Folklore, Legends & Ghosts on the English Canals

Misty mornings, creaking boats and turbulent history that goes back hundreds of years add to the mysterious allure of the English canals. 

It’s easy to get lulled into calm, relaxing beauty of the lush green counryside as you float by swans, cows and the occasional eel. But all that finery is a clevery disguise for the mystery and intrigue. 

One of the places we moored up at for the night during out narrowboat adventure from March to Ely was at the Ship Inn in Brandon Creek on the Great Ouse where it joins the Little Ouse. Built in the 1640s, the Inn has a violent history of rather macabre killings.

According to “The River Great Ouse and Tributaries” by Andrew Hunter Blair, soliders were left partly buried in the banks to drown at the mercy of the rising tide. Murderers were slowly strangled as the falling tide left them hanging in a noose.

The book goes on to say that the ghosts of the victims can be seen on misty mornings, wandering the banks.

While sitting outside of The Ship Inn, the two of us kept hearing what sounded like someon walking on the gravel behind us — yet there was nothing to be seen. No animals that we could see and I have my doubts that the wind could make the stones shift.

Luckily it rained the night we were moored outside The Ship Inn to mask the gravel footsteps. As for misty sightings, we stayed away from the windows that fine morning.

The next night, we popped into the Minster Tavern in Ely for their Wednesday night special of pies and pints only to be informed that there are several residential ghosts. The building, which was once a monk brewery, has an underground tunnel to the formidable Ely Cathedral. At night, a monk can be heard pacing upstairs and usually by 4am, he has had a pint of the bars bitters. 

Also rumoured, there are two ghosts who man the comfy chairs by the fireplace and a body in the wall of the tavern that appears over and over — no matter how many times they replace the wall.

While I believe that it is natural for our minds to create stories to explain the things we don’t understand and noises that are new to our environment, I also think there is something to be said about getting caught up in the “what if” situations. Letting the mind wonder and find alternate explainations that go beyond the creaks and thumps of a rented narrowboat. 

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