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Spooky Cumbrian Folk Tales pt.2

This week for Hollrween we have stories of ghost encounters, people making deals with the devil and even a person turning into a swan.

Driving home for Christmas

The A6 road running through Shap. Photo credit: David Dixon

One dark and starless night a man was travelling up the motorway towards Carlisle to be with his family on Christmas Eve.

As he ventured further north the weather worsened and as he was passing through Shap on the A6 he spotted a hitchhiker in the storm and so decided to pick him up.

To pass the time for the 30 or so miles ahead of them they struck up a conversation where the man travelling homebound discovered the hitchhiker was a retired Milkman called Ken and they both quickly discovered they shared a passion for chess.

As they approached Carlisle the man offered to drop Ken off at his home and Ken promised that he would give him a chess puzzle to solve and claimed that it was one of the best he had ever come across.

The traveller went and knocked on Ken's door despite being a little puzzled that Ken himself didn’t open the door for him.

He was greeted by a woman and told her that he had just given her husband a lift home which turned the woman to tears and she was absolutely beside herself.

Once the woman had calmed down a bit she offered the traveller in for a brew. She told him that her husband had died in a car accident exactly one year ago on the infamous bad bend on the A6 by the churchyard in Shap.

The traveller, who at this point was quite shaken, had been told by her husband that the puzzle was on the mantelpiece and he glanced over to see a piece of paper that was being held down by a clock paperweight.

So he took the piece of paper and discovered the truly amazing puzzle and went on his way to his family...

The Ghost Ship on the Solway Firth

A picture of a ship called the Solway Firth on the port of Goole. Photo credit: PWR

This Christmas tale is set during the height of the slave trade and follows the voyage of a slave ship the Betsy Jane making it’s way through Cumbria en route to the slave markets of Manchester.

On Christmas Eve the boat was sailiing down the Solway Coast carrying slaves who were understandably fearful and scared. The captain and crew onboard of ol' Betsy only had thoughts of the wealth that was awaiting them when they were to sell the captive on board.

They were so distracted by their greed and thoughts of gold that the ship crashed into the Giltstone Rock and sank with the loss of captain, crew and the slaves they were carrying on board.

It is believed that now on every Christmas eve as the bells ring out through the coastal towns of Allonby, Maryport, and Silloth you can spot the Betsy Jane once again trying to dock but failing and eventually sinking into the Solway Firth never to reach port.

Hunchback and The Swan

The cover photo for a 2017 short animation based on the story of the Hunchback and The Swan.

Photo credit: Dotty Kultys

This fable is set in the Lake District, more specifically Grasmere, and centres around a hunchback who lived on the fellside in a little cottage many years ago who was isolated from society with his only friends being the animals of the forest.

One day when the Hunchback was collecting sticks for a fire, he was followed by his furry friends, a weasel, a rabbit, a badger, a fox and flying by their side a robin and a wren. His favourite animal of all was a swan that he dubbed ‘Lady of the Lake’.

During one winter the hunchback disappeared leaving the animals to fend for themselves. The animals searched for him and headed up to his cottage where one of the Robin’s spotted the Hunchback lying in bed.

Fearing that he was dead the robin pecked on the glass of his window and the Hunchback responded with a smile but looked gravely ill.

The animals asked a wise owl how to help the hunchback. The owl said to the robin that the Lady of the Lake may be able to cure him.

The robin found the Lady of the Lake in her nest and she waddled up to the hunchbacks homestead with the other animals following suit. They formed a circle around his cottage, a magic circle!

The Swan entered his little thatched cottage and tapped the hunchback with her tanagrine coloured beak three times and he smiled.

She tore feathers from her right wing and put them into the hunchback's right arm and did the same with her left wing and finished by tearing some feathers from her back and putting them into his.

After some time had passed, the animals watched as not one, but two swans waddled out of the cottage. Both made their way down to the lakeside and swam off together.

Legend has it that all the Swans in the Lake District are mute because the hunchback in this story was also mute.

The Legend of Devils Bridge

Devils Bridge over the river Lune in Kirby Lonsdale. Photo credit:

The legend of Devils Bridge concerns a farmer's wife who, every Thursday, travelled down from Cowan Bridge on the Yorkshire border to Kirby Lonsdale market to sell bread. The wife was always accompanied by their little chunky Yorkshire terrier Charlie.

One day when the farmer's wife and her terrier Charlie were making the same trip they do every Thursday crossing the wooden footbridge over the river Lune, it started raining. The rain started just as they got into the marketplace.

The downpour didn’t stop all day but at least the farmer's wife sold all her bread buns bar one. After a successful day, she made the journey home only to discover that the footbridge had been washed away due to flooding.

Pondering her next move, she gazed into the grey swelled water thinking of how best to get home. Suddenly she sensed something on her right hand side.

When she glanced to see the presence, there was a flash of light and a small cherry coloured man with horns, hooves and a pointed tail appeared.

‘Well’ she thought, ‘He’s not a local!’ as the devil himself asked why she was in distress. The farmer's wife replied that she needed a bridge to get to the other side to go home.

The devil offered to build her a bridge but it would come at the cost of the next soul to walk across the bridge.

The farmer's wife glanced down at poor ol' Charlie and shook hands with the devil and the deal was made.

As the devil got to work, building the bridge from stones found on the fellside, the farmers wife and Charlie sought shelter under a tree and caught a nap whilst the devil did his work.

Once the devil had finished, the farmer's wife and Charlie awoke. Cunningly she threw her last sole bread bun onto the bridge for Charlie to go and eat and turned to the devil to say the dog was the first living creature to cross the bridge.

The devil was not happy that he had been outsmarted and, in a fit of rage, he ran to the middle of the bridge and slammed his right claw into the stone wall.

It is said that if you visit Devil’s Bridge and walk to the middle you can clearly see a handprint, claws and all.


Cumbrian Folk Tales by Taffy Thomas

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

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