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

Lailoken, or Myrddin, or Merlin

Six hundred years after the death of a wild man in the woods of southern Scotland, Geoffrey of Monmouth assembled some scraps of poetry written in the intervening years and added him to his History of the Kings of Britain as King Arthur’s right-hand man, Merlin.

Merlin and Arthur by Gustave Dore

Merlin and Arthur by Gustave Dore

There are several different sources in old Welsh literature for Myrddin, or as we usually spell it, Merlin. Some, referring to events in Wales itself, mention Merlin Ambrosius or Merlin Emrys, and these took place at the end of the Roman era. Others were linked to the Cymry of northern Cumbria, entangled as a by-line in the story of the Battle of Arthuret, which took place a couple of hundred years later. This Merlin was Merlin Wyllt, or Merlin Silvestris, or Merlin ap (son of) Madog Morfryn. 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

Cumbria’s oldest cat

I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping you updated recently, so I thought I’d dash in and offer this picture.

Dessicated cat from Keswick Museum

Dessicated cat from Keswick Museum

This dessicated cat, now in Keswick museum, was found in the rafters of St. Cuthbert’s Church in Clifton, near Penrith, in 1842. I’m afraid you will often see it described as a 666-year-old cat1, because the media has decided that this number suits an animal associated with witchcraft. Fortunately, I can assure you that they’ve been saying that for several years now, we don’t actually know the cat’s birth date and hence it’s probably just a poor old cat with a bad reputation. Continue reading

Elf-shot by mermaids…

It’s a good theory that faeries are most strongly associated with the ‘Celtic Fringe’ (Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Wales) because these areas were not overrun by later beliefs that came with the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. Cumbria also largely missed out on the Saxons, so our traditions have a lot in common with the classic Celtic areas. But a perusal of a map, never mind a tome of folklore, shows that Cumbria has at least as many elves as faeries.

Dancing Elves (1866) by August Malmstrom
Dancing Elves (1866) by August Malmstrom

The word, ‘elf’ is derived from ‘alfar’, the Scandinavian word for diminutive supernatural types; they are, if you like, Viking faeries. There are several Elf Howes; the Elfa Hills; Elva Hill, Elva Plain and Elva stone circle; Elf Hall at Hallthwaites, Ellabarrow at Pennington, and lots more. 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