Dicken’s Christmas Carol is one of the most famous ghost stories ever told.
The spooky writings of MR James were originally Christmas Eve tales the Cambridge don told to entertain his students; Susan Hill’s acclaimed gothic ghost story, the Woman in Black is recounted during a Christmas Eve house party. Christmas ghosts are a rich tradition that harks back to Victorian times and beyond.
But what about ghostly fishing stories? Tales of the sea, pond or riverbank that will have your carp fishing equipment trembling in your hands…
The Southern tip of Cornwall is a wind ravaged place. Isolated and bleak, in winter, its cliffs and coves are storm lashed and lethal. When young Nancy fell for swashbuckling sailor called William, their union was frowned upon by the girl’s family and she was forbidden from ever seeing him again.
But the two met in secret on the beach at Porthgwarra, where they pledged their undying love for each other.
When William returned to sea, Nancy would pace the headland at Hella point, looking out for the return of her lover. But as weeks turned to months, and still there was no sign of him, Nancy became frantic with worry, and nothing anyone said could calm her.
Then one stormy evening, an old woman saw Nancy down in the cove. Sat on a rock, huge waves roared and seethed around her. The elderly woman began to hobble down to the beach to warn the girl of the danger of the tide. But then she stopped in her tracks, for there sitting beside the girl was none other than the missing sailor.
A breaker rolled into the bay, and broke over the rock. Nancy disappeared, never to be seen again. And when news came to the tiny hamlet, it told of shipwreck and disaster. Williams ship had sunk, and all aboard were drowned.
Dead fisherman’s family
The river Adur in West Sussex is a spooky body of water if ever there was one. One of the sights that greets visitors is an old wooden boat, long since wrecked, its rotting timbers slowly decaying in the turgid river current.
On dark nights, it’s said, anglers have been chilled to the marrow by the sound of sobbing that emanates from the boat’s crumbling bulwarks. Closer inspection reveals the spectral horror of a woman and her children damned to an eternity of sobbing despair.
The boat once belonged to a fisherman. One dark night in 1893, a tempest blew his fragile craft upriver from Shoreham harbour to be wrecked on the rocky riverbank. No matter how hard the poor man tried, he couldn’t refloat his boat.
Death by starvation was the fate of the fisherman and his entire family. Now the ghosts of those unfortunates appear hollow eyed and desperate, forever trying to push the boat back out to sea.
Jack Harry’s lights
If ever you’re out sea fishing at St Ives Bay and you see a ghostly ship cruise against wind and tide across the bay, put away your tackle and run for dry land. If ever you see the lights of that dread ship glimmer and disappear in the night – run for your your life because disaster will surely follow.
You’re gazing upon ‘Jack Harry’s lights’.
Jack Harry was the man who one afternoon watched a ship sail into the bay. He watched with horror as it sailed straight onto the rocks. Horrified, he ran to round up a rescue crew who rowed to the stricken vessel intent on saving as many of the crew as they could.
Just as they reached the ship and Jack went to step aboard, it disappeared. Confused and scared, the men returned to shore. Later that night, another ship was seen to founder. But fearing it was another ‘ghost ship’, nobody would put to sea to rescue her crew.
But this ship was real all right. The Neptune was wrecked on the rocks and next morning, the first of the bodies washed ashore. For ever after, Jack Harry’s lights have been seen up and down the rocky Cornish coast. And they’re always an omen of ill fortune and death.
The Ghost of Claremont lake
Think phantoms are confined to wild Cornish coasts? Think again, all you carp fishermen. Claremont Lake in Esher is as haunted as they come. It’s a National Trust property now, but even if you could fish there, you’d do so at your peril.
William Kent was a renowned landscape gardener. When he was hired to revamp the grounds by Claremont House’s owner, the Duke of Newcastle, he must have been delighted at the prospect of completing such a high profile project.
Kent set to, moving streams and creating a stunning new lake fed from a grotto. But when the work was done, the Duke welched on the deal, offering to pay a paltry £100 for the huge works. Facing financial ruin, Kent argued the point, and the Duke responded by having the man thrown in his own lake.
William Kent caught cold and died a penniless pauper. Now on dark misty nights, the figure of the dead designer walks the grounds. Dressed in long brown cloak and gaiters, his tormented spirit is doomed to haunt the lake forever.