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The witch tree

The lone and ancient English oak that stands atop Meon Hill, a couple of hundred feet above the Cotswolds village of Mickleton, Gloucestershire, England.


Much legend and myth surrounds this location, formerly the site of a Neolithic fort, and reputedly the inspiration for Tolkien's 'Weathertop' from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was supposedly created by the devil in an attempt to destroy a nearby abbey, presumably in vain, since he missed and created this hill with the large clod of Earth he was meant to be lobbing at it instead. By night, it is rumoured to be frequented by the phantom hounds of the Celtic King Arawyn, something backed up by the many sightings of mysterious large black dogs in the area. The king was the lord of departed spirits who would hunt to gather souls, riding a pale horse and accompanied by a pack of hounds with red ears.


However, its most notorious claim to fame is that it was the scene for a murder that took place on Valentine's Day - the Eve of Lupercalia, an ancient Pagan festival of love - in 1945, when a local farm worker was killed in a manner suggesting witchcraft was involved. According to the old Julian calendar in use until the Middle Ages, February 14th actually fell on February 2nd which, according to local superstition, was traditionally the best day for a blood sacrifice. The victim, Charles Walton, was impaled to the ground by a pitchfork, a trouncing hook embedded in his throat and a cross carved upon his chest. Local police, baffled, brought in the famous Inspector Fabian of the Yard, but the case remained unsolved, thanks in part to reticence to talk about the events by the local populace (a reluctance that apparently remains among the villagers even to this day). During the investigation a member of the police found a book titled Folklore, Old Customs and Superstitions in Shakespeareland, written by J Harvey Bloom in 1929. A striking passage in it stated another Charles Walton had died in 1885 - 60 years beforehand - after seeing a foreboding ghost in the shape of a headless woman accompanied by a big dark hound. Rumours of the 20th century Charles Walton being the same man, having returned to life thanks to witchcraft, endured.


Just before leaving to return to Scotland Yard in London, Fabian apparently glimpsed a large black dog at the murder site. Later that day, a large black dog was found dead, hung by its neck from a tree next to the murder scene and the same evening, a police car ran over and killed a similar dog in a lane near the village.


A strange postscript to the crime occurred in August 1960 during the demolition of outhouses behind Charles Walton's cottage. A workman saw something shining in the earth and, on picking it up, found it to be an old tin pocket watch. Later that day it was identified as being the watch that Walton was wearing on the day of his death. On opening the watch case, a small piece of coloured glass was found. Walton was known to have carried this around with him, never letting it out of his possession. The general consensus of opinion among the villagers was that this was a piece of witch glass, used to either reflect or absorb any evil thoughts that had been directed at its owner. The odd thing about this find was that the police had searched the building shortly after the crime and found nothing, so it appears that the killer must have returned at some point later to deposit the watch.


Taken on December 27, 2007.

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Taken on December 27, 2007