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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Is Cumbria the most haunted?

Ghouls, vampires, witches, haunted hand dryers and ghosts called Bill. Cumbria’s apparently got the lot.

Carlisle railway station is getting in on fright night by hosting ghostly tours in aid of charity. Last year the Halloween event was a smash hit, selling out fast.

The station’s hidden undercroft was opened to the public and raised more than £3,000 for children’s charity CLIC Sargent.

About 400 people took part in the tours, with hundreds more being turned away. The station crew hosted a second tour several months later due to popular demand. It’s clear, whether sceptic or believer, the paranormal world has us hooked.

A quick sweep of the web reveals the tip of the iceberg and website www.paranormaldatabase.com lists no fewer than 186 eerie reports from around the county. Many of them unexplained “hauntings” in and around historic buildings.

How about the phantom men in top hats reportedly seen by guests at Lowther’s Askham Hall in the 1950s? The tale goes that after a black cat found mummified in a wall space was destroyed, the ghostly presence vanished.

Carlisle Castle, said to be stalked by a ghostly woman, was visited in 2009 by Living TV’s Most Haunted team. In 1823, a soldier was apparently so frightened when he encountered her that he bayoneted the apparition, impaling the wall behind it.

He is said to have fainted and died of shock the following day. Three years earlier, a woman clothed in tartan was supposedly discovered bricked up on a staircase in the Captain’s Tower. She was holding a young child and her costume was said to date back to Elizabethan times.

Although the “ghosts” at the castle are said to be pretty friendly, Frederick Graham, of Dalegarth Avenue, Harraby, had a different tale to tell. He says: “As a serving soldier of the Border Regiment I was sleeping alone on the ground floor of the Arroyo Billet, Christmas 1954.

“During the night I was attacked by a ghost which was intent on strangling me, and it very nearly did.

“It was the most horrific night of my life and I remember it to this day.”

More recently, alarms at the castle’s King’s Own Border Regiment museum were reportedly set off three nights in a row in 1992. An apparition moving under an arch between the exhibition and the gift shop area was rumoured to be the culprit.

Topping the spook list is West Cumbria’s Muncaster Castle, said to be the most haunted place in Britain.

Tom Skelton was Muncaster’s court jester at the end of the 1500s, and reputedly the last court jester in England.

He was also pretty handy with an axe. The tale goes that when a carpenter fell in love with Sir Ferdinand Pennington’s daughter, it was Tom the master called upon to chop off the would-be suitor’s head.

The castle’s Peter Frost-Pennington says: “Many people are pretty sure he’s still here, playing tricks. I didn’t believe in ghosts when I came here.

“But if you think you’re getting good at something, the Fool pricks your pomposity. You’ll be showing people around and equipment will stop working.

“One or two people who perhaps haven’t been very pleasant while they’ve been here have reported being shaken in their beds. They shouldn’t have been so nasty the day before.”

Roads too have their fair share of yarns that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The A6 perhaps more so than any other. A black dog is said to run across the A6, near Shap Fell then vanish over the edge of a cliff.

A highwayman was said to have been hanged for murder on the A6 at Barrock Hill, near Carlisle. Legend has it the rope was not tight enough and the highwayman took days to die. Whitfield’s ghost is said to still be heard today crying for help near the spot.

Cumbria’s wuthering fells, where wind bellows on dark winter nights, are rich in ghostly tales. Take Cartmel Fell, where the voice of a pining woman is said to be heard calling out for her partner, a charcoal burner, who was struck by lightning and died.

Or Cross Fell which can be clearly seen from Alston, where legend has is St Augustine put up a cross to rid the area of spirits.

Caldbeck is a magnet for spooks that walk among us, if the stories are to be believed.

Kathleen Ashbridge is a member of the Caldbeck & District Local History Society. Around 1910, her aunt kept an exercise book of jottings. Two of the pages are devoted to ghostly local happenings. In it she states: “The Branthwaite Neuk Boggle, in the form of a big black dog still haunts one short stretch of road.

“It appears from a holly bush in the hedge, then disappears into one a little way off.”

The writer also warns: “The flat ghost appears in white lately. The ruins of the house from which it came have been cleared, so somewhere there is a displaced apparition.”

Brampton historian and tour guide, Mike Goodman, also tells the kind of fireside stories that make you sleep with the light on.

First up is that of the Croglin Vampire. Even though it is thought to hark from the 1800s, it is still a tale to make you shiver. Involving a bloodthirsty vampire and an army of villagers marching to wreak revenge upon the beast, Mike tells it well.

Then there is the tale of the Capon Tree which stood just outside the town. Mike said: “Six Highlanders from the Jacobite rebellion were hanged there in 1745. On the anniversary of their being hung, if you go to there, you will see the bodies of the Highlanders swinging in the trees.”

Although creepy tales don’t always have to be historic. Earlier this year, staff at a Workington pub got spooked.

Workers at Elliotts, on Uldale Street, reported apparitions, deathly chills and even a haunted hand-dryer.

Dawn Murray, whose son Darren Dawson is the pub’s licensee, claimed to have seen the ghost of a woman in a blue headscarf several times.

“Everyone who works here has seen or felt something,” says Dawn, of Westfield, Workington.

“I have had a conversation with a hand-dryer in the toilets.

“I was in there cleaning and I jokingly asked: ‘Are you here today?’ And the hand-dryer was going on and off as if it was answering back.”

In 2007, a family fled their home in Raffles complaining of flying objects, flashing lights and unexplained noises. Investigators from the group Scottish Paranormal said the poltergeist was the ghost of a former neighbour, called Bill, and asked it to leave.

And last year, a film footage of a spooky ‘spirit’ at a Carlisle off-licence caused an internet sensation. The Botcherby ‘ghost’ – captured on a CCTV camera outside Simply Food & Drinks – caused a stir around the world.

Thousands of people have downloaded the mysterious recording from the News & Star website. One theory is that the “spook” has been disturbed by workmen renovating a flat across the road, which was also said to have been haunted.

It’s clear that tales of the unexpected grip people’s imagination. Carol Donnelly, of Open Book history tours, will be leading Ghosts and Ghastly Stories tours at the Castle in Halloween week. She says: “The tours are for children – I think the children like to be a little bit scared and to look into doors that you can’t normally get into.

“It’s a different answer if you were talking about the ghost tours we do round the city at Open Book. We get paranormal investigators on those tours.

“But it’s like I always say, there’s no evidence that ghosts have ever hurt anybody!”

For information about Halloween Ghost Tours with Mike Goodman on October 28, to include a Halloween supper and entertainment at Brampton cafe, Off the Wall, visit www.offthewallweb.co.uk.

For more information about Carlisle Citadel Station Tours to be held on October 29, visit www.carlisleundercroft. co.uk.

To find out about Ghosts and Ghastly Stories tours at Carlisle Castle held between Ocotber 24 and October 28, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk.

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