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Ghosts and Legends of the Lake District – South Lakeland

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Cynthia has a degree in History and Business Economics. She loves archaeology and would happily spend every holiday exploring ancient sites

Windermere - own image

Windermere - own image

What was the first ghost story you remember being told? The first one I recall was told to me by my father. He grew up in Ulverston, a market town on the Furness Peninsula, and one day while out on a walk he pointed out an old farmhouse called Plumpton Hall.

The building dates to the 17th century, though part of it may go back as far as the early medieval period. The story he told me was of a haunted lamp that hung over the stairs in the hall. It is said the lamp came from the wreck of a Spanish galleon that was part of the famous Armada of 1588, and it was used to light the way for travellers who wanted to cross the hazardous sands of the nearby Morecambe Bay.

The legend was if the lamp was ever removed from the farmhouse, it would magically return and be found hanging in its usual place. It was decided to put the myth to the test. The lamp was fastened securely into a barrel, which was taken out to sea and thrown into the waves.

Much to the amazement of the those undertaking the experiment, the lamp came back and was found hanging back in the hall the next morning.

So how many other ghost stories and legends are there in South Lakeland? Windermere is the largest lake in the Lake District and its dramatic scenery, quaint old towns and many attractions bring thousands of tourists flocking into the area every year. How many would come if they knew of the spooky goings on?

One legend tells of the spectral Crier of Claife. It is said that back in medieval times on dark, stormy nights eerie calls would come across the lake calling for a boat to come and fetch them from Ferry Nab. These calls terrified the ferrymen and they all refused to answer it.

One young ferryman, however, decided one night to mock the fears of his older colleagues and prove them wrong. He rowed his boat across the choppy, dark waters to pick up the passenger he believed wanted to cross. He returned alone. Nobody ever found out what happened to him during that lonely crossing as terror had overcome him and he could no longer talk. He died the very next day.

When the story got around, the local people went to a monk living out on an island, to beg him to rid them of whatever it was that haunted the area. He agreed to undertake an exorcism and on Christmas Day rowed across the lake.

He managed to subdue the restless spirit and bind it to the woods and quarry ‘until men should walk dry-shod across the lake’. To this day people walking in the Claife area as the sun sets tell stories of being followed by a shadowy, hooded figure. So, would you be brave enough to walk up to Claife Viewing Station to watch the sun go down over Windermere?

In Britain we are lucky to have many historic old pubs and inns. Some of these buildings date back to the middle ages, so it is perhaps not surprising many are famous for their ghosts and paranormal phenomenon. One such old public house in South Lakeland is the Angel Inn in Kendal.

During the Jacobite Uprising of 1745, the soldiers of Bonnie Prince Charlie swarmed through the historic market town, pillaging as they went. Many of the residents fled from the marauders, including the landlord and his family of the Angel Inn. In their haste and panic, they left behind a small child.

When the invading soldiers poured into the inn, they thought it was empty, so were startled to find the abandoned infant playing happily on the floor. One of the soldiers went to seize the child but was stopped dead by the luminous figure of an angel appearing between him and the child.

The soldiers were so terrified of this sudden vision from heaven they fled the inn without the unharmed child. Sadly, the Angel Inn has since been demolished, and the site incorporated into the offices of South Lakeland District Council, so we cannot visit to see if we can catch a glimpse of the heavenly visitor.

Plaque on the site of the old Angel Inn in Kendal - own image

Plaque on the site of the old Angel Inn in Kendal - own image

Many legends are so old there are several versions of them told. One such story is that of the Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale. The devil is famous in British myth for building things, often in record time overnight. One such construction is said to be the bridge over the River Lune at Kirkby Lonsdale.

This ancient bridge is thought to be one of the oldest in England and repairs to it are mentioned in a pontage grant in 1365, although the bridge we see now is thought to have been built a century later. However, many believe the bridge is not the work of man. True to form, the devil is thought to have built it during one dark, windy night. There are even scratch marks reputedly from a clawed hand etched into the stonework.

He had to fly a long distance to collect the stones he needed, carrying them back in his apron. He is reputed to have dropped his last load while flying over the fells, scattering boulders across the slopes below him as he went. Several natural rock features in the area such as The Apron-Full-Of-Stones and The Devil’s Neck Collar were said to be created from these dropped boulders.

What goaded the devil into building the bridge? The first legend is that a woman from Yorkshire did a deal with Satan that if he constructed a bridge across the river, he would get to claim the soul of the first living creature to cross it.

The devil knew the woman’s husband was away from home, so he laboured all night to build the bridge by morning. The woman, however, had anticipated the diabolical being’s sneaky move. She concealed a starving dog and a juicy bone under her apron and kept a look out for her husband’s return.

When she spied him coming along the road, she tossed the bone onto the bridge and released the dog. She outwitted the devil himself, keeping her husband safe and gaining a new bridge for the community. Satan had to make do with the life of a starving dog.

In the other version of the story, a poor woman got separated from her cow which was stuck on the far riverbank. The river was in flood, so she could not reach her cow to bring it home. The cunning devil appeared to her in human guise and offered to build her a bridge if he could claim the first living thing that crossed it.

The woman was anxious as her husband was at the local market and she knew was due back shortly. Satan hastily threw up the bridge and as the woman saw her husband coming home, she threw a stone onto the new bridge. A dog chased after the stone and Satan was cheated of his human soul.

It is whispered that on dark nights the windswept fells of the south Lake District echo to the ghastly howls of the fearsome Barguest hound. Stories of these huge phantom black dogs are found throughout the British Isles, and the Barguest is often thought to be a warning of an impending death.

In Westmoreland the Barguest is called the Capelthwaite and these ghostly hounds are believed to help local farmers and shepherds by herding their flocks for them. Monsters are not only to be found on the hills. In the deep, cold waters of Windermere a cryptid lake creature may be hiding. You have all heard of the famous Loch Ness Monster, but did you know there is a ‘Bownessie’?

People who have sighted the creature describe it as long, with three humps and swimming rapidly through the water. Photographs have been taken as evidence. Despite the photos, experts dispute whether such a large animal could survive in the lake, especially undetected.

What is a good ghost story without a skull? Or two? One such legend concerns the skulls of Calgarth Hall. Calgarth Hall is an old house that stands on the lake shore near Ambleside, dating back to the early 16th century.

Around three hundred years ago it was occupied by an elderly couple called Dorothy and Kraster Cook. A local wealthy man, Myles Phillipson, wanted to get his hands on their lands in order to enlarge his own, much larger, estate. Even though the Cook’s were not a rich couple, Phillipson could not induce them to sell their property to him.

Eventually, Phillipson devised a plan to cheat the couple of their lands. He held a lavish Christmas Banquet to which he invited his neighbours, including Kraster and Dorothy. While they were there, he slipped a costly silver goblet into their bags. He then accused them of theft and the goblet was found at Calgarth Hall when it was searched.

In those days’ thieves were executed, and as Phillipson was a local magistrate the Cooks had little chance of being acquitted. They were duly given the death sentence and as Dorothy was led from court, she cursed Phillipson. She damned him and his family to lose their wealth and lands, and to die in poverty and obscurity.

Calgarth Park and Windermere

Calgarth Park and Windermere

Phillipson moved his family into Calgarth Hall and on the first Christmas after the executions two mysterious skulls appeared at the top of the stairs. The skulls were taken many miles away and buried, but they returned.

Everything was done to try and get free of these grisly relics. They were removed from the building, thrown in the lake, burned and smashed to pieces, but still they somehow managed to reappear. All the time the Phillipson family was losing money and eventually they lost Calgarth Hall.

Locals were so unsettled by the legend they persuaded a later resident of the Hall, the eminent Bishop of Llandaff Dr Watson, to perform a ritual to exorcise the skulls then bury them in a wall. Since then Calgarth Hall has been peaceful and the skulls have not reappeared.

The next time you visit the south Lake District be careful. Ghosts, ghouls and phantom hounds could be tracking you over the fells or a spectral voice may call out to you. When the evening mist begins to settle over the lake, turn back to your lodgings, turn on the light and lock the doors. It might just be enough to keep you safe.

Sources:

Plumpton Hall Lantern - https://furnesshiddenheritage.blogspot.com/2016/10/furness-ghost-stories-pt2-halloween.html

Ghosts and myths Lake District - https://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/visiting/localspecialities/ghostsandmyths

The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore – Patricia Monaghan

Secrets and Legends of Old Westmoreland – Dawn Robertson and Peter Koronka

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/8332535/New-photo-of-English-Nessie-hailed-as-best-yet.html

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/hauntings/calgarth-hall/

Images:

Calgarth Hall and Windermere - Rod Allday - Wikimedia Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

© 2020 CMHypno

Comments

CMHypno (author) from Other Side of the Sun on July 06, 2020:

Thanks Peggy. I am sure many of these stories have been told and re-told over the centuries, so I wonder how far back the origins of some of them go. Some of the 'devil' stories go back to a time when the old gods were demonised by the early Christians to reinforce the new beliefs and doctrine

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 05, 2020:

Those are some amazing ghost stories and ones that also have to do with the devil.

CMHypno (author) from Other Side of the Sun on April 14, 2020:

Thanks FlourishAnyway. Most parts of Britain have lots of ghost stories and folklore, so it's hard to avoid the spooky stuff. Glad you enjoyed the hub

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 14, 2020:

With a tale like that there’s no way that I’d go near this area. Sad that poor old black dogs get a bum rap in the legend, as they are frequent victims, never heroes. Great story.