I had a lovely email today from Groundwork NE, a charity who works with communities to create better places, improve people’s prospects and promote greener living and working. They advised me they are planning to work with Newbrough Youth Club over the summer and run a heritage youth programme with a grant from the Heritage Lottery. The children are apparently very interested in the village heritage – it’s a small village about five miles west of Hexham in Northumberland- and they are intrigued about the legend of Meggie the Witch, someone I myself was intrigued by and someone I brought to life in ‘The Memory of Snow’, which is a novel based on the Coventina’s Well area of Hadrian’s Wall, just near the Mithraic Temple.
I was asked if I could add anything to the elusive legend of Meggie, and I had to be honest and say, despite my research, I had very little to work on when I created the character – which was actually very good for me, as it gave me so much freedom with her. The book is, as I say, about the beautiful and mysterious Coventina’s Well, and Meggie plays a huge part in it – her story is one of the main threads running through the novel and she was, admittedly, my favourite character.
My book is fictitious but it is largely based on facts and research. The facts are that Meggie’s Dene Burn is indeed named after a witch, because the legend is that their ashes were scattered there after they were burnt. What is made-up, is basically ‘my’ Meggie, who is a young girl, accused of being a witch due to her healing powers and her belief in the old goddesses. I think the real Meggie was an old woman, and her grave is supposed to be marked by a pink thorn three about a mile outside of Newbrough – which kind of negates the ashes thing, but never mind. Another fact is that Coventina’s Well, which is now basically a boggy puddle, is a spring which is the source of Meggie’s Dene Burn. The Burn runs from there, through the countryside, into the River South Tyne near Stanegate Fort, at Newbrough. The whole area of the Burn and the Well are the most magical, mystical places on Hadrian’s Wall in my opinion. There was also a Shrine to the Water Nymphs on the Burn, as you look down from the Mithraic Temple – but that’s gone now and there is no trace of it left, which is a shame.
There are some photos on my www.rosethornpress.co.uk website of the Burn, and the Well, which are both easily accessible from the Mithraic Temple (you just have to climb a stile) but as far as the ‘real’ Meggie is concerned, I don’t know how much information will still survive about her as a person.
I suspect much of Meggie’s tale has been lost through time, but the whole thing was a joy for me to work with as I could bring in lots of different angles to create the character. The real Meggie seems to be a very elusive person, but I am very much looking forward to seeing if Groundwork can come up with anything else about her. I think it will be an awesome project!