Tales of Britain

By Jem Roberts

The finest, funniest stories of England, Scotland & Wales, refreshed for the 21st century. By Brother Bernard, as told to Jem Roberts.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Tam O'Shanter's Halloween Dash

Happy Samhain, and Folklore Thursday, our dear diabolical TOB-pledgers!

First of all, thank badness for Folklore Thursday's theme this week – we were never intending to offer anything but Halloween frights this week anyway! And we'd already started early with the ghostly lore with last week's look at HERNE THE HUNTER!

But when it comes to witches – and even more specifically, Scottish witches* – we are spolt for choice among Tales of Britain's 77 yarns. Macbeth goes without saying (literally, if you're of a theatrical bent) and we could pause awhile to pay tribute to The Great Gormula of Tobermory fame... But for a dark night Halloween fright, you can't do better than Rab Burns' TAM O'SHANTER...

Pay a trip to Burns' Ayrshire (especially the west-coastal district of Carrick, where you'll find the tiny village of Kirkoswald, Tam's home, the Ayr suburb of Alloway, where Burns was born, and somewhere in between, both the ruins of Alloway Kirk, and of course, the famous Brig o'Doon which linked Kirkoswald with Alloway...) and you will find yourself in perhaps the most witch-addled countryside on the island.

For kids especially, the tale of Tam O'Shanter's mad dash to escape the witches of Alloway, as laid down by Burns in verse 227 years ago, is the perfect Halloween tale, because it's SO DAMN SCARY! The famous drunkard is headed home (late as ever) to his poor spouse in Kirkoswald, when he stops off to voyeuristically pry into the evil ancient rites of a gaggle of hideous old naked crones, prancing around the crumbly gravestones of Alloway. And a badly timed heckle sends the terrified sot racing for his life on the back of his poor long-suffering horse Maggie, with flying, spell-casting evil witches hurtling after him in fast, flying pursuit, screaming the darkest oaths and horrific threats of eternal damnation.

The beauty is that this kind of basic terror, which taps right into the simplest infant nightmares, can be taken as far as you like, in the interests of causing eyes to widen around the campfire come ghost-storytelling time... Because, of course, as those cackling, horrifying servants of satan finally close in on our anti-hero... Just at the last minute...

... Well, that would be giving it all away, now, wouldn't it? At least to those not up on their Burns.

Halloween is specifically mentioned in a number of our tales, from Tam Lane to the truly nasty Beware The Cat, but top of the list for blood-pumping horror, with a few laughs thrown in, has to be Tam O'Shanter. And come next Halloween, you will be able to share them all around the campfire, from our unique road atlas of exciting British stories...

 Keep pledging, keep sharing – and keep scaring!

PS England obviously has its own share of witches, from Pendle Hill to Downing Street, and our friends' show WITCHES OF WEST SUFFOLK seems like a Halloween treat you have to experience if you're in the south-east...

*No wonder Rentaghost had McWitch on their books.

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