Birkdale

Ghostly Tales from the Lake District

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Birkdale

30th October 2020

As Hallowe’en fast approaches, we thought we’d dust down the history books and dig out some information about some of the better-known ghostly tales from the Lake District.

With its rugged scenery, deep ravines, seemingly bottomless lakes and windswept fells, it should come as no surprise that there are a number of Lake District ghost stories and myths. Here are a few that caught our imagination.

The Claife Crier

Nowadays, thanks to the Windermere Ferry, getting from Ferry Nab in Bowness-on-Windermere to Ferry House at Far Sawrey, a distance of just under 500 metres, is pretty straightforward. 

However, centuries ago residents and visitors to the area would have been taken across on wooden boats by the ferrymen at Ferry Nab. Rumour has it the ferrymen would often hear cries of “boat’ from across the water but were too afraid to go.

One night, one of the younger ferrymen mocked them for their fears and set off in his boat. Nobody can be sure what he saw, if anything, but some say that when he returned, he had aged by thirty years, was unable to speak and that he died the next day.

Local residents asked a monk who lived on one of the islands on Lake Windermere to exorcise the ghost. On Christmas Day, he travelled across the lake with a bell and a bible and banished the ghost to the quarry and woods around Claife Heights “until men should walk dryshod across the lake”.

To this day, stories persists of walkers being followed by a hooded figure at dusk on Claife Heights.

Long Meg and her Daughters

Not far from Penrith you’ll find Long Meg and her Daughters, a stone circle about 350 feet in diameter. It is thought that the stones date back to 1500BC, with Long Meg herself standing some 60 feet outside the circle.

Local legend would have us believe that Long Meg was a witch and that she and her daughters were turned to stone for dancing wildly on the moor at a time when they shouldn’t have – the Sabbath. Surely just another of these ghostly tales from the Lake District?

However, in the nineteenth century, the local landowner gave orders to his workers to clears the stones but, just as they were about to blow them up, thunder and lightning came from nowhere, causing terror among the men.

To this day it is thought that the circle is endowed with magic, making it impossible to count the stones twice and arrive at the same number. But if you do, the magic will be broken.

The White Horse of Windermere

Lake Windermere is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the Lake District. Enjoy a paddle on the shoreline, take a boat trip – or better still, hire our luxury speedboat, Tintin II for the day – or simply admire the views of Windermere and the surrounding area. Whatever you decide to do, it’s a fabulous day out for the family. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll come across the White Horse of Windermere.

According to legend, if any of the villages around Lake Windermere are about to come to harm, a ghostly white horse appears. Some say it gallops along the water’s edge to alert residents to the oncoming dangers. Others say it can be seen walking across the lake to warn residents.

The Kirkstone Pass Inn

The Kirkstone Pass Inn is the highest inhabited building in Cumbria, located at the top of the 1500ft high Kirkstone Pass.

Dating back to 1486 and sitting on the site of a former monastery, it’s hardly surprising that there have been a number of spooky tales of spectres and apparitions. These apparitions are thought to be the spirits of travellers who have met a premature end while making the dangerous journey over the pass.

The most famous story is the tale of Ruth Ray. Ruth was on her way to Patterdale, with her small child in tow, to see her father who had been taken ill. As is often the case in the Lake District, especially on high ground, the weather took a sudden turn for the worse and the snow set in. This made it even more treacherous than usual, and almost impossible to walk towards your destination with any certainty. Such was the case with Ruth.

As the hours passed without her return, her husband set off to find her, only to find her frozen and lifeless. The baby however, heavily wrapped up, thankfully survived. To this day, visitors to the inn speak of the ghost of Ruth, warning walkers of impending bad weather and the dangers of the Kirkstone Pass.

Muncaster Castle

Muncaster Castle, home to the Pennington family, is reputed to be one of Britain’s most haunted castles. Not far from the coastal village of Ravenglass, the castle is associated with a number of ghostly tales, with the Tapestry Room home to many of the hauntings. Visitors have reported hearing footsteps in the corridors when nobody was there, doors opening on their own, a baby crying and a woman singing to comfort a sick child.

One of the tales relates to Tom Skelton, nicknamed Tom Fool, the jester who lived in the castle. One night, Tom beheaded a local carpenter with his own axe (some say at the behest of his lord and master who was unhappy with the carpenter’s interest in his daughter). To this day, Tom’s spirit haunts the castle, playing tricks on people.

Another murder which took place at the castle was the murder of Mary Bragg, a housekeeper from the village who was deeply in love with a footman at the castle.

One evening, two men lured her from her home, claiming that her true love was ill. She was murdered near the main gate and her body was found floating in the River Esk. Known as the White Lady, she is said to haunt the gardens and the road outside the castle.

Bownessie

Enough of the ghoulish figures, of figures turned to stone, of grisly deaths. We thought we ought to finish on a lighter note. Have you ever seen our very own lake monster, Bownessie?

Bownessie is the affectionate name given to the elusive underwater creature said to inhabit Lake Windermere. Named after her Loch Ness monster counterpart, there have been several reported sightings of this mythical creature.

She’s been described as a “30ft creature with humps”, “the length of three cars” and that she leaves behind “20ft ripples”.

So, make sure you have your camera to hand. You never know when she’s going to make her next appearance.

But if all these ghostly tales from the Lake District aren’t for you, why not settle down to a classic horror film in your very own cinema room?

Happy Hallowe’en.