Wednesday, 31 October 2012

All Hallows Eve on the Cut

Once upon a time, I can imagine that working boatmen may have gathered their families around the cabin stove on All Hallow’s Eve, and told ghostly stories by lamp light. 

Today my boat is moored beside this haunted bridge in Bulbourne, near Tring, in Hertfordshire. I thought I had read about some ghostly Roman soldiers being sighted somewhere near this bridge. I went to the library to borrow Ghosts of Tring again and yet when I searched the book the story was mysteriously nowhere to be found. (The book also puzzlingly has no accredited author, editor or publisher, having been bound by a short-run printer.)  I did however find a few other canal related ghost stories.

By the canal at Marsworth, the book reports a child was walking along with her grandmother “off the barges”.

“The child was tugging her hand; the grandmother turned to look. At the little girl’s other hand was a character half-man, half-goat.”

In the blackout during the Second World War children often saw lights on the dry canal bank above Wilstone reservoir. “Spies!” they called them.  Also near Wilstone reservoir a young man was approached by two grey shapes near the cemetery, eerily waving their arms. It turned out to be two swans.

On the Aylesbury canal arm one night a niece and her uncle were travelling in their carriage over the Dixon’s gap bridge. The horses shied and the niece saw four men carrying a coffin over the bridge. The uncle however saw nothing…

A perhaps more famous ghost story on the canals is that of the Blisworth Tunnel. This tunnel, on the Grand Union at Stoke Bruerne, is a mile and three quarters long. During its construction the tunnel caved in and fourteen men died. People claim to have seen the shadowy ghosts of these poor navvies and even some say, that when travelling through by boat you may see an alternative tunnel (the one that collapsed) leading off at a tangent; invitingly lit by candlelight.

However Standedge Tunnel in Yorkshire is the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel on the network. Considered to be one of the seven wonders of the waterways, boating passages must be booked in advance. Next week you can enjoy a spooky boat ride or a witches brew in the café as the Standedge Visitor Centre takes on a Halloween theme.

Apparently The Montgomery Canal in Wales is haunted by a Welsh Princess who was buried alive as punishment for running away with her lover. At Rugeley on the Trent and Mersey Canal a blood stain sometimes reappears from a murder in 1839.

With so many poor souls killed in the building and working of the canals I expect there are many tales to be told. Do you know a canal ghost story?

Disclosure: I wrote this article for Canal Voyagers Hotel Boats. They'll be haunting most of these places next year on their 2013 cruises.
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