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  • Greg Stewart

The Witches Stone, Forres

An inconspicuous stone, set back into a wall at the side of the road in the Highland town of Forres, sits as a reminder of one of the darkest chapters in the local history.

While the hysteria of the Witch Trials did not hit most of Scotland until the 16th century, the connection to witchcraft in Forres dates back to the 11th century, or earlier. Most people will be familiar with William Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’, MacBeth, but not all realise that MacBeth was real, and was once King of Scotland.

There is a local legend that three wise women lived on Cluny Hill at Forres during the reign of King Duncan, and that they prophesied the King’s downfall at the hands of the local ruler, Mac Bethad mac Findláich, better known simply as MacBeth. Soon after, in the year 1040, King Duncan invaded Morayshire. MacBeth marched his army to the town of Elgin, approximately 10 miles from Forres, where he did battle with the King’s forces and successfully defeated them. King Duncan was slain, and MacBeth became King of Scotland.

MacBeth’s reign was, by all accounts, a peaceful time with him being a good and fair King, unlike his fictional depiction by Shakespeare. In 1057, King Duncan's son, Malcolm Canmore, returned to Scotland from a safe haven in England where he had been taken after his father’s death. Malcolm ultimately defeated MacBeth, and then his son, to take his place as King of Scotland.

It is from this story, that one of the most famous parts of Shakespeare’s play, the 3 witches originated, and the possible basis of the story of the Forres Witches Stone. The three wise women of Cluny Hill were accused of being witches, and rather than predicting the downfall of King Duncan, they were accused of causing it through witchcraft. Their fate is told on a sign that sits beside the stone. The women were each forced into a wooden barrel, which then had spikes driven through the sides. The barrels were then rolled down Cluny Hill, and where they stopped they were set alight.

Although some historians theorise that the stones relate to later witch trials, the fact that there were three stones makes the tale connected to the three Witches more common. One of the three stones was destroyed during roadworks in 1802, and the other remains in private property. The stone on public land was also damaged during the 1802 roadworks and broken into three, which further adds to the connection to the three Witches.

It is said that the broken pieces were later taken and incorporated into the wall of a house that was being built nearby. Seeing three sizeable pieces of stone lying for the taking probably seemed like a good idea to the owner, but this was a massive error of judgement. Those living in the property were stricken with unknown illnesses and bad luck befell them all. With local superstition saying the property was cursed for disrespecting the stone, the house was demolished.

The pieces of stone were stapled back together and it was returned to its rightful spot, where it still lies today.

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