The Three Witches Oak

Since my last visit, this veteran oak has acquired a new epithet: ‘The Three Witches Oak‘ — from a story in J.J. Hutton’s ‘Murder, Mysteries and Tales of the Supernatural in the North Riding of Yorkshire1Hutton, J. J. “Murder, Mysteries and Tales of the Supernatural in the North Riding of Yorkshire”. 2021. ISBN 978-1-3999-1374-4..

It’s the tale of three witches, Auld Nan Scaife o’ Spaunton Moor, Auld Nan Anne Pierson of Westerdale, and Brianna who lived in Londsdale. Brianna was a “Celtic Priestess Druid”, a wise woman with a profound knowledge of herbs and natural remedies.

Around this ancient oak tree, on All Hallow’s Eve, the three would meet to share news. Brianna told of Lady Mary of Ingleby Manor who had confided in her. She had been forced to marry the local vicar but had discovered he preferred young boys and had subsequently treated her cruelly.

Without giving too much of the story away, Brianna was accused of casting a spell on the vicar from which he died. She was hanged at York Castle.

Lady Mary died broken hearted and her ghost is said to haunt Ingleby Manor.

The wizened and gnarled oak tree seems to have survived another year, a year of Storm Arwen. Spring buds are erumpent, sure signs of another season. The tree is thought to be over 600 years old. Overtime the trunk has hollowed and rotted away leaving three separate trees. The Woodland Trust describe it as a ‘Maiden‘ tree on account of it never having been coppiced2Woodlandtrust.org.uk. (2022). Tree – Ancient Tree Inventory. [online] Available at: https://ati.woodlandtrust.org.uk/tree-search/tree?treeid=38805&from=3523&v=2024075&ml=map&z=16&nwLat=54.423937033789926&nwLng=-1.092177056312551&seLat=54.41828152134805&seLng=-1.0658484926223655#/ [Accessed 23 Mar. 2022]..

There’s an old woodsman’s adage that a tree spends the first third of its life growing, the next third standing and the last third dying. I can surely report that the Three Witches Oak has not yet reached its third age.

6 Replies to “The Three Witches Oak”

  1. Indeed, Brianna is a fictional character (as that story was created by me).
    However, I based the character on a lady I used to chat with, many years ago. Perhaps you also did?
    Joanna Cameron Webb was a practicing druid (and very proud to be)
    She lived/rented the house at Londsdale (now occupied by the Alpaca farm). Joanna was a talented lady, bred Arab horses, was an expert in herbs and cures, a poet, and was an all-around interesting character! (I included a poem of hers in the book).

    1. Hi John,

      This is fascinating information! It is myself that has been asking Mick the questions to pass on to you. I lived in Lonsdale Farm after Mrs. Webb but didn’t ever know her as she had gone into a nursing home by that point in time. I am intrigued to know more about her life.
      I have written a book which is being adapted into a staged performance about the connections between the witchcraft folklore of Lonsdale such as Nanny Howe and the people who were ‘witches’ in living memory there.
      Mrs. Webb and the strange goings on at the house loomed large in peoples memories in Kildale.
      Have been trying to find out more about her for 12 years now. Would love to contact you to learn more about her as I can’t find anything in historical records of her birth, marriage or life.

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