They met at the large petrochemicals plant on the banks of the Tees, at a leaving do. Pete was an Engineer. Helen was in charge of wages. Things blossomed and they went out together for months.
They had spent time together touring the National Park which started just half an hour’s drive away.
It soon became clear to them that this was the area they wanted to eventually settle down in. They were now becoming familiar faces in a local pub. It was called “The Lead Stealers” after the death of such a thief 150 years earlier.
As the landlord leaned across to hand Peter his pint of bitter he spoke quietly and touched his nose.
“I think Crowberry farm is going to come onto the market.”
Then he winked.
Most property in the National Park was snapped up quickly by people retiring with nest eggs. This made it even more difficult for young people to acquire a home.
He went excitedly to Helen sat near the open fire and handed her a Guinness.
“Crowberry Farm is coming up for sale. I don’t even know where it is but it is local and we must get and see it first thing in the morning before anyone else gets wind of it.”
Later when the pub was almost empty they approached the landlord.
“It’s apparently been empty for years and in a bit of a mess, when the old lady died it took them ages to trace any more relatives.”
“So there is a known relative?”
Sat on the bench seat next to the fire quietly taking all bar conversation was Old Bessie. She looked like a permanent fixture in the bar only moving slowly to pick up her glass of whisky.
Crowberry Farm was at the end of a long valley which the Ice Age Glaciers had cut into the surrounding high plateau of the moors. The valley was sheltered from the worst of the winds and was tree and bush lined. A surfaced narrow road passed three other small farms on its way to the final stop at Crowberry. The last half mile from the farm gate to the buildings was a rough stony track. The valley closed in to a stop with the last five or six acres of rough grazing giving way to the bracken and heather of the high moor.
The farmhouse stood at the end of this rough pasture. The last building for at least fifteen miles.
The farm itself was built of locally quarried sandstone with a slate roof. Four tatty windows and a door looked hopefully back down the track looking for help. There were two or three non-descript sheds and a small barn. The end of the farm had a lower level wash house and a cast iron spiked compound that used to keep the local hunts’ hounds.
It was a wet blustery morning when their small Mini pulled up at the front door. Every few minutes the sun burst through the black clumps of clouds and dazzled.
Helen had a strong feeling even now that this was THE place. There was however a familiarity that she couldn’t place. She looked across at Peter but could not read his thoughts.
“Come on now let’s take a look at the inside.”
He sounded really chirpy.
As soon as they got out into the fresh air they were immediately struck by the beautiful crisp smell of the heather and its peaty backdrop.
“Wow, take a whiff of that!”
They put the heavy key into the lock then looked briefly into each other’s eyes.
A solid but squeaky clunk and they were in.
They had entered into what was called the Wash House. It was black and dirty and housed a large copper boiling pot housed in a brick surround beneath which a fire would be lit to boil the soiled washing. The brighter end of the room was fitted with a small window and large sink with a single bronze tap.
The rest of the down stairs consisted of a larger room with a large cast iron cast iron fireplace. There was now no furniture and the floors were covered in dust. There was a scattering of feathers and twigs as if some unfortunate crow had fallen down the chimney complete with his entire nest. The air was permeated with a damp mushroomy smell. The framework of the main building was however in good condition.
Peter was hooked on the whole place immediately. He looked at Helen and tried to read her face.
“Well Peter my boy,” she was smiling wryly, “Don’t think you’re going to be going to the pub much when we get this place.”
The Barque was nearing the end of its trip. Most of the legal trading was done now and the illegal and most profitable drops were close. They moved silently around the headland to a prearranged point half a mile off Robin Hoods Bay. The two local cobles designated were already halfway across the thankfully calm waters of the bay. Their crew had worried faces. The casks of spirits they were due to pick up were the biggest value items any of them would touch in all their remaining years.
Smuggling pre 1800 was by far the most lucrative trade on the East Coast and was well organised.
Charley Potter led the two cobles back to shore more carefully than he had going out. They unloaded them on the beach and willing hands helped to move them quickly through the tunnel that drained the stream from the cliffs above through the village. Within the village were access holes from the tunnel up into the cottages above and it was within these the sprits were stored for the next move.
One of the benefits was the extra over ordered cask to cover breakages and it was to these the menfolk turned now that the Excise men had not shown.
The next stage was to take the bounty along the established Packhorse route to Gin Garth Cottage high on the Moors. Charley was in charge of this section, from here it would be passed over to the next group to take it to York. The spirits would be underneath local fish destined for York Markets.
Many people from the top of society and clergy all had a dip into the spirits trade on the quiet.
The trip the next day to Gin Garth went to plan and Charley and his helpers stabled the pack horses for the night.
Gin Garth was run by a Mr and Mrs Gilbraith and their daughter Meg. Charley was fascinated by Meg. The only girls he knew smelled of fish, Meg smelled of sweet mown hay. Over time they became friends and gradually the relationship had deepened.
This night the next team to carry the contraband to York had arrived early and hit the spirits early.
Their leader Angus, had met Charley before and both men bristled with unknown dislike of each other. Normally Angus did not meet Meg but this particular night he entered the main house by the wash house and bumped drunkenly into Meg. He grabbed her by the arm and attempted to molest her. Charley was sat near the fire in the main house and heard her shout. He leapt up and yanked the door open.
The only words shouted before both men locked in frenzied fight. It ended with Angus cracking his head when he fell to the flagstone floor. He managed to repeat “You Bastard!” then fell dead.
Angus was not well liked by his two companions and it was later decided that they would dispose of the body in a large peat bog they passed on the way back to York. They all agreed to say he had fallen in whilst drunk and could not be saved.
Helen was drinking in the spirit of the old farmhouse and the vibes were good. She went out to check through the almost derelict outhouses and barn then went back into the main building to meet her husband. She entered through the old washhouse and moved across to look out of the small crusty window.
Immediately the hairs on the back of her neck began to bristle. She had an overpowering sense that someone was stood close behind her. Not her husband but someonereal.
She spun around. No one.
Her heart was galloping.
“Pete!” she shouted out loud. He knew by the tone it was more than a mouse and dashed to meet her.
“Everything was fine until I came in here and then I could have sworn someone was right behind .I could smell their breath. It seemed like a female”
They moved out of the wash house and took stock.
“I really like this place, I mean really. But not the wash house there is something very spooky in there and I can’t handle it.”
“Ok well let’s check out with some locals in the pub and see if there are any previous ghostly happenings up here. If we can bottom the ghost do you think it’s worth pursuing?”
“Definitely. I love everything else. Although there is a load of work for us to do.”
“This might help somehow, I found it on the mantel shelf upstairs.”
He took out a hardly decipherable empty envelope addressed to ‘Gin Garth’
They entered the ‘Lead Stealers’ early and the only people were the land lord and the virtually permanent resident Old Bessie and her whisky supply.
A stroke of luck, they could engage Old Bessie and delve into her knowledge of things past.
“Will you take a whisky from me Bessie?”
“If you’re after stuff on Crowberry Farm it’ll need to be a big one!”
Old Betty knew from always listening to gossip from the bar, some of the inner secrets of locals loosened by drink.
It did not take long to hear from her about goings on in the distant past. Though when she said Gin Garth as it used to be called was lived in by the Gilbraith family Helen shouted out involuntarily.
“Did you really say ‘Gilbraith’?
The nape of her neck was bristling again.
“My Grandma was a Gilbraith.”
All went quiet for a pregnant pause.
Peter broke it.
“I’ve been a big believer in coincidences. But surely Helen you cannot in some way be related to Crowberry Farm people?”
They all had a large Whisky.
They left the pub late and wobbly.
It turned out to be true.
They bought Crowberry Farm and removed the old sink and washbasin. Instead of feeling frightened in the new space Helen now felt a growing contentment whenever she was in the small room.
Crowberry Farm still looked outwardly the same as it looked down the green sweet smelling valley though now it did not appear to be looking for help.