Dare you try to summon the spirit of a woman buried alive on suspicion of witchcraft who lies in woodland in East Somerton? Stacia Briggs reports

A majestic tree rises proudly from the middle of St Mary’s, marking a shameful secret: here, centuries ago, it is said that an accused witch was buried alive by villagers.

Vengeful even after death, the tree grew from the witch’s wooden leg, her ghost appearing on cold, dark nights, drifting across the skeletal remains of the church, perhaps seeking justice for her brutal end.

It is never wise to cross a witch, no good can ever come of such foolishness.

If the witch doesn’t appear on your visit, there may be another way to tempt her out from beneath her blanket of earth and leaves – but first, her story.

Between the flooded medieval peat cutting that is now Martham Broad and the rolling dunes of Winterton-on-Sea are the tiny villages of East and West Somerton.

Trapped under a towering tree, a victim of vigilante villagers, perhaps stoked by Witch-Finder General Matthew Hopkins’ dreadful purges in East Anglia during the 17th century, is said to be the body of a woman.

Her final resting place – if, of course, she rests – is within a glade of trees from which twisting walkways pass tangles of brambles, quickly leading to the ruins of St Mary’s. 

In the grounds of nearby Burnley Hall, next to a private, single-track road, this small woodland looks like any other, but walk into the dense woods and the sunlight begins to evaporate, replaced with dappled light filtered through a canopy of trees and then, within a matter of steps, it looms into sight: a flash of stone amid the greenery. 

Eastern Daily Press:

Here are the broken remains of a once-imposing building which reaches towards the sky, empty window frames filled with cascades of vines, a silent bell tower open to the elements, shattered arches, a story which has bewitched Norfolk for centuries. 

The church floor is now a carpet of leaves, the congregation rarely human. 

It seems scarcely believable that this peaceful place could have ever been the scene of such terrible suffering, but the legend has persisted across the sea of time, although when the accused witch is thought to have met her dreadful fate is unclear.

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The church has stood since the 13th century and was abandoned in the 17th century when the building was used for storage by the nearby hall.

Some say the witch was buried alive in the woods and the church built around her to contain her evil, others that she was taken to the abandoned church by villagers who felt it wise to dig her grave on consecrated ground.

Others call the tree The Witch’s Finger, bursting from the site of her execution to point accusingly towards heaven – either way her restless spirit has been seen at St Mary’s at twilight, pacing the church floor which is now entirely lost to nature. 

And hers is not the only spirit said to inhabit these shattered walls.

Monks have been seen in this once-sacred space, sometimes appearing to be angry and keen to clear curious visitors out of what was once a holy house: at night, whispering voices have been heard and unexplained jabs in the ribs and the back have been felt.

Those keen to explore further and find out the whole story of the Witch of East Somerton have the chance to ask her for the details of her unfortunate demise. 

In the half-light of day, the witch of East Somerton will, according to Norfolk folklore (and if you are brave enough to summon the undead) appear to you if you walk round her tree three times, quietly speaking her name. 

Then again, perhaps it is better to let sleeping witches lie.