Nowadays I live in an outer London suburb and scarcely a day goes by without a fox, or several, crossing my path. They are usually to be seen in the evening – loping across the road, slinking into gardens, loitering with intent around the rubbish bins. Sometimes one will stand there quite brazenly or turn and cast a malevolent glance in my direction.
The Witches of Wizards Alton
Like most English counties, Stiltshire has had its fair share of witches, wise women, warlocks and various persons of pagan interests. Stiltshire folk over the centuries have been generally tolerant of such people, believing them to be at best purveyors of an ancient craft of healing and miracle working, and at worst harmless eccentrics. In the days of the witch hunts the county came under scrutiny and at first roused the interest of the witchfinders. In many a tavern could be found people who, on being plied with a few quarts or slipped the odd shilling, could be relied upon to recount lurid tales of child sacrifice, of flying broomsticks, or of elderly women indulging in unnatural practices with black cats or, more usually (this being Stiltshire), black pigs. However, on closer examination, the alleged perpetrators of these acts invariably proved to be strangers whom no-one could identify, victims’ names were curiously absent from parish registers and the secret glade in the middle of the forest always turned out to be one of a dozen such clearings, each with a blasted elm or a prominent ring of mushrooms. In the end the inquisitors, faced with this lack of hard evidence even by their standards, and increasingly out of pocket, turned their attention to other regions where the locals were more willing to betray their neighbours for the price of a pint or two.
The Long Dafferd Cat
The village of Long Dafferd, some ten miles north-west of Stilchester, is banana shaped, moulded by the lower contours of Dafferd Downs and the western edge of Oxbake Woods. The road from Epfield to Cruftmere meanders through its centre and is called Lower Street; the only other thoroughfare runs more or less parallel but around ten to twelve feet higher and is known by the equally inspired name of Upper Street. The church of St Jerome stands above Upper Street, but many of the other buildings are set on sloping plots of land between the two roads, including three of Long Dafferd’s four pubs: the Merperson, the Plough and the Giddy Goat all have two entrances, one on each level.
The Phantom of Ulm Water
Ulm Water is the largest inland body of water in Stiltshire: a roughly kidney-shaped lake about three miles long by one and a half wide, surrounded by flat, uninhabited countryside for several miles in any direction. There are two substantial islands and several tiny islets, but in other parts the water is deep and impenetrable. It can be a disquieting place even by day to a solitary walker or angler and positively eerie at night when the moon lies low and casts long shadows from the gnarled willows at the water’s edge. But an atmosphere of utter foreboding hangs over the larger island.
Get a Whiff of This
Since childhood I’ve tended to have minority interests, eschewing football, pop music and suchlike in favour of more esoteric pursuits like bell ringing and church music. But about 15 years ago I became interested in a subject which few people know anything about, much less take an active interest in. I developed a fascination with Victorian stench pipes.
Stilchester, England – Tuesday 6th June 2018 Two minutes’ brisk walk brought Lucy Whimple to the St Maurice tram stop. On a sunny Summer’s day she might walk to work – a pleasant one mile stroll through Erasmus Park, past the Quiritic Almshouses and across the ancient Gnashing Bridge to St Cedd’s – but today, with a cool breeze and ominous looking clouds, was definitely a tram day. A number 3 came along. She could have waited for a 4 but on a whim she took the 3 to Stangley Walk and changed to a 2 in the opposite direction.