Myths and Legends

As in any  old rural community, Orton and Tebay has its own Myths and Legends.  We hope that more will come to light as time goes on.

Great Bo and his Viking Band.


Legend says that the Viking Great Bo and his band of  men raped and pillaged their way up the Kent Valley from its estuary. They landed in Morcambe Bay and without meeting any real opposition they made their way north past Windermere and over Longsleddale Fell. They stopped at Fawcett Forest where it meets High Borrowdale and they turned down into Borrowdale. Never had they seen such a beautiful valley and here they saw a young lady called Agitha who was herding her goats on the steep fellside. She was the daughter of a local landowner and Great Bo wanted her for his own. But she ran away up onto a crag. He followed the girl but her pet goat butted him and he fell of the crag and broke his neck. Agitha and the goat ran over the fell to meet up with her father, who had been out hunting wild boar and told him the tale.

When the Viking band found his body they cursed the person who had killed him, not realising that it was a goat. They picked up his body and carried Great Bo along the road from Low Borrowbridge onto the fellside at Carlingill. There they laid his body to rest under a pile of stones. This spot is where the old county boundary of Westmorland and Yorkshire meets. It is said that even today you get a strange feeling if you stand on this spot and that his spirit is still looking for the fair Agitha.

It is said that even today you get a strange feeling if you stand on this spot.
Many years later, highwaymen who had been hanged would be taken to this place in cages and left to rot on the gibbet. Farmers who used to use the stone from here for walling often found human bones and stopped using this area.
The hill is still known to locals as Gibbet Hill although it is not marked on any recent maps.

The Gallows near Carlingill

Hangings were very much a public spectacle in the past. There used to be gallows near Carlingill in the Howgills, which stood on a rise call  Hanging Hill.
In the  19th century it was still  living memory to see a body swinging from the gibbet, twisting round and round and creaking horribly. Such bodies were left until the birds had picked the bones clean, as a warning to anyone who thought they could copy their deeds.
The last man killed here was said to be a local sheep dealer, but many of the prisoners hanged here were Scottish cattle thieves who were often caught in the area.

The Tebay Witch

Mary Baines or Baynes was a farmer's daughter, born on an isolated farm on the fellside near Tebay in 1721. She was a spinster and stayed at home to look after her parents. When they died she was forced to take a cottage in Tebay (now Old Tebay). She had grown more and more eccentric as she had grown older and the villagers treated her with fear and hatred and if children teased Mary she would threaten them. Mary became the terror of Tebay and anything strange that happened was thought to be her fault and some believed she had magic powers to help her in her malicious deeds. She was not a good-looking woman and it wasn't long before she was known as  The Tebay Witch.
Mary did not like cruelty to animals and when the fox hunt was in Tebay one day she was said to have turned herself into a hare to lead the hunt down into Tebay Gorge. When she reached Carlingill she re-charged her magical powers on a heap of stones. (Could they be the same stones that the Mighty Bo was buried under?). She then ran up the fell above Low Carlingill. The hounds followed her but they couldn't keep up with her and they returned to Tebay completely exhausted. Of course by this time the hare had turned back into Mary  Baines.

The following story  is told about Mary in "Bygone Cumberland and Westmorland" by Daniel Scott.

"Many  strange things that happened were laid at her charge and thoroughly believed by the people . Ned Nisson, of the Cross Keys Inn had a mastiff which worried Mary's favourite cat. The owner decided to have the cat respectably buried in her garden and a man named Willan dug a grave for it. Old Mary handed an open book and pointed to something he was to read, but Willan, not thinking it worth while  to read anything over the cat, took pussy by the leg and said:

                                                                       Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
                                                                      Heres's a hole and in tha must

Mary grew angry and warned her companion he would fare no better than his levity. Soon afterwards Willan was ploughing his field when the implement suddenly bound up and the handle struck one of his eyes causing blindness. Mary Baines was given credit for having bewitched his plough."

Mary also predicted that one-day carriages would go over Loops Fell without the help of horses. She was not to see this but her predictions came true when the London & Glasgow Railway came to Tebay 50 years later.
Mary died aged 90 in 1811 and at that time Westmorland folk were superstitious and took precautions to keep witches away from their homes. Crooked pins were thought to protect against witchcraft and were often buried under grates, floorboards and doorsteps.
Was Mary a witch or was it just superstition, and where is she buried?

Witches Stones

Mount Pleasant in Tebay and various houses in Orton are noted for their witches or Fairy Stones. These apear in many Westmorland villages, and were not originally for ornamentation. They were believed to keep spiritual invaders, and in particular witches, at bay. Westmorland folk believed these stones were lucky especially, if they had a hole through them.
A holed stone was often hung on a peg in the attic, byre or stable to bring luck. As late as 1850, holed stones were regularly found in stables to protect the horses from witchcraft.
Miners were very superstitious, they looked for a holed stone which they then wore around their neck for luck.
The word "Witch" comes from the Anglo-Saxon Wich meaning 'to bend'. Rowan trees were believed to have been a potent charm against witches. Rowan was also called witchen. Many people planted rowan trees near to the house door, or wore a sprig of rowan in their hats.

The Orton Boggle or Dobbie

Cooper House was the sight of a national sensation in 1849 but one which divided the local community at the time. It happened on the 5th anniversary of the drowning of Robert Gibson in April 1844 who lived at Cooper House. The first manifestation was when the cradle holding the child of Mr William Gibson, Robert's grand child, was overturned and then other pieces of furniture started dancing about the floor.

A few days later things became so violent that the neighbours were called in. One of them placed his hat on the table and as he moved away the hat followed him and hit him over the head. The man offered up prayers to exorcise the spirit but, as if in defiance, a knife was thrown at him and hit him on the side. Everyone was so scared that they fled from the house.

Five men from Orton went to Coopers House to see for themselves if the rumours were true and, as they were sitting having tea with Mrs Gibson, things started to be thrown around and not just in the house but also in the dairy.

On May 3rd 1849 there was a fair in Orton so the news spread even further and the number of people going up to Cooper House increased. Eventually the Penrith police decided to visit and they questioned a young servant called Ann Lindsay. They managed to get a confession out of her that it was the work of her mistress and herself but the Gibson family claimed that the confession had been extorted out of the poor girl with the treat of jail if she didn't admit the tricks.

No sooner had this confession been reported in the papers than news of another appearance came but slowly the interest in the Orton boggle faded even though it lived on in a ballad written in 1858.

Some think this area is still haunted by the Orton Boggle or was it just a trick, who knows?

If you have any myths or legends  from Orton or Tebay that you would like to share please send it to any committee member  to consider it for inclusion.