A Cruel Gift, the Fate of a Seer at Skinfast Haven

A Cruel Gift, the Fate of a Seer at Skinfast Haven


I wrote this short story as an offering for the Virtual Witches’ Walk Ceremony, 2022, an online event created by Priestesses of Cerridwen to remember and honour those who were accused and executed under the historic witchcraft persecutions.  I had been asked to take on the role of “Seer of the Past”. The inspiration came from a combination of sources. I have been researching my family history lately and discovered one of my ancestors living in a fishing community was said to have the Sight. She was a fisherman’s wife and forbade all of her nine children from becoming fishermen or fishermens’ wives. Fortunately, she lived at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Centuries and so avoided the fate of my fictional Seer.

The harbour setting for my story is a real place. My father lived for a time in Cellardyke in Fife, Scotland. I have vivid memories from time spent there as a child, including of the Black Crows smoking their clay pipes, as mentioned in the tale.  Cellardyke harbour was originally built in 1452 and was referred to in historical maps as Skinfast Haven. Local fishermen shortened this to “Skimfie”.

Cellardyke Harbour - Skinfast Haven - Today
Cellardyke Harbour (Skinfast Haven) Today

Skinfast Haven

When you live by the sea, not beside it, mind, but by the sea, it fills you up.  Every waking moment is tied to the sea. Gutting the fish, mending the nets, even carrying the menfolk to their boats to keep them dry. Checking the creels, baiting the lines, gathering the kelp, prizing off mussels, watching the wet sand for the popping air betraying the razor shells.

At home, the step must be kept scrubbed clean, the fire stoked, linen washed, woollens darned and meals prepared.  Carding the wool, spinning on the wheel. 

The harbour, Skinfast Haven, was never quiet. There was always a hum of activity. The crying of the gulls and the gathering and gossiping of women. We never stopped working though. Even when we were exchanging news our fingers were flying, dexterously knitting from a ball of yarn in our apron pocket. 

Along the harbour wall were wooden benches but we never sat there. They were the preserve of the old black crows. Those ancient widow-women, wearing their black mourning dresses, shrouded in woollen shawls. They rested their bent backs on the gable end of the terrace of fisher cottages that fronted the beach. 

When the wind whipped up a fierce storm at sea, the waves would come pawing at these homes, pounding at their windows, battering foundation stones. The white horses breaking with unbridled fury over the top of the pan-tiled rooves, the spray hitting the window panes of the houses opposite.

The weather-wrinkled, silver-haired fishwives had lost their menfolk to the sea…husbands and brothers, fathers and sons. They sat and smoked on white clay pipes, cupping them in arthritic claws. Always watching the village goings-on, the first to know all the secrets. 

I was brought up believing the harder a woman worked, the better catch she would be as a wife and that the worst thing that could be said about a woman was that she was “haund idle”, she had idle hands. I found out later, to my cost, that there was one thing worse, one name to be called that would make all men shun me… 

So, even when we women stood together chatting, we were knitting socks, shawls or hats. The most important item of clothing for a woman to knit for her menfolk was the Gansey. Each jumper was made from good navy wool but the patterns used were different for each family, handed down through the generations, added to by each woman. We poured our love, our care, our hopes and dreams into the process as though the power of protection could pass from our hearts down the needles and into the garments, so when our boys and men wore them on the boats they might be saved from the sea.

There was a dark, unspoken purpose to the unique designs of the ganseys. If a body were to wash up on shore, or to be found bobbing on the ocean, their loved ones could identify the gansey, even if the face were unrecognisable.

Skinfast Haven Sea and Shore
Sea and rocky shore at Cellardyke

I, alone, did not need these tricks. I saw all too plainly when a man died. Some call it a Gift but it had brought me nothing but pain. I did not ask to have the Sight, these sudden shifts of vision to a world of horror, seeing people I knew at the moment of their deaths, when their last desperate gasp brought only sea water. Or their bloated bodies, floating on the surface of the sea like flotsam.  Once the vision passes, I awaken and my thoughts turn to the dead man’s family, waiting for him to come home.

I wish I had kept quiet, not told a soul. The first time it happened they looked at me with disbelief. The second time with shock and suspicion. The third occasion was the nail in my coffin. No coming back. The widow women whispered in a huddle, then proclaimed. I was unnatural, the child of a Selkie woman, able to see beneath the waves. Perhaps I had even called up the storm to bring disaster on the village.

It is such a cruel gift, the Sight. Why could I not have been able to See in advance? Maybe if had I warned their menfolk not to fish that day, had I kept them in the Haven, skinfast, they would not have turned against me.

Even as I sit here, waiting for my own death, hearing shouts of “Witch!” from outside, I am transported under the water to see a young village lad, no more than sixteen years of age, beneath the waves, the struggle lost. “No need to feel alone, Davie”, I say, “I will be with you soon enough…”.


By Gail Spiritstar Roberts, Priestess of Cerridwen

Gwynedd, Wales

Gail Spiritstar Roberts - Priestess of Cerridwen

Gail Spiritstar is a Priestess of Cerridwen and an Awenydd of the Anglesey Druid Order. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Gail has always known in her bones the essential, deep connection with nature and a love of wild places. She has been consciously following a path of nature-based spirituality for 35 years. Gail moved to Wales in 1995 to train with the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. She is an experienced actor, singer and storyteller. Gail now lives in Southern Snowdonia, not far from Llyn Tegid, Bala. As a Priestess she enjoys serving by co-creating ceremonies, building community and…anything else Cerridwen may require!



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