Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Dangers of being Piskie-led

West of the River Parrett there are no fairies to be found, but there are plenty of piskies - or pixies to give them their more familiar Somerset name. These little people are generally held to be a distinct type of entity from the fairies. Indeed, according to at least one old Cornish legend, they are enemies of the fairies and agreed on the Parrett as the border between their lands only after a long and bitter war.

Be that as it may, the piskies are deeply embedded in the Cornish countryside. There are many places that are said to be their particular home, and many stories told of encounters between them and humans. These piskies are not thought to be outrightly hostile to humans, but they clearly are not especially well disposed toward us. One of the favourite tricks is to play a prank on travelling humans and so make them piskie-led.

This rather disturbing experience will come without warning and may strike when in familiar surroundings or when passing through strange territory. At its most simple the traveller will be unable to see a road or path, even though it is in plain view. Even today it is possible to drive up and down the same stretch of main road looking for a lane leading to a village and be quite unable to find it - then to return next day and find it at once. There would seem to be only one sure cure for being piskie-led. That is to turn your coat inside out and put it back on that way. Some suggest carrying a piece of iron about your person, or having some bread in your pocket, but this does not always seem to work.

In 1923 a woman named Mrs Hamilton was walking from her home in Tresahor to visit a friend in Constantine. She knew the path well, having walked it a hundred times previously. This time, however, she climbed a stile into a field and at once got piskie-led. No matter how hard she tried she could not find the stile out the other side. Returning back the way she had come she could not find the stile by which she had entered the field either, nor was any gate to be seen. She walked around the field three times finding only blank and impassable hedges on all sides. After an hour or so of this, the woman heard a farmer working nearby and called out for help. At once the spell was broken and she could see the various stiles and gates in their usual positions.

More dangerously, those who are piskie-led may find themselves being lured into serious danger. More than one walker has been treading what seemed to be a broad, firm path only to snap suddenly out of some kind of reverie to find themselves alone on a lonely stretch of moorland surrounded by treacherous bogs. Other walkers vanish completely and are never seen again having perished due to exposure on the high moorlands. Some people believe that those who are piskie-led in this way have offended the piskies without realising it. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Some Sad Spectres

In the 17th century a young lady from Zeals House, Wiltshire, eloped with a good looking servant with whom she was in love. She was never seen again, but very soon her ghost began to haunt the gardens. In the 1890s a female skeleton was found in nearby woods and is widely believed to have been that of the unfortunate young woman who was murdered by her lover for her jewels.

In the late 19th century the body of a woman, dressed in rich clothes, was washed up on the beach near Teignmouth. The body was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard. Her phantom haunts the stretch of beach where she was found. Walking disconsolately along the shoreline, the richly dressed lady in a long gown will pause occasionally to stare out to sea.

Lord Marney died in 1523 before he could finish building a new manor at Layer Marney, Essex. His son finished the house, but to different plans and Lord Marney returns in spectral form to protest at the changes.

In Cambridge is Christ’s College. At any time of the year a visitor to the college may come cross a stooped figure shuffling quietly around the Fellows’ Garden. This is the penitent ghost of a Fellow from two centuries ago named Christopher Rounds. He killed another Fellow of the college on this spot and, although he escaped the noose, his spirit returns still in the hope of achieving forgiveness.

The Silent Pool in Surrey is haunted by the phantom of a beautiful medieval maiden who drowned here. Witnesses differ as to whether she appears clothed or naked.

The ghost of Lydia Atley lurks by the lychgate in Ringstead, Northamptonshire. She was murdered by a local married farmer when she fell pregnant by him, but her body was never found. It is assumed that she is trying to lead people to her grave so that her body can be given a decent burial.

Deeply disconsolate are the shades that lurk near the old burial ground at Princeton, high on Dartmoor. Locally it is said that these are the phantoms of the dozens of French prisoners of war who died in captivity here during the Napoleonic Wars. Far from home and no doubt miserable in captivity, they lie buried in unmarked graves. No wonder their shades wander here.

The town hall at Woodbridge is haunted by a man dressed in 18th century clothing and bearing a mournful face.

From The Little Book of the Paranormal by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 19 August 2011

The ghost at the Robbie Burns, Co. Durham

Always ready for a chance to learn something new about ghosts, and rarely opposed to a pint of quality beer, I visited Ye Robbie Burns Inn in Houghton le Spring, Co. Durham. The pub is, of course, named after the famous 18th century Scottish poet. Taking his inspiration from folk tales from around his home near Ayr, Burns wrote in the local dialect and has been adopted as the unofficial national poet of Scotland. He was born into a farming family but turned to writing when his farm teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and he later became a customs officer. Despite his great fame, it is not his ghost that lurks in the pub that takes his name.

The ghost I had been sent to find was that of an unfortunate man by the name of Thomas Caldwell. In 1876 Caldwell was working as a barman at Ye Robbie Burns when a dray called with a delivery of beer barrels. Caldwell hurried down to the cellar and opened up the cellar trap door to allow the barrels to be rolled down. The drayman deposited his barrels and prepared to leave. What happened next is a bit of a mystery, but something went very wrong and the drayman heard screams coming from the cellar. He hurried down to find the luckless Caldwell pinned beneath a barrel. The barman was still alive, but barely so. A doctor was sent for and the barrel carefully rolled away, but Caldwell died before medical help could reach him.

The sad spectre of Caldwell has been seen in the cellar several times since. And this ghost is not content merely to roam restlessly. He moves things around, switches lights on and off and generally fiddles about with whatever is left unattended in the cellar.


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Spooky Stone at Bettiscombe, Dorset

Probably best left alone is the Wishing Stone at Bettiscombe, Dorset. This is an ancient megalith that stands proud and alone on the hillside high above the village. As its name suggests, this standing stone has the power to grant wishes, but Midsummer’s Night is not the time to come here in search of help. On that shortest night of the year the stone tears itself free of the ground and lumbers down the hill to drink at the small stream in the valley below. Then, as dawn approaches, it climbs back up to its ancient home.

Also on the move is a phantom hearse that haunts the lane outside Bettiscombe Church. Drawn by a pair of black horses, the black carriage moves slowly towards the church in total silence. Whose funeral is being recreated, or what the apparition might mean, nobody is terribly certain.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Goodramgate Ghost in York

Also in Goodramgate stands Marmaduke’s Restaurant, which takes its name from the ghost that haunts it. Marmaduke lived here in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He had a tragic life, however, having been born badly crippled. In those less understanding days, those with physical deformities were not as caringly treated as they are today. If a person could not earn a living they were a burden on their families and did not always fare well. Poor Marmaduke did his best to be helpful about the house, but his family made it clear that they resented the waste of the money they spent on food and clothes for him. Eventually in 1715 the unhappy Marmaduke hanged himself in an upstairs room. Before he died the boy scratched into the wall the inscription:

Marmaduke Buckle

The numbers being his birth and death dates together with his age.

Strangely, this tragic death did not mean that the spectral Marmaduke has become embittered toward humanity. He does not return to wreak vengeance on the society that caused him so much pain in life. Indeed Marmaduke has continued to be a helpful soul about the place. He will tidy up pencils on desks and put away magazines that have been left lying about.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Horror in the Bear at Hodnet, Salop

The Bear Hotel in this old town, dominated by black and white timber architecture, takes its name from the fact that for many years it was home to a bear pit. It was here that the local folk engaged in the ancient past time of bear baiting. A brown bear was secured by a chain to a stake in the centre of the pit, then hunting dogs were let loose into the pit. Bets were taken on how long the bear would last and how many dogs it might kill before it died.

Thankfully the pub these days offers less bloodthirsty entertainments and fine foods. Back in the 1680s a Welsh gentleman by the name of Jasper would stop here when travelling to Shrewsbury on business. Whether it was the hearty meals or the bear baiting that first attracted him, we do not know, but he enjoyed the inn’s hospitality so much that he became a regular guest. He was popular too, paying in good gold coin and standing drinks for the locals.

Then he came one time with neither gold nor silver. He explained that he had lost his fortune speculating in stocks and shares in London. Wearing only a thin coat in the bitterest of winter weather, he asked the landlord for a night’s lodging and some hot food to see him through. He promised to pay when he had regained his wealth. The landlord, clearly a hard-hearted man, refused. It was ready cash or nothing. Despite the many times Jasper had stayed and paid well, the landlord turned him out into the snow.

A few hours later the landlord left the bar to fetch something from the store cupboard. He screamed aloud and staggered backwards into the bar, pointing in horror towards the cupboard. Desperately struggling for breath the landlord tried to say something, then pitched forward stone dead. The customers gingerly investigated the cupboard, but it was empty of anything except the stored provisions to be expected. A doctor was summoned who declared the landlord had died of a terrific shock or fright.

Next morning as the folk of Hodnet began gathering for a mid-winter funeral, they found a second body. This was the corpse of Jasper that lay under a hedge where he had clearly sought shelter from the bitter weather, only to freeze to death. On his face was a broad smile of clear joy and happiness. Had he somehow returned to the inn in spectral form to cause the death of the mean-spirited landlord? That at least was the story that ran around Hodnet that chill winter’s day as a double funeral took place.

These days, there can be little doubt that Jasper is seen in ghostly form. He appears most often, not in the bar or store room, but in the upstairs corridor. Dressed as in his glory days, he wears a richly embroidered velvet coat as he walks slowly from a room towards the stairs. If he harbours any ill will towards the Bear, it is not evident. In fact one person who saw him in the 1990s said that he appeared a jolly and merry soul.

As well he might, for the Bear offers hospitality welcoming enough to make anyone happy.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Phantoms at Salisbury Cathedral

The city of Salisbury is one of the most attractive in England, and the only city in Wiltshire. The centre preserves its medieval street plan and has many ancient buildings within it. In recent years the building of modern housing estates outside the centre has boosted the vibrancy of the city without spoiling its old time charm.

Although the origins of Salisbury go back to pre-Roman times, the current site has been occupied only since around 1220. It was in that year that Bishop Robert Poore pulled down the old cathedral located within the ramparts of the Roman town Sorviodunum high on the hills to the north and began building the current cathedral down in the valley, where the water supply was better and the wind less violent. The people of Salisbury soon followed the bishop’s lead and the new town eagerly clustered around the cathedral. The ghosts of Salisbury cluster there still.

Indeed, the more enigmatic phantoms are to be found at the Cathedral itself. The most dramatic of these are the giant white birds, larger than swans, that fly around the spire to announce the death of the bishop or other senior cleric associated with the building. The most notorious sighting occurred in 1885. A certain Miss Moberly was walking across the Cathedral Close when she saw the huge birds wheeling above her. Not knowing of the legend she pointed the strange birds out to a workman who told her of the old story. The event was given its disturbing quality by the fact that Miss Moberly was the daughter of the then bishop, who was grievously ill. The poor girl hurried home, but her father died later that day.

One of the oddest tombs in the county is that of Lord Stourton, who in 1556 was involved in an extraodrinary chain of events that ended with him committing a double murder. No one could doubt his lordship’s guilt and death by hanging was the sentence of the court. When Lord Stourton was led into the market place for his execution, he found that the usual rope of hemp had been replaced by one of finest silk. Despite his crimes he was allowed to be buried in the cathedral and the strange silken cord was suspended over his tomb. In 1780 the then dean thought the rope in bad taste and took it down. Despite this, the fatal silken cord, or at least its glowing phantom, has been seen on several occasions. The double murder led to its own hauntings, as described under Kilmington.

Yet more mystery surrounds the area dedicated to St Margaret of Scotland. Several visitors have experienced a strange feeling here. One described it as a sudden coldness, another as the feeling of being watched.