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Strange Tales of the Rail - Appleby

by Kester Eddy

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I was at a dinner party on Friday, and the subject of ghosts came up. Well, since itís Christmas, and ghosts of Xmas past, and all that, and since Iíve seen no such thread on UK Rail, I thought Iíd start one off to see if any others out there have any "strange tales of the rail."

This happened to me in 1970, July or August. Iíd been to France for the weekend, and was pretty shattered (there on the Friday night, and back on Sunday, Night Ferry both ways, to phot 141Rs around Boulogne.)

On the Monday, I decided to head north to phot industrial steam around Whitehaven. At Derby around midnight I caught the old overnight sleeper from St Pancras to Glasgow as far as Appleby (I remember I couldnít get a through ticket - the booking clerk in Derby hadnít heard of the place, despite one through working each day).

Although the train arrived at about 04.30, since it was summer, it was light. Although I remember the porter not bothering to charge me the 1/4 rate PT excess fare from Skipton (I was a bit sorry, as I was happy to contribute to the S&C ticket income), I canít actually remember what my goal was, except, perhaps, to sleep. Anyway, I decided to walk up the old branch line towards Barnard Castle in bright morning sunshine. (At least in those days, the track was still down. I think to serve some military base). About Ĺ mile or so out of Appleby I came across a platelayersí hut.

Now I was dog tired - it was now three nights out of four travelling - and I thought it might be an ok place to kip. Well, it was beyond my wildest dreams. The door was not locked, and inside it was pretty neat and tidy, with short bench along side one wall.

So, I dumped my rucksack, and found I could kip on the bench, but as it was short, if I lay on my stomach my legs were up at an angle - maybe of 45 degrees - against the wall.

Now it was pretty unlikely any nasty person would be around in that area and at that time in the morning, but I decided to have some kind of security warning anyway. I used to carry an old umbrella (in case it rained way out on the track somewhere) which had a broken, ie no handle. I decided to jam this against the door, so at least if anyone tried to get in it would be pushed over and, hopefully, make a clatter and wake me up.

With such (admittedly pretty useless) precautions, I settled down on my bench and soon fell into a deep sleep. I can tell it was deep, cos when I was awoken by a bloke moving my legs backwards and forwards, his hands above my ankles, I remember thinking, "Oh no, I donít wanna wake up.Ē For some time I thought ďIf I donít move, maybe heíll give up."

But, sod it, he didnít. The thought also struck me that I hadnít been awoken by the clatter of my umbrella (ie I could think rationally and was not dreaming.)

Well, this bloke was not giving up, so I decided to tell him I wanted to sleep on, thank you v much, and rolled over to say so.

As I rolled over, half way though the roll, as it were, I looked at the door. The umbrella was still there, wedged up against it. And as I turned right over to talk to this fellah I foundÖ. Nobody there.

Well, this was pretty strange. Even I had to pinch myself (metaphorically). It was 06.30, or so. I was convinced I had not been dreaming, even from right from the start of gaining consciousness, a feeling even more certain because I had thought rationally about the umbrella not waking me. But since the hand on my leg had not been aggressive, more a kind of friendly wake up - and as it was day light - I canít say I felt scared.

What to do ? Well, I thought, whatever/whoever it was, I was ok, and still tired. So I rolled over to go back to sleep. I lay there for maybe 30 seconds, just thinking about how I would tell this story to my mates, when ....

Two hands grabbed my legs above the ankles and started rocking my legs backwards and forwards, just as before.

Now being a scientific kind of bloke, one part of my brain said; "Letís be sensible about this. Keep calm, and letís work it out. It feels as if two hands are rocking you legs, but you know there is nobody there, so how can it."

I have to admit the other part of my brain said - well, I donít know what it said, but my heart started to beat like the piston of a bloody Sulzer 12 cyl engine attacking Ais Gill summit. After about ten seconds any thoughts of a rational analysis of this phenomena were overcome by panic, and I jumped round to confrontÖ.., yes, of course, nobody. And the umbrella, naturally, was still wedged against the door.

Well, superstitious or not, friendly hands on my ankles or not, I decided Iíd had enough of my neat platelayerís hut, and I left pretty smartish, for, I suppose (though honestly I forget) a cuppa in Appleby.

So folks, thatís my little (ok, well, long) contribution to start this thread, and I promise you every word is gospel as far as Iím concerned. Had it been winter, and dark, I think Iíd have had a heart attack. As it was, I have survived to tell the tale.

Years later I met a spiritualist woman to whom I recounted the story. She said it was probably the spirit of a workman who was doing what he always did in life - ie wake up his gang to start work. He didnít get much track laying out of me, of course.

Any one else tried to sleep in a hut about half a mile south of Appleby on the old branch line ? Or any other strange tales of rail ?

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Editor's note:

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