Author Barry McCann is a writer and expert on the horror genre, tradition and folk tales. He appears regularly on BBC Radio sharing quirky tales of mystery and imagination in Cumbria and Lancashire. Here are some of his favourite folklore stories from the Lake District.
The shires and counties of this country are rich in local folklore. Legends and superstitions shaped by the local landscape and centuries of colonisation by Teutonic, Scandinavian and Norman settlers with the traditional legends accompanied their cultures. The Lake District is no exception. Its large, imposing landscapes have nurtured stories of giants, while more hidden corners are a breeding ground for sightings of elves and fairies. And the ancient stone circles across the region add a further mystique to local superstitions. Yes, witches and ghosts walk here too.
You can enjoy this tour of the south Lake District with The Quirky Traveller here
But how about supplementing with a folklore tour of the region? Dare you walk Souter Fell where, in 1774, Daniel Strickland witnessed a ghostly army of Jacobite troops marching north. Have you heard the story of Kendal’s Angel Inn (now the Halifax bank)? In 1745, attempts by marauding Scots to kidnap a child were thwarted when an angel appeared between them and their intended victim.
For the really brave, try counting the rocks that make up the stone circle that is Long Meg and her Sisters. Legend hath it that they were originally witches performing an infernal ritual when locals used the power of the saints to turn them into stone. It is said if you count the stones, you will never arrive at the same number twice. But if you do, beware! For that will cancel the spell, releasing Long Meg and the girls to make their mischief again.
On a lighter note, I have enjoyed an expedition to Thirlmere Lake and contemplated the rock known as Clark’s Loup. So called, as this was where the suicidal Clark leapt to his watery grave after his dutiful wife advised him that drowning was far more pleasant than hanging himself. A preferred leap can be enjoyed at Derwentwater, where the sister of the wicked Lord Derwentwater chose death over capture. Known as Lady’s Rake, she is said to have jumped from the precipice after setting fire to her brother’s castle and destroying his ill gotten gains. Either that or she escaped to London, depending which version of events one prefers.
If traversing the Shap Fells, then be vigilant of the shadowy figure of a giant upon a mighty steed, galloping like the devil. For this is none other than Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur. Unlike his heroic son, Pendragon was a cannibalistic tyrant who founded his kingdom in Mallerstang. Heaven would not admit his wicked soul, perhaps neither would Hell. For he now rides the Fells, perhaps in search of Pendragon Castle; once the seat of his power but now a scanty ruin. But beneath its foundations there is said to lie a great treasure. The sleeping King Arthur and his Knights awaiting their call to battle, perhaps?
These are but a few of the many folklore tales that colour the Lakes; many more await uncovering. So why not take yourself on a magical mystery tour of this lovely area and discover some for yourself?
This article is by Barry McCann, writer, editor and broadcaster, specialising in short stories, reviews, features, talks and, more recently, travel writing. Barry is the editor of Parnassus, MENSA Art & Folklore Correspondant on BBC Radio Cumbria. Follow him on Face Book and read his Blog ‘Writing Without Tears’