Blakeney is not one to miss out on nationwide ghostly activity at Halloween - or, in fact, at any time of year. From fairy sprites to howling dogs, the cries of drowning sailors, ghostly fiddlers and silent, stalking monks - Blakeney can claim to have its fair share of frightening phantoms.
Blakeney was a prosperous commercial port on the north Norfolk coast during the Middle Ages, one of the richest in England. This led it to become a hotbed for smugglers from the 1300s to the 1800s. It is said that the neighbouring port of Cley was run by organised gangs of pirates and, to stop the smuggling, a Customs House was built - and still stands.
Blakeney is believed to have a network of smuggler tunnels under its streets.
These tunnels, with many secret entrances, are also the home of the long-limbed fairy ‘hyter sprites’ - and a legendary ghostly fiddler and his dog.
Some say the hyter sprites kidnap badly behaved village children who stray on to the saltmarsh - a warning to others to beware of incoming tides.
A more tangible example of ghostly happenings features in the figure of a fiddler and his dog. The pair appear on the Blakeney village sign sited by the quay.
The story behind this duo begins with the fiddler volunteering to explore a smuggler passageway leading from Blakeney Guildhall which is nestled into Mariner’s Hill to the east of the quay.
The tale tells of the fiddler going into the tunnel with his dog and playing the fiddle so villagers can chart his progress. They listen hard. But suddenly the music stops and the fiddler and his dog are never seen again.
Nearby Binham Priory has a similar story of a fiddler and his dog entering a tunnel under the Benedictine ruins. In this tale the fiddler is tracing the footsteps of a ghostly monk - maybe the ‘mad monk’ who was buried in chains. When the music stopped it is said that only the dog emerged - terrified and shaking.
Even more strangely, in 1933, workmen unearthed the skeletons of two men and a dog from a tunnel between Blakeney and Binham.
Another dog haunts Blakeney - the ghost of Black Shuck - which appears in the lanes of Blakeney. Its huge ghostly figure prowls Back Lane where he is seen floating above the ground to the sound of jangling chains. Black Shuck is also said to haunt Blakeney’s Little Lane, along with a ghostly wagon and horses. The legend goes that early in 1709, during a terrible storm, a cargo ship heading to Blakeney port was wrecked at Salthouse. All the crew were drowned and among the bodies washed up on the beach was Black Shuck lying next to the body of his master. Ever since then, Black Shuck is supposed to haunt this area howling for his master.
The ghosts of royalty too haunt the area. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, has been seen riding through the grounds of the nearby stately home, Blickling Hall - carrying her head. She is said to return to her Norfolk birthplace each year on May 19 - the anniversary of her execution. She was beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536, accused of adultery, incest and conspiracy against the king.
The ruins of Castle Rising is home to many ghostly sightings. These include the wife of Edward II, Isabella the Fair, who turns into a wolf and is known as the She Wolf of Castle Rising. She reportedly had episodes of madness when she lived in Castle Rising - sent there by her son Edward III in ‘honorable confinement’ after her brief reign as regent from 1327 to 1330 with her lover Roger Mortimer.
The ghosts of day-to-day folk also stalk the area reminding people of their demise. Stiffkey - pronounced Stewkey - is well-known for its cockles called Stewkey Blues. Here the ghost of a poor young girl cockler called Nancy can be heard screaming for help. She was working at the water’s edge as the tide turned and a thick fog rolled in. Villagers searched in vain despite hearing her cries. Her body was found the next day. She was buried in the village churchyard. There are many reports of a shadowy figure seen on the mud flats screaming for help, particularly on foggy nights.
The cries of doomed seamen who perished in a storm off the coast at Sheringham are also said to be heard in severe weather. The ghostly noises which occur during brief but violent squalls are known as Yow Yows. Some stories say they are made by the drowning sailors who local fishermen ignored - perhaps because they intended to salvage and sell the vessel’s cargo - and are an attempt to lure the living into a watery grave.
In Weybourne, at full moon, there is said to be a ghostly whistler whose tunes were intended to attract other smugglers along the coast.
Other North Norfolk sightings include :
The ghost of William Windham III (1750-1810) at Felbrigg Hall, a bibliophile who died after rescuing books when fire broke out in a friend’s library. William was buried in the family vaults at Felbrigg Church - a stone’s throw from the Hall - and the spectre of William can be seen in the Hall’s Gothic library poring over his books.
The ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686–1726) in a brown dress at Raynham Hall near Fakenham who had been locked up by her cruel husband. She is said to also haunt Houghton Hall and Sandringham House.
The Poltergeist of Sandringham, the Queen’s home for her Christmas holidays, sends blasts of cold air around the rooms, knocks books off the shelves, pulls blankets off beds and sends Christmas cards flying. The mischievous spectre also switches the lights on and off and can be heard wheezing and walking around the house. Poltergeist activity is said to start every Christmas Eve and continue for several weeks.