Beauty spot’s ghostly reputation

Sutton Bank, one of the finest views in England
Me with my brother at Sutton Bank where we’d gone to remember our late sister Tricia
Me with my sister Janet at Sutton Bank on the 2nd anniversary of my late sister’s death

The view from Sutton Bank top has to be one of the most glorious in the country and for me, going up there is like taking medication for the soul. It was one of my late sister Tricia’s favourite spots, and I recently visited it with my family to mark the second anniversary of her death.

It was a glorious day, and we felt that Tricia was with us as we looked out over the spectacular North Yorkshire countryside in quiet reflection. James Herriot wasn’t kidding when he described it as ‘the finest view in England’.

It was also one of my dad’s favourite places and regularly cropped up in his writings. In his column from 9th February 1980 he wrote about the ghost of Sutton Bank and expanded the tale in his book ‘Murders and Mysteries from the North York Moors’, published in 1988.

A reader from South Otterington had contacted him to say that late one night he had encountered a ghost on the road down to the gliding club from the summit of Sutton Bank. He claimed he’d seen a young woman dressed in dark period costume among the trees lining the road, but she vanished as he approached. The mysterious figure was picked out by his headlights and he was adamant that he hadn’t imagined it.

Dad drove that route many times at night, as have I, and neither of us ever came across this ghost. However, there have been several other sightings. One lady described how she was driving along the A170 near the Hambleton Inn with her husband when they saw a distressed woman, dressed a long black dress, trying to flag them down. Her husband stopped the car to assist, but by the time he got out, she had vanished. They were being followed by friends in another car who saw the ghost too and verified their story. Other sightings describe a very similar tale.

Many believe this is the ghost of Abigail Glaister, who lived in the nearby village of Kilburn in the 1600s during the reign of James I. Abigail was accused of being a witch, and was hounded out of the village by locals wanting to execute her. She was chased up Sutton Bank, and tried to flag down passers by on what is now the A170, but no-one stopped to help her. She fled down the path along the top of the hill towards Lake Gormire, finally leaping in terror off Whitestone Cliff to her death. Having said that, I did find one reference that said Abigail did not die, but landed in the ‘bottomless’ waters of Lake Gormire and was swept by the underwater current to a subterranean stream which took her to a well nine miles away, from which she emerged alive.

I tried to find out more about this tale, but the only information I could discover was from my own dad’s book. If anyone can shed more light on the unfortunate Abigail, or knows of any more sightings of the ghost, I’d love to hear from you.

Whitestone Cliff, which is a sheer drop from the top of the bank to the woods that encircle the serene lake below, is also known as White Mare Crag, a name which reflects another ghost story.

Local knight Sir Harry de Scriven was jealous of the abbot of nearby Rievaulx Abbey who owned a stunning white mare. The abbot enjoyed indulging in wine, and Sir Harry plied him with drink in the local hostelry, then concocted a story about a nearby farmer urgently needing the abbot’s help. As the weather was stormy he lent the abbot his own horse, explaining that it was much faster and stronger than the mare. Sir Harry offered to accompany the abbot part of the way and they set out, each one on the other’s horse, and it soon turned into a drunken race. As the dastardly Sir Harry had planned, the abbot, in his alcoholic stupor, urged his galloping mount on, straight over the cliff edge. However, Sir Harry had miscalculated the distance, and he and the white mare also careered over the cliff to be consumed by the dark waters of the lake below.

The unfortunate ghosts of Sir Harry and the horse were doomed in perpetuity to fall from the top of White Mare Crag. Have you seen them?

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 7th Feb and the Gazette & Herald on 5th Feb Jan 2020

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