FREE Chapter from Haunted Places of Derbyshire: Eyam
They say that an incident experienced by one person could be a figment of an overactive imagination but when the same thing is experienced by many it’s more than just a coincidence. This is obvious in the tale of the phantom cyclist. The first incident on record concerns two men who were walking through Eyam Dale one morning when they had to leap hurriedly aside to avoid being run over by a cyclist racing down the steep gradient. Turning to curse the cyclist, the men were shocked to see that the road was completely deserted.
Down this same stretch of road one dark night, a man was walking home when he distinctly heard the swish of the rubber tyres and ringing of a bicycle bell. He turned to stare in the direction of the noise but the cyclist never materialised.
A man and his wife were walking along when they heard a cyclist approaching from behind. They instinctively stepped into the side to let it pass just as a Chesterfield service bus approached from the opposite direction. The bus rounded a bend and swept the road with its headlights but there was no sign of a cyclist.
None of these people actually saw the phantom cyclist, but a keen cyclist did as he laboriously climbed the Eyam Dale one very wet day. Dripping with water and making hard work of the ascent, the cyclist was amazed to see another cyclist effortlessly overtake him and pull away. Not only that, the phantom cyclist was bone dry despite the fact that it was pouring with rain.
Eyam has gone down in history as the plague village where in 1665, two thirds of the villagers died. With this kind of high mortality rate, it’s not surprising that it has its fair share of ghostly tales to relate. At the cottage where the outbreak began, a pleasant-faced lady in a blue smock haunts the front bedroom. She watches the sleeping occupants before fading slowly away. At Mompesson’s Well, where outsiders left goods for the villagers who paid with coins dropped in vinegar, the ghost of a little boy is said to stand, watching and waiting.
During those turbulent months, victims were buried around the area. The Hancock family of Riley have their own little cemetery and a blue lady has been seen tending their graves. In the churchyard is the impressive tomb of Catherine Mompesson, wife of the Reverend Mompesson. At the outbreak of the plague he persuaded all the villagers to remain within the village to stop the plague spreading, and despite being in poor health, Catherine stayed to support her husband. That support cost her her life, and Catherine Mompesson’s ghost is said to haunt the rectory and to wander between there and the church, pausing near the 8th century Celtic cross.
In the dell for many years stood a lonely, ruined cottage. Rumour said that a malevolent ghost lurked around the crumbling ivy-clad hovel and those who witnessed it described an old woman dressed in the fashion of long ago – a short bedgown, a coarse woollen and cotton petticoat, a mob cap and shiny buckled shoes. Locals tried to avoid the cottage at all cost, yet this ghostly old dame didn’t seem to be grounded to that particular spot. On bright moonlit nights, she was often seen scurrying across the dell at great speed, and entering neighbouring cottages to torment the terrified occupants as she pummelled and pinched their defenceless bodies. At one time she was known to tear the bedclothes off the horrified inhabitants. Strong doors and locks were no barrier to this spirit as she was seen on many occasions to enter a house as a puff of smoke through the keyhole or small cracks in walls.
The Miner’s Arms has the title of the village’s most haunted building, and it has a plaque to prove it. That’s no mean acclaim in a village where almost every cottage had a resident ghost. During the 17th century, a former landlady died after being thrown down the stairs, and her ghost, dressed in an old-fashioned peaked bonnet and cape, is now said to wander round looking rather perplexed. Running footsteps have been heard upstairs and there have been strange occurrences in the bedrooms, possibly the most bizarre being the manifestation of some old medical equipment which appeared one night, but had gone by morning.
This chapter is taken from the book Haunted Places of Derbyshire, in which you'll find a treasure trove of stories about the supernatural. They include the tragedy of two young lovers murdered at Winnats Pass while eloping; the ghost of Nanny Pearce who sits quietly in the library at Calke Abbey; the bearded phantom who appeared in a photograph taken at the St John's Ambulance office in Dronfield; plus man more!
- Rory Batho