Now I don’t have much truck with ghosts and all that shite.
But I do know a good ghost story. And I know it because it happened to me. Let me take you back to the summer of 197thingumy jig in the Lake District, where I then lived. It was that magical summer which seemed to stretch on forever, after which, we would all be going our separate ways to University, Poly, College, Israel to work on a Kibbutz or to learn Thatching. I had been offered two ‘E’s to do Fine Art by the Admissions Tutor at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (which just serves to underline how serious was the drugs problem in Higher Education at the time.) But I digress.
My Mate Miles who lived in a house whose name, Peel Place, Noddle, Eskdale made it sound like a family of Hobbits ought to be living there, had a party. And it was at this party that I found myself starting a conversation with a girl called Helen, one which lasted the whole of that summer. I clearly remember Miles’ Mum playing the chaperone role. Keen to preserve decorum and protect Helen from any unwanted advances, she kept jumping onto the sofa, between us when she thought we were too close. She need not have worried, Helen was more than capable of looking after herself.
Helen had been in my English group and was very bright and good looking, and we talked long into the night and early morning. I’ve no recollection of how I got home. If indeed I did.
‘Home’ was Seascale. Former proposed ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the Furness Railway’s 1860’s expansion plans. It was to have been a town to rival Blackpool. Perhaps handing over planning (and this is true!) to someone whose previous experience was the design of a graveyard in Barrow was not such a good idea. In fact, it was simply that for the average Victorian traveller it was just that bit too far from everywhere, while in terms of topography and climate, just that little too wild. Since then with its seaside crescents of bleak and imposing former hotels and guesthouses which just peter out so suddenly it seems almost rude, Seascale has had trouble rivalling so much as a Blackpool bus stop.
Then of course they built Calder Hall next to it, then Windscale/Sellafield, the AGR reactor and the Thermal Oxide Reproccessing plant. They might as well have dug a big deep hole and poured millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money down it .
Bower House Inn (As you can see)
Being with Helen meant the pubs in Eskdale, where she lived, The Bower House usually, but sometimes the George IV,The Bridge at Santon Bridge and the Gosforth pubs; Horse and Groom (or ‘Hearse and Gloom’ as it was known) Gosforth Hall, the ubiquitous Globe, and the Lion and Lamb (where I grew to love Nat King Cole but not Jim Reeves.)
I spent much of the last few weeks of that summer with Helen and as I didn’t yet drive plus an absence of all bar the most basic timetabled public Transport, being with her meant hitch-hiking there and back or, (and this was almost always the case for the return journey) ‘using Shanks’ Pony’ or in other words, walking; which from Eskdale was near enough 8 miles – so it wasn’t near at all.
It was all very innocent stuff. We would arrange to meet up at one of our venues – sometimes in the company of other friends, but more often than not on our own, chat and giggle. At the appointed hour Mum or Dad would come in the car to collect her; unless we were already in Eskdale, in which case I would walk her home. Then about turn, whereupon I would begin to gather momentum for the ascent of Irton Fell and the rest of the long, long, lonely road to Seascale.
Eskdale. Road to Seascale goes off left hand corner
Well, it was on one such night that my hideous tale unfolds …
It must have been pretty late – perhaps we’d been party to some ‘Late Tasting’ at the Bower, as there was absolutely no traffic on the road. In the dark, once out of Eskdale there was no illuminaton whatsoever. Of course, this meant you could see approaching cars from miles off. Nothing. The last of the drunken boy racers had parked up his escort and was tucked up safe in bed dreaming of the Dukes of Hazzard, while the last drunken Young Farmer had pranged his tractor along the side of the barn and gone to sleep with the pigs.
Now this wasn’t funny any more. I still had about another seven miles to walk. It was cold and the wind was getting up. As the first bit of the road up Irton to Santon Bridge from Eskdale runs below the line of the trees, it was black as pitch I kept walking into the dry stone wall that bounded the steep, winding road, grazing my knuckles in the process.
Finally, I exited the tree cover. As I did so, the cloud which had been covering the moon, and causing my knuckles so much trouble, suddenly dispersed. The road levels out a bit here, before it goes back into the trees again, and the double hairpin. The eerie call of an owl … The moonlight afforded me a view fom the road, taking in the animals’ feeding trough, across the field away to the first of the low rocky outcrops which form the foot of Irton Fell.
It was then that I saw him!
A man dressed immaculately in a black frock coat, white shirt with starched collar, deathly black bow tie, whiskers and a black top hat. He was so, so, so pale as he made towards me. I felt a cry stifle and dry up in my throat … a funereal silence… as he came towards me. He didn’t seem to be walking, but rather gliding over the undulating field with a weird swaying motion. No! This is so wrong! Making no steps. No sound. Squarely, he stared me in the eyes, without blinking.
I heard myself shout out as I found myself doing in two seconds what Lactulose Solution normally takes two days to do; I made to turn and run, at which point the figure, who was now too close for comfort, let out a long, slow MOOOOO!
MOOOOO? Yes indeed, dear reader, for the best part of a gallon of Hartley’s bitter beer, tricksy moonlight and the pattern of markings on the face and neck of a Friesian cow had all conspired to conjure up the image of a deathly pale Victorian funeral director.
Slowly but surely my heartbeat returned to normal. What an idiot.
And I still have six and a half miles to walk!
For MB and HT
© Andy Daly 2015