Plenty of evidence why Devon won't give up the ghost

Stunning lighting effects transformed Exeter Cathedral. Picture: Rob Coombe

Stunning lighting effects transformed Exeter Cathedral. Picture: Rob Coombe - Credit: Archant

I’ve always been generally sceptical about the existence of ghosts and the supernatural.

However, Devon undeniably has a long tradition of telling ghost stories and as it’s Halloween this weekend, there seems little real harm in sharing one or two of the more fantastical tales which have gained currency in the county over the years. 

Exeter Cathedral has a long history dating back to early Norman times. According to some, the ghost of a nun is said to glide along the south wall of the nave of the cathedral during the month of July.

Others talk of a phantom monk as well as a figure with three heads who is said to roam Cathedral Green. There is also reportedly another ghost, the spirit of a onetime caretaker for the building. According to legend, a few years ago, the ghost scared off two thieves who were attempting to steal some lead off a nearby roof! 

What about East Devon? The churchyard in Ottery St Mary, for example, is supposed to be haunted by John Coke, a onetime landowner and soldier who was killed by his own brother on March 26th 1632. Every year, it is claimed on the anniversary of his death.

John rises from his grave and roams the churchyard to check that his brother isn’t buried there, presumably in the hope that if he ever was, he would exact vengeance on him. However, on satisfying himself that he isn’t, the restless spirit returns to his tomb once again. 

In Postbridge in Dartmoor, motorists have sometimes claimed they have seen a mysterious pair of disembodied ‘hairy hands’ materialise and grab their steering wheel often jerking it suddenly and violently so as to cause an accident. The phantom hands were cited as the cause of a number of otherwise seemingly inexplicable accidents mostly in the early years of the 20th century on what is now the B3212. Some have said the hands in question were completely invisible. Others have said they have had similar experiences while driving between Honiton and Seaton. The origin and motivation of the hands remains unknown. 

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The famous 18th and 19th century smuggler, Jack Rattenbury has been discussed in this column before. Some believe his ghost still roams the caves of Beer where Jack and other smugglers once stored much of their booty.  Some have also claimed to have to have seen the ghost of the 17th century Duke of Monmouth riding a white horse and seemingly waving as if to a large cheering crowd on the road between Yawl and Lyme Regis. Monmouth led a rebellion against his uncle, the unpopular King James II in 1685. Following his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor, Monmouth, the Duke along with many of his supporters was executed. 

The so-called ‘grey lady’ who is said to wander the gardens of Shute Barton may well be another ghost of aristocratic origin. Some think it is literally a ‘Grey Lady’ as in the ghost of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey who was ‘Queen’ for nine days (at least in theory) following the death of the young King Edward VI in 1553. Others think she is the spirit of Lady de la Pole who was executed in the garden for being a Royalist during the English Civil War. Some also claim to have seen a ghost cat capable of walking through walls prowling around there. 

It is surprising how many ghost sightings occur amongst those who have been enjoying the hospitality of an inn, pub or tavern. The Talbot Arms in Uplyme on the very edge of East Devon is one such place. It has reportedly been stalked by a mysterious ghostly black dog since medieval times. 

So there you have it. Haunted houses, hellish hounds and hairy hands. Little wonder Devon has a reputation for being the most haunted county in England. 

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