Paranormal County Durham and Haunted Carlisle

By Darren W. Ritson

Paranormal County Durham

From the publisher’s website: County Durham, also known as ‘the Land of Prince Bishops’, is an area of outstanding beauty primarily recognized for its lead mining and its farming industries. With a combination of rolling hills, quaint little countryside villages, townships and a historic city as its capital, County Durham is a stunning region. The ghosts here are aplenty and they are festooned far and wide. We have ghostly galloping steeds and harrowing horseman silently making their way across the moors and hilltops; priests, monks and god-fearing men eerily frequent the many religious buildings that are scattered hither and thither around the county; poltergeists plague people and their places; old pubs and inns are bursting at the seams with long-dead patrons and ancient battles once fought here are being silently fought again much to the bewilderment of those that see them or indeed, hear them. So wherever you endeavour to go in the wonderful County Durham, whichever way you turn, you can be sure a ghost will lurk in almost every corner.

Haunted Carlisle

From the publisher’s website: This new book contains a chilling collection of eyewitness accounts and terrifying tales from in and around Carlisle which is sure to appeal to everyone interested in the supernatural history of the city.  Illustrated with over 60 pictures, these spooky stories include the headless spectre of Carlisle railway station, the phantom boy of Corby Castle, and the ghostly highwayman of Barrock Park, among many others. For those who dare to read it, Haunted Carlisle is guaranteed to make your blood run cold.

DARREN W. RITSON is a paranormal investigator and author who has studied the ghosts and legends of northern England for over twenty years. He is a member of the Incorporated Society of Psychical Research and regularly contributes articles to Paranormal Magazine, amongst others. His previously published works include The South Shields Poltergeist, Haunted Newcastle, Haunted BerwickHaunted Durham and Ghosts at Christmas. He lives in Howden, North Tyneside.


Paranormal County Durham: Amberley Publishing, June 2012. ISBN 9781445606507. Haunted Carlisle: The History Press, August 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0752460871

Reviewed for the SPR by: Tom Ruffles


Prolific author Darren Ritson (if the list at the front of Paranormal County Durham is complete, he has written or co-written eighteen books) has brought out another two volumes in his exploration of the North of England’s haunted heritage.  Despite the hours he must put in at the word processor he is not an armchair researcher, having done a large number of on-the-ground investigations, some solo, some with long-time colleague Mike Hallowell, others with the ghost-hunting group he founded, the North East Ghost Research Team, or another group he co-founded, Ghosts and Hauntings Overnight Surveillance Team.

Paranormal County Durham

Veteran researcher Malcolm Robinson contributes a foreword to Paranormal County Durham.  He stresses the need to rely on one’s own intelligence when investigating, being prepared to do hard work finding explanations rather than blindly trusting to instrumentation and assuming a paranormal explanation as the default, a welcome corrective to much current ghost hunting wisdom (or rather lack of).

Similarly Ritson in his introduction points out that this field is complex, something that needs to be remembered when television shows make it look easy, and that not having preconceived ideas (which applies to sceptics as much as to those who tend to a paranormal explanation) is an essential prerequisite if an investigation is going to be worthwhile.

The book is divided into nearly three dozen chapters of varying length, most on a separate location, with one devoted to miscellaneous ‘Phantom horses and ghost riders’.  There is the usual selection to be found in this type of book, pubs, castles, mansions, but less usual are a former MOD depot, an old POW camp, a lead mine and that annoying song about the grandfather clock that stopped, never to go again, when the old man died, which surprisingly has its origins in a real clock (though not necessarily a real story) at the George Hotel, Piercebridge.  It concludes with a series of stories culled from the website of local historian C. J. Linton, who has also researched the paranormal in the area.

County Durham is, as Ritson points out, an area of outstanding beauty, and his enthusiasm for it shines through this survey of its haunted landscape.  It is one entry in a growing literature on the paranormal aspects of this area: in addition to coverage in general national gazetteers, there is Ritson’s own Haunted Durham (The History Press, 2010), while Rob Kirkup has produced Ghostly County Durham (The History Press, 2010).

Haunted Carlisle

Demonstrating his continuing ability to get interesting people to pen his forewords, on this occasion Ritson has snagged Paul Adams, well known as an authority on Harry Price, in particular as co-author of The Borley Rectory Companion.  For this volume, Ritson has moved away from his usual stamping-ground of the North-East (he is a Newcastle-upon-Tyne native) to examine the historic city of Carlisle, steeped in history and character.

Unsurprisingly slimmer than the one devoted to County Durham, the book is divided into only two sections, one on ghosts in Carlisle itself, and one (much shorter) on the outskirts.  This lack of detail wouldn’t be a problem if there were an index, but a lack of any listings makes the book difficult to use as a guide to the area

In addition to the usual mix of folkloric and older accounts (including black dogs) there are some recent cases which involved named individuals.  An alleged poltergeist caused problems for a family in 2007, and made the pages of the Daily Mail. It exhibited similarities with the well-known South Shields case with which Ritson was associated.  Chapters on the railway station (where I myself once experienced an odd coincidence, my young daughter bumping into her best friend from school, a long way from home) and on Laser Quest detail the author’s personal investigations.

A 2010 story about an apparent ghost caught on CCTV in an off-licence, was covered extensively by international media.  At first sight it does appear to be an insect close to the lens, a common occurrence in these situations, but Ritson notes that there were reports of a variety of other phenomena occurring in the shop, so there may be more going on than the CCTV images alone suggest.  And of course no book on paranormal Carlisle would be complete without a reference to its famous (or rather infamous) Cursing Stone!

There are overlaps with some other recent gazetteers, notably Geoff Holder’s Paranormal Cumbria (The History Press, 2010), H. C. Ivison’s Supernatural Cumbria (Amberley Publishing, 2010) and Kirkup’s Ghostly Cumbria (The History Press, 2011).  Ritson’s Supernatural North (Amberley Publishing, 2009) has a few pages on both County Durham and Carlisle.  However, while Carlisle has been included in a number of books covering a wider geographical area, some of which are mentioned in the bibliography, surprisingly this is the first devoted entirely to the city.

Both Paranormal County Durham and Haunted Carlisle are nicely illustrated.  One thing did amuse me though.  Each features a line drawing of a monk that is identical, though in one he is in company with a group of brothers, while in the other he is on his own.  In County Durham we are told that it is an artist’s representation of the monks who are said to walk the grounds of Lumley Castle, in Carlisle it is an artist’s representation of the monk who haunts Carlisle Cathedral.  Well, one monk looks much like another I suppose.