The legend of the Swan

The legend of the Swan

There is an ancient legend of Wolverley which has endured for centuries. It is the remarkable story of a Crusader, who had spent so long at war that his lady assumed he had died and was about to marry again.

One morning, a milkmaid went down to the meadow to milk the cows, taking with her an old dog. The dog ran before the girl and began barking. At once, the milkmaid ventured towards the scene where she came upon a figure lying asleep on the grass. Her gasps were of shock as the body was less a man but more a creature from the forest – emaciated, unkempt, and shackled in irons.

The dog soon quietened; its defensive posture replaced by a cheerless whimpering, almost as if it came to recognise the bedraggled figure. Confident that he was fully restrained, the girl went back to the Court and told her mistress what had happened.

The lady listened to the maid’s story and accompanied her to the place where the dog rested in the shadow of the recumbent stranger. The man, now stirring, greeted the lady with all the intimacy of someone returning to his wife; but not recognising him, she stepped back, alarmed at such impropriety. Seeing his beloved so afflicted, he took upon himself to confirm his identity, at once tearing a half broken ring from his pocket. The band, a symbol of their love, had been broken at parting, each keeping a half.

Overwhelmed by pounding heart, the lady found her fragment of the ring and lay it alongside the piece offered to her, now convinced that her long-expected husband had returned.

Joyous celebration ensued, and a smith was sent for to release the knight from his fetters. But such rejoicing at the return of the wanderer could not go without attention to the Crusader’s extraordinary adventures. Peering from the half-light, the soldier of the Cross told his tale: he had been taken prisoner, and held captive in a dungeon, till one night, as he prayed to be delivered from his wretched state, an angel appeared and spoke words of comfort to him, then he seemed to fall asleep, till woken by the barking of the dog, when he found himself not bound by the walls of captivity, but lying in the meadow below his own house in Wolverley. Though in transfixture, the Knight had a vague recollection of movement through space, but not to appear so possessed of his own importance he dismissed the notion of an angel winging him to safety declaring instead that a swan had brought him through the air.

To this day, Wolverley marks the miraculous liberation of the soldier: the meadow underneath Wolverley Court is called “the Knights Meadow”; at Wolverley Court the iron manacles, said to have been worn by the Knight, are still shown; and in the church, the mutilated fragments of the alabaster effigy – the head, body and the feet of the old warrior – still remain.

Alabaster figure of knight

A tale of Chirbury

A door to Chirbury Church

Cowering under the deep shadow of St Michael’s church lies the little village of Chirbury, its population rarely venturing beyond the crooked line of buttresses that maintain its walls. Equal in number are those that will not pass through its cemetery; for here, the tendrils of time have reached across the ages to bind brick and soil to an ungodly power, a power diffused into the village conscience. Step into its realm and one feels touched by a sense of suffering, a gateway to the past.

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Walk with me (to the estuary) – a ghost story for Christmas

walk with me...

A bolt is thrust aside and one half of a stable door swings back. The sound of a sharp kick announces the peeling back of the second. A bulk of a man steps through carrying a thick meshed bundle of sticks and logs searching for a suitable spot to dump the damp load; his nose is held aloft, at a distance, enduring the sickly-sweet aroma of the mildewed bark. His face fidgets nervously until the wood is set down on a sheet of newspaper, neatly dragged into position by his foot. The dispatching of the load relieves his body, but his expression still retains the weary slump it entered with.

It is almost time for Manning to leave, a suitable moment to consider the sweet restorative powers of a few days by the coast. And with this thought, he finds his spirits lifting. It has been several years since he last visited Leet and walked its impressive shores; he has missed the place. No longer resisting, he succumbs to the pleasantness teasing his lips.

Perhaps you know Leet? It is a south facing sandy beach next to the entrance of the Beaulieu River in Hampshire, a landscape rich in character, with great stretches of open and unspoilt countryside.

Lete, walk with me (to the estuary)

But it is the agents of erosion that have defined this sea-place. The shore is littered with corpses: trees that have finally, but grudgingly, relinquished their fragile grip on the sandy soil, just a few metres above. Tendrils of seeping rainwater and the gnawing effect of the wind have gradually removed the earth, exposing roots to the mercy of encroaching elements. It is a natural decay, but not one that removes all evidence of existence; for old trunks lie entombed in wispy layers of sand, creating fragile barrows on the shore. In the early hours of a wintry morning, the landscape transforms into a surprisingly gloomy affair; the dead bodies of trees are thrust into the greyness, and any living thing roaming amongst the decay looks quite lost, as lost as a child. Continue reading

The Viaduct (A ghost story)

Balcombe Viaduct

I had returned to Balcombe out of instinct, not for pleasure. Though the train had refreshed my memory of its seductive beauty I had a less romantic place for those thoughts to reside. The landscape view of sun-drenched streams and sparkling lakes played like a cinematic trailer, catching the attention of the couple opposite me who immediately sprang into a congratulatory embrace. This only served to heighten my unease with the place.

A sudden lurch of the train announced our arrival, propelling the occupants into a flurry of activity. All around me, day tripping couples leapt from their seats and set about passing bags as elegantly as possible from carriage to platform. With this I allowed myself a wry smile; briefly charmed by the obvious enthusiasm of the new arrivals.

Alighting on the platform I turned and looked down the length of the train, beyond the carriages, towards the track curving away into the distance. Though not visible from this point I knew the rest of the line well; not to mention the shadows that dwelt within its tunnels and archways.

On reflection, it occurred to me that this was an entirely perfect setting for what had happened. With so many trains passing over the structure on the Brighton Main Line, the spirits of men that toiled here could never be far away from the living.

But it is the ghosts of more recent times, just as numerous as those of their Victorian counterparts that I am here to consider. For now his words are clearer to me than at any time over the decades that have passed since they were uttered. This is his tale; one told to me almost forty years ago, when I was a young man living in Balcombe, working on the London to Brighton line. Continue reading

The Shrieking Pit

The shrieking pit

Follow the north coast of Norfolk in early summer and you’ll come across a landscape of cornfields bathed in the rich red glow of poppies. Tucked away from the coastal road, a couple of miles inland from the seaside town of Cromer, you will come to a village that hides a painful secret.

Here you’ll find Hungry Hill, ready to devour the spirit of any traveller wishing to scale its deceptive height.

Half-way up the hill lies an unremarkable lane; travel its lonely path and you’ll come to a deep hole in the ground surrounded by grey-green willows.

The trees guard the pit with sinister outstretched branches entwined in a mesh of green and brown. Battle through the curtains of foliage and you’ll find yourself standing at the edge of a gloomy willow-hung hollow known as The Shrieking Pit.

Even in spring or summer, it’s a far from inviting place; for here, dismal shades bathe a stagnant pool and mournful shapes bow to it. The air is lifeless and leaden, suppressed by the paucity of hope.

The shrieking pit
Visit the spiritless hollow if you must; but if you do, ensure that it is not February 24th when the air is damp and the light so dim that you are barely able to see the edges of the pit. For on this day, you may hear something that quickens your heart and prickles your skin: a wailing voice, centuries old, carried forth on icy air through the creeping branches; the voice of Esmerelda, once so young and fair, back from her grave! Continue reading

The Terror of Tichborne (a generational curse)

tichborne 1

Listen …can you hear her?

Strain your ears, press them close to the soil and you will. That wretched wheeze; a drawn-out throttling of the throat that sounds like murder. Then comes the coughing; a diseased hack-hack-hack, like a seal gasping for air.

I am dying.

She is dying; but slowly.

What an odd place to die.

Tiny trickles of earth spill over the back of her legs; pathetic limbs angrily propelling her body through a plough-ravaged soil.

I will not let him win.

She has crawled this field many times before, every accursed March 25th for the past eight hundred years.

And crawl it she must, for without her spirit, and the curse that is renewed each and every Lady Day, Tichborne would be nothing more than a dream of the past.

So, let us bless the soul of Lady Mabella and allow her to tell her tale, for it serves to reveal the true terror of the place that was once her home. Continue reading

The witch and the king (an ancient tale of sorcery)

The witch and the king

Perched on the border of two English counties, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, stand a group of mysterious stones known as the King’s Men.

Part of a much larger arrangement, the Rollright Stones, the King’s Men are thought to be even older than Stonehenge.

Like sentries defending some forgotten treasure, they have stood for centuries gazing sombrely over fields of grassland.

Visit on a cold morning and you’re likely to see the circle bathed in an eerie mist — an atmosphere of ancient magic and enchantment, and the reason why the stones are the subject of many myths and legends. And where there are legends, come druids, magicians, mystics and storytellers, all who have visited the stones over the centuries, attempting to understand and harness their secret power.

Rollright Stones
To this day, the guardians of magic still gather here for meetings and rituals; visit and you may very well see their like standing amongst the decaying pillars. But if you do, mind that you are entering a place of sorcery. Strange energies have been detected around the stones, particularly in the circle of the King’s Men. Continue reading