The village of Stow, or, to use it’s Sunday name, Stow of Wedale, is really, really old. Quite how old seems to be a subject of debate, but, you can be sure it is OLD. It is, without doubt, a phenomenally pretty little place, with a ruined auld kirk – only 15th century – and the ruins of a house where a Bishops’ Palace once stood. According to some, there’s been a church here since the 7th century. Yes, since the 600s! Like I say, really, really old. Most of the buildings in the village are 18th or 19th century following the removal of the village’s medieval past by an ‘improving’ landowner. The same landowner built the fancy Town Hall – part of a grand vision to make the village into a smart weaving town, that never happened.
So we have an over-sized Town Hall, one wonderful local shop (also a Post Office) and a great little cafe / gallery. And that’s pretty much it. And it couldn’t be better! Except, perhaps, for a pub. Currently, there isn’t one. The last, The Royal Hotel, burnt down with seeming irony, on the day of the royal wedding in 2011. The plot stands empty still. The other pub and hotel have long-since closed, meaning a trek into Galashiels or Clovenfords, the nearest places with taverns and the like.
There’s a rare 17th century bridge, which now stands a little isolated in a field, but once was the entry to the village over the local river, the Gala Water. It was near this bridge that, in 1649, five Stow villagers were strangled at the stake and burnt. Their crime? Witchcraft. Until moving here, and reading the great book on witchcraft in the Borders by Stow’s own Parish Archivist, Mary W. Craig, I had no idea of how ferocious the witchhunts were in the Borderlands. Yes, I knew that Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife had large numbers of innocent people burnt as witches, but not the counties that line the border with England. Sadly, Mary’s book, Border Burnings seems out of print now, but I managed to borrow a copy to read, keen to discover more about the place we’ve decided to call home. I’d like to learn more still, so will go back to the Parish Archive when I find some time.
You’d never guess, when you take a stroll around this beautiful, tranquil space, of the terrible scene that would have been witnessed 369 years ago, by the river…