Dobbies, boggles, ghosts and the 19th century journalist…

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but it’s very rare for me to include ghost stories on Esmeralda’s. It’s not that I haven’t looked at a few – always ones supposedly rooted in an historical event – but with one exception1, they don’t pass the simplest test of veracity. Some simply don’t marry up with historical events, like the Claife Crier2, and others, such as the Beckside Boggle3 and Hutton-in-the-Forest’s headless horsewoman4, are demonstrably fiction, with authors, publishing dates and so on. Brownie I’ve also chosen not to spend a lot of time with our assorted otherworldly creatures – dobbies, boggles, barguests, elves, fairies, cappels, hobs and bogarts – partly because there are others tackling these5 but mostly because they’re almost impossible to define. Let’s look at a few attempts at definition by other historians: Henderson6, writing in 1866, suggests that ghosts and ‘bogles’ are interchangeable, although a ‘dobie’ is a ‘mortal heavy sprite’, which appears to be 19th –century Borders code for a ghost that’s none-too-clever. Sullivan7, in 1891, on the other hand, is confident that a ‘dobbie’ is ‘a kind of household fairy’ somewhat like a hobgoblin (and indeed similar to the one in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series). On the other hand, the more recent (2009) Geoff Holder8 has collected evidence to suggest that both boggles and dobbies are associated with murders and suicides. I, in my turn, have come across a dobby which Continue reading

The Cumbrian Halloween round-up!

Whilst I cook up some new spooky posts for Samhain, I thought you might like to revisit the oldie-but-goody spooky posts previously explored by Esmeralda!

How about Armboth: Cumbria’s Most Haunted : the story of a drowned bride, poltergeist-type activity and spectral lights at the house under Thirlmere. Continue reading

The wind, the demons, and the ghost

Is it true that every pleasure has its price? Certainly, it’s not unusual for people to assume that if you live in Cumbria, your life out-of-season must be made a misery by the weather. It’s true, it rains a lot – that’s where the lakes come from! – but up here on the east Fellside (the Cumbrian side of the Pennines), we have another little trial. The Helm Wind.

Helm bar over Cross Fell c.D McIlmoyle

Helm bar over Cross Fell c.D McIlmoyle

Whilst plenty of folks across eastern Cumbria claim to get the Helm Wind, in fact, they don’t. The whole area can get a fairly strong north-east wind, but only a little strip about 20 miles long and two or three miles wide, extending from about Renwick to Warcop, actually gets it. This is a wind that roars incessantly for two or three days at a time, blowing over walkers and sheep, ripping roofs off, tearing up trees and burning leaves into blackened, scorched rolls. Continue reading

Armboth: Cumbria’s Most Haunted

Driving past Thirlmere these days, you wouldn’t suspect that it was anything other than an attractive valley in the central Lake District. But this area is associated with a long list of peculiar and spooky stories going back hundreds of years.

Thirlmere seen from the Steel Fell at the southern end of the lake. Photo taken by Mick Knapton on 6 August 2006

Thirlmere from Steel Fell c. Mick Knapton

Before the valley was flooded at the end of the 19th century to create Thirlmere reservoir, it looked very different. Instead of a large lake with a steeply-sloping shore, there was a ribbon of water, comprising two skinny lakes connected at a narrow neck by an ancient wooden structure commonly referred to as the ‘Celtic bridge’. On the eastern side of the bridge stood Dalehead Hall – now a hotel – and on the western side, Armboth House. Continue reading

The Hanged Man at Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill in Penrith is one of those places you might like to avoid at Halloween. For, says local tradition, your nose may catch the noisome odour of rotting flesh before coming upon the gruesome sight of a man’s body rotting in a gibbet hanging high above the town.

Hanging_of_William_Kidd from the Pirates Own Book (1837)

Hanging “in chains”

One dark Tuesday night in November, 1766,  a butcher called Thomas Parker was on his way home after a very good day at Penrith market. He stopped off at the Cross Keys pub in Carleton, where he had a jolly old time downing lots of beer and treating all his friends. Eventually, the pub landlord realised that Parker had had far too much and stopped serving him, offering to put him up for the night to sleep it off. Parker refused, and set off to walk the last couple of miles back to Langwathby. Continue reading

Mind yer head…

A leaf through some of Cumbria’s many annals of folklore could give the impression that Cumbrians have a problem hanging on to their heads.

The Headless Horseman by John Quidor (1858)

The Headless Horseman by John Quidor (1858)

The most famous story is the skulls of Calgarth. The tale isn’t ancient, although it was widely known as early as the mid-1700s. The baddie of the tale is usually said to be Myles Philipson these days, but earlier records point the finger at another Philipson, ‘Robin the Devil’.1 Myles and Robin were both on the king’s side during the 17th-century English Civil Wars; Myles was a JP known to throw his weight about; Robin was a bully best-remembered otherwise for riding his horse into Kendal church in pursuit of a Puritan enemy. Continue reading

The Claife Crier: Windermere’s famous spook

The Claife Crier has to be the best-known spook in the Lake District, and, as is commonly pointed out, the only ghost named on an OS map. Sadly, neither he nor his residence are listed on my modern road map but still… here’s the story.

Claife Heights copyright Stephen Dawson

Claife Heights copyright Stephen Dawson

A long time ago, a monk from Furness Abbey, whose job was to save the souls of immoral women, fell for one of his clients. He followed her back to Claife Heights on the western shores of Windermere, but she rejected him. He took this badly, spent a lot of time wailing, and finally dropped dead. But didn’t stop wailing. Continue reading

Corpse roads, faerie and ghostly goings-on

Cumbria isn’t alone in having a number of coffin paths, or corpse roads. These days, they’re footpaths between one village and another, sometimes marked with crosses and punctuated with low stone benches. The paths cross water at least once, intersect other paths, and are curiously unpopular amongst locals after dark. Their function until a hundred or so years ago, was simple: these are the routes taken by coffin-bearers to the nearest church with a burial ground. Some routes were just a couple of miles, others much longer, but all cover wild and largely uninhabited territory. Continue reading