Balmaclellan Church. (Crimea, Covenanters and Witches!)

Covenanter Slab Stone on the left

A wee rather plain looking Kirk tucked away in the pleasant village of Balmaclellan in Dumfries and Galloway. However, it is packed with a quite extraordinary amount of history!

The Kirk was built in 1753, with the north aisle added in 1833 by William McCandlish. The churchyard is much older than the present church, with dates in the yard stretching back to 1680.   

Balmaclellan was once a centre of the Covenanter religious movement. There is a statue to Robert Paterson (Sir Walter Scott‘s ‘Old Mortality‘) and his faithful pony, built into the yard wall. Robert Paterson was born in Balmaclennan but is buried at Caerlaverock. His wife Elizabeth Gray established a school in the village, which can still be seen. She died in 1785 and is buried in the churchyard. Amongst other gravestones is that of another Covenanter, Robert Grierson, who was killed for his faith in 1685.

The churchyard also contains what is probably the earliest civic war memorial in Scotland. It commemorates five men from Balmaclellan who died in the Crimean War.

Now the best bit! Balmaclellan seems to have been a hotspot for witchcraft!! Near the edge of the churchyard there is a rough uninscribed whinstone pillar that looks like an ancient monument, and is locally said to mark the grave of a witch. Possibly the grave is that of Elspeth McEwen from nearby Dalry, who was found guilty of being a witch on her own confession and on the evidence of witnesses, and burned to death at Kirkcudbright in 1698. She was one of the last “witches” to be executed in Scotland.

I found this extract from the Rev. Robert Wodrow’s “Analecta” (1721) . Wodrow was a historian and a defender of The Covenanters.

“The field preacher and minister Thomas Warner gave Wodrow an account of his discovery of witches in his parish in Galloway in c.1690. At least one of them was executed:

‘He gave me a long accompt of Witches, in his parish of Balmaclellan. A litle after the Revolution, one of them, Elspay …. he gote discovered, and very clear probation of persons that sau her in the shape of a hare ; and when taken, she started up in her own shape of malum minatum and damnum secutum. That she was tryed at Kircudbright, and found guilty. That when before the Judge, he observed her inclinable to confesse, when of a suddain her eyes being fixed upon a particular part of the room, she sank doun in the place. He lift her up, and challanged her, whither her master had not appeared in that place, and terrifyed her, when inclining to be ingenouse? She ouned it was soe, and confessed all, and was execute.

She and the rest [of the witches] got po[w]ur over a mare of his; and she, though formerly peacable, yet would never lett any off her without the hazard of their life ; that still for a while he road on her, but had great difficulty to gett off without being brained. All this process is in the Records of the Presbytery, of which I am promised ane abstract.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, II, 86-7.)”


Old Mortality and his faithful pony
Crimean War Memorial
Witches Stone

By photos,poetry and haiku by Derek Ross

I am a photographer/ poet from Dumfries in South West Scotland. I concentrate on minimalist images and prefer using an iPhone these days. As far as my writing is concerned, I usually write short poems (some in Scots dialect), hence my interest in haiku and related forms.


      1. It’s still mind-boggling that people were burned at the stake for witchcraft. Years ago, I read a history of the Salem, Mass. witch hunts. Apparently, our witches were pressed to death with a door on top of them piled with stones until they couldn’t breathe. Unbelieveable . . .

        Liked by 1 person

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