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.
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 the 1940s.
Gill Banks Ghosts
“I wouldn’t go up there for a gold clock”
At one time, the lane up Gills Bank, Ulverston, was considered so haunted, that the local residents wouldn’t walk it at night.
Bjorn the Headless Ghost
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 sack full of cats.
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.
The White Dobbie
A ‘dobbie’ in Cumbrian dialect is a malevolent spirit/ ghost, often confused with a Boggart. The latter, more of a godlin-like creature. The lonely road from Bardsea to Rampside was haunted by a wearied, odd-looking fellow with haunting eyes. Villagers would shriek “Heaven save us, tis th White Dobbie”. His companion was a white hare, thin to the bone, with gleaming red eyes. As the pair neared a village, the often barking dogs would fall silent, indeed tremble in fear. It was believed that the hare was the spirit of a murdered friend, and perhaps the Dobby was the murderer, now cursed with lifelong wandering.
Wainwright, A. A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells series
Birkett, B. 1994 Complete Lakeland Fells
Douglas, D. C; Greenway, G. W. 1953 English Historical Documents 1042–1189