Wayfarer Column- Village history of witchcraft and smugglers

Last week I mentioned the historical influence of Ballantrae and thought that there must at least be a few tales to tell about the village.

The name Ballantrae is of Celtic origin and means ‘the town upon the shore’ which describes it adequately. It is ideally placed to be a centre of Free Trade as smuggling was known in those times and all those involved in fishing were quite capable of bringing in and disposing of an illicit cargo.

A keen follower of this trade was Rob Forgie who kept the ale house Craignaw Inn by the ‘Bennan Craig’.north of Ballantrae and was always on the lookout for the gaugers searching for contraband or the Royal Navy who with their press-gangs were always on the lookout for men. When danger approached a white sheet was hung out, if at night a whin was set ablaze. However one night Rob Forgie and his friends had been caught napping when celebrating a successful smuggling trip, a press gang came battering on their door. Rob’s customers that night included the seven Coulter brothers who had no intention of being pressed ganged. They organised themselves, some lay down in front of the door tripping up the navy men when they burst in, whilst the rest attacked them with bottles disarming the press gang and taking them prisoner. However when offered a drink which the navy were eager to accept, a roistering night ensued with by morning Rob Forgie’s men having to help the navy press-gang back to their ship to explain why they came back empty handed.

Ballantrae also had its witch, in those days every town or village had a witch usually an elderly woman living on her own. Every bad thing that happened in the area was blamed on her. However the Ballantrae witch had not been seen for some time, in fact not since she had been noticed gathering sticks for her fire on the Sabbath. This was frowned upon especially as she was already supposed to have cast a spell on the local minister. Some neighbours went to her cottage where her body was found, but they were surprised by a hare which jumped up from the doorstep and raced away up the hillside.

Now this raised the hairs on the back of their necks as it was commonly known that a hare was a favourite disguise for witches. But do not let that stop you from visiting this lovely village with its interesting tales. See you next week.