on The Ghostwatching Youtube Channel
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Check out The Moonlit Road, strange tales of the American South; wonderful folklore and spooky tales, some audio, some video, all good.
The Moonlit Road's special Christmas Selection is here.
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Monday, 20 December 2010
Sunday, 19 December 2010
Historical Note :
Sightings of "black wild cats" around Inverclyde have become more widespread in the last ten years, but there are recorded sightings and anecdotal evidence of unusual beasts pre-dating WWII.
The ruins of Duchal Castle and the Duchal blackwater can be found on the outskirts of Kilmacolm.
Definetly worth a winter walk...though take care.
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Sunday, 12 December 2010
Greenock was the embarkation point for some of the ships sent to Iceland during the "occupation".
The Jolasveinar tradition is still celbrated in Iceland...you can get really cool decorations and figurines. Check out these images.
Also, here is a wee Christmas Carol about them sung by Bjork
Thursday, 9 December 2010
An ancient and mysterious portion of Greenock, Crow Mount, or as it was commonly called, The Mount, formed that part of the town stretching westwards from Bank Street to Ann Street, and running northwards from Dempster Street to Roxburgh Street. Rumour has it, that this was once the haunt of witches, who held covens there, far from the watchful eye of the townsfolk. Later still it was said that a witch was hung from one of the same trees and that as she choked she forever cursed the ground beneath her dangling feet and the forest all around. By the 1800s our town ancestors had long since abandoned the mount to the Crows. Historians remember it for its lush greenery, a stark contrast to the smoke and industry already taking hold at the rivers edge. But the story goes that from branch to root those trees hid a darker tale.
In 1513, the Lords of Greenock assembled the townsmen to march with King James against the English. On foot all the way to Northumberland, the men walked to the beat of the ancient town drum. Some say that this drum had been framed with wood from Crow Mount. Whatever the case, it is true that when disaster struck, and the Scots were crushed on the fields of Flodden, few returned to the town. But those that did, brought with them that same drum. And here it remained, a memory to the ghosts of Greenock’s fallen.
For over 300 years, the drum was kept safe by the townsfolk, seldom heard, save for the odd ceremonial occasion. One historian recalls that by the 1850’s it was gathering dust, it’s proud history all but forgotten. It was a fate shared by one lonely townsman of the day. Archibald Weir, a resident of Crow Mount had fought in Crimean War alongside Sir Shaw Stewart. Injured in the siege of Sevastopol, Weir returned home, bitter and haunted by his experiences on the battlefield. Hard on his luck, he took to petty crime – picking pockets mostly. So it was that one day in the Coffee Rooms, his eyes fell upon the old town drum. “A drum like that might fetch a pretty penny in the markets of Glasgow” thought Weir.
And so that night, he returned to take the ancient drum for himself. Climbing the hill to Crow Mount, he rushed home to hide his stolen prize, planning to fence it the next day. But an uneasy sleep awaited him. Nightmares of wars and witches awakened him.And all the time, ringing in his ears, the endless beat of a lonely drum; The Greenock Drum. On and on it went. Thump. Thump. Thump. The drum would not be silenced.
The next morning the town awoke to the news that Weir’s lifeless corpse had been found hanging from the oldest tree on Crow Mount. The drum was nowhere to be found. Was it some witches curse come back to haunt Crow Mount, the ghost of one of Floddens Fallen? Or simply a poor soul, driven mad with guilt?
Shortly after the grim discovery of Weir’s body was made, the trees of Crow Mount were cleared to make way for the Mount Church. And those same trees were used to make some of the pews. But superstitions die hard, and all refused to sit on them. So as you walk the streets these winter months, listen carefully for the beat of the Greenock Drum, and the whispered curse of Crow Mount.
Monday, 6 December 2010
So for the rest of December, Tales of the Oak will be sharing ghost stories old, new, local and international. Some written, some spoken, some traditional, some modern...hopefully something for everyone. You supply the chestnuts and mulled wine.
Where better to start, than with one from the master - M.R. James
Sunday, 21 November 2010
A year passed and then one day, when the mermaid was away, a ship passed by the island. The Merchant hailed the ship, and the vessel spied him, and sent a boat ashore. And the merchant told them all about his shipwreck and the mermaid and his gold and silver and jewels. The crew of the boat explained that they were outward bound, but suggested that if the Merchant gathered together a sizeable booty, then they would come again in a year and a day to take him home.
So a year and a day passed, and everyday the lovesick mermaid brought more food and wine and treasure to the Merchant. And at the appointed time, the ship again dropped anchor by the island. Again the mermaid was away, and again a boat came ashore. The merchant and the crew made quick despatch to get all the stores on board before the mermaid returned.
The ship set sail, but the mermaid returned to her cave, found it herried, and angrily she swam after the ship, overtook it, and demanded that her husband and her stores be returned. Now the skipper, was a canny man, so he cast off a bundle of hoops and he agreed to hand over her man and her stores only if the mermaid could count the hoops. This she did and she then repeated her demands. But the skipper cast off another set of hoops again and again and again until they reached Gourock. The Captain had a lot of hoops.
The Dumbarton merchant, set foot again on dry land at Gourock, and refused to go with the mermaid. And she pleaded with him to return to their cave where they had spent so many happy days. But he refused again, so the Mermaid gave to him the baby she had borne him, demanding that he give it a good home with all the gold and silver he had stolen from her. She then gave the merchant a book which he was instructed not to let the child see til he was full grown.
The child grew and took up residence in the old castle of Ardrossan, taking the name Michael Scott, later more commonly known as The Devil of Ardrossan. It was by the means of his mother's book that he commanded the foul thief, that imp who carried out his every dark request. And the very first command given to this devil was to rid Michael of his own father, the merchant. You could hear his screaming all the way to Ireland.
The mermaid meantime, befriended the great serpent Clutha of the Clyde, and she lives in the waters to this day. She pops her head out of the water now and then for to sing a wee song. She might even tell your fortune, depending on your luck.
"If she drank nettles in March
And mugwort in May
Sae many braw maidens
Wadna gang to the clay."
Have a read about more mermaids around the UK in Caught By The River's scans of the classic rural folk zine The Country Bizarre.
The Port Glasgow Mermaid also makes an appearance in our book Wee Nasties, which you can read for free online on scribd or ibooks.
Saturday, 30 October 2010
So, this guy turns up on the Greenock dock, and he's keen to get doon the road tae Largs fairly sharpish. And time's knockin' on, so he figures he'll jist nip up the hill and take a short cut across the moors. Only thing is...it's Halloween.
He's up the backroad, and he jist passes Dunrod Hill when this big storm starts...and it's lashin' doon. Absolutely lashin'. Thunder. Lightning. It's murder. And he's struggling along, walkin' intae the storm, when he spies this wee hut.
So he goes inside, heads up to the corner, wraps himself up in his jacket, and nods off.
A few hours later, oor man gets woken up, by aw these voices...murmurin'. And there's a wee peat fire gaun in the hut. There's a pot on the fire and roon aboot it, there's three witches, muttering and incanting. Heedorum. Hodurum. Ye know the sort o thing.
And the first witch, the oldest wan, she brings oot this sorta pointy hat. She wrings it oot, as if she wis dryin' it, puts it on her head and says 'Ho! For Kintyre!' and whoosh! She goes fleein' oot the lum. And after she's gone, the cap jist falls back down the chimney. So the second witch, sorta middle aged like, she grabs the hat, wrings it oot and shouts 'Ho! For Kintyre!' and she's away as well. The hat falls back doon, and the third witch, young, naw bad lookin', she picks it up 'Ho! For Kintyre!' and there she goes, firin' oot the chimney."
Yer man looks oot the windae, an it's still lashin' doon. And the cap floats back doon intae the hut and he thinks tae himsel'...ah wouldnae mind a wee go oan that hat. So he picks it up, and he says 'Ho!For Kintyre!' and...he's hurled intae space, still holding the cap, and he is speedin' through the air and he gets to Kintyre. And here, when he gets there is there no a big room full a witches. And they're aw waitin' there for the Dread Master of All Evil. The Devil. And this year he's decided to have his big Halloween bash in the King of France's wine cellar. Fur reasons unknown, this happens to be in Kintyre.
Anyhow, the witches don't seem tae mind, and he's invited tae enjoy the party. But here, he mebbe has a few wee glesses too many o the auld elderberry brew. And he's dancin' aboot and swearin' like a loon, and the devil turns up and he has a wee dance wi him, and, well, he jist has a right good time. But, he sorta comes to in the mornin' a wee bit the worse for wear, and he's in a cell in Kintyre jail. Seems he was wanderin' about the streets swearin' and smashin' things. And when he tries tae explain that it wis really aw the fault o the witches and the devil...naebody believes him.
He's in a right pickle, cos he's caused so much bother wi aw his swearin' and carryin' on, that he's been sentenced to hang. Must have been a right rough night. So they're aboot tae hing him, which as you can imagine, he's no aw that keen on, and so he says 'Would it be awright, if ah wore ma favourite bunnet on the gallows'...So they march him up to the gallows, and the big chap there, he's aboot tae put the rope roon his neck, so oor man puts the enchanted cap on sharpish and says 'Ho! For Largs!' and he's away. Jist like that.
There once was a farmer lived up Kilmacolm way, and his name was Malcolm McPhee. He was neither a very good farmer, nor a very happy farmer. Malcolm had inherited his farm from his father and while he liked his land and his money well enough, he did not care so much for the hard work. But Malcolm was not a stupid man, and so he worked just hard enough to keep his wife and his farm and his land, and he dreamed that one day he’d find a way he’d never have to work at all.
It was a night in late November when Malcolm McPhee first heard about The Bogle, a cold night, but with no moon. There was a stranger telling stories that night in the Inn down Port Glasgow way, and all the usual folk had gathered round to listen and laugh. The stranger told them all about a mermaid who’d told his fortune at the Port Glasgow shore, about a witch he’d danced with up by Lochwinnoch, and about a ghost he met up on Duchal moor. He could spin a yarn and all were enjoying the company.
“And of course” he said “not half a mile’s walk from here lives the Bogle himself.”
A few drifted away, perhaps having heard this story before.
“Aye. He hides behind the stone at the top of the Clune Brae, and will jump out to chase folk all the way across the moor to Kilmacolm. It's said that if he catches you, he chews you up with his sharp white teeth. But I know a secret about this Bogle, told to me by an old fox who owed me a favour. The Bogle doesn’t want to catch you, he’s just trying to scare you away, for if you turn round and grab him…he’s got to give you three wishes.”
“Three wishes?” said Malcolm “Any three wishes?”
“Yes indeed.” Said the stranger. “Whatever you want.”
“With those three wishes I’d never have to work again” said Malcolm. “What does he look like this Bogle?”
“Oh you’d know him if you saw him.” Smiled the Stranger “For you’d never have seen his like before.”
“Then I shall know him soon.” Said Malcolm “For I’m going to catch that Bogle.”
So it was that the next night, Malcolm walked across the moors to the top of the Clune Brae and stood watching in case the Bogle should leap from behind the stone. He waited all night til it was light. And the Bogle didn’t come.
When he got home he was too tired to work his farm saying to his wife
“Don’t worry about the fields, for when I catch this Bogle, I’ll wish for a much biger farm and scores of labourers to work for us."
The next night, Malcolm again walked to the Bogle’s stone. And again the Bogle didn’t come. When he got home he was once again too tired to work his farm, and said to his wife
“Don’t worry, for on our new farm, I shall wish for our crop to be the best in the land."
Night after night, week after week, month after month, Malcolm stood by the stone, hoping to catch the Bogle. And the Bogle never came.
One morning he returned home, and found his home empty for his wife had gone. And he looked to his lands and he saw they were overgrown for he had not tended them. All too late Malcolm saw that his farm and his lands and his marriage were all in ruins, and he walked again to the Clune Brae and down to the Inn. He drank long and hard and when he had spent the little money he had left, he began the long wander home across the moorlands. But this night, as he passed the stone he heard a noise. A rustling, then a whistling. Malcolm turned, and there was the Bogle.
“Boo!” said The Bogle.
“Hah!” said Malcolm, who could not believe his luck.
“Aren’t you going to run?” asked the Bogle “People usually run when they see a Bogle.”
“Why would I run from you?" said Malcolm "I've been looking for you for months!"
“Go on.” Said the Bogle “I’ll give you a head start.”
At this, Malcolm grabbed the Bogle by the arm.
"Hah!" said Malcolm "I have caught the Bogle. And now you have to give me my three wishes."
But the Bogle just smiled and said
“And who told you this? A stranger? A stranger who dances with witches, talks to foxes and walks with ghosts?”
And Malcolm saw that the Bogle had tricked him all along.
“A Bogle can’t give you wishes and you must work for what you want." laughed the Bogle "You have wished your life away. And you should have run when you had the chance.”
The Bogle grinned a nasty grin with his sharp white teeth.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
A ragged vagrant terrifying the town's children while looking after dozens of stray cats...or a fictional bogeyman from our industrial past? Who is, what is, where is...The Catman?
Greenock's shipbuilding was already in decline in the seventies and fast heading towards complete collapse within the eighties. Sightings and mentions of The Catman stretch back to the nineteen seventies, all centred around a specific narrow lane which connects what was the industrial “East End” of the town, with the town centre - one of those interesting crossing points at a self imposed division line - very often the focus for folklore and fairy stories.
Throughout the boom years of shipbuilding, many local shipyards informally employed a “Catman”, someone who fed and kept cats around the yards in order to keep rats at bay. It is interesting to note that the first mention of the vagrant Catman in Greenock coincides with the decline of the shipbuilding industry.
From the seventies onward, he fulfilled both a basic “bogeyman” role and source of scary stories for local children. For example, there was an abandoned railway tunnel near his apparent den; dubbed “the double darkie”, children would dare one another to see how far in they could get into the tunnel, all the while assured that if they went too far, Catman would jump out of the darkness to grab them.
He was rarely seen throughout the eighties and nineties, but certainly still talked about - and there were more than enough sensible grown ups prepared to confirm that they had spoken to him, or passed him food or flasks of tea. Also, his den was in plain view and frequently showed signs of someone living there.
It was a few years ago that the most major Catman development took place, mobile phone footage of the man himself, crawling around under cars in a bus garage located next to his den, then apparently eating a dead rat. This footage beamed around every young person in Greenock’s mobile phone, before ending up on You Tube and eventually in the pages of The Sun.
So convincing was this sighting, that Greenock Social Work department explained to the local paper that they had sent someone up to the site to see if Catman could be located in order to provide assistance. Since then....nothing more. Perhaps he has been quietly helped and moved into some form of residential care to maintain his dignity.
No one of course can agree on who he is really - stories range from a Russian sailor down on his luck to a former yard worker who never returned home. Another theory runs that his first appearance was not long after the TV debut of “Catweazle”, and that he is nothing more complicated than a childhood fantasy made flesh.
Even more intriguing is perhaps the fact that his appearance in the seventies also coincides with the beginning of a series of Big Cat sightings which continue to this day. Could this be some sort of Were-Cat? It is not for me to speculate...though clearly, that would be really cool.
I wrote a wee hometown horror story featuring The Catman in the Greenock Sugar Sheds, its called Candybones, you can listen to it here.
You can also purchase our Tales of the Oak comic which features the 'Terror of the Catman' strip from our Magic Torch Comics shop.
He also stars in a deleted scene from our book Wee Nasties,
In 2015, a group of students from Edinburgh University created a short film which tried to uncover the truth about our local bogeyman...
Happily, a much more friendly version of the Catman story, appears in a children's book I've written, The Superpower Project...
With the help of a wisecracking, steampunk robot, two accidental superheroes discover that they have inherited some amazing, if unusual, abilities. Computer whiz Megan can fly (mostly sleep-flying, but she's working on it) while her best friend Cam can (in theory) transform into any animal, but mostly ends up as a were-hamster.
Together they must protect the source of their ancestral powers from a wannabe evil mastermind and his gang of industrial transformer robots who've disguised themselves as modern art installations on their Greenock estate.
It isn't easy to balance school and epic super-battles, not to mention finding time to search for other super-talents and train with their Mr Miyagi-esque were-tiger coach.Can Megan and Cam beat the bad guy, defeat his robot transformers and become the superheroes they were born to be?
The Superpower Project is available from Floris Books / Kelpies.
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Captain William Kidd was hanged on 23 May 1701.
Stories of Kidd’s buried treasure were also adapted into the new wave of American romantic literature in stories by Washington Irving, James Fenmore Cooper and later, Edgar Allan Poe. The work of Washington Irving was fundamental to bringing a sense of “mythology” to the new world of the Americas. “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” were among his most popular stories. Kidd – who had spent most of his life in America – became a part of this folk patchwork. For this reason, Kidd is better known in America than he is here, a legendary “bogeyman” who still finds his way into children’s stories. No surprise then, that Hollywood has plundered his legend before. Charles Laughton played the misguided Kidd in the 1945 film – recently re-released on DVD. A slew of sequels followed, “Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl”, “Captain Kidd Against All Flags” and the final indignity “Abbott and Costello meet Captain Kidd”.
Each year, we celebrate Captain Kidd on the blog, with Captain Kidd Month.
Kidd is also one of the hosts in our Tales of the Oak comic. He appears in our childrens book Wee Nasties, and he sails around the world collecting stories in our Thirteen Commonwealth Tales book. We are also developing a permanent exhibition based on his legend for The Dutch Gable House in Greenock, and are working on a graphic novel I Thought I Was Undone, based on the myths and mythconceptions about this complicated and controversial character.
Wherever you believe him to be from, we invite you to celebrate Captain Kidd with us here in Inverclyde and on the Tales of the Oak blog...
Tales of adventure in Captain Kidd and the Legend of the Maltese Gold
Captain Kidd toys and Comics in Pop Pirate
Our failed attempt to purchase "genuine" Kidd memorabilia Lot 27
A reading of Edgar Allen Poe's Kidd story The Gold Bug
Early adventures for another famous pirate in The Cabin Boy
Thursday, 15 April 2010
We who were led to-day down a grim dell,
By some too boldly named “the Jaws of Hell”
Where be the wretched ones, the sights for pity?
These crowded streets resound no plaintive ditty
As from the hive where bees in summer dwell,
Sorrow seems here excluded; and that knell,
It neither damps the gay, nor checks the witty.
Alas! too busy Rival of old Tyre,
Whose merchants Princes were, whose decks were thrones;
Soon may the punctual sea in vain respire
To serve thy need, in union with that Clyde
Whose nursling current brawls o’er mossy stones,
The poor, the lonely, herdsman’s joy and pride.
Greenock – By William Wordsworth
(composed while travelling
through on his highland tour)
Our tale begins in 1588, when King Phillip of Spain raised an Armada and sailed against England. After a disastrous defeat at the battle of the Gravelines, the Armada found itself blown off course and scattered along the Northern coast of Britain. Only a few brave or foolhardy Captains were able to steer their ships through the dark nights and harsh storms of the North-western coast of Scotland. Among those few left was Captain Mordoba, whose ship the Salamanca became the scourge of Ports and villages along the West Coast of Scotland. The bowels of his ship became stuffed with the gold of the Scots.
Then one night, late in October, a fierce storm, much like the ones we still see this time of year, tore the sails from the Salamanca, and threw her into the Firth of the Clyde. As the wind howled and the rain battered down, Mordoba’s men scrambled overboard. But the Captain himself would not be separated from his gold. It was to be the death of him. And so it was the Captain met his fate on the rocks of the Gantocks, his ship lost the waves. Some say that the Captain himself was laid to rest in the old cemetery of Inverkip, and to this day, if you look hard enough amoung the overgrown stones, you will find a small grave marked with a simple skull and cross bones.
But what of Mordoba’s treasure, you may ask? Well it is said that in the days after the storms a young farm hand named John Carswell came across a black chest while walking along the beach at Lunderston Bay. He thought fortune had smiled on him that day. With Mordoba’s gold, Carswell was a rich man. But never a happy one. For the tale goes hat wherever he went, a shadow was always at his back. He became convinced that the Captains Ghost had returned for his gold, following him at every turn, unresting and unyielding in his haunting. And so, driven mad by the spectre, Carswell resolved to bury what little remained of the gold, and leave the cursed wealth behind. He died a penniless and miserable man, and as he went to his grave, he still muttered of the Ghostly Captain.
Just a yarn you might say. But there is a strange twist to this tale. In the 1950’s two workmen discovered a cow horn containing sixty coins while digging in Burns Road. The coins were dated to around 1580, and to this day reside in the National Museum of Scotland and the McLean Museum. The last of Mordoba’s gold? Perhaps. Or perhaps it still lies waiting to be found. Certainly there are still those today who swear they have seen the haunting spectre of the Ghost Captain stalking along the beach at Lunderston Bay, searching for his treasure.
Templar Knights, Irish immigrants, Nazi spies, sea serpents, exiled highlanders, Vikings, pirates, gypsies, warlocks, mystics, saints, witches, poets and revolutionaries; some passed through, some stayed forever, all of them left their mark on the Clyde and her people.
And the stories never stop. Even now a black wildcat roams the hills behind our town, a semi-mythical wildman lives on the outskirts of the east end and strange lights are seen in the sky above Port Glasgow...you'll know stories of your own...or the stories your Gran told you.
Thats what this is. Somewhere to share those stories. Mainly stories about this wee corner of the world, but folktales, stories and urban legends from everywhere always find their way across cultural and geographic divides - even more so these days.
Here's the rule...its not history...its folklore. If people are genuinely telling and sharing a good story, we're only half interested in the facts.