When Fife author and witch historian Lenny Low wrote his 2006 book The Weem Witch, he painted a gruesome picture of Scotland’s infamous witch hunts when around 1400 innocent people accused of witchcraft were tortured, tied to poles with tar barrels and burned at the stake.
It’s a sobering thought that between 1593 and 1705, the trials of 110 ‘witches’ took place from the Kirkcaldy coastline to St Andrews alone, with Lenny’s book concentrating on five infamous Pittenweem witch trials and the 16 local people found ‘guilty’ by fire including Janet Loquhour (St Andrews, 1593), Margaret Horseburgh (Pittenweem, 1643) and Margaret Balfour (Pittenweem, 1644).
But 15 years after his book was first published, the 54-year-old former film-set builder and East Fife FC supporter of Largo is sharing his knowledge in an Outlander spin-off series.
Outlander stars investigate Fife ‘witches’
The eight-episode series highlights Scotland through the eyes of Heughan and McTavish as they take viewers along with them on their travels across the country to discover its rich history and heritage, meet various local artisans and dive into traditional food and drink, all the while meeting an extraordinary cast of real-life Scottish characters.
Last year, Lenny was contacted by scouts from the show to ask whether he would be an advisor on the subject of the Scottish witchcraft trials for episode four, Witchcraft & Superstition.
Lenny says: “They asked me as I covered the Pittenweem Witch trials in my Weem Witch book in 2006, and subsequent witch trial information in my other books.
“I hold manuscripts and letters on the trials. I also hold a witch pricker from Pittenweem and a witch bottle found there also.
“My collection has a lead seal from the witch hating Pope Innocent Viii from 1485 and other witch torture favourites – branks, thumbscrews and other unsavoury items I use in my witch trial lectures. Basically, I have museum quality pieces to show.”
Lenny said he gave the producers of the show an overview of the East Neuk witch trials.
However, the one they were interested most in was the story of the Crail witches.
“There were five trials in Crail,” he says.
“Witches here were kept in the jail of Wormiston Castle when owned by the Lyndsay family who were the sheriffs of Fife at one stage.
“As both actors had done Macbeth in plays, it was a fitting location to film as the castle was once owned by the MacDuff family. This I incorporated into the introduction.”
Lenny describes Wormiston Castle as a “wonderful place” shielded by trees. Today’s “magnificent building” dates from the 14th century with rebuilds through the 17th century. The original build is thought to be 11th century.
He explained it has its own outside prison used for the witches they brought there.
“I took the boys to it and gave them a history of the horrid activities committed inside,” he adds.
“This gave me a chance to use thumbscrews and wooden restraints on Graham, an iron witches branks was then put on his head and padlocked.
“This is an uncomfortable device on its own but with the wooden restraints it was obvious Graham was having a rough time – so Sam and I left him locked up in the jail and went for a pint! Ha! Later Sam joined in with about 50 actors having a pagan burning ritual with drums and fire dancing.”
Lenny said he had been on many film sets as a set builder but this production was “huge” with about 130 people involved.
He adds: “There were huge trucks everywhere, three producers and a drone team with a drone the size of a wee car.
“I had enough time in the after-shoot to speak to both actors and of course James Bond was mentioned with Sam (the favourite to replace Daniel Craig as the next 007).
“Since then he has admitted to the press he’s in the running for the part.”
“I left the lads with copies of my book Scotland’s Untold Stories, with the potential of them coming back to film for series two on the Battle of St Monans.”
Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham is streaming on Amazon Prime Starz with Lenny featuring in the fourth episode.