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Spooky Cumbrian Folk Tales pt.3

Happy Halloween! This is our final instalment of our folk tales series and we have got some great stories for you. Expect talking trees, witches getting revenge and one of the most haunted buildings in Cumbria.

The Vixen and the Oakmen

An illustration of a type of oakman, as seen in Beatrix Potter

Set in the backdrop of Carrock Fell is the story of an unlikely friendship between an anthropomorphic tree and a Vixen.

The Vixen was growing tired after an entire day of being hunted by hounds that were edging in. A milky flower-covered hawthorn tree dangling with crimson berries suggested to the Vixen that she can escape by jumping over a drystone wall and running along it.

The Vixen however was exhausted and did not fancy clambering up a wall. The hawthorn pointed out, with their large branches acting as arms, that there was a water gap that smaller animals use to escape.

The Vixen squeezed and scrunched her way through the gap and thanked the tree whilst still being pursued by the leader of the pack of hounds.

To aid the Vixen in her escape the hawthorn dropped a flurry of its red wine berries onto the hound allowing the Vixen precious time to escape into the forest.

Now concealed by some ferns, the vixen faced another threat: the sound of fox hunters. She asked a holly tree to help block the way behind but the holly tree betrayed her and tried to get her to fall into a trap.

The vixen made a quick getaway from the huntsman to a grand oak tree pawing at its trunk for help. The trunk magically opened up and the Oakmen pulled her inside and invited her to stick her sore paws into his oak pool to heal them.

The vixen warned the Oakmen that there were hunters and gatherers looking for mistletoe and the Oakmen thanked her for the warning.

Once the threat had gone and the Vixen had healed, the Oakmen allowed her to leave and she shot off home to her den.

In the morning she was awoken by ‘ol daddy fox’ who brought home a fat goose after seeing farmer Gregg and the hunters in the grasp of the barren holly tree.

The vixen smiled ‘surely the trees and creatures of the forest and fells reward those with a kind and polite nature’.

The Bishops Rock

The Bishops Rock, now known as The Bishops Barth. Photo credit:

This tale is set in the village of Thornthwaite situated just outside Keswick in 1783 and at the heart of it is the Bishop of Derry who was travelling to Whitehaven when he made a stop at the Swan Inn.

The pub was revelling with locals and tourists when the Bishop noticed a few of the villagers gambling and so the Bishop wagered that he could ride his packhorse all the way up Barf mountain and around the large rock at the top.

The villagers were in and decided it was a safe bet. When the bishop and his steed reached the rock, the horse became startled and threw the bishop towards the rock killing him stone dead - no pun intended.

The locals took their earnings from the priest's bag of gold but the landlord felt a bit remorseful and so, in his memory, had the stone painted white as well as a rock at the foot of the fell.

The strange part of this whole story is that the rocks to this day appear freshly painted and no one knows who the mystery painter is.

The Legend of Armboth Hall: A Gruesome Wedding

An old map of where Armboth Hall was situated hundreds of years ago

Hundreds of years ago a couple were due to get married at Armboth Hall, situated near Thirlmere water, on Halloween.

People told the family that no good could ever come from a wedding on Halloween and they were right.

Just as the preparations were being made for the wedding, a servant rocked up in a fit of distress with dire news that the bride had been brutally murdered and her corpse was thrown into Thirlmere lake.

Locals say that, on a dark and foggy night, the deceased bride-to-be can be spotted as a ghost decorated in wedding dress, garms and all and can be seen swimming up the lake following a little black dog.

Inside Armboth Hall itself is also said to be massively haunted especially on Halloween and people have sighted lights inside flashing on and off.

Even more terrifying is that if you look through the window when the building is unoccupied you can see ghouls making wedding arrangements for guests that all feature in Cumbrian legends whose deaths remain unavenged.

Mary Baines: the Witch of Tebay

Mary Baines lived in a rural farm on the fellside near Tebay just a little north of Kendal in 1721. Mary, being considered different by the townsfolk, was often the person people blamed when anything out of the ordinary happened in the village.

Milk gone sour? The work of Mary. Animals dying in childbirth? Again the work of Mary.

Like many people who were dubbed as witches, Mary had a black cat who was like a friend to her. Until one day Ned Nisson, who owned the Cross Keys Inn, allowed his hound to kill Mary’s cat.

Fearing the repercussions of his actions, he ordered his servant Willan to give the cat an honourable burial.

Willan however, had contempt for his superior, no respect for Mary and no remorse for the cat. He decided to chuck the cat into a rough grave, no prayer, no proper send off. Mary quickly caught wind of the news of her cat's demise and was boiling with anger.

Then one day Willan was ploughing Ned’s land when suddenly he hit a rock and the handle went right between Willan’s eyes leaving him blind. Willan got his comeuppance, and again, the townsfolk dubbed it to be the work of Mary.

Acknowledgements: Cumbrian Folk Tales by Taffy Thomas

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

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