the selkie of st trothan’s church

the selkie of st trothans church

I loved Linda Cracknell’s novel, Call of The Undertow *, mainly because its a wonderful, haunting story, but also because its set in Caithness, which was why I was compelled to read it in the first place.

Linda certainly does the county justice with her writing, and one of the places mentioned, is the ruined St Trothan’s Church, near Castletown. For someone who loves spooky, ruined places, the outdoors, and mystic folklore, it was a place I wanted to visit, and felt I should have visited, seeing as its only 8 miles from my house. But its not somewhere I had ever been, until a few weeks ago.

The church is set in a tiny cemetery, up a back road and not signposted in any way, so its easily somewhere that could be overlooked. Which is a real shame, as its stunning, but it also meant I had the whole place to myself. The only other hint of human life was the low drone of a strimmer somewhere beyond the back wall.

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Although the lawn is maintained, parts of the cemetery itself are overgrown and dilapidated in a charming, natural way. The trees form a canopy over the far corners, and are full of pigeons, crows and songbirds, while bumblebees bounce from dandelion to dandelion and the air smells of wild garlic.

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The church itself, dated 1633 no less, is a roofless ruin but is accessible via a wonderful ivy-encircled door way. Some gravestones – at least those that are legible – date back to this time, and are in various states of repair. The whole place has a lovely, peaceful feeling, as churches often do, but the fact its so small, and so hidden, makes it feel that bit more magical. It doesn’t take long to walk around, but I spent over half an hour there, wondering about those who were in the ground beneath me, and soaking up the tranquility.

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And of course, a church and cemetery of this age, has to have its own legend. And the legend of St Trothan’s is that a local fisherman found a baby girl wrapped in sealskin on the beach, and took her home. He and his wife raised her as their own but even as a child she had magical powers, and was banned from the church because she claimed to have seen the devil in the rafters.

She later died in childbirth, and was buried at St Trothan’s. Her grave has a a small hollow which, it is said, never dries out. And if you stick your foot gently into the hollow and make a wish, it will come true. Sadly I did not get a chance to make a wish as I couldn’t find her grave, but her story has been enough to spark off a couple of short story ideas of my own.

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To get to and from the car, I had to pass through the new, modern cemetery across the road. Equally peaceful and in a lovely setting, but at the same time somewhat bland and uninspiring compared to it’s ancient predecessor, hidden out of view beyond its far corner.

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