Ghost stories are taken seriously in this part of the world. The Old Vicarage lies at the edge of a wetland wilderness, Astley Moss, now protected as an area of special scientific interest.
It’s a misty and mysterious lowland.
The imagination can easily wander between this world and another. Particularly at this time of year, Halloween, or Samhain as it was known by our Celtic ancestors.
Samhain is one of the four Celtic threshold festivals which also include Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. At Samhain the boundary with the Otherworld thins and the spirits can be appeased with offerings of food and drink to ensure livestock will survive the winter. The souls of dead kin were also thought to return to their homes seeking hospitality. A place would be set for them at the table for the Samhain meal.
Our own ghost stories feel very close to home too. Especially when walking through swirling mists in the woods of Dam House, our closest neighbour when young Anne Mort lived there.
The Grey Lady
Anne was star crossed and in love with James Speakman. James was a young labourer living in an “untidy cottage” on Astley Moss. The cottage was then part of her father’s extensive estates. When Adam Mort discovered his daughter’s secret trysts with James though, he flew into a rage. In secret, he arranged to buy off James’ parents and relocate them all to another of his estates, many miles away in Lymm.
James was not informed and Anne never discovered why he suddenly disappeared.
She visited the empty cottage every day and wandered the lanes and paths which crisscrossed the Moss hoping to find him. Instead she gradually lost her mind. She never found him nor forgave her father and died of grief at the age of eighteen.
Anne is the Grey Lady said to walk the lanes here and the grounds of Dam House.
There are many reports of her apparition. Seemingly in distress and casting her eyes from side to side as if searching for something. There have been sightings of her here too, in the grounds of the Old Vicarage.
My wife’s grandfather was an Astley Speakman. I wonder whether he was related to James? For all the sadness of this story though, I’ve never felt anything other than a benign presence here at the Old Vicarage. I’d like to think that as we sat down to what would have been our Samhain meal, together with our new grandson dressed in his pumpkin outfit, that Anne and James and any other unsettled spirits would have joined us. I hope they would have enjoyed the hospitality and felt part of our family too, at least for one night.