Suffolk is a county famed for its ghostly heritage and folklore. I was born near the coast and still love to spend time there beach combing. The excitement of finding a hag or witches’ stone, a hole cut right through its centre, never fades. It’s no surprise they have found their way into my writing. ‘I look down and find the hag stone in the palm of my hand….’ Evie Meyer, Seahurst.
Here is a short story about these magical stones.
A Wrong Turn
I’ve carried the witch’s stone with me for years, ever since I made a wrong turn and found myself heading down a narrow Suffolk lane towards the coastal hamlet of Covehithe. I was on my way home and had taken a longer route along the back roads. I should have turned around. The afternoon was growing older, winter shadows extending across fields crisp with the previous night’s frost, but I wanted a glimpse of the sea.
The road tunnelled through ancient woodland, the car’s headlights coming on, picking out sandy verges and broken brown ferns. The woods petered out, the road narrowing to a single track, skeletal black hedges high on either side. I slowed the vehicle, rounded a sharp bend, and a colossal medieval tower and ruins filled the skyline. A smaller church was built on the site, crouching amongst the broken walls and in the tower’s shadow.
I pulled the car alongside a low brick and flint wall. Before the sound of the engine had died, I heard the caw caw of crows. Dozens of birds circled the ruined tower, crowding the sills of windows that must last have held glass centuries ago.
As I got out of the car, a stiff salt wind battered my face. Crows burst from the tower in a mass of black bodies, cawing so loudly I glanced about me. Not a soul about. A cottage a little further along the lane was in darkness; the last building before the land met the sea. Outside, the track was cordoned off, signs warning of the unstable cliffs. The dramatic erosion of the coast had made headlines in the local press only the week before. I looked back at the tower, the birds beginning to resettle. In the distance, I heard the wash of waves across shingle.
A Church Within A Ruin
A sign just inside the lynch gate explained that the church was built using stones from the medieval building. The wind wailed through the tower’s empty windows, its tone undulating with the gusts off the sea. Twisted yews rocked shadows around the gravestones and path. I walked to the church door and turned the heavy metal ring. The clang of the mechanism sent crows flapping from the tower to settle on weathered tombstones and the church wall. A creeping unease tingled goosebumps down my neck. Clouds raced across the face of the low winter sun as the nearest crow cocked its head to one side, its black eyes assessing me. I looked past the bird, past the ruins to where the horizon met the sea and shivered again. The fields surrounding the graveyard were flat and naked, pockets of tufted grass white with frost where the sun had not settled all day. The strangest feeling crept over me as if someone were here, in the shadows, behind the broken walls. Watching.
I pushed my hands into my pockets and hurried back towards the gate, the wind pressing my wool trousers flat against my skin. The weird whistling in the tower came again, louder as the trees shook shadows about me. At the gate, I turned to look up at the building. The wind was swirling, the sound like a low, undulating groan rippling across the landscape.
I yanked the gate open and stepped out into the lane. The car was only a dozen footsteps away, a great black crow on its roof beside the driver’s door. I stared back at it, my heart racing in my chest. More birds left the tower, soaring skywards, their cries streaming in the wind. The bird on the car opened its wings wide, its head forward, black eyes on my face. I staggered backwards, turned and ran towards the end of the road. All I could hear were the crows. A great mass of them darkened the sky, racing after me, voices screaming.
I ducked beneath the tape at the end of the track and pushed past the no-entry signs. I realised the screaming was my own: the sound of my voice so piercing I no longer heard the caw of the birds. The tarmac was cracked and jagged, snapped off, so its edge poked out above the beach. I ran on the rough ground beside it. The smooth soles of my boots slipped and slid. The low sandy cliffs, matted with marram grass and weed, crumbled underfoot. My ankle twisted and gave way. I tumbled head over heels until I landed face down with salty shingle in my mouth. I spat it out and pushed myself to look back at the cliffs. No one was there. Nothing chased after me.
An Eerie Encounter
My hands were clenched full of shingle. I opened them and saw a larger stone, dark and wet. I held it up to see the hole that cut through its centre.
‘You alright, Miss? You took a right tumble there.’
The shock of seeing him stopped me from answering for a moment. I lowered the stone and scrambled to my feet in embarrassment.
‘I’m okay, thanks,’ I replied.
‘You’ll be alright if you keep that with you.’ I reopen my hand, the stone on the flat of my palm. ‘She’s a beauty. You know what that is?’
‘A witch’s stone, isn’t it?’ I said.
‘That’s what some folk about here calls them. Find a hag stone, and it’ll protect you against evil spirits.’ He looked along the beach where a black dog ran at the waves fanning across the shingle. ‘I’ll be getting us home into the warm then.’ He headed off, not waiting for a reply.
The stone was a mottled pale grey. Inside the hole was dark and shiny—possibly a flint. I dropped it into my pocket and scrunched across the shingle towards the cliffs. I hadn’t noticed earlier a narrow path beaten through the rough grass—a shortcut down to the beach for anyone willing to ignore the warning signs. As I climbed back up to the road, I looked back along the beach, but there was no sign of the man or the dog. Perhaps there’s another way off the beach. I’d have liked him to walk back with me, but there was no one about as I rejoined the road. The tower was dark and silent; no sign of the birds and no great black crow waiting for me on the car. I pushed my hand into my pocket, curled my fingers around it and felt the deep hole at its centre.
Often called witches’ or fairy stones, they protect against evil, their power coming from the water that wore the hole through them. Stones were placed inside the walls of buildings, hung beside doors and at hearth sides to stop evil spirits from entering the house. There’s more here about witches’ stones.
As for my stone, I considered hanging it beside my bed to ward off nightmares, but in the end, I tucked it into the inside pocket of my bag. After all, like Evie Meyer in Seahurst, you never know when you might need some powerful magic.