Scotland is terrorised by the Loch Ness Monster, Cornwall lays claim to King Arthur and his knights of the round table, and Wales memorialises the loyalty of Gelert, Prince Llywelyn’s faithful hound. These myths and legends have been passed down from one generation to the next, evoking a mystical atmosphere in the places that are associated with them.

Here in the Lake District we are no strangers to mythical and wondrous tales. Some are very familiar, such as our own version of the Robin Hood story, whilst others, such as the winged hedgehog known as the Tizzie Whizzie, are a little more bizarre. This summer why not take a tour of some of Cumbria’s more peculiar tales.

Bjorn: The Styhead Ghost

Styhead Tarn

Styhead Tarn, home to the Styhead Ghost

Styhead Pass between Wasdale and Borrowdale is an isolated part of the county. There are very few signs of civilisation along the path and modern life seems a world away when you walk its well-trodden stones. This high altitude pass is prone to trapping the mist that tumbles over the towering fells, and walkers can find themselves quickly blinded by thick fog. It is here, in this lonely and theatrical setting that Bjorn, an outlaw from the 13th century, is said to wander headless, carrying a bag full of live cats. If you are planning a walk to Scafell Pike, you might want to pack a little salt to ward off any spirits you encounter along the way.

Tizzie-Whizie: A Windermere Wonder

A misty Lake Windermere

The shores of Lake Windermere where Tizzie Whizie has been sighted

If you find yourself strolling along the shore of Windermere, do take a moment to stop, and place your ear close to the ground. If you are very, very, fortunate (and perhaps aided by a pint or two of Cumbrian ale) you may hear the quiet squeak of the Tizzie-Whizie. This is a quirky creature that has the body of a hedgehog with large insect wings and a tail that Squirrel Nutkin would envy. It is said to roam the shore of the lake by Bowness-on-Windermere, and was allegedly first spotted by a Bowness boatman in 1900. The fact that he told his elaborate story whilst in a local inn should in no way hinder your belief in his tale. Following this first sighting, the creature was spotted many times by Bowness boatmen, who incidentally made quite a lot of money taking tourists on Tizzie-Whizie hunts.

The Inglewood Outlaws: The Real Merry Men

Inglewood Outlaw

The 'Inglewood Outlaws' bore a striking resemblance to their Nottingham Forest counterparts

Inglewood Forest is a large piece of land that lies between Carlisle and Penrith, and was originally a designated royal hunting ground. It was also the home of Adam Bell, William of Cloudsley, and Clym of the Clough, three outlaws who hunted the king’s deer and stole money from rich travellers to donate to the poor. It’s a familiar sounding tale, with the better-known version taking place in Nottingham Forest.

Both tales originate from medieval ballads, and there is no evidence to determine which story came first (but it’s definitely the Cumbrian version). Although much of the forest is now farm land, you can visit the stately home of Lord and Lady Inglewood at Hutton-In-The-Forest, where a woodland walk recreates the royal forests once raided by the notorious three.

Dunmail: The Last King of Cumbria

Dunmail Raise

Dunmail Raise where King Dunmail is said to have fallen

(Silence-is-inifite / Wikipedia.org)

As you drive along the A591 between Grasmere and Keswick, you are possibly admiring the stunning scenery that surrounds you, or the work that went into repairing the road following the floods of Storm Desmond. It’s unlikely that you are conscious of the souls of fallen Cumbrian warriors making their way from Grisedale Tarn high in the mountains to the roadside, where their great leader, King Dunmail, is said to have fallen. Legend has it that Malcolm King of Scots and Edmund King of Saxon colluded to overthrow Dunmail from his Cumbrian seat.

The pair drew the warrior King into battle, and he held his last stand in the valley between Thirlmere and Grasmere, where he was killed. His remaining faithful warriors piled stones on his body, and threw his crown into Grisedale Tarn. The stones remain to this day, and it is said that each year the ghosts of the warriors return to the tarn to retrieve the crown and attempt to reawaken the King – only to hear the words “not yet.”

The Beast of Cumbria

Panther Eyes

Keep your eyes peeled for the Beast of Cumbria!

Cumbria, the land of the Herdwick sheep, the red squirrel, and, of course, the elusive black panther. At least, that’s according to numerous walkers who claim to have spotted the fearsome beast prowling through the fells. Sightings have been reported in Langdale, Eden Valley, Grasmere, and Kendal.

In fact, in 2011, a Freedom of Information request revealed that Cumbria police had received 40 reports of big cats since 2003. It is possible that it is just someone’s pet feline who has eaten rather a lot of Cumberland sausages, but if you are strolling through the fells, keep your wits about you, just in case.

Long Meg and Her Daughters: Witches in the Stone

Long Meg

Long Meg and her Daughters turned to stone

Did the brazen act of dancing on the Sabbath result in a coven of witches turning into stone? It’s unlikely, but the ancient stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters remains a mysterious structure nonetheless. A few miles north of Penrith, this is the second largest stone circle in the country. It features over 50 standing stones made from granite, and one unique larger stone made from local red sandstone, known as Long Meg. Long Meg is adorned with ancient symbols carved into her rock, and at certain angles you could argue that she resembles a witch.

Local legend tells of a mother and her daughters (all witches) who danced the night away on the Sabbath, and were turned to stone as a punishment. It is said that it is impossible to count the same number of stones twice, and that anyone who achieves such a feat will undo the magic that holds the witches in the stone. No one knows why ancient cultures put so much effort into creating these awe-inspiring structures, often hauling stone for miles using rudimentary tools. However, whether you believe the stones are witches, or part of an ancient, yet mysterious ritual, the circle undoubtedly has a magical atmosphere.

Crier of Claife: Wailing above Windermere

Claife

Claife Heights where the Claife Crier cried himself to death

(David Brown / Wikipedia.org)

Claife Heights is a popular walking area on the western side of Windermere, close to Wray Castle and Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s former home. Tourists flock to this area in the summer, seemingly unaware of the terror that roams these uplands. According to local legend, a monk from Furness Abbey was sent to the area to reform a wayward woman and show her the errors of her ways. Instead, he was bewitched with her devilish charms, and tried to win her affection. Sadly for this lowly monk, she spurned his advances and left him feeling bereft. He was so heartbroken, that he wandered the area wailing and crying, eventually crying himself to death on Claife Heights.

In the years that followed, local boatmen reported hearing cries from the heights, but heeded warnings to stay away. One hapless fellow mistook the cries for someone calling for a boat, and went to investigate. Upon his return, it is said that his hair had turned white and he never spoke again. To this day, the Claife Crier remains Windermere’s most famous ghost story, and occasionally, there are reports of walkers who are followed by a hooded figure as they explore the crier's final resting place.