One of the first ghost stories based in Norfolk that I heard was that of Black Shuck. For some reason the story captivated me and stayed with me until, years later, I wrote the book Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog. But by then I had learnt that Norfolk has more ghost stories and hauntings associated with it than anywhere else, earning it the title: the most haunted county in England. This notion was often promoted in the magazine Paranormal Norfolk which was produced from 2005-2007 – sadly no longer continued. Having finished writing Black Shuck, which drew both on my experiences as a wildlife film-maker and of the North Norfolk Coast, I was on the lookout for another local legend to base the sequel on. I was spoilt for choice!
First there are many evocative and spooky place names around Norfolk, such as Tombland, The Devil’s Throat and Grime’s Graves (read Our Norfolk’s story ‘Flint Eastward’) but also a whole host of scary stories such as the Ghost Fiddler of Binham Priory (Fiddler’s Hill), the beheaded Lady Ann Boleyn riding through Blickling Estate, the White Lady of Gunton Park, the Pump Hill Ghost of Happisburgh, the Phantom Coach of Long Stratton, the Brown Lady of Raynham, the Children of Wayland (Wailing) Wood … And so the list goes on.
A great book exploring these legends is The Lore of the Land by Westwood & Simson. So, if I decide that all future spooky adventures of Harry Lambert (the protagonist in Black Shuck) are to be based in Norfolk, I will have no shortage of material to draw from.
I also discovered that Black Shuck may have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write one of his most famous Sherlock Holmes stories: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Apparently in 1901 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took a golfing holiday in West Runton and Cromer in Norfolk where he heard the tale of Black Shuck. The following year he published The Hound of The Baskervilles, so it’s not surprising that many have thought his inspiration came from the Norfolk legend. For some reason Conan Doyle replaced Norfolk with the wilds of Dartmoor as the setting for the book, but his description of Baskerville Hall certainly bears a likeness to Cromer Hall. Although there have been many classic film and TV versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles, there is a fresh and growing interest in Conan Doyle’s stories thanks to the BBC series Sherlock, written by Mark Gatiss and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Indeed, the second programme of Series 2 was entitled The Hounds of Baskerville, broadcast on BBC One on 8th January 2012.
Article contributed by Piers Warren, author of Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog – a terrifying supernatural thriller set in the village of Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast. Shortlisted for the East Anglian Book Awards 2012 and Norfolk Magazine’s Book of the Month. Visit his website for further information, including how to order online.