Cumbria, not unlike most areas of the British Isles, is rich in ghost stories and tales of strange apparitions. For this reason I’ve selected: a few of my favourite ones published elsewhere; tales told directly to me and not published elsewhere; and an apparition I have direct experience of.
The White Lady of Furness Abbey
A squire’s daughter would meet her lover at the ruined Furness Abbey. One day he took a journey out to sea from which he never returned. The girl went back to the Abbey every day until her death to the site she and her lover would meet, the route she walked is still known as My Lady’s Walk.
A White Lady (or Lady in White) is a type of female ghost, typically dressed in a white dress and associated with local legends of tragedy. White Lady legends are found in many countries, common to these legends is an accidental death, murder, or suicide, and the theme of loss, betrayal, and unrequited love.
Black Spectre of Furness Abbey
“I wasn’t frightened, I’d always been told that the dead can’t hurt you”
This is a tale told to me by one of two workers from Barrow Council, who watched a figure in black “floating” through the Abbey grounds one winter’s evening in the 1970s. The man who recounted the tale was rather pragmatic with regards what he witnessed, however his colleague was “terrified” and wouldn’t get out of the vehicle.
The Ulverston Giant
A tale from Ulverston, as told to me by a good friend, both he, his brother and a group of their friends witnessed this ghost. There have been a number of sightings since 1940.
The Ghost of Styhead Pass
Bjorn, an outlaw from the thirteenth century, is said to haunt the area of Styhead Pass between Wasdale and Borrowdale. This spectre is headless, and carries with him a bag full of live cats.
A note of caution if travelling the Shap fells at night, be vigilant of a shadowy figure on horseback, galloping as if being chased by the Devil himself. For it is said to be none other than Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur.
Pendragon Castle is a ruin located in Mallerstang, south of Kirkby Stephen. According to legend, the castle was built by Uther Pendragon. It is believed ghostly ladies in white fly around the castle ruins at night, the spectre of a black-coloured hen feverishly scrapes and pecks at the ground. Another ghost is that of Sir Hugh de Morville, Lord of Westmorland as punishment for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Cantebury.
Red Lady of Woodland
This is an apparition I personally witnessed in the spring of 2019 whilst walking through the village of Woodland, nr. Broughton-in-Furness. A slightly built figure dressed in a hooded robe, a bright red colour, was walking through trees parallel to the road. I climbed a stone wall, and walked over a field to get a better look, the apparition was still there for a few moments, then simply vanished. I made it to the area of trees and scrub a few minutes later, no birds were singing, there was a deathly silence. I definitely felt that I was unwelcome, so I left and carried on my journey.
Since posting the tale on Facebook, I have been contacted by a lady from Ulverston. She and her son have witnessed a similar ghost near Stonecross, Ulverston.
A Lady in Red or Red Lady is a type of female ghost, similar to the White Lady, but according to legend is more specifically attributed to a jilted lover, prostitute killed in a fit of passion, or woman of vanity. In all cases, the Lady in Red is wearing a scarlet or blood red dress or gown.
In the 1971 book Lancashire Lore compiled by The Lancashire Federation of Women’s Institutes, there is the tale of the Cartmel Quaker. In the late 1800s/ early 1900s, at the auction of a house in Cartmel, there was present, an old lady dressed in grey Quaker clothing. She sat quietly in the garden. At the end of the sale she disappeared. It transpired that everyone present had seen her. The previous owner of the house, long since dead, had been a Quaker.
The Janet Tree
The ghost of the witch of Shap, who would sit in an elderly ash tree, knitting. Sadly, the tree was cut down some time ago.
Screaming Skulls of Calgarth
Perhaps one of our most well-known ghost stories, the screaming skulls of the Crook family, who cursed Calgarth Hall.
Wainwright, A. A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells series
Birkett, B. 1994 Complete Lakeland Fells
Matthews, S. 2014 The Spectral Army of Souther Fell
Douglas, D. C; Greenway, G. W. 1953 English Historical Documents 1042–1189