The tragedy of Blue Bank

The view towards Whitby from the top of Blue Bank
Blue Bank in Sleights is one of the steepest hills on the north York Moors
An escape lane has been installed for vehicles that lose control descending the steep Blue Bank in Sleights

I’ve been a bit of a detective this week, and I hope my policeman dad would be proud of my sleuthing activities, for which I have reader Clive Button to thank. I thought you might be interested in what I’ve discovered, so my dad’s 1980 column is taking a back seat this week.

Mr Button contacted me after reading my column a couple of weeks ago in which I mentioned the letter Thirsk weatherman Bill Foggitt had written to my dad telling the story of a phantom bus that haunted Blue Bank in Sleights. According to Mr Foggitt, the original bus had overturned ‘with tragic loss of life in 1930’.

But that was all the information that Bill had given and I was struggling to find out any more. But then Mr Button contacted me with this rather intriguing account: ‘My father, born 1919…who had relatives at Sleights, told me about this, though he was uncertain of the year in which it happened. He believed a bus ascending the hill missed a gear change and ran backwards down the hill, crashing into the farm at the bottom. The bus demolished several bee hives and some passengers were stung to death.’

Could bees really be responsible for some of the deaths associated with the crash? Clive suggested the local papers might hold the answer. And then I stumbled across the British Newspaper Archive, which is in the process of digitising the nation’s papers, dating right back to the 1700s. To be able to browse online, I had to sign up to a subscription service, but I felt it was well worth it as it would be likely I would use it over and again.

It still wasn’t straightforward to find what I was looking for, but after a while I came across an article from the Yorkshire Post from 1930 in which it mentioned the accident and a golden nugget of information – that it had occurred on 21st July 1929.

I was so excited as it meant I could immediately go to the papers around that date to learn what had actually happened from a contemporary account. I spent the next few hours totally absorbed by all the newspaper articles I found, from the very first one published the day after the accident, to subsequent days and months, until they petered out the following year. So here is what really happened on that fateful day in July 1929.

Three buses owned by the East Riding Motor Company were travelling in convoy along the A169 towards Whitby, each carrying 36 passengers, on a trip organised by the Hull British Legion. As they started to descend Blue Bank, the driver of the first bus was alarmed when in his wing mirror he could see the bus behind him coming towards him far faster than expected. The driver of the second bus, realising his brakes had failed, pulled into the opposite lane to avoid crashing into the first bus. He careered past the first bus plus another a car, only to see more cars coming up the hill directly in his path. Desperately clinging on to his steering wheel, he swerved again to avoid them, the bus all the time gaining speed, before it crashed into a wall and rolled over twice, tearing off its roof. It came to rest just yards from a cottage where a family were eating their lunch.

The bus had hit a number of bee hives, and swarms of angry bees hampered rescue efforts by stinging the locals who had rushed to assist, as well as the injured victims. However, no-one was killed by the bees.

Sadly, though, three people died at the scene, and three more died in from their injuries in the months afterwards. The driver spent weeks in hospital, and an inquest was only held once he was fit enough to attend. It found that he was not to blame, and his heroic actions in avoiding the other vehicles prevented further deaths and carnage.

So that is one half of the mystery solved. But what of the sightings of the phantom bus told by Bill Foggitt? I searched the archives for any mention of ghostly apparitions after the crash, but again have come up empty handed. So if you know of any account of the phantom bus, do get in touch by contacting me via this paper, or through my blog page,

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 20th and the Gazette & Herald on 18th March 2020

Go to work on an egg

My egg cracked despite sticking to Mrs Beeton’s instructions
Delia has her own instructions on how to boil the perfect egg

My favourite breakfast item has to be the good old egg. I have eggs in one form or another most days of the week, usually scrambled or boiled, but my favourite ‘treat’ breakfast is poached eggs with avocado on toast. Because I eat so many, I buy the best quality I can, free-range and from Yorkshire producers. We are very lucky in our part of North Yorkshire to have very good village shops that stock excellent local produce, and if I’m passing one I like to stock up on good quality eggs.

You can always tell you’ve got a good egg, because the yolk will be a rich yellow-gold and, when cracked open, the white doesn’t run away, but holds its own on the plate like a ‘not quite set’ jelly. If you like to poach eggs, then the fresher the better, as they hold together when gently dropped into a swirling rolling boil (a splash of vinegar in the water also helps them keep their shape).

Having three grown-up children, I am at the point where they are beginning to fly the nest, with one son already living independently in Leeds, and another preparing to head off to university in September (if you’re wondering about the third, he’s doing an apprenticeship which pays him peanuts so it’s unlikely he’ll be able to afford to leave home for some time!). So they are beginning to learn how to fend for themselves in the real world. But I am very confident when I say that I don’t think a single one of them knows how to boil an egg.

I can almost hear the gasps of horror among you all reading this, and yes, I take full responsibility for it as I have neglected their education when it comes to being able to cook. I’ve been too ready to make their food for them, and when it comes to feeding themselves when I’m not around, they generally don’t eat, or buy fast food. As much as I protest, they are adults and as such, are old enough to make their own bad decisions.

They have been known to do simple things, like beans or scrambled eggs, but I have never known them to boil an egg. It is meant to be the simplest of cooking tasks, and yet there is so much more to it than just placing an egg in water and cooking it. There are so many variables to consider, such as how big the eggs is, how fresh it is, whether you want soft, medium or hard boiled, how hot to have the water, how long to leave it in the water, and the most difficult problem, how to stop the egg shell cracking?

Experienced egg-boilers know that placing an egg in hot water straight from the fridge will make it crack. It is far safer to start with cold water, and gently bring it to the boil.

But, according my dad’s column from 15th March 1980, Victorian domestic goddess, Mrs Beeton, has the definitive method of boiling an egg. In her 1861 ‘Book of Household Management’, she declares, ‘When fresh eggs are placed into a vessel full of boiling water, they crack because the eggs, being well filled, the shells give way to the efforts of the interior fluids, dilated by heat. If the volume of the hot water be small, the shells do not crack because the temperature is reduced by the eggs before the interior dilation can take place.” In other words, don’t put your eggs in a deep pan of water, but keep it shallow. But I tried this method, and found the shell cracked anyway!

She adds that eggs can never be ‘too fresh’ when using them for boiling, although if they have just been laid, they need to be cooked for slightly longer than those that are three to four days old.

Incidentally, today’s Queen of the Kitchen, Delia Smith, says that for the perfect soft-boiled egg, place them into gently simmering water for exactly one minute, and then remove from the heat, cover, and leave for a further five minutes for average-sized eggs, and six minutes for larger eggs. Add or subtract 30 seconds depending on the size of the egg.

What I’d like to know is, what is your failsafe method of boiling your eggs?

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 13th and the Gazette & Herald on 11th March 2020

Wading through a murky past

Anthony Gray at Sutton Bank, pointing to Lake Gormire

My discussions over recent weeks about myths and ghost stories connected with our part of the world have prompted a number of people to come forward with really interesting recollections. Spooky stories and mysteries certainly get the imagination going, don’t they!

I was contacted by Anthony Gray from London. He is the son of our childhood family doctor, and often visits his home county, buying the local paper when he’s here. It gave me a lovely confidence boost when he said that the columns were a ‘highlight’ for him! Thank you Anthony!

He remarked on a number of the topics covered in the columns, but in particular was tickled by my use of the word ‘bottomless’ to describe Lake Gormire near Sutton Bank. According to my dad, this tarn-like body of water is remarkable because it has no rivers or streams running in or out of it. It is a natural lake, rich in wildlife, and is thought to have been formed in glacial times. However, the mystery of its origins has given rise to some interesting tales, including one that says it conceals a whole village complete with church spire. Another, as I mentioned, declares it is bottomless.

Well, if you enjoy legends and want to preserve the eerie reputation that shrouds the lake, then you’d better stop reading here. However, if you want to find out if either of these stories bear any truth, then read on, because Anthony Gray knows the answer, and he has shared it with me.

Anthony was educated at Ampleforth College, and joined the school’s Sub Aqua Club, learning the skills to pass his British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) qualification. Most of their training was in an indoor pool, but to get the full qualification, they had to undertake several open water dives in freshwater lakes or in the sea.

Their tutor organised their first open water dive in Lake Gormire on a rather shivery February day in 1972 mainly, according to Anthony, ‘to see if the wetsuits worked’, but also to see if Gormire is indeed bottomless.

The tutor drove them up a farm track to get as close to the lake as possible, and they then had to change into their wetsuits in the freezing cold, don tanks, fins, gloves and masks, and then waddle over to the water’s edge. It was so cold that they had to break the ice before wading in (my teeth are chattering at the thought!).

According to Anthony, “The bottom was very, very muddy and soft, so we walked about 15 yards out but were still only waist deep!” Eventually the tutor gave the signal to dive down, which Anthony did. He goes on, “But the visibility was appalling because we had stirred it up walking out and the water was shallow. I don’t think we got more than ten feet down before sinking into the ‘organic matter’ not far below the surface!

“So I can state that Lake Gormire is not bottomless! Cold in February, but not bottomless! There may be a clue in part of the name being ‘mire’ –  it certainly smelt as though it was full of ‘mire’ because our wetsuits took a lot of cleaning to get rid of the smell!”

So this tale disproves that the lake is bottomless, and proves that there is no hidden village or church spire, and as such, dispels some of Gormire’s trademark mystery. But despite that, our region is still rich in folklore and myths, many of which originate from centuries ago, and yet persist to the present day. My dad gives one reason as to why ghostly tales came about in his column from 8th March 1980.

‘At night, in a dark, lonely house, all manner of unexplained sounds and movements could be interpreted into something fearful and horrible. There is little wonder youngsters grew up terrified of unknown creatures.’

In his message to me, Anthony Gray also asked about the spot known as Tom Smith’s Cross. Those familiar with the A170 between Helmsley and Sutton Bank probably know that at the turning for Wass and Ampleforth, it is called Tom Smith’s Cross. According to Dad, Tom Smith was a highwayman who was ‘gibbeted’ at that location. But who was Tom Smith? And why was he so renowned as to have a junction named after him?

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 6th and the Gazette & Herald on 4th March 2020

A phantom menace?


The 1980 letter from amateur weatherman Bill Foggitt sharing the story of the Sutton Bank ghost with the spelling of Craister rather than Glaister


My column from three weeks ago about ghostly goings on at Sutton Bank resulted in some interesting feedback, with people coming forward with their own tales of spooky sightings.

Billy Goode, who lives not far from Sutton Bank, said that a family of five he knows, which included a doctor and a vet (in his words ‘really smart people’) were driving along the A170 when they passed a young woman in period dress near a bonfire. They turned to one another saying ‘Did you see that?’, but when they turned back to look, the girl and the fire had disappeared.

Another friend of mine (who I can report is also highly intelligent and of sound mind!) got in touch after reading the column saying: ‘A year or so back I saw a lady walking on the road near me dressed in black period costume. It was dark and my headlights showed her walking with her head down, in a black cloak and long black skirt and bonnet/hood. Very odd. I didn’t dare stop or look back! I have the shivers thinking about it now!’

So even if you’re a non-believer in ghosts, it’s hard to explain these strange sightings described by otherwise rational people, sometimes with several seeing the ‘ghost’ at the same time.

It seems Dad sparked a similar reaction from readers, as he tells us in his column of 1st March 1980. When he first wrote about a female ghost haunting the top of Sutton Bank a few weeks earlier, he didn’t mention the unfortunate ‘witch’, Abigail Glaister. I had discovered that fact as it was mentioned in his book, ‘Murders and Mysteries from the North York Moors’, which was published eight years later.

However, now that I’ve read his column from this week in 1980 (three weeks after he first mentioned the ghost), it transpires that it was a rather well known local character who suggested that it might be the spirit of the local witch. The letter came from Thirsk legend and amateur weather guru, Bill Foggitt, who said he believed the woman was the unfortunate Abigail.

After he had read Dad’s column of 9th February, Bill had written in, saying that he was very familiar with the rumours of a ghost at the famous beauty spot, and believed it to be a witch from nearby Kilburn who was hunted by hounds on the Hambleton moors in the 1600s. In order to escape them, she had leapt to her death from Whitestone Cliff and shortly afterwards, the first sighting of her ghost on the Thirsk-Helmsley road was reported. Regular of visions Abigail’s ghost continued down the years, and it seems persist even now.

The odd thing is, in this column from 1st March 1980, Dad names the woman as Abigail Craister, and yet in his book, she is named Abigail Glaister. Thanks to Dad’s habit of not throwing anything away, I found Bill’s original letter to check the spelling, and he definitely calls her ‘Craister’ (incidentally, the letter is sent on a scrap of paper that looks like it has been cut by hand from a used piece of foolscap, and every inch is taken up. Bill was clearly a very frugal Yorkshireman!).

I have found a few references elsewhere to both names, so I wonder if anyone knows which is correct, and where I might find other references to Abigail to find out a bit more about her?

Interestingly, Bill goes on to tell of another eerie story after he’d read Dad’s account of the ghostly No.7 bus said to haunt Ladbroke Road in London. Bill recalled a horrific bus crash in 1930 on Blue Bank in Sleights, near Whitby, which resulted in a terrible loss of life. Following that crash on what is now the A169, he claims the shadowy apparition of a bus began haunting the dangerously steep hill.

I’ve done a number of internet searches tying to find references to the crash, and to the phantom bus mentioned by Bill, but have come up empty handed. Next time I visit my mum, though, I’ll go and see if I can find any reference to the tale among the books in Dad’s library.

In the meantime, do any of you know about that crash, or can enlighten me about the tale of the bus that haunts Blue Bank?

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 28th Feb and the Gazette & Herald on 26th Feb 2020

As sick as a dog

Freddy, who had the nasty stomach bug affecting local dogs
Roly went down with the nasty bug affecting dogs near me

There is a very contagious strain of gastroenteritis affecting dogs in my local area at the moment, upsetting their stomachs and making them very poorly. A local vet suggested it was related to standing water and advised owners to avoid places where there’s a lot of it about. He had managed to isolate various bacteria associated with the illness, including campylobacter, giardia and coronavirus.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the coronavirus recently, but thankfully, the doggy version cannot be transferred to humans. However, campylobacter can, causing symptoms of diarrhoea and stomach cramps, and can be serious if passed on to very young children, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system. The advice is to be to be extra vigilant with your hand washing if you have touched dogs with the illness.

Possibly one of most well-known zoonotic diseases – that is one that can be passed from dogs to humans – is rabies. Growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, I was always very aware of it, and very fearful of the possibility of catching it. Tales of certain, agonising death from attacks by ferocious dogs foaming at the mouth gave me nightmares.

But the truth was that England had been rabies-free since 1922, with the last known death caused by an infected animal indigenous to this country being in 1902. Thanks to a strict programme of quarantine, whereby animals brought here from abroad were kept in isolation for six months to be certain they were disease-free, meant the hideous virus was eliminated.

However that didn’t mean the threat had disappeared permanently, as my dad explains in his column from 23rd February 1980. There had been a resurgence in certain parts of Europe, sparking fears that it may once again reach our shores.

‘Rabies continues to spread across Europe at the rate of some 25-30 miles a year and a forecast published four years ago estimated it would reach the Channel ports of France this year,’ he wrote. Indeed, it must have been a very worrying time, and Dad feared that some daft person might be tempted to smuggle a cute puppy into the country to avoid quarantine, oblivious to the dangers.

You can understand why we were so fearful, as rabies is particularly nasty, and still active in 150 countries mostly on the African and Asian continents. It has a long incubation period of between three and 12 weeks, so even though you may have been bitten while on holiday a couple of months back, the symptoms might not show up until you’ve been home for some time. In fact, there have been a handful of deaths in the UK since 2000, but all involving dog bites while abroad. Certain species of bat can also carry rabies, and there was one incident of a man dying in Scotland in 2002 after being bitten by one of the diseased creatures.

The awful thing is, once symptoms start to show, then your fate is sealed, as it is almost always fatal. These include anxiety, headaches and fever as the brain and central nervous system begin to shut down, leading to coma and eventual death.

Rabies is passed through saliva, and if you’re travelling to a country where it is still active, then do not be tempted to pet dogs. If you are bitten or even licked by a dog, then the advice is to thoroughly wash your hands and seek a vaccination against the virus immediately. If you catch it before any symptoms show, then your chances of recovery are very good.

We have been fearful of ‘mad dogs’ for many centuries, and in the Middle Ages, there were a number of strange ‘cures’ to help those who’d been attacked. One recommendation was to feed hen’s dung to crazed dogs to cure them, while an account from 1628 says: ‘To cure the bite of a madde dogge, take vinegar of as much as two tablespoonfuls and mix there into so much salt as one tablespoonful.’

I think I might just stick to the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, and when on holiday in any far flung place, will resist the temptation to pet any dogs. And if your dog has succumbed to the recent gastroenteritis outbreak, then don’t let them lick you, and always wash your hands thoroughly after touching your dog.

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 21st Feb and the Gazette & Herald on 19th Feb 2020

Driving me mad!

My youngest son Joey having his first go behind the wheel on his 17th birthday last year


My middle son Jasper with his first car on his 17th birthday

Sometimes, I long for those halcyon days when my children did not have driving licences. There are two reasons for this. One is that every time they take the car out I worry about them being involved in some horrific accident. The second is because now they are very vocal critics of my own standard of driving.

Before you become a driver yourself, you don’t really pay much attention to how someone is doing behind the wheel, as long as they get you from A to B safely. But as soon as you pass your test, not only do you get a full driving licence, but it seems you also get another licence – the licence to criticise someone else’s efforts behind the wheel. It’s certainly true for me. My boys have suddenly become driving experts, despite the fact I have driven mostly incident-free for the past 33 years. They could not care less that studies by road safety charity Brake show that women are the safest drivers, and young men the most accident-prone.

Today’s road users have many distractions to contend with, not least the sheer volume of traffic, which keeps increasing year on year. It’s a common complaint from those in the older generation who recall when the roads were less busy. But today, most households have at least two or three cars. When I passed my test in the 1980s, there was only one of my peers who had their own car, the rest of us having to rely our parents’ generosity in lending us their pride and joy (thanks Mum!). But now, having asked my kids (who share a car between them), most of their driving friends have their own car. A friend of mine has five cars in her household, one for each parent, and one for each child.

It’s a far cry from the days recalled in a letter to my dad that he mentions in his column from 16th February 1980. A Mr Percy Smith from Carlton Miniott near Thirsk had written to describe what it was like driving in the 1920s: “There were no heaters, no doors, and no windscreen wipers. Oil lamps were used for illumination and traffic on the roads was negligible.”

Back in those days, owning a car was something only the privileged few could afford, and it was more akin to a sporting pastime than an everyday necessity. It wasn’t just for men, either, as women were equally fond of getting behind the wheels of these exciting new machines.

In his archives, Dad has an account written by a female driver of the time, who offers some very useful advice to any fellow ‘lady automobilists’ as they were called. She describes how ‘the dress of ladies playing sports like lawn tennis, croquet, or when skating, cycling, hunting or cart driving, was always excessively becoming’. But in the case of motor driving, there were only two things to consider – how to keep warm in winter, and how not to be suffocated by dust in the summer. There was also the problem of headwear as the fancy large-brimmed hats, so fashionable at first, had a habit of blowing off.

So outfits were designed specifically for female drivers that were more practical than becoming, and included a heavy coat, gloves, under garments and appropriate headwear. The writer suggested choosing grey clothes to disguise the effects of flying dust.

She also acknowledges that anyone serious about driving would have to make certain sacrifices. “Alas, if women are going to motor, and motor seriously – that is to say, use it as a means of locomotion – they must relinquish the hope of keeping their soft peach-like bloom. Perhaps the hardest concession a woman can make if she is going to motor is to wear glasses, not small dainty glasses but veritable goggles. They are absolutely necessary, both for comfort and the preservation of the eye-sight.”

So having read that, I’m quite pleased that those tasked with improving the original versions of the motor vehicle ultimately saw fit to include doors, a roof, windows, windscreen wipers and heaters.

Of course, despite what I wrote in the first paragraph, there are advantages to having children who can drive, the main one being that I can go for a night out, have a few glasses of wine, and always be guaranteed to have my own personal taxi home.

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 14th Feb and the Gazette & Herald on 12th Feb 2020

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?

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