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Smithill’s Hall

The earliest record of habitation on the site is 1335 when William de Radcliffe built the great hall which is a typical Lancashire fortified manor house. In the 16th Century the hall passed by marriage to the Barton family and it was during the tenure of Robert Barton (1524 – 1580) that the hall achieved its paranormal notoriety.

As Mary 1st attempted to restore England to the Catholic faith using fire and the sword, the Reverend George Marsh was brought to Smithill’s Hall to account for his refusal to recant his Protestant Faith and embrace the Catholic religion being foisted on her subjects by the notorious persecutions of the Queen “Bloody Mary”. Throughout the interrogation, which is believed to have taken place in the “Green Room” , George Marsh remained steadfast in his beliefs until, exasperated, he rushed out the room and down the stairs where he stamped his foot so hard upon the floor that its imprint is still visible today and cried “if I am true to my faith, god shall leave his mark”. Marsh was later tried for Heresy and burnt at the stake at Spittle-Boughton near Chester on April 24th 1555 .

But reverberations from those long ago events still echo around this old and atmospheric house with its rough timber- beamed interior, uneven floors and stone fireplaces. The ghost of George Marsh has been seen gliding across the Green room and disappearing through a wall whilst the footprint now preserved beneath a metal plate bears a dark stain which is said to turn red and sticky each April 24th.

The Fairy Steps. Beetham

An uphill walk through the peaceful woods above the Lakeland village of Beetham brings you to a tranquil little grotto where a narrow passage squeezes between two sheer rock faces via a flight of natural stone stairs known as the “Fairy Steps”. It used to be common knowledge in the village that this was the domain of fairies and that if you make a wish as you descend the tiny steps and you complete the descent without touching the rocky sides then your wish will come true. Sadly, only someone whose stature matches that of a fairy stands any chance of accomplishing the impossible feat and those who attempt it would be better employed keeping a keen eye peeled for the other inhabitant of this picturesque spot a demon dog known as “the Cappel” whose fiery eyes and twisted snarl strike terror into the hearts of those who encounter him at his rocky lair in the fading light of day. The steps, incidentally, are situated on one Lakeland's corpse trails, along which the coffins of those who died in more remote and inaccessible wildernesses of the neighbourhood, would be carried for burial in the nearby churchyard. Several of the iron rings through which ropes were threaded to haul the coffins up the sheer rock face are still visible in this peaceful and idyllic haunt.

Renwick

The tiny village of Renwick possesses a small and uneventful church in which can be found an intriguing explanatory announcement that tells of a supernatural connection

The village is lonely and isolated perched on the edge of desolate moor land by what is poetically named “Fiends Fell”. and informs the casual observer of the sinister reason behind the villagers being dubbed “Renwick Bats”. Although the church is an ancient foundation a sad notice inside the tiny church laments “our little church is bare now, it has been burnt and ravaged through many centuries of border warfare but it is beautiful to our eyes. To the casual visitor the village is bleak. Take a walk along the byways it is the most beautiful parish in the country”

Inside the tranquil though uneventful little church is a type written announcement that informs in unsteady lettering the reason why the villagers in this remote and isolated spot are called “Renwick Bats”. By 1733 the church had fallen into disrepair and it was decided to rebuild it. As the workmen were demolishing the building a hideous creature suddenly flew at them from the foundations which they immediately recognised as a cockatrice. This mythical creature was said to be a four legged cock with a crown, the tale of a serpent ending in a hook and huge pinions. Its gaze was believed to be fatal or, according to Chaucer it “sleeth folk by the venim of his sighte”.

The workmen, naturally, were terrified by the sudden appearance and when the creature suddenly rose up before them they downed tools and ran for their lives. All except John Tallantire who taking the branch of a rowan tree (long believed to be a protection against witchcraft and diverse other evils) and fought the beast managing to kill it, earning for himself the gratitude of the parish and for his heirs “his estate was enfranchised.. forever”.

Over the years the story has been toned down with the beast being subsequently described as a giant bat hence the epithet “Renwick bats” falling upon the descendents of the 18th century villagers.

It is these descendents who speak in hushed tones of a huge black, bat like flying figure that has been seen flying about the village on “certain evenings” and others who may not see it have sensed its evil presence as a cold chill passes over them and a faint shadow flickers across them.

 

Newchurch In Pendle

The sullen dome of Pendle Hill broods aloof and alone, its stark and cracked facade dominating the surrounding countryside. Dark fissures and sinister ravines scar its lean slopes which are oft enveloped in swirling mists that roll across its bleak yet strangely enchanting summit. It is an ethereal landscape steeped in legend, a place of dark deeds and haunting history.

In its shadow nestles the tiny village of Newchurch around which in the 17th century centred one of the areas most shameful albeit fascinating episodes – the Pendle Witches. That witchcraft has long been a much feared aspect of local life is aptly demonstrated when you gaze upon the sturdy tower of St Mary’s Church where carved into the stone work is a peculiar oval shape said to be “the eye of God” which reputedly protects the village from the malicious glance of witches.

And the story of the Pendle Witches is an intricate part of local history tinged with folklore. It hinged initially around two local families led by two old ladies named Demdike and Chattox. The locals needed no convincing that the two were witches and possessed special powers. They were both feared and reviled in equal measure. In March 1612 Demdike’s granddaughter, Alizon Device, put a curse upon an itinerant tailor who had refused to sell her some pins. When the unfortunate man was rendered paralysed Alizon was brought before the authorities and confessed to witchcraft. Furthermore she also implicated both Demdike and Chattox the former of whom confessed to evil deeds in April 1612 and told how the devil would enter her and suck out her blood leaving her “stark mad”. The three were sent to Lancaster Castle to await their trial and a witch-hunt promptly began in the area which resulted in seven more “witches”, languishing in the Castle gaol including Alice Nutter, a gentle woman of high breeding who lived at nearby Roughlee Hall. Demdike died in prison but the others were tried for witchcraft and found guilty despite the judge admitting that he was “moved by the ruin of so many poor creatures at one time”. The Pendle witches were hanged on Lancaster Moor and the supposed tomb of Alice Nutter can still be seen in St Mary’s Churchyard.

With such a history of intrigue and injustice the area cries out to be haunted and the inhabitants from beyond the grave do not disappoint.

In a field just outside the village there lies a toppled stone near which the sorrowful wraith of a young girl has been sighted weeping, it is said, for her lover, a soldier who went to a long ago war from which he never returned.

In the village itself is a delightfully idiosyncratic little shop called “Witches Galore” run by charismatic Maureen Stopforth who has often felt an unseen presence moving through the premises and has sensed a female form standing by the wall to an adjoining property. When the elderly lady who lived next door died, her daughter a pragmatic business woman and magistrate to boot came to clear the premises and told Maureen matter of factly that her mothers “visitor” had called. She went on to explain how her mother had often seen the sad shade of the girl drifting from across the upper rooms of her house and disappearing through the wall that connected to Maureen's property.

The Goat Gap Inn.

Situated amidst bleak and desolate moor land on a lonely stretch of the A65 this whitewashed, picturesque inn with its low beamed, narrow corridors and dark interior has a long tradition of a being haunted.

In one of the bedrooms guests have gazed in stunned silence as an unseen hand slowly turns the handle of the hot tap. In another room guests have complained of hearing the joyous sound of children playing their ghostly voices singing “ring a ring a roses” in the dead of winter nights when snow and ice cover the surrounding moors.

In the downstairs bar a cloth capped, ghostly drover whom successive owners have christened “George” sits pensively in the corner by a window, his unblinking eyes gazing fixedly ahead. He is believed to be a former owner from the days when the remote wayside inn was a tiny farmhouse, who returns to sit in his favourite position and is content to just sit and watch the world go by, but exactly which world nobody is sure!

Sizeburgh Castle

The grim grey walls of this turreted Lakeland Castle have been home to twenty seven successive generations of the Strickland family. In Medieval times an owner of the castle is reputed to have had a wife whose beauty was the talk of the neighbourhood. So consumed by jealousy was he , that when he went off to fight in Scotland, he locked his wife in her room and told his servants that there would be serious consequences should they release her before his return. Heeding his instructions to the letter, the servants ignored the pleadings and ranting of their unfortunate mistress and allowed her to starve to death. Her ghostly screams are said to echo through the rooms and corridors of the castle begging for release from the awful sentence that has, apparently, proved eternal and kept her death pangs and pleadings sounding throughout the castle and echoing down the centuries.

Levens Hall

An early Lakeland guide describes Levens Park as “the sweetest spot that fancy can imagine” a description which still holds true today. Gazing upon its magnificent Tudor frontage, it is hard to imagine that anyone could wish harm upon this picturesque manor house but a curse is said to have hung over it since the early years of the 18th century when a dishevelled gypsy woman arrived at the door of the house seeking a meagre portion of any form of sustenance. Her begging fell upon death ears and she was sent away empty handed into the cold of the Lakeland winter. Soon afterwards she lay dying from cold and hunger, but as she slipped into the grip of exposure she summoned up what little energy remained and spat a curse upon the occupants of Levens Hall. There would, she said, be no male heir born to the family until a white fawn should be born in the park and the River Kent cease flowing. And so it proved for the generations came and went but no male heir was born the estate instead passing from uncle to nephew or brother to cousin. Then, during a particularly harsh winter in 1895, the river froze over, one of the Parks Deer gave birth to a white fawn and a son, Alan Desmond Bagot, was born to the household thus ending the curse.

But the sinister wraith of the gypsy woman still wanders the grounds and corridors of Levens Hall and has appeared to several members of the family including the families then seven year old daughter who came across the “grey lady” in the house in 1954. She is sometimes accompanied on her lonely perambulations by a ghostly little black dog, who on occasion makes solitary appearances skipping playfully before visitors as they ascend the stairs only to disappear without trace when he reaches their room or more unnerving, appearing so close to the feet of the halls visitors that they all but overbalance in their desperate attempts to avoid stepping on him whereupon he simply vanishes into thin air.

Long Meg and Her Daughters.

The loneliness of the location coupled with the eerie bleakness of the surrounding hills not to mention the leaning writhing stone figure of Long Meg herself, casts a strange spell upon the landscape and generates an aura of spine tingling foreboding that hangs heavy in the air about this impressive and sizeable stone circle. Or, as Wordsworth put it:

A weight of awe, not easy to be borne

Fell suddenly upon my spirit cast

From the dread bosom of the unknown past,

When first I saw that family forlorn”

Dating from the Bronze age local legend has attributed an awesome reputation to this ragged collection of standing stones associating them with Black Magic rituals and. The stones, it is whispered in this locale, were once flesh and blood , witches whose Sabbath celebrations were rudely interrupted by the famed 13th century wizard Michael Scott of Balwearie when he turned them all to stone. And here on this desolate and lonely windswept plateau the petrified sisterhood must remain until such time as someone succeeds in counting their number accurately or, failing that, should manage to count the same number of stones twice.

And should anyone dare mistreat or attempt to damage any of the stones the powers that lie dormant within them will be awakened and those foolhardy enough to continue with their disrespect will be dissuaded. This happened to Captain Lacy, an 18th Century landowner, who used explosives in an attempt to dislodge and remove Meg and her daughters. Within moments of the work commencing their arose a ferocious storm of driving rain and pounding hail accompanied by the worst thunder and lightning the district had witnessed in living memory. The workmen became so terrified that they fled the site fearing for their lives whereupon the tempest ceased and the stones were left to age in peace as they do today and will, no doubt continue to do so for hundreds if not thousands more years.



 


The Secrets

of

Hylton Castle

"The old stone tower of Hilton still stands grim and grey with the age of nearly 1000 years upon it; but what of it’s builders, what of the the children born within it’s walls, the mothers who nursed them, the fathers who told them tales of daring in field and flood?. Those old Lords of Hilton, once daring, boisterous, and hard fighters, have struck their last sleep under the "massive tomb in the church’s dusty aisle" or resting unnamed under the stars. The bustle of life goes on as be fore, but they heed it no more for ever.These stones of their old keep in which they lived, and the chapel in which they worshipped are nearly all which connects our present with their past"

- Rev Proctor Swaby, Monkwearmouth, 1884.

Like the Reverend Proctor Swaby, the local preacher in 1884, I was fascinated the first time I visited Hylton Castle. It had a special air of mystery about it that haunts your very soul. Who were the people who built this magnificent Gatehouse of what must have been a magnificent castle in it's day?, and why did they carve all of these coats of Arms in stone on the front of the Castle?  Why put everybody else's coats of Arms above your own front door? What did it mean? What secrets did Hylton Castle hold?

Coats of Arms were originally designed as a way of identifying knights in armour, who without their distinctive shields and surcoats would have all looked alike on the battlefield or on the tournamount ground.

Originally each knight would have probably chosen or invented his own Coat of Arms. Later the right to bear the Arms became hereditary.

During the 13th Century, the appearance of a new knight at a tournament would be greeted by a Herald, sounding a trumpet. The Herald would explain the devices and symbols on the competing knight's shields and Coats of Armour to the assembled audience, and this knowledge has become known as Heraldry.

For centuries archaeologists and antiquarians have pondered over exactly whose Coats of Arms they were? Why  were they put there when the castle was built?  Were they in a hierarchical order? Did they represent alliances through marriage? What were the arms of the Washington family doing there? Recent research is starting to reveal a fascinating story................

The date the castle was built can be identified by the heraldry of King Henry IV at the top (the large flag above the shields),  which shows the castle must have been built between 1390 and 1410. We know that a building existed here from 1072 A.D., from local records, non of which survives. King Henry VI arms would not have been placed on this castle building until after 1399 when he was crowned King of England. It was one of the most fascinating events in English history immortalised by Shakespeare in his Henry IV Parts I and II. King Richard II had ruled England until 1399 when he was deposed by the nobles of England and replaced by the son of John O Gaunt, a cadet branch of the Plantaganets, from the House of Lancaster based on the opposite side of the country.

" This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle.

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi -paradise,

This fortress built by nature for herself,

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world

This precious stone set in a silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm,

This England..............."

John of Gaunt in Richard II - (William Shakespeare. A.D. 1564-1616)

Had the Hyltons helped depose the King of England and put their own man on the throne?

The top line of Shields helps to provide some answers; reading from left to right the coats of Arms represent;

1. Thomas ang="en-gb">Fitz Randall of Middleham

Washington

Ogle

Lilburne

Vescy

Felton

Heron

Surtees

defaced - thought to be Lambton

Bowes

This represented a mighty alliance of the Knights of northern England having their coats of Arms placed on the front of the Hylton Castle. This shows the standing of the Hylton family in northern England in 1390 A.D.

It probably seemed a good idea at the time, but in 1403, the 1st Earl of Northumberland led a rebellion against the newly crowned King Henry IV to take control of England north of the river Trent. Aided and abetted by the Douglas from Scotland and Owen Glendower from Wales the rebellion was defeated when Hotspur, son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland was killed and his army defeated at the battle of Shrewsbury. The Earl of Northlang="en-gb">Moreang="en-gb">Fitz Randall of Middleham

Washington

Ogle

Lilburne

Vescy

Felton

Heron

Surtees

defaced - thought to be Lambton

Bowes

This represented a mighty alliance of the Knights of northern England having their coats of Arms placed on the front of the Hylton Castle. This shows the standing of the Hylton family in northern England in 1390 A.D.

It probably seemed a good idea at the time, but in 1403, the 1st Earl of Northumberland led a rebellion against the newly crowned King Henry IV to take control of England north of the river Trent. Aided and abetted by the Douglas from Scotland and Owen Glendower from Wales the rebellion was defeated when Hotspur, son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland was killed and his army defeated at the battle of Shrewsbury. The Earl of Northhe castle are those he used prior to 1398 whenang="en-gb">Fitz Randall of Middleham

Washington

Ogle

Lilburne

Vescy

Felton

Heron

Surtees

defaced - thought to be Lambton

Bowes

This represented a mighty alliance of the Knights of northern England having their coats of Arms placed on the front of the Hylton Castle. This shows the standing of the Hylton family in northern England in 1390 A.D.

It probably seemed a good idea at the time, but in 1403, the 1st Earl of Northumberland led a rebellion against the newly crowned King Henry IV to take control of England north of the river Trent. Aided and abetted by the Douglas from Scotland and Owen Glendower from Wales the rebellion was defeated when Hotspur, son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland was killed and his army defeated at the battle of Shrewsbury. The Earl of Northhood

Fitz Randall of Middleham

Washington

Ogle

Lilburne

Vescy

Felton

Heron

Surtees

defaced - thought to be Lambton

Bowes

This represented a mighty alliance of the Knights of northern England having their coats of Arms placed on the front of the Hylton Castle. This shows the standing of the Hylton family in northern England in 1390 A.D.

It probably seemed a good idea at the time, but in 1403, the 1st Earl of Northumberland led a rebellion against the newly crowned King Henry IV to take control of England north of the river Trent. Aided and abetted by the Douglas from Scotland and Owen Glendower from Wales the rebellion was defeated when Hotspur, son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland was killed and his army defeated at the battle of Shrewsbury. The Earl of Northumberland was forced to flee into Scotland. Baron William Hylton who built Hylton Castle was outlawed in London in 1403, which shows he was involved in the rebellion.

The heraldry on the front of Hylton Castle remained as a reminder to the future Kings and Queens of England of the power and importance of the Northern Knighthood to ruling England.

Baron William Hylton who built the castle was known as the "old survivor". He lived through the reign of five English kings and died in 1435 at the grand old age of 79 years of age.

His effigy, somewhat the worse for wear, lies in a monumental tomb in St Peter's Church at Monkwearmouth in the City of Sunderland, England


Whitby

 

Look up Church and harbourat the ruined abbey on the cliffs above the town. It was high up on these cliffs that Bram Stoker, the Irish author, penned much of his novel Dracula.


The dramatic happenings of one stormy night, brought Dracula to these shores and they continue to be a source of inspiration for countless thousands of Dracula aficionados today.

Graveyeard Gates
The gates of St Mary's

Whilst Dracula is a work of fiction, Stoker brought it close to reality by adopting the use of chronicled diaries and observations from key characters, such as Jonathan Harker, his girlfriend, Mina Murray and her close friend, Lucy Westenra.

The devil amongst us

Stoker was meticulous with facts. The place names in the Transylvanian mountains were accurate - they do exist, as was even the timetable of the train that took Jonathan Harker, a London solicitor, to Castle Dracula.

His attention to detail can almost be felt in his writing about Whitby too. All adding to the plausibility of the novel. All adding to the plausibility of the novel.

His writing started in 1895 when Stoker stayed in Cruden Bay, some 20 miles north of Aberdeen, Scotland.

But it was while staying in Royal Crescent, Whitby, he witnessed a shipwreck that became a key feature within his novel.

During one of the storms that often ravaged the North East coast, the schooner, The Dimitre, ran aground on Tate Hill Sands.

Stairs
The church stairs were originally wooden

Stoker's fertile imagination sprang into life with the shipwreck becoming Count Dracula's dramatic entrance to England - but in an all together strange way.

Stoker wrote: "But the strangest of all, the very instant the shore was touched, an immense dog sprang up on the deck from below, as if shot up by the concussion, and running forward, jumped from the bow to the sand".

So it was that, in his guise as this dog, the Count leapt from the boat and ran from the beach and bounded up the 199 church stairs leading to St Mary's Church, perched high on the cliff top, close to Whitby Abbey.

It was Whitby's Abbey that was to suffer a more devastating visitation , when in the 1500s Henry VIII's "dissolution of the monasteries", it was summarily closed.

In the 1500s, the "dissolution of the monasteries", which Henry VIII will forever be labelled with, was in full flow. Not even Whitby's abbey was untouched.

But the Cholmley family bought the manorial rights of the Abbey in 1539 but its eventual demise was inevitable. The nave collapsed in 1762 as did the central tower and west front later in the 18th Century.

Today the haunting ruins of the abbey, founded in the 7th Century by the Anglo-Saxon Abbess, Hild or Hilda, still dominate the landscape for many miles - from seaward sight too.

With a little imagination, a lingering mist and maybe a haunting moon - it's easy to see why.

Long live Dracula

And there are those, even today, that relive the Gothic life to the full - the Goths. Twice a year, in April and of course at Halloween, Whitby becomes "Goth City", with music, performances and celebrations of gothic life and times.

The popularity of the Goth subculture really took hold in the 1980s with bands such as The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

The era of Punk and the New Romantic was here to stay, at Whitby - where Dracula first set foot on English soil.


The Witch Of  Seaton

 

One night, long ago, a young man was making his way home along a cart-track that led to Wallsend. The wind was high and he had his cloak wrapped tightly about his shoulders to keep out the bite of the fresh spring air. As he passed a church to his right, he noticed there was a light inside, but he was not overly concerned as people often lit candles at the Lady alter which gave off a dim light such as he had seen. He continued on his way without a second thought. A way farther down the track, however, he met two men cushing cattle from the fields.

"Why are you moving the cows so late in the evening?" he asked.

"Why, it's the last day of April," said one of the men with surprise. "If we leave them out in the open tonight they'll be cursed by witches for certain!" Then the traveller remembered that on the last day of April wicked witches gathered and cast spells upon the people and their animals. He had seen the damage that these witches could cause, he had seen the animals struck with disease and the crops fail in the fields for no apparent reason. And just then he remembered the light he's seen in the church and it occurred to him that it might be the black witches meeting before working their mischief.

At once he turned about and ran toward the church where the eerie glow still burned within. He climbed up to a window and peered into the shadowy interior. There, in a circle, around the flickering glow of a black candle, was a coven of black-robed witches. As he stared in disbelief, he could hear the incessant chanting and the voice of a central figure who was standing over a boiling pot. One by one she dropped things into the cauldron and sang:

"This is to cloud their joy and mirth

This is to kill the lambs at birth

This is to spoil the food in shops

And this is to burn and rot their crops!"

This was all too much for the young man, he was by this time very angry and he thought to himself, "Not if I can prevent it!" and saying this he burst through the church door and grabbed the witch next to the cauldron. She kicked and bit him fearfully but he did not release her. The other witches fled in panic, but he did not bother to chase them, satisfied that he had caught the ringleader. Despite the noise and pain she inflicted, he managed to haul her off to the prison where she remained until the day the trial arrived.

By this time, news had spread far and wide, and people came from all around to bear witness against the witch. The people were insistent that it was she who had been responsible for every ill occurrence of the past year. Not surprisingly, she was found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake. As the old witch was led away to the burning post, however, and the faggots were piled up around her, the people began to soften, for although she had done them such wrong in the past they felt sorry for her. Someone said:

"Why not grant her a last request?" and others in the crowd agreed it was a good idea. So one of the officials approached the witch and asked if there was anything they might do for her before the sentence was carried out. The old hag looked at him with an evil glint in her eye and said in a soft voice:

"Why, that's very kind of you. I know I have done the good people of Seaton Delaval a great wrong, but I repent with all my heart. All I ask is that you bring me two little wooden plates and set them beneath my feet. Mark you," she added, "They must be brand new and never used before!"

"Why, I have brand new dishes," said one woman in the crowd. "I'll go and get them right away." And she ran off to her house to get them. She reappeared ten minutes later with the two plates. The official set them under the witch's feet and, almost at once, a strange whirring sound filled the air. To everyone's astonishment, the witch flew up into the sky with the wooden plates supporting her. As she passed overhead she cursed the villagers and vowed she would make them pay dearly for trying to burn her. The people were frightened and began to run around in panic. But the woman who had brought the plates cried aloud:

"Do not fear! I had suspected some trickery and I only gave her one new plate. The other has been used a thousand times! Look ..." and as she spoke the used plate fell away from the witch's foot and she came tumbling out of the sky. Many looked away as she hit the ground, but just as many saw the witch of Seaton Delaval get her just reward.

One night, long ago, a young man was making his way home along a cart-track that led to Wallsend. The wind was high and he had his cloak wrapped tightly about his shoulders to keep out the bite of the fresh spring air. As he passed a church to his right, he noticed there was a light inside, but he was not overly concerned as people often lit candles at the Lady alter which gave off a dim light such as he had seen. He continued on his way without a second thought. A way farther down the track, however, he met two men cushing cattle from the fields.

"Why are you moving the cows so late in the evening?" he asked.

"Why, it's the last day of April," said one of the men with surprise. "If we leave them out in the open tonight they'll be cursed by witches for certain!" Then the traveller remembered that on the last day of April wicked witches gathered and cast spells upon the people and their animals. He had seen the damage that these witches could cause, he had seen the animals struck with disease and the crops fail in the fields for no apparent reason. And just then he remembered the light he's seen in the church and it occurred to him that it might be the black witches meeting before working their mischief.

At once he turned about and ran toward the church where the eerie glow still burned within. He climbed up to a window and peered into the shadowy interior. There, in a circle, around the flickering glow of a black candle, was a coven of black-robed witches. As he stared in disbelief, he could hear the incessant chanting and the voice of a central figure who was standing over a boiling pot. One by one she dropped things into the cauldron and sang:

"This is to cloud their joy and mirth

This is to kill the lambs at birth

This is to spoil the food in shops

And this is to burn and rot their crops!"

This was all too much for the young man, he was by this time very angry and he thought to himself, "Not if I can prevent it!" and saying this he burst through the church door and grabbed the witch next to the cauldron. She kicked and bit him fearfully but he did not release her. The other witches fled in panic, but he did not bother to chase them, satisfied that he had caught the ringleader. Despite the noise and pain she inflicted, he managed to haul her off to the prison where she remained until the day the trial arrived.

By this time, news had spread far and wide, and people came from all around to bear witness against the witch. The people were insistent that it was she who had been responsible for every ill occurrence of the past year. Not surprisingly, she was found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake. As the old witch was led away to the burning post, however, and the faggots were piled up around her, the people began to soften, for although she had done them such wrong in the past they felt sorry for her. Someone said:

"Why not grant her a last request?" and others in the crowd agreed it was a good idea. So one of the officials approached the witch and asked if there was anything they might do for her before the sentence was carried out. The old hag looked at him with an evil glint in her eye and said in a soft voice:

"Why, that's very kind of you. I know I have done the good people of Seaton Delaval a great wrong, but I repent with all my heart. All I ask is that you bring me two little wooden plates and set them beneath my feet. Mark you," she added, "They must be brand new and never used before!"

"Why, I have brand new dishes," said one woman in the crowd. "I'll go and get them right away." And she ran off to her house to get them. She reappeared ten minutes later with the two plates. The official set them under the witch's feet and, almost at once, a strange whirring sound filled the air. To everyone's astonishment, the witch flew up into the sky with the wooden plates supporting her. As she passed overhead she cursed the villagers and vowed she would make them pay dearly for trying to burn her. The people were frightened and began to run around in panic. But the woman who had brought the plates cried aloud:

"Do not fear! I had suspected some trickery and I only gave her one new plate. The other has been used a thousand times! Look ..." and as she spoke the used plate fell away from the witch's foot and she came tumbling out of the sky. Many looked away as she hit the ground, but just as many saw the witch of Seaton Delaval get her just reward.




 


The Claud Lad

 

Long ago, at Hylton Hall, near Sunderland, there lived a mischievous brownie whom the servants called the 'Cauld Lad', because he wore no clothes and Hylton Hall was a cold kind of place in those days. This little fellow had a habit of turning the day's work upside down after everyone had gone to bed. The chairs and tables would be thrown on their backs and sides, and the dishes would be taken from the cupboards and strewn about the kitchen along with most of the cutlery. Food would be taken from the pantry and liberally spread around the place. (Especially the flour, for the Cauld Lad liked nothing better than to see clouds of this white powder cascading through the air.) If the ashes from the fire-place were still warm, he liked to rake them out, spread them over the hearth mat and lie on them .

But sometimes, just when the scullery maids could stand no more of the brownie's pranks, they would come into the kitchen and find the place spic and span, even things that they had left unfinished were tidied up and put in their proper places! So contrary was this faerie that they never knew what to expect next.

One night, near Christmas, the cook and her husband were returning from an evening out, and it was very late, so they entered the hall very quietly so as not to disturb those already asleep. As they crept past the darkened kitchen, they noticed a strange light coming from under the door, and, as they went to check what it was, they heard a small voice, singing:

Wae's me, wae's me,

The acorn's not yet

Fallen from the tree,

That's to grow the wood,

That's to make the cradle

That's to rock the bairn,

That's to grow to the man

That's to lay me!

The cook pushed the door until it was slightly ajar, and peered into the kitchen. There, sitting on the edge of the table, and swinging his legs over the side, sat the brownie. He looked a forlorn little thing, wearing such a frown as might suit a child who is tired and refuses to walk any farther. He was about as high as a milking stool, and his skin was brown as you might expect, but it was covered in fine hair, so that he had the warm looks of a rabbit, though he was far too thin to be mistaken for one! His eyes were big as horse-chestnuts and their colour almost the same, and the cook and her husband smiled with delight when they saw his pointed little ears!

But at that moment he heard a tiny noise from them, and he was gone in a flash.

"Where did he go?" asked the astonished cook. Her husband did not know, but they suspected that they had scared the little fellow off, and that he would not return that night, so they took themselves off to bed.

The next day the downstairs parlour was full of talk of the Cauld Lad, for this was the first time that any of the servants had actually seen the brownie. The cook told everybody said what a cute little chap he was, and those who had not seen him were very disappointed indeed. Then the gardener suddenly said :

"You know, when I was a boy my father told me that brownie was under a spell." The others immediately wanted to know more and the gardener went on to tell them that the Cauld Lad had been always been mischievous and had once angered the Faerie king who placed the brownie under a spell which made him stay at Hylton Hall, and though he would much rather be with his own kind, in a place of which men know nothing, he must stay until such a time as someone released him from the spell. That, he told them, was the reason that he caused such a mess about the place, in the hopes that someone would banish him forever.

"Just how would we go about this spell-breaking?" asked cook, who had become most distressed at hearing the story.

"If I remember right," the gardener replied, "He has to be offered a gift of something which is not perishable, and if he accepts it, we'll see him no more."

This made the cook sad to think he would be gone forever, but she decided that it was the best thing to do for the brownie himself. So she set about making him a cloak and a hood, which he would be proud to show off once he reached the land of his own people. All that evening, she toiled away sewing and cutting and stitching until at last she had the finest hooded cloak that it was possible to create. It was of the smoothest silk, and lined with shimmering satin. Her husband told her that it was a wonderful gift that she had made for the Cauld Lad.

Late that night, they laid the cloak upon the kitchen table, and then hid themselves in a root-cellar at the far end of the room, where they could watch without being seen. Quietly they waited, as the hall clock ticked away the minutes, and chimed away the hours. At last, the dim light that they had seen before now glowed near the table, and as they strained their eyes to see, they could make out the shape of the Cauld Lad as he went immediately to the place where the cloak lay. He looked at it with the suspicion at first, then, on picking it up and holding it out, he saw that it was his size and must be meant as a present. His eyes lit up and an enormous smile stretched over his face from ear to ear! The cook and her husband were smiling too, but this time they were sure to make no noise in case they were to frighten the brownie away again. Carefully, the little faerie pulled the cloak across his shoulders and tied the draw cord around the neck. How splendid he did look! He skipped around the table-top and sang with delight:

"Here's a cloak, and here's a hood,

The Cauld Lad of Hylton will do no more good!"

And with that, he jumped in the air, snapped his fingers and disappeared ... and has never been seen or heard from that day to this!



 


Lambton Worm

 

 

Lambton Castle is on the banks of the River Wear not far from Durham. Long ago, John, the young heir to Lambton was fishing in the river for trout. Now this seems a very ordinary thing for a boy to do, but he was doing it on a Sunday, which in those times was deemed a very bad thing to do.

"Sundays are the Lord's day," a passer-by said to him. "You should be at church, not here fishing!" But the youngster took no notice and kept right on tying together his fishing line in full view.

Earlier that day, he had found a wasp's nest and dug it up, sustaining only one sting as he beat a hasty retreat when the yellow-jacketted throng took to the air upon being disturbed. Fifteen minutes later he went back and picked up half a dozen little white grubs to use as bait, for wasp grubs are one of the favourite foods of trout.

Very confidently he walked down to what looked a likely spot and cast the bait into the water. It plopped into an eddy and young Lambton laid the rod in the fork of a stick pushed into the bank, and sat down to wait. No sooner had he made himself comfortable than the rod bent and he had a bite! Quick as a wink he jerked the rod and set the hook. The fish took off and almost pulled him into the river.

"This one is a fighter," he said to himself. "It must be a salmon or a sea-trout!" Then the two of them battled on for a while until at last Lambton managed to haul the fish onto the riverbank.

"What kind of fish is this?" he said aloud, holding the creature up by the line and hook. "This is the ugliest thing on earth!" What Lambton had caught was thin like an eel, but it also had legs, two at the front and two at the back, much like a lizard. Whatever it was he had no intention of touching it, and looked around to see how he might get it off the hook without using his hands.

A little way off in a neighbouring field, there was a well with a trough nearby that cattle used to drink from when the river was in spate. Lambton ran over to this rod, line, worm and all. He dangled the creature over the well then, putting his boot against it, gave a mighty tug and the worm fell down into the black water below. Lambton returned to the river and kept on fishing until he had a brace of trout to take home. And he thought no more about the worm.

***

Years later, Lambton went to his father and announced his intention to go overseas to fight in a foreign war.

"The country squire is no life for me, Father," he said. "I should be in battle, testing my skills as a soldier." And although the father had no desire to see his son leave, he gave his blessing and wished him safe. Over the months following the departure of young Lambton, the estate grew to be a sadder place, for although he had been a rake, he was missed much. Then, in the second year after he was gone, strange things began to happen around the castle. Shepherds began to find dead sheep around the place ã few to begin with, but soon it became one every night, half eaten and left in the pastures. The milk yield from the cows dropped so drastically that before long the castle had to send to Chester-le-Street for enough to get by. So the lord of the castle set men to keep watch through the night and they discovered that the mayhem was caused by a great ugly worm that slithered each evening from the well by the river. It was the self same creature that young Lambton had thrown there all those years previously. And what a change ... it was enormous and fearful!

Many of the servants tried to kill it, but it always got the better of them. Each time a piece was hacked from it, the worm slithered over it until it reattached itself. After each attack, it would roam the countryside in a grievous mood and do more damage than usual, uprooting trees and smashing down fences, so that after a while, people gave up trying to kill it.

The old lord decided instead to try and keep the worm from getting angry by pouring many churns of milk into the trough by the well, and by tethering two sheep there each night. So the worm grew even bigger and the people grew even poorer. The land around the castle became quite barren and nobody ventured out at night to watch the worm slither from its lair at the river to wrap itself three times around a nearby hill before going for the food left out for it. To this day, that place is known as 'Worm Hill.'

One day, there came into the castle yard a single charger upon which was mounted a knight, tall and handsome, clad in shining armour and wearing a smile on his bronzed face. At once he was recognized as the young Sir John, back from his adventures in foreign lands, safe home from the dangers of war. A celebration was ordered at once and that night the great hall was filled with all the folks from around about. During the feasting, young Lambton leaned over to his father.

"What has happened to all the trees on the south side of the castle? Has there been war here?"

His father looked sad for the first time that evening, and as a hush came over the gathering, he told the tale of what had transpired during the son's absence. By the end of the story, a darkness had covered the young man's face.

"It is my fault this worm goes unchecked through our land," he said solemnly. "It was I who first imprisoned it in the well and so I must be the one to rid Lambton of this wicked menace." And with this, a cheer went up from the crowd at the renewed hope brought by this new champion.

The next day, true to his word, young Lambton began to ask questions in order to put together a plan to get rid of the worm. He listened closely to the stories of the worm's remarkable healing powers, and he learned its habits and its wants. Then he went to visit a witch who lived near Durham.

"You must await the worm at his island in the river, and attack while it is still in the water," she told him. "You must stud your armour with sharp spikes and razor-edged knives, and you must show no fear."

"That sounds easy enough," said Lambton. "What do I owe you for this information?"

"I need no reward," the witch whispered softly. "But the spell itself requires that you kill the first living thing you meet after slaying the worm. Otherwise, for the next nine generations no Lambton will die peacefully in his bed."

So when the young man got back to the castle, he told everyone what the witch had said, and instructed his father to let loose the hunting dogs as soon as the hunting horn was blown to signal the death of the worm.

The following day, Lambton settled himself among the rocks and ferns on the island in the river and awaited the arrival of the great worm. Presently he saw its fearsome outline against the riverbank as it entered the water, and he slid into the water and waded towards it. The worm seemed to recognize him instantly. In its fury it lashed its tail, sending sheets of water into the air. Lambton set about the serpent with his sword, slashing and cutting. This time, however, when a piece was hacked off, it drifted away in the river before it could be reattached. When the worm wrapped itself around Lambton, it cut itself terribly on the spikes and razor-edges, and the more it tried to crush him the worse it sliced itself to pieces. Desperately it tried to get back to the riverbank, but Lambton kept hacking away until it closed its fiery eyes and was swept away dead down the river. The young man crawled exhausted from the water and blew a shrill note of victory on his hunting horn.

But when his father heard the sound, he forgot that he was to release the dogs, and instead set off himself to check on his son. To Lambton's dismay, the first creature that he met after slaying the worm was not one of his hounds as he had expected, but his own father and, of course, he could not kill him. So what was foretold by the witch came to pass, and for nine generations following the death of the worm, no Lord of Lambton was to die peaceably in his bed.