Cats and Croissants

In honour of publication day I’m eating my way through my novel! And, like Cass, I’m starting with croissants for breakfast and a hungry cat!

Anna sat opposite her at the table, feeding flaky scraps of croissant which had fallen from Cass’s plate to Twiggy who had deserted her owner’s lap in favour of Anna’s.

‘I didn’t know cats liked croissants!’ Anna said.

‘Neither did I,’ Cass said, watching her pet. 

And in a strange case of life imitating art, I found a certain naughty little black cat on the breakfast table this morning helping herself – sadly I didn’t let her stay there long enough to take her picture, but here she is helping with the ironing instead …image1 (52)

Superstition, the supernatural and the sea.

It’s Halloween, the time of year when thoughts turn to stories of the supernatural, and given that The Little Church by the Sea has at its heart a ghost story,  it seemed like a good day to consider the ghosts, myths and legends that surround the Yorkshire coast.

Some stories are heard in many places. Robin Hoods Bay and Runswick Bay both have “hobs”, mischievous spirits that live in caves (the one at Runswick Bay isn’t entirely mischievous, but is said to cure children of whooping cough if asked nicely). Then there are the barguests,  terrifying ghostly dogs, who haunt the moors and the cliffs of North Yorkshire, heralding death.

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The life of a fisherman was hazardous at the best of times, and any number of local superstitions grew up around the sea – boats would not be launched if the fishermen met a woman or a pig on the slipway, so unlucky was that considered to be. Whistling on board ship was considered to be an ill omen, but tying a stone with a hole in it to a boat would ensure good fortune (further inland, such stones were said to protect against witches). Seagulls were said to be the souls of drowned sailors, and if one flew into the window of a house, it was bad news for the family inside that house, as it was a portent of death …

One cottage in Runswick Bay is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl, who was locked into a cupboard for a punishment, and sadly died. The sound of her ball tapping on the inside of the cupboard is still to be heard there.

Robin Hood’s Bay is haunted by a headless farmer, who fell drunkenly onto the railway track one night, only to be killed by an oncoming steam train. Though his mangled body was buried, his head had disappeared and no trace of it was ever found – but some say that the ghost of the headless farmer is still searching …

Whitby has many ghost stories. Most famously, the bells of the Abbey are said to have been stolen and then lost at sea – and if you listen carefully, the bells can be heard ringing under the waves. St. Hilda herself is also said to be seen in ghostly form at one of the high windows of the Abbey ruins. Brown Bushell, turncoat during the English Civil War, was beheaded for treason but his ghost is still said to haunt his ancestral home at Whitby, Bagdale Hall. The story that haunts me the most is one of a beautiful young girl who was very fond of her appearance, and used a particular hair oil to make her hair shine. unfortunately the hair oil was extremely flammable, and one day the inevitable happened, her hair caught fire and she was horribly burnt. But the young girl’s ghost still haunts Whitby – sometimes to terrify passers by, and sometimes to warn others of an impending fire and save them from sharing her terrible fate.

morning ghosts

There is no real story of a “Maiden’s ghost” searching for her drowned lover, lost in a storm at sea, I made that up entirely … but if you walk through the twisting yards of Robin Hood’s Bay or Runswick at night, it’s easy to imagine that there could be …

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Images used:

Featured image, of Robin Hood’s Bay, is my own photo.

Morning ghosts by Andris, licensed under creative commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode link to original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/avatar_lv/8633892696/

Rare New Jersey Black Wolf by Nosha, licensed under creative commons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ link to original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nosha/3362691374/

Bering Sea in mist foggy scenics, Wikimedia commons 

Sources: 

Bob Woodhouse, author of many local history books about the North East of England, provided me with several tales of superstitions, and I also used “The Haunted Coast” and “13 Ghost stories from Whitby” by Michael Wray, Chris Firth and Anne Marshall published by Caedmon Story Tellers. ISBNs 0953640531 and 0953640507. (These books have some lovely illustrations too).

Little churches (1) – St. Stephen’s, Fylingdales near Robin Hood’s Bay.

I come from a religious family and every Sunday my parents would take me to church. As my father was also very interested in architecture, wherever we went on holiday we were church tourists. I probably visited hundreds of churches in my youth, so when I came to create a church for The Little Church by the Sea I had plenty of examples to draw upon.

The biggest inspiration for Cass’s church was the church of St. Stephen, Fylingdales. Built in 1822 and largely unchanged since it was replaced by an even newer church in a more convenient location the 1870s, this little old church was left behind. Walking into old St. Stephens is like stepping back in time, as if the congregation of 150 years ago have just left.

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It’s a church of almost puritanical simplicity compared to the colour and richness of many Victorian churches of my experience. It’s light and bright, packed with box pews and a gallery, as well as a huge triple-decker pulpit. The seats in the pews all face towards the pulpit in the centre of the church rather than towards the altar, which intrigued me – the small altar almost feels like an afterthought rather than the focus of the service.

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It’s a church of words rather than images, the words of the preacher and the words of the ten commandments on either side of the altar. There are no stained glass windows, no carvings, no paintings of saints. The only “art” that I noticed were the maidens garlands themselves and two coats of arms – the King’s and the arms of local gentry which would be carried, like the maiden’s garlands, in a funeral procession.

It’s a church of names, a church of the community – names of those who donated money to the church, names of those who served in the village lifeboat. I had hoped to find the names of the families who prayed there painted on the doors of the box pews, but these pews are numbered. Outside, the churchyard is crammed with gravestones, tumbling over each other like the cottages in the village, memorials to those who lived and died in the village – or out at sea. And in the summer, rather than try and cut the grass between the gravestones, sheep really are employed as lawnmowers!

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But more than anything, it’s a church of memories.

 

Old St. Stephen’s Church is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.