With neighbours like Patrick Morton, who needs enemies? This 16-year-old son of a Pittenweem blacksmith unleashed hell among the locality in the early years of the 18th century when he spread unfounded rumours accusing several members of the community of witchcraft. His victims included Beatrice Laing, who was repeatedly tortured and eventually freed, only to die alone in St Andrews, and Thomas Brown, who starved to death in a dungeon. The worst fate of all, however, befell poor Janet Cornfoot, who was dragged to the seafront by a rabid mob, swung from a rope attached to a ship, stoned, beaten and crushed to death under a door weighed down with rocks. This terrible episode recently came to the attention of Australian folk artist Emily Barker, who was moved to write a song called Witch of Pittenweem for her new album, Almanac.
But today, such horrors are all but forgotten in this picturesque fishing village in the East Neuk (corner) of Fife, its bustling harbour lined with quaint cottages and inns. In an earlier post, I mentioned that "weem" comes from the Gaelic for "cave", and Pittenweem derives from "the place of the caves". One particular cave in the village came to be known as St Fillan's Cave, which the saint used as a chapel in the 700s. The harbour's expansion was largely down to Sir John Anstruther, who needed somewhere to ship out the coal and salt being extracted from his land. Each year in late July/early August Pittenweem holds an Arts Festival lasting for 9 days. Some 100 exhibitions are planned for the 2012 festival.
Map of the area.