My Facebook page: The Bard of Cumberland
The Bard of Cumberland page is to share with you my passion for folklore, folk tales, folk music, ghost stories, myths, legends, history, archaeology, and other strange tales from Cumbria and beyond.
The first record of the term “Cumberland” appears in 945, when the Anglo-Saxon Cronicle recorded that the area was ceded to Malcom I of Scots by King Edmund of England. As with Cymru, the native Welsh name for Wales, the names Cumberland and Cumbria are derived from ‘kombroges’ in Common Brittonic, which originally meant “compatriots”.
You don’t have a history this rich without legends and folklore – the days of King Arthur, to stories of fairies, the more recent legends of the Beast of Cumbria and Bownessie, there is a lot to discover.
My Rae (Ray, Reay, Wray, Roe) surname has been synonymous with Cumberland since the 7th Century, the initial spelling Ra was first found in Cumberland at Gill, in the parish of Bromfield which belonged to the family from the time of William the Lion, king of Scotland (died 1214.).
For some time I have been training as a Bard with The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. In ancient times a Bard was a poet and storyteller who had trained in a Bardic college. In modern times, a Bard is one who sees their creativity as an innate spiritual ability, and who chooses to nurture that ability partly or wholly with Druidism. The Bards are the keepers of tradition, of memory, and they are the custodians of the sacredness of the Word. Link: https://druidry.org/
The Jacobites and the Angel
Angel Yard in Kendal is all that is left of the Angel Inn which stood on the site until the 1980s.
Once one of Kendal’s oldest hostelries, the Angel Inn got its name from an incident in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops passed through the town. Some Jacobite soldiers broke into the inn and the occupants fled, leaving behind a child. As the soldiers attempted to molest the child, an angel brandishing a drawn sword appeared before them, and they ran away in fear of divine punishment.
The Shadow Giant
The old football field, behind the Council yard on North Lonsdale Road is the sight of a lesser-known Ulverston ghost story that began in the 1940s and has continued to the present day.
The first documented eyewitness in 1940 described the apparition as a “shadow giant”, a black figure about 7 feet tall. There have been numerous sighting since including a description from this man, who as a child was one of eight who all witnessed the event – “you could see through it, but it was a clearly defined person. It was walking slowly for a while, and then it started to run. It then turned towards us, it had no facial features. It gradually faded away to nothing in the middle of the field.”
“That spooky house on Soutergate”
Anyone else witnessed strange goings-on while passing the derelict house on Soutergate, Ulverston? [photograph by Darren Fine]
Along this old Roman road fairies make their home. Cumbria’s Faery King Eveling holding his court here This king is an intriguing figure because of his mythological connections: his name may very well be connected to Avalloc, putative ruler of the island of Avalon; both have some connection to Evelake, King of Sarras, found in the later French romances of King Arthur.
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?
Ulverston was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Ulvrestun, from Old Norse meaning ‘wolf warrior’ and tun meaning ‘homestead’. This gives rise to the presence of a wolf on the town’s coat of arms. [picture from a project with Bardsea-Green Films]
Allegedly first spotted by a Bowness boatman around 1900.
These shy, water-loving creatures are reputed to have the body of a hedgehog, the tail of a squirrel or fox and a pair of bee-like wings.
A note of caution, if travelling the Shap Fells at night, be vigilant of the shadowy figure on horseback, galloping like the devil. For it is said to be none other than Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. [Horse of Death by Jack Tzekov]
“The Corpse Roads of Cumbria”
Authors Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park have compiled routes, history and legends surrounding the county’s ancient corpse roads which date back to medieval times, used to transport the dead from remote parishes to the ‘mother’ church.
There are few written records about the corpse roads but oral tradition, legends and half-remembered tales still survive.
The Cartmel corpse road also passes the Headless Cross, the remains of an ancient cross which tradition says was used to say prayers at before people attempted to cross the treacherous Morecambe Bay.
Arthurian legend and it’s Cumbrian connection
The legend of King Arthur claims that a young Arthur trained in a warrior school on the Roman Wall, so it is quite likely that this would have been at one of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall in the north of Cumbria. Earthworks at Eamont Bridge, near Penrith has been aptly-named ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’. The site is a natural amphitheatre and would have been ideal for the knights coming together. South of Kirkby Stephen lies the ruins of the Castle of Pendragon. In folklore it was originally built by Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. Pendragon supposedly tried to divert the waters of the nearby River Eden to form a moat, but neither his engineering nor the magic of the wizard Merlin could persuade the river to alter its course. Uther is said to have died in the castle, when Saxon soldiers poisoned the water in his well. [photograph of Pendragon castle by Shaun Whiteman]
Ghostly tales from Plumpton Hall
Known to the locals as an eerie location, legend tells of a ‘haunted’ brass lantern, kept at the Hall, and endowed with magical powers so that it is able to find its way home if it is ever removed. A visitor to the Hall in the 1950s remembers being awoken by the ghost of a young woman.
[image from Lancaster University of the older part of Plumpton Hall]
I took this photograph of an Ent at Coniston Water. This race of beings from Tolkien’s fantasy world closely resemble trees, but are inspired by the talking trees of folklore:
In the Old English poem Dream of the Rood, a tree talks about being cut down and used as the cross on which Christ was crucified, and in English folklore, willows were said to stalk humans. Oracular trees are sometimes attributed with the ability to speak to individuals, especially those gifted in divination. Ent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for giant.
King Arthurs father, Uther, was certainly a local, but whether young Arthur grew up in Cumbria is another matter. Legend claims that Arthur was trained in a warrior school on the Roman Wall, and much of the Cumbrian claims to King Arthur rely in part on the circumstances of his death.
Excalibur, and how it came to be in Arthurs care, is one such part of the story – the legend goes that when Arthur was fatally wounded he asked one of his knights to return Excalibur to the lake it came from. Bedivere, the knight in question, made two trips to the lake and back before the dying Arthur was satisfied and asked to be taken to Avalon. If the lake in question was in another part of the country, Bediveres first round trip would have taken days, if not weeks or months.
Lord Alfred Tennyson was also keen on the idea of Excalibur being found in and returned to a Cumbrian lake, that lake in question being Bassenthwaite.
Cumbria’s Alien Highway
1. our own Roswell Incident
Did a UFO crash on the fells back in the 1950s – giving the county its own Roswell Incident? A claim has been investigated that a UFO crashed into an unspecified location, believed to be near Workington, in 1954. The claim was made by an eyewitness and looked into by UFO experts.
It has been suggested this is similar to the world-famous Roswell Incident in Mexico in 1947, when it was alleged two UFOs crashed into each other.
2. The Coniston Saucer
On 15 February 1954, thirteen-year-old Stephen Darbishire allegedly takes a UFO photo near Coniston.
The ‘object’, according to the first published account (Lancashire Evening Post, Feb 18) had a silvery, glassy appearance, shining “like aluminium in the sunlight.”
3. Morecambe Bay UFO
Multiple sightings in January 2010 over Morecambe Bay of a matt gold metallic square-shaped UFO.
One eyewitness – ” I was walking through Conishead Priory woods onto the Bay, there was a peculiar silence, no noise from the water, no bird noise from the woodland. I looked up, a massive ufo, a golden colour, but matt, not shining. The object stayed above me for 30 seconds, but shot off across the Bay, and was gone. Similar to the image below but not as flat”.