Sunday, 25 September 2016


In this broadcast from the Great Library of Dreams, we are once again delving into the works of Mr Clark Ashton Smith, for a strange tale of the Cthulhu Mythos and ancient Hyperborea...


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Friday, 23 September 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Tales from the Playground Part IV - The Grey Lady

Over the last few entries in Folklore on Friday, we've been exploring tales I heard in a childhood spent in the little village of Aycliffe, in County Durham in the 1970s. We've identified some tales as urban legends, and traced others to actual reports of hauntings in the village. However if you mention the subject of ghosts and hauntings to anyone who has ever lived in Aycliffe Village, there is one name that will be mentioned more than any others - the Grey Lady. 

But despite being easily the most talked about phantom in the village, there seems to be very little written about the Grey Lady in gazetteers of ghosts or collections of local folklore. Indeed the only definite reference to her I have ever found was printed just a few years ago. In an interview with Mr Richard Matthews, a leading vet based in Barnard Castle, published in Newshopper (Wednesday 27th August 2014),  he recalled a call out to Aycliffe - 
I was once called out to lamb a ewe at night on a smallholding near the old church in Aycliffe village and told by the farmer that the place was haunted and he had recently seen the ghost of a grey lady. He then hid behind a tree and jumped out at me!
That said however, some collections of ghostly reports from the North East, do reference several sightings which are usually conflated with the hitch-hiking lady in white we discussed last time (see here). The first is taken from Ghosts of Today by Andrew Green (Kaye and Ward 1980) - 
Having escorted a lady friend home he was walking through Aycliffe Village when he saw 'a white shape about five yards away, walking in a field'. The figure clearly resembled a young woman in a wedding dress and a veil.
And over the years there have been other reports of a female apparition in vintage dress too. For example, a father out walking with his brother and son spotted a female phantom wearing Victorian dress. The figure did not appear to have any feet, and was in fact floating just off the ground. The spectre turned to look at her three observers and then sped away, reportedly 'faster than a greyhound'. 

Now to my mind, this female figure in period costume is undoubtedly the Grey Lady. For although the tale of the lady in white that haunts the road out of the village has been doing the rounds for more than a century, stories of encounters with this hitch-hiking spirit always describe her as appearing in contemporary dress. Plus she only ever appears on the roadside. Whereas the Grey Lady is always described as wearing "olden times" clothes and appears in several places around the village.

Most commonly the Grey Lady is seen in the vicinity of St Andrews Church. For accordingly to stories I heard, she is the shade of a noble lady who died while praying in the church - in one version she tripped on the altar steps and bled to death, while another story claimed she had been killed by round-heads while at prayer. However given that our year was studying the English Civil War when I heard this second variant, I rather suspect that what was going on in the classroom had shaped the spooky tales being told in the schoolyard. Once again, if you dear reader have heard a different origin tale for the Grey Lady I would love to hear it. 

However certainly the Grey Lady has close links to the old church. Generations of kids in Aycliffe Village have heard of the local rite associated with her, a classic example of what folklorists call legend tripping. It is said that if you go to St Andrews Church after dark, and walk (or run) around it seven times, and then stick a pin into the church doors, the Grey Lady will appear. Naturally I have heard of many who claimed they would attempt this, but no reports of anyone who actually did the deed in the end. Typically the whims of weather and parents, and in general the sort of catastrophes that prevent children from doing their homework, somehow always got in the way and the bold soul had to shelve their ghost raising plans.

But the Grey Lady does not appear to be bound to one particular location. And unlike the roadside lady in white or the red-eyed spectre that allegedly can be seen outside one of the village pubs (see here), the Grey Lady does not seem to trapped re-enacting the circumstances of her death. Rather she appears to be a phantom with a certain degree of freedom to appear where ever she chooses. However
it was also said that she appeared most often in the last quarter of the year, and in particular in the run-up to Christmas. And when I canvassed some locals about the village's famous spectre, one chap
recalled - 
I know a guy who saw her twice. He saw her near South Grove, off the village green when he was a kid. I was told that she appears around this time of year checking that people spend their money to help the needy rather than wasting it.
I don't recall ever hearing any specific tales she had appeared to chastise a wrong-doer, but she was always talked about in terrifying terms. I'm quite sure that more than a few children over the years have been persuaded into behaving as otherwise the Grey Lady would come and get them. However she was never portrayed as an evil presence, but from the way the the Grey Lady was talked about, there was a sense she was always watching over the village. And although I cannot remember any tales that envisioned her as some kind of supernatural guardian, she has been a part of the village for many many years, and so perhaps we can say that the Grey Lady is simply the spirit of Aycliffe in more ways than one... 

Thursday, 22 September 2016


This week on Folklore Flashback we round up some of the denizens of the supernatural world, in particular various local entities of a distinctly dangerous aspect...

First up we meet a Highland terror, the aquatic predator known as the Kelpie

Next we travel a little further south to discover a particular unpleasant species of dwarf, known as a Redcap, and one of this breed that served a dark master in the wilds of Northern borders -

And finally we head down south to the fen-lands of England, to learn of a powerful local sprite -

Saturday, 17 September 2016

MICROGORIA 35 - Murder In Lower Quinton Part III

In the third and final part of our investigation into the Lower Quinton murder, we attempt to get to the truth of the witchcraft angle of the case, take a close look at the suspects, and attempt to discover who was most likely to have committed this infamous murder.

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Thursday, 15 September 2016

FOLKLORE FLASHBACK #6 - Autumn Harvest

Welcome gentle reader to another roundup of older posts and jottings from the archives of Folklore on Friday. Now although the temperature is warm, the nights are arriving a sooner, and  as I write I can see the first patches of yellow and amber dappling the treetops and there's a hint of woodsmoke in the air.

Yes,  autumn is coming, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness as Mr Keats so memorably put it. So then, I present for you a little trio of scribblings  of on Autumnal lore...

First up we learn of folklore of falling leaves -

Next we learn the ancient rules on when it's safe to pick blackberries -

And finally we hear of a neglect Autumnal holiday, the forgotten feast of Michaelmas -

Friday, 9 September 2016

MICROGORIA 34 - Murder In Lower Quinton Part II

In the second part of our investigation into the Lower Quinton witchcraft murder, we unravel an occult history of magic in Britain, exploring Satanism in the press, and how the story has been presented and misrepresented over the years. We strip away the layers of myths, mistakes and misconceptions that have grown up around the Walton case, and discover how this notorious unsolved crime has shaped popular culture. 

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FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Tales from the Playground Part III - Ghosts of Aycliffe

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been recounting and discussing assorted strange tales I heard as a child at a village school in the North-east of England in the 1970s. And among the usual urban legends and oft-recycled campfire tales, a good chunk of local folklore entered the mix, in particular accounts of various ghosts alleged to haunt the village. 

Now such tales of spectres on my own doorstep were a particular favourite of mine, and this was partly because it always deliciously terrifying to learn of ghosts roaming so near to my home. However it was also because these tales passed around in corners of the playground, filled an important gap. Now there have been many guides and gazetteers of strange lands and haunted locations published over the years, but I was always somewhat annoyed that such tomes generally never mentioned anything interesting in my local area. Oh yes, there was always reams written about the big hitters such as Avebury, Pluckley, Hampton Court or Glamis Castle, but often these books gave the North of England somewhat short shrift, and in particular there was rarely anything reported at all for the County of Durham. So then I naturally relished these pieces of local ghostly lore, for they made the immediate world around me a more exciting and magical place. Although given the lurid and generally dubious nature of these tales passed around the schoolyard, even as a child,  I was somewhat sceptical about their veracity. 

However I never forgot them, and in later years a little research would prove that several of these local phantoms were more than the imaginings of school kids. Probably best known to the wider world is a figure that haunts the road through Aycliffe Village. As we mentioned last week, in the old days, the Great North Road used to run through the village, and this particular phantom is believed to date back over two hundred years, first reported in the days when coaching inns thrived. This particular spectre is actually a familiar species of folkloric haunting, the road ghost. And as the name implies, these spirits haunt the sides of roads and highways, and usually they have a Phantom Hitchhiker style story attached to them. And this Aycliffe road ghost is no exception. 

What used to be the Great North Road is the A167 these days, and where it once used to travel through the centre, now it passes through just the North-west edge of the village. At the southern end you pass by an old church, St Andrews which dates back to Saxon times, and on the road leading into the village is where a former coaching inn stood, now a pub the North Briton. Now according to the tales I heard, it was said that the ghost of a young woman haunted this particular stretch of the road. On dark nights, it was said that drivers heading south towards Darlington reported seeing the figure of a young lady, usually described as wearing a white raincoat, standing by the side of the road, seemingly looking to hitch a ride. 

Now over the years, several drivers took pity on her, for as you'd expect it was nearly always a wet and rainy night, and offered the young lady a ride. Our mystery woman in white apparently always wanted to get to Darlington, but much to our gallant drivers' shock and horror, long before they reached the town, the young lady would always vanish from the car. However if your passenger melting away into the rain-streaked darkness wasn't frightening enough, in some versions it was claimed that our unfortunate drivers would look around and see the lady was now suddenly covered in streaming blood just before she dematerialised before their eyes! 

Of course, as is typical in this kind of folk tale, there is an eerie little coda. Our troubled driver would then later discover that the young lady he had picked up born an uncanny resemblance to a woman killed a few months earlier. And the driver would then discover a story that would tell of how she was looking to get home late one night, but unfortunately the vehicle she hitched a ride with met a horrific road accident that killed all involved. Naturally the tale usually concluded with the story-teller pronouncing solemnly that on dark, rainy nights you can still see her trying to get home... 

Apparently just a year after my family moved away from the village, in 1978 a Mr Dennis Fisher reported to the Birmingham Society of Ghost Hunters that the mystery lady had hitched a ride and done her unsettling vanishing turn again. Interestingly in this case she was travelling north and disappeared when they reached Rushyford some four miles up the road. However according to research into this spectre's history by Andrew Green, one of our leading parapsychologists, this is in fact the traditional direction she travels in - 
Ron Watson writing in the Newtonian mentions an earlier report in the Aycliffe Chronicle, of a phantom 'White Lady' haunting the Great North Road. The story is associated with the finding of the body of young woman in 1698 in the nearby River Skerne. She has been witnessed fairly recently, however, over 250 years later, dressed in white and wearing a veil. Originally it seems she was collected by stage coaches travelling between the 'North Briton' and what is now the 'Eden Arms' in Rushyford. 
from Ghosts of Today by Andrew Green (Kaye and Ward 1980)

It is interesting to note these variations in the tales of Aycliffe's vanishing hiker. The versions I heard as a child had clearly been updated to move with the times - her death involved a car accident, had occurred relatively recently, and reflected the fact that most folks were then travelling south into Darlington (where most of our parents were employed) rather than going north between two small villages. But also, as we see from Mr Fisher's report, the traditional version of the haunting was still occurring after I had heard the new variants. Once again, I would be interested to learn which version any of you good folks at home have heard.

As I mentioned earlier, this hitchhiking road ghost is the one you will most commonly find listed in books of ghostly lore that take the trouble to mention hauntings in the North-east. And often appended to the tale are reports of various sightings of a white female figure in the village itself. However I rather suspect these reports relate to the ghost that is most well-known to the locals - the Grey Lady. And shall learn more of this infamous spectre next time...