The Knocking Ghost

The Knocking Ghost

There are many strange tales of ghosts and spirits from the north country, both old and new. Some are vengeful to the living, while others haunt buildings and landmarks with no purpose at all. The ghost in this story, known commonly as Nelly the Knocker, was allegedly once a common sight in the fields near Haltwhistle, today a small town in the southern reaches of Northumberland and not far from Hadrian’s Wall.

On a farm near the village of Haltwhistle there was a field in which stood a large stone. As far as memory could recall, this rock had been haunted by a spirit in the shape of a melancholy lady dressed in loose grey clothes. Every night, so it is said, she could be seen knocking feebly at the stone, and it is because of this the locals named her Nelly the Knocker. Nelly was a harmless type of ghost; she did no one any harm and so no one took any notice of her, save a mention or two when they passed by the field after nightfall – “Oh, there’s old Nelly at her knocking again!”.

The farmer was just as inclined to pay no heed to Nelly as the rest of the people of Haltwhistle. However, the day came when he moved out of the village, selling his farm to a man who had two sons. These two boys were completely unlike any others who had lived on the haunted farm, as in them was an indistinguishable sense of curiosity. They had to know all there was to know about everything, and every mystery had to be solved at once. It was then not a surprise that they became fascinated by Nelly and decided to find out why she sat every night and knocked on the stone.

As for poor Nelly, she took no notice of the young men who now watched her nighttime vigil. Resolutely she beat at the stone throughout the night, her expression as mournful as ever before. The boys were at a loss. Why did she knock so on the stone? Was she calling for help? Why did she return every night, when her knocking achieved nothing?

Finally they decided that she knocked upon the stone as something was hidden inside it. The brothers became convinced that she wanted to break the stone apart, and so they sought permission from their father to remove it. The farmer was not pleased by his boys’ idea; he rather liked the handsome standing stone in his field and could see no good which would come from disturbing an otherwise harmless ghost. But eventually, their pleading won him over and he gave his sons permission to move the stone.

It proved to be a most difficult task. The stone was so heavy and so deeply embedded in the ground that they could not budge it, either by strength of arms or pulling it with horses or oxen. The strongest hammer they could find would not smash it. Eventually they found that the only way to achieve their goal would be to blow the stone up.

They chose a fine summer’s afternoon when they could be sure that Nelly would not be at her vigil. The brothers borrowed gunpowder from the quarrymen working in the pit nearby and taking this, they packed it in tightly around the base of the stone. When they set the explosives alight there was a huge explosion which sent fragments of stone flying in every direction. Hearing the noise, the farmer ran out to put a stop to his sons’ rash experiments; but his angry words were cut short for they took no notice of him. Clearing away the rubble, the two sons found a hollow underneath where the stone had rested. In the hollow were hidden many urns, each filled to the brim with gold coins of a time long past.

The brothers’ perseverance had paid off, for the treasure they had found was worth the price of the farm many times over and they became very rich. The sad little ghost Nelly was never seen again.

Photo credit: PigleT

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