Village Tales

This page is for those folk, past or present "Possums" or indeed any visitor to the village, to relay interesting stories, old and new, about their time spent here:

Kismet moments

 

Keith & Gillian

      Brignell

24th May 2020

It must be said that we had never visited nor even heard of Portesham prior to escaping to the country from the London suburbs in 2009.

However, no sooner had we arrived we began to notice some uncanny coincidences,  which actually made us feel more comfortable and relaxed in our new adventure:

        Very soon after arriving we popped next door to the village hall for one of their welcoming village cafes. Gillian nudged me, recognising a face from our previous town. It was indeed the lady who used to serve Gillian some 35 years ago from behind the counter of our local chemist. Having two young children at the time, Gillian was a regular visitor. We've since found out the couple lived but a stone's throw from our previous address.

        It wasn't long before we met another lovely couple in the village. Although the gentleman was brought up in Portesham (he recalls happy times as a young lad growing up in Possum), he moved and worked as a policeman in Hampton Police Station. Gillian's dear departed father was also a policeman, stationed at nearby Feltham Police Station, more or less next door. He told us that without a doubt the two of them would have crossed paths. Both families were quite often at Imber Court, the Metropolitan Police's Sports & Social Club.

 

        Now a dear friend, another villager tells us she used to live in the same road as Gillian and her parents in Sunbury-on-Thames.

 

        Our current neighbours moved here from Kingston-upon-Thames, Gillian's shopping area of choice for many a year.  Not only had they lived in the same street as us for a while but his brother still lives just 12 doors away from our previous home......

This village is indeed renowned for its "Kismet"

The tale of a 19th century gentleman who is catapulted 

briefly into the 21st century every time he meets the Witch of Portesham  -  who could it be?

written by

Elizabeth Thomas

25th June 1820 

I recently took a hiking vacation across the heights that overlook the English Channel in that most secluded and undiscovered part of southern England that is the County of Dorsetshire. Here my sturdy hiking boots and blackthorn staff stood me in good stead as the terrain is steep and, in parts, stony. I was for the main blessed with dry, warm weather and would return to my hostelry in the village of Portesham every evening, much in need of the good ale that was served there. The company in the snug was friendly though of a distinctly rural  character, made up of those yokels who worked in the fields thereabouts. I was regarded as an object of interest and regaled with tales of local folklore until it was time to withdraw (somewhat unsteadily, I have to admit) to my chamber. There I would mull over what I had learnt and how it would guide my steps the next morn.

         One such tale was of a "Witch" whose abode was some two mile away at a farm long since abandoned by all except her. She had the reputation of being able to cure all ills with the plants that grew about her isolated dwelling, so that - despite her rather forbidding and ragged appearance - the villagers were won't to seek her out in times of sickness or for such minor ailments as warts and skin rashes. I resolved to bend my steps that way and to form my own opinion of this wayward inhabitant of the remote ruined 

farmstead. I set out after a breakfast of fat bacon and coarse bread, served by a comely wench who was unashamedly flirtatious with me, no doubt impressed by my worldly air and my generosity. After scaling the heights above the village, the path descended into a cleft between the hills and I caught the first sight of the barn below where the witch was reputed to live. Reaching the bramble thicket that surrounded the stone building, I saw an elderly woman dressed all in black, bending over a nettle bed. "Madam", I addressed her, "why do you pick nettles which are vicious plants - should you not be wearing gloves? Ah - I see you are."  She looked up at me, her black hat pulled low over her brow and spoke thus. "I am gathering nettles to make a nutritious broth to tide me over until I get my delivery of organic vegetables tomorrow." Her answer took me aback somewhat but I recovered my poise and, deciding to humour her, I replied that I was sure that the broth would be very beneficial to someone of her advanced years. She said no more but her expression did not bespeak of an inferior standing before a man of the world. I pursued my path and diverted so as not to cross her on my return journey.

       Comfortable as I was at the Portesham hostelry, I prolonged my stay and took frequent trips to Weymouth for sea-bathing. The water was extremely cold in April but I was assured by the locals that this was good for my health. I did catch cold though and my ramblings were curtailed for a week or so. When I next set out, I was surprised to encounter the "witch" at the hill-top above her abode. She was gathering dandelion flowers so I boldly addressed her again. "Dear lady, what is your purpose in your arduous task which requires you to bend low over the sward despite your venerable age" (For I had assessed her to be at least three score years.) Once again she eyed me boldly and without deference to my superior social standing spoke thus. "I found this recipe on the internet for making honey using dandelions - ok?" "But this plant will make you wet the bed, dear lady, as my mother would tell me in my youth" "Just because the French misguidedly name it Pis-en-lit, you don't have to believe that old wives' tale", I was, I confess, taken by surprise by her response and tipping my hat to her, I hurried on, her reputation as a Witch becoming clear to me.

     I was determined to take the train back to London where my business interests required my attention quite urgently. The charms of my location were waning with long acquaintance but I had one last ambition - to hike the coast at Abbotsbury. My host in Portesham expressed amazement that I should wish to travel so far by foot and made up a packed lunch for me. (The cost was added to the bill which was presented to me before I left the next morning..) I was in good spirits and looking forward to viewing the English Channel from a different viewpoint as I stepped forth On arriving at the shingle banks that formed the Chesil Beach, I was almost alone in that bleak landscape, apart from a dark figure all in black whom I recognised even at a distance. I made my way towards her, the pebbles dragging at my feet and making my legs feel heavy as lead. Once again, the old woman was bending low - this time over vegetation growing along the foreshore. "What are you gathering today, my dear woman? Is it some cure for the common cold for I am afflicted most grievously?" She straightened up and addressed me in tones that I interpreted as scathing of my ignorance. "This is sea-kale which I shall eat with my dinner tonight as I have been unable to book an online delivery from Sainsburys and am right out of green vegetables. You ought to try some - it will grow hairs on your chest which I suspect are sadly lacking". I refused to take the bait of this provocative reply, bade her a final farewell and turned back towards Portesham, wondering what manner of creature this was. If not a witch, then she must be a traveller from another land with her outlandish speech and her lack of respect for me. I made notes in my journal that evening and resolved to write a travel book of my experiences in this remote corner of the British Isles.

PartTwo

  

I Return to the West Country

I have made my second expedition to the County of Dorsetshire, this trip being made possible by a small unexpected inheritance from an uncle whom I had never even met. I was able to leave my business affairs in the capable hands of my trusted accountant and to travel westwards once again, arriving firstly in the village of Portesham with a room reserved at the same hostelry where I had stayed before. Mine host seemed most gratified to see me and told me that his good wife had made a new coverlet for my bed when she heard I was to visit again. The cost of the room had in consequence increased a little as had the price of meals but

‘that was a sign of the times’.I took my dinner in my room that first night but, hearing sounds of merriment in the bar below, I investigated and discovered that the local peasantry were drinking cider with gusto – this being the first pressings of the season’s apples. I tasted the beverage and found it sweet and refreshing, ideal for the thirst I had worked up on my long day of travelling. More cider was poured into my tankard when I had emptied it. Then, whenever the level dropped, mine host would top it up again.

The next morning I was aroused by a knocking at the door of my room. As I gained consciousness, I found that I was lying fully dressed on the coverlet on the floor beside my bed. Before I had time to assimilate this situation, a voice called from the corridor that my breakfast was ready and could she bring it in? Quickly I got up, replaced the coverlet on the bed and smoothed my hair. ‘Enter’ I called out and in came the maid with a tray of food. She must have been in good spirits as she was chuckling while she put the tray on the little table by the window. Once she had departed, the nausea that had overcome me when I had smelt the food worsened and I had to open the window and lean out into the fresh air. Fortunately my room was at the back of the building so no one witnessed my sickness. Several times Itried to eat my breakfast but the sight of fat bacon, black pudding and bread dipped in dripping brought back the nausea. Finally I tipped all the greasy mess into a metal case which I had brought with me for the collection of fossils. Try as I might, I still have no recollection of my journey from the bar to my room the previous evening.

It was an inauspicious start to my adventure but I was determined to adhere to my plans which meant setting off to my next resting place, it being the village just two miles away on the road going west, namely Abbotsbury. A tranter who had been one of the

drinking party the previous evening had offered to give me and my baggage a lift on his cart as he was taking some crates of chickens to a farmer over that way. Still feeling rather fragile, I duly climbed up next to the tranter (whose name I forget) and we jolted along the highway for what felt like much further than two miles. If I had not been wearing my thick great-coat,

I would have suffered bruising from the wooden seat to add to my discomfort.

Readers who are familiar with my first travel journal will remember that I paid a visit to Abbotsbury beach where I had my final encounter with the Witch of Portesham. This time I deposited my belongings at the Ilchester Arms before taking a perambulation through the main street hoping to find out more about this antique place. Encountering the vicar in the churchyard, I engaged him in conversation. No doubt he was pleased to speak with a man of learning in this community of yokels and he told me a little of the local history. One of the wealthiest families in Dorset had been in possession of all the land and properties hereabouts since the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. I pressed him for more details but he was very busy and suggested that I ‘googled’ Strangways. I was left gaping after him as he hurried into the church, strongly suspecting that this man of the cloth had fallen under the spell of the Witch.

I stayed in my room that evening, my constitution still recovering from the after-effects of the Portesham cider. I had disposed of my breakfast at a pig-sty down a farm track though felt a little uneasy about feeding pork to a pig. The animal had no such qualms and ate it with enthusiasm. I slept well then settled my dues with the landlord before boarding a cart going in my direction. The driver turned out to be the owner of the pig which I could have deduced by the stench that hung about his person. We reached the foot of Abbotsbury hill where I was obliged to descend and hike to the summit whilst the cart carried on with my luggage. As I trudged along I became aware of the view of the coastline in either direction and paused to admire its beauty, making notes in my diary of poetic words that could be used if I were ever moved to compose verse. Then, as my gaze wandered over the scene, I saw a remote cottage with smoke rising from its single chimney. The sight drew me down the track towards it when, whom should I encounter but the very person I had sought to avoid, that familiar figure, the Witch of Portesham.

Too late to turn and retreat, I greeted her by tipping my hat and remarking on the fine weather and how surprised I was to deduce that there was a fire in the hearth of yonder cott. ‘It’s for smoking the mackerel caught by myself yesterday down on Abbotsbury beach. Home-smoked without any additives - they are highly marketable’. She must have seen me wet my lips at the thought of her mackerel for she beckoned me into the garden, saying that I could try some if I wished. I needed no encouragement and sank down on a bench under an oak tree. When she had brought the platter of fish, I made bold to ask her why she had changed her dwelling place. ‘I wanted to down-size and free up some capital’ was her perplexing response. ‘I also make health drinks from the local hedgerow fruits. These drinks will cure many ailments and protect against many others. I shall fetch you a glass’. The drink was of a colour so rich and with such depth that I made further notes so as not to forget its magical appearance. I gladly accepted the offer of a second glass then, feeling drowsy in the sun, must have dozed off.

When I awoke, I struggled to recollect where I was and why I was there. I was propped on the ground against my knapsack, the bench had disappeared, the oak tree reduced to a sapling and the cottage in a state of disrepair, the thatch ragged, the walls covered in ivy which smothered the windows. I cursed my stupidity in trusting the hospitality of the Witch, the more so when I checked my purse and discovered that one gold sovereign was missing. In the purse was a scrap of paper, hand-written, stating that the fish lunch was £15, the two glasses of Blackberry Vodka £10 and VAT (whatever that was) of £5 making a total of £30!

The word ‘Paid’ was scrawled at the bottom of the bill.

Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I staggered to my feet and started on the long trek to the Bull Inn at Swyre where I was to stay the night. The cart had not waited for me but had hopefully deposited my trunk at the inn. When I finally arrived there, I collapsed with exhaustion on the doorstep. The first person to find me was a young lad no more than twelve years old who hauled me to my feet and shouted to his father to come out and get me into the inn before I ‘gave it a bad name’. I addressed the young hooligan with as much dignity as I could muster and asked him if he knew who I was. ‘Yeah – you’re that guy from London who can’t ‘old ‘is drink and doesn’t know his arse from his elbow’ he replied boldly. His father then appeared and I told him about the ill-manners of his son. ‘Cheeky monkey’ he chortled. ‘Gets it from his old Dad’.

My final destination was to be Lyme Regis as I had visited the British Museum and seen the fossil finds of a certain Mary Anning. Evidently if an uneducated woman of low birth could find such treasures, I should surely do better. However, my enthusiasm for this expedition was wearing thin with all its setbacks. I resolved to return to London, carry out more research and buy more suitable equipment – such as a geological hammer and a flask for water – then arrange a third foray into this uncivilised corner of the British Isles.

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