The Highwood Witch – Rob Stafford

The Highwood Witch is a chilling fictional account based on a local myth, written by The Mausoleum Scriptures’ contributor Rob Stafford. Edited by Tyler Turner. Featured image also provided by Rob Stafford. 

There are many historic locations in our area. Creswell Crags and the mysterious caves and the haunted Bolsover Castle to name but two.

Of the more sinister places, there is a place that saw some truly disturbing events many years ago.

Between Creswell and Whitwell, as you head up Petre Moor hill from Boalers  corner, a left hand turn takes you along Highwood Lane. Soon, on the left, you come to the entrance to a small wood. A wood that no one can access. A wood with several padlocks clasped securely to two heavy gates. A wood that has a terrible and macabre past…

In the mid 1700s , both Whitwell and Creswell were made up of farms, secluded cottages and little hamlets of around half a dozen small holdings.
The villages were simple places, if a little isolated.
In the autumn of 1745,  parish records state that several villagers sought the advice of the church minister, after unexplained incidents concerning their children.
Parents claimed to have heard their children talking in whispers late at night, holding conversations with a mysterious other presence in the child’s room… to be told that it was ‘the lady from the woods’ when asked about it.
Unsure whether their children were suffering some sort of mild, mass hyteria or possession, villagers collectively sought advice from the church.
Over several months, items of children’s clothing, toys and objects from the children’s rooms went missing from the family homes.
These incidents were becoming increasingly worrying for all concerned. And then things took a sinister turn.
Early February 1746,  records report of a ‘missing girl’, and a party of villagers forming a search party. With nothing to light the way but the flames from their torches, the villagers set out to find the girl.
After a frantic search, she was found, muddy and with cuts and grazes, stumbling along what is, even today, the footpath that links Bakestone moor with Highwood lane.
The girl’s account of what happened to her is documented as follows in the parish records;
“On the 12th feb 1746, a young girl, **** ********, was visited by an unknown woman. The girl claimed she had spoken to the woman many times, after being woken by her in the night. The woman had always asked for a memento from her visit, a piece of clothing or a toy. The woman had told the girl that there were lots of  magical things to do in the place where she lived, and that she should follow her to see for herself. The girl had refused at first, but, on the latest visit, the woman had been very insistent, and promised that it would be a very ‘ special ‘ night if the girl came along”
“The girl was found in a distressed state, dirty and with several injuries, some bordering on a sexual nature.”

The girl’s account of what happened made the villagers realise that their children had ALL been visited by the woman at some point, and fear began to descend on the community.

Winter passed and the strange events of February, although shocking, began to fade into memory as summer rolled in… There were no further visits from the woman.

Then, as autumn came blowing in again, it started again. Lulled into a false sense of security, the villagers noticed more strange occurrences…

Small livestock, pigs, chickens etc. went missing or were found mutilated, foxes and badgers were found beheaded and hung on tree branches, and then, shockingly, TWO more children were found out in the fields, cold, dirty, bloodied.

Gripped with fear, the local minister formed a small band of villagers to act as both security AND as a hunting party to seek out the source of these events.

Soon, history would repeat itself, and a local myth / legend would be born.

Feb 12th 1747, in the half light of dusk a scream was heard along the high street near Whitwell church. ***** ****, the mother of a young girl reported that her daughter was missing, and that worse, the family dog had been mutilated; its blood scrawled on the girl’s bedroom wall…
The hunting party was summoned following a report of more muffled screaming heard across the fields from the ‘Dickin’- a small cluster of cottages down the hill from the church.

In the glow of the flames from the torches, chase was given into the night, following the screams carried on the cold wind.
Eventually they came to a track, just a farm track, stoney and cold. Up ahead, they heard the roar of the wind in the trees… They realised they were at the edge of a wood; dark, menacing and towering above them, thick with leafless trees.

Another scream, from inside the tree line, and the party gave chase.

And then they saw her, in the orange glow of the torches.
Long hair, blackened flowing robes, blood-smeared hands, madness in her eyes, a small girl in her arms.

Hanging from the branches, were children’s clothes, toys, small bones and animal furs… Behold, The Highwood Witch.

It is reported that the hunting party, driven by rage and anger, took it upon themselves to finish the witch, despite her being a woman, and savagely attacked her before rescuing the girl…

The Witch’s body was burned that same evening with the local minister overseeing the dark ceremony.

The minister, along with the hunting party, agreed that the woods should be sealed off from the community, and a fence was erected around the perimeter.
Large gates were built, and several large locks were placed on them, ONE FOR EVERY MEMBER OF THE HUNTING PARTY, AND ONE FOR THE MINISTER…

It is now still local law, passed down through, and in accordance with the parish, that the woods remain secured from access, and TO THIS VERY DAY, if you walk past the entrance, several strong locks can be seen on the gates…

The locks MUST stay on the gates, for if they are ever removed, it is feared that the Highwood Witch will be awakened, and her legend will return to haunt the area…

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