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Spooky Cumbrian Folk Tales pt.1

This Hollrween we are bringing you some of the best scary and strange folk tales from our county. Today we have stories of rocks chasing you down hills, screaming skulls and creepy cliff beings to get you in the spooky season mood.

Long Meg and her Daughters

Many of you may already be familiar with the story of Long Meg from our previous article on the stone circle that is the second biggest in England but if you haven’t, be prepared for some witchy antics set in the sleepy village of Little Salkeld.

Margaret, or Meg as she was known to locals, was a witch who had many daughters that formed her coven.

It is said that if Summer Solstice, an annual celebration for witches, fell on a Saturday that problems would arise. Meg told her daughters to end the dancing and celebrations at the stroke of midnight on the Friday to avoid consequence.

Meg paid a musician for their time but her coven wanted to continue... A man in a hooded cloak came and said he was a musician so her daughters paid him a bag of gold.

They danced well past midnight alongside the stranger who was said to be playing music ‘as though the very hounds of hell’ were at his feet.

A bright flash lit up the Eden Valley and the witches were all turned to stone including Meg, as pictured in the article's cover photo above.

They say if you visit the circle and manage to count all the stones twice and reach the same number the stones will come to life and chase you down the hill.

The Parton Smugglers

Tunnels inside a cliff between Whitehaven and Parton. Photo credit: Ruth Livingstone.

Some point at the height of the slave trade a group of people from Parton, a village just a couple miles away from the trading port of Whitehaven, waited in a small boat offshore for a delivery of rum, brown sugar and precious spices.

They rowed up next to a large ship heading for Whitehaven’s port where they had the goods lowered and smuggled to them and so off they went to head back to shore. However, they spotted the Revenue and Customs officers where they were going to dock.

Fearing the officers they headed to a small cave under a cliff and they spotted a block of butter inside someone had placed there to act as a fridge.

Knowing that it may be days until the officers head back to their post in Carlisle and their hunger growing, they decided to mix all the ingredients together. They mixed sugar, rum, spices and butter: making the first ever Cumbrian Rum butter to indulge in.

Traditionally in Cumbria people now give baptised babies rum butter. The sugar represents the sweetness of life, spices represent the spice of life, the rum the spirit of life and the butter the richness of life.

The Claife Crier

The peak of Claife Heights trig point looking down over Windermere/Hawskhead. Photo credit: Stephen Dawson.

Before ferries were invented the only way people could travel across Lake Windermere was by hiring a ferryman. A young ferryman was seeking shelter in a pub from the harsh weather outside. Before he was due to take his last trip he downed some ale.

Setting off just after midnight to pick up his last customers, he heard a voice beckon from the Claife Heights ‘hello boat hello’. Once the ferryman arrived on the westside of the shoreline he discovered that there were no passengers.

In a fit of rage, the ferryman stomped up Claife Heights where he encountered a life changing being. The story of what he met changes depending on who tells the story.

Some say he met a demon who had escaped through the gates of hell and surfaced through Claife Heights, others say he met the ghost of Furness Abbey who died of a broken heart after an illicit love affair.

One thing that is known to be the truth is that after his encounter the young man had aged some 30 years instantly.

The townspeople of Bowness were so shocked by his story that once he’d arrived back home in 1747 a priest who lived on Chapel Isle in Windermere performed several exorcisms on both sides of the shore.

To this day many people who live in the Lake District do not walk the shores when it is starless for the ferryman's fate lay on a starless night.

The Screaming Skulls of Calgarth

Calgarth Hall as it stands today. Photo credit: Calgarth Park.

In Ambleside lived a family, Dorothy and Kraster Cook. Although they were poor, Dorothy dottingly made their little cottage into a place they could both be proud to call home.

This was until a rich lawyer, Philipson came on to the scene. Envious of the families dwelling, he hatched a plan to seize their home.

He waited until Christmas day, when he knew they’d be starving, to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

The couple were forced to move out of their beautifully crafted cottage and had to settle for building a hovel at Calgarth park and with Dorothy being the homemaker she is, she even managed to make a home of the hovel.

Philipson’s greed grew more when he realised Dorothy still had the better house situated in a beauty spot on the banks of Windermere Lake. He devised another plan to take the Cook’s home, again on Christmas Day when he knew they were famished once more.

He invited the Cook’s over for dinner and had his gypsy servant sneakily place a silver jug in Dorthory’s bag.

Phillipson went on to accuse Dorothy and her Husband of theft and they were marched to Appleby to stand trial where the Cook’s were found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Just before Kraster and Dorthory were about to be hanged, Dorothy spotted Philipson in the crowd and cursed him before she and her husband met their demise.

Just hours after the Cook’s died Philipson moved into the hovel and went to bed when he felt a tingle down his spine. Philipson looked around the room and his eyes met a terrifying sight, it was the skulls of the Cook’s - the screaming skulls of Calgarth.

Screaming in terror back at the screaming skulls, he carried them to a fire downstairs and disposed of them.

Krarster (left) and Dorothy (Right) on the shelf of Philipson's room screaming. Photo credit: Paranormal Magazine issue 37.

Philipson headed back upstairs where again he was met with the screaming skulls of Calgarth on the same shelf he first spotted them.

This time he put a rock in the mouths of each of the skulls and ordered Naboth, the servant, to throw the skulls in the deepest part of Windermere Lake.

They both watched the skulls sink into the dark depths of the lake only for the Lake to start bubbling as the skulls arose once more, this time with maggots seeping out their eyeholes.

When Phillipson arrived back at Calgarth, the skulls were again perched on the same shelf. Fearing the Skulls would sit on the shelf for the rest of his days Philipson ordered a carpenter to panel over the shelf and went back to bed.

Phillipson was frightened to such a degree that he became insane and later met his demise in an insane asylum in Kendal.

Legend has it that if you visit Calgarth Hall and head all the way up the stairs you will hear a very sharp tap in the same place the shelf was boarded over. If you were to try and open it you would find the skulls of Dorothy and Kraster, the screaming skulls of Calgarth.

What story did you like the most? Let us know in the comments!

Acknowledgements: Cumbrian Folk Tales by Taffy Thomas

Cumbrian Legends, or, Tales of Other Times by Mrs. F Ryves

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