Midwinter Ghosts

15 Dec

There is something about the festive season that irresistibly brings ghosts to mind. Who can tell whether it is the wintery chill, the creeping mist or the inscrutable blanket of snow, but the period approaching Christmas seems inextricably bound with the supernatural. A traditional time for tales of unquiet spirits and the restless dead, the Yuletide season has inspired writers from Charles Dickens to M R James to write ghost stories either during or expressly set at Christmas. But is there perhaps more to this? Are these fictional ghostly tales actually based on real-life paranormal occurrences? There is no shortage of material to support such a conclusion – in Britain alone, there are spooky stories of things that go bump in the night each Christmas that span the length and breadth of the country. From spirits that roam the bleak North York Moors, to haunted houses in the garden of England, from ghastly deeds in the cobbled streets of old London town to dark legends of the highlands of Scotland, almost every region has its own chilling seasonal tales to recount. So, whilst everyone else is buying presents and preparing for Christmas parties, spare a thought for the more sinister side of the festive period and its very own Midwinter ghosts.

Starting in the capital, each Christmas sees a haunting manifestation in the London borough of Lewisham, centred around the area’s main train station. Following a crash in the 1950s, caused partly by fog, it is said that the cries of the trapped are heard at Lewisham station on the anniversary of the accident in early December. A similar haunting manifestation, this one rural rather than urban, occurs at Haworth in North Yorkshire, the famous former abode of the Bronte sisters. Close to Christmas, the ghost of Emily Bronte haunts the grounds of Haworth Parsonage, the surrounding moor land, the path to Bronte waterfall, and the former Weaver’s Restaurant. The head of the great novelist is bowed as if in deep thought and she is said to vanish suddenly if anyone comes too close – this is one ghost who clearly does not like to be disturbed! Even more bizarre is the festive legend surrounding the Stiper Stones at Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire. This is said to be the location each Christmas for the gathering of (wait for it) every single ghost in the United Kingdom! Quite what is the purpose of this ghostly AGM, though, is something of a mystery. Maybe it’s just because even ghosts can feel lonely at Christmas…

Whilst most of us spend the year looking forward to Christmas Day, this is not the case for the unfortunate landlord and patrons of the the White Horse Inn in Great Baddow, Essex. The site of a murder on a long ago day in December has resulted in ghostly footsteps incessantly coming down the attic stairs of this pub at this time of year. The White Lady of Boscaswell in Cornwall, meanwhile, is a sight that is positively avoided by locals. Some say that just to see her will bring misfortune (and anyone foolish enough to follow her… well, no one has ever dared). The Battle of Edgehill – one of the bloodiest of the English Civil War – took place on 23 December 1642. Sounds and sights of the battle have been reported in the environs as ghostly soldiers renew their past hostilities on the anniversary of this conflict. The roads around Sandford on Thames in Oxfordshire tend to be fairly deserted at this time of year, and with good reason. Driven by a headless horseman, a coach moving at breakneck speed pulled by four horses tears around fields near the village on the night before Christmas.

But, perhaps reassuringly, not all Christmas hauntings are quite so terrifying. Appearing once a year, the shade of Fatima, a musician from the middle ages, gently pucks her harp strings while wandering the grounds of Stubley Old Hall in Derbyshire. Hidden in the river when the local abbey in Evesham was closed for business in 1539, the silver bells still sing their song around Christmas. The buried village of Radley is hidden somewhere in the valley southeast of Halam near Nottingham, where long vanished church bells can be heard on Christmas Eve. Almost every nook and cranny of the British Isles has its very own ghost, legend or unexplained mystery, and Christmas – the traditional time for telling tales around the fire – is almost inevitably when you tend to hear about them. Perhaps this accounts for the inextricable link between the festive season and accounts of the supernatural. Whatever the reason, Christmas was and remains the ideal time to hear the kind of story that generates a pleasurable shudder in the spine of the listener.

Merry Christmas from Ghost Cities!

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3 Responses to “Midwinter Ghosts”

  1. Deborah DeLong December 15, 2013 at 3:15 am #

    Reblogged this on Romancing the Bee and commented:
    One of my favorite topics!

  2. shelleyhazen83 December 16, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    I saw something in a documentary a while ago about some place in the moors, I think, where the wind blows in such a way that it creates a haunting, ghostly sound, and I think it inspired numerous ghost stories. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the town…

  3. Creative Gal January 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Love this post, the inclusion of MR James is great, such a wonderful and engaging ghost writer.

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