Cowhouses were usually just seen as places of work around Muker and although people tell us that they could be a bit creepy as night fell, we weren’t really surprised that we haven’t come across any stories of supernatural happenings ………until now, that is, when we stumbled across this old story recounted by Will Swales on his informative Swaledale blog.
Muker schoolmaster’s ghostly adventure, by Arthur Harwood Brierley
Raymond was a fair specimen of a village pedagogue. He exhibited many peculiarities, though none of that gross cruelty which characterised Squeers, of Dotheboys Hall, at Bowes. He would, for instance, have his boys reciting verses at his desk while he himself daubed away at pictures. He kept a couple of cows at Lile Hill cow-house, which lies in the direction of Crake Nest and Love Lane. Whenever he went to milk or fodder them he had to pass Pith Hill cow-house, and this is said to be haunted by an unmusical choir of fiendish imps, whose sole plea for existence is to terrorise the countryside with their unearthly songs, which can generally be heard at midnight, and always on the anniversary of the murder of a venerable grandsire of the dale.
On one occasion, when Raymond was going to fodder his cattle, the sprites of Pith Hill surprised him by issuing from the door and windows. The schoolmaster, logician and philosopher as he doubtless was, and exorcists as he professed to be, took to his heels, and covered the distance back to Muker in about as much time as it take me to write, when he swooned away on his own doorstep. Two or three nights later he picked up courage to venture again in the direction of his famished cattle at Lile Hill, wisely resolved to bring them nearer home at the very first opportunity. The impish choir saluted him in more swarming numbers than ever. They probably threatened to give him chase in the direction of Lile Hill, but it was not long before he outdistanced them.
That night his friends missed him, for he did not return. Next morning, moved by suspicion, they began to search for him. They found him lying dead between his two cows. Truer fact never was, and all Muker knows it. Pith Hill cow-house is still a spot to be dreaded on dark nights, and it requires more courage than ever a six-foot man can usually muster to pass the spot.
We now just need to see if we can identify the cowhouses mentioned in the story!
Will publishes the full Arthur Harwood Brierley 1897 article about Muker here and it’s well worth a read.