The Cunning Woman’s Cup by Sue Hewitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Cunning Woman’s Cup is a contemporary piece of fiction woven around ancient standing stones and family dramas. It is set in Duddo, Northumberland near the Scottish border.
There is an ancient stone circle at Duddo made of 5 megaliths. We are introduced to Mordwand of the Brigantes a healing woman burned at the stake. Her story threads throughout the book in a series of small flashbacks.
Alice McCleish lives with Nipper, her dog, close to the standing stones. The small community is close and supportive of each other and Alice is one of the backbones of village life. She meets Margaret Allerton whilst out walking and they begin a friendship which will give them both a new lease of life.
I loved the way the author built this story introducing new layers and new characters once I’d got a good picture and feel for the place. Alice employs Brian Rigden to help restore her garden to the splendour it once was when her husband Callum was alive. Callum was a man at one with the land and the spirits which watched over them, while Alice was a true believer in God and his church. They agreed to disagree on spiritual matters.
It’s Brian who discovers an ancient cup whilst digging in the garden and the rare find warrants a full archaeological dig. The cup’s discovery starts off a whole series of changing events, Violet Turnbull has not left the house for nearly 30 years. An Agrophobic until she talks to Maisie one of the young students from the dig. With help from Maisie’s Aunt, Violet takes her own destiny onto her hands.
There’s so much more I’d love to tell you about the book, but I’d give too much away. I thought it was an inspiring read, I was off baking my own bread and yearning to make some lemon curd, but more importantly I was researching more about Duddo stones and I’d never thought much about the new business which takes over Henge Farm, but now I’m mulling it over as a sensible option to our human needs.
This book left me with questions, got me thinking, sent shivers down my spine, had me laughing and crying and although I knew it must end, I really didn’t want it to, I’d found a new friend, now I’m just off for a spiritual walk to the stones and then I’ll settle down for coffee cake and tea with Alice and Nipper.
When Alice McCleish’s gardener Brian unearths an object of great archaeological significance deep under the compost heap it is not only Alice and her burgeoning friendship with Margaret Allerton, retired Professor of Anthropology, that are affected: the family, friends and neighbours of Alice, who people the narrative, are also touched by subsequent events. Alice and Margaret find themselves questioning long-held beliefs about the material and spiritual world that surrounds them; and both women find their lives transformed unalterably by their newfound companionship. Serendipity puts Alice’s nearest neighbour, the troubled Violet Turnbull, in touch with the enigmatic Avian Tyler, whose mystical ‘gift’ offers Violet a promise of liberation. All the while an echoing voice from long, long ago hints at the history of the locality dominated by the standing stone circle that bestrides the skyline above the small community of Duddo, while charting the harrowing story that reveals the provenance of the artefacts found beneath the compost heap.
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