Often, ghost stories centre around humans. Whether they’re grey-dressed ladies, drifting mournfully down ancient hallways, or black-eyed children peering round darkened corners, our spooky stories are frequently human-centric.
Occasionally, however, you’ll get one that focuses on other animals. The Black Shuck of Dartmoor is one of the most famous, thanks largely to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. Another personal favourite of mine is the Ghost Pig of Dartmoor, who can be seen leading her little spectral piglets across the bleak moors.
The Ghost-Animals of Cornwall
I like to dip across the border for spooky inspiration from time to time. Devon has captured my heart, but the craggy landscape of Cornwall snared my imagination a long time ago!
Cornwall has some magnificent ghost stories in general, and some real beauties about animals. Here’s a round-up of the best ones.
The Demon Cockerel of The Punch Bowl
The Punch Bowl pub in Looe shut in 2012, which is a real shame, as apparently, it was the first licenced pub in the country, and has a history that dates back centuries.
This particular tale focuses on the local rector, who was enjoying a drink with his curate one evening. They ran out of wine, so the rector went to the cellar to fetch some more. But tragedy struck when he took a tumble down the stairs, and fell to his death. Some say that the curate, who was in love with the rector’s wife, actually aided the rector along, by giving him a firm shove on the way down. Tut tut!
Legend has it that the rector made a return in the ghostly form of a huge, black cockerel. Even more alarming, this ghostly bird had a habit of swooping on pub-goers, and even attacking them. One day, the sinister cockerel flew through the kitchen window and into the oven. The maid swiftly shut the door, and they asked a local mason to cement the oven up, sealing the rector’s bird-ghost in for good.
Morgawr of Falmouth Bay
Some of these supernatural apparitions appear more solid than others. Such is the case with Morgawr, the sea serpent of Falmouth Bay.
Intriguingly, this gigantic creature has been spotted on numerous occasions. Some describe it as being around 60 feet long, shaped like an alligator, with four massive webbed feet and a mouthful of sharp teeth. Fascinatingly, it’s even been spotted in recent years (supposedly). Who knows, perhaps Morgawr is out there right now, bobbing beneath the choppy waves of the Cornish coast…
The Beast of Bodmin Moor
It’s something of a theme here in the south-west; many of our isolated moors are home to a beast of some description. The Beast of Bodmin Moor is said to be a gigantic black wild-cat, and like Morgawr, sightings continue to this day.
The hype surrounding this particular beast started in the 1970s, when numerous eyewitnesses saw a massive cat, prowling the land. This was accompanied by the discovery of several mutilated animals.
This story may well have its origins in truth. In the past, there have been reports of big cats escaping from local zoos, and The Beast of Bodmin may well be one of them. In 1995, a boy discovered the skull of a big cat, by the River Fowey. However, its origins are dubious, as closer examination suggested it had come from abroad.
Why animals work in ghost stories
I’m a bit of a fan of animals in ghost stories. I think they provide something that human-spooks don’t offer – that element of extra unpredictability, not to mention the added potential to be savage. I must confess, I included an animal ghost in one of my Dr Ribero books, though on that occasion, it was in the form of a playful dog, not a sinister bird or cat!
I still eagerly await a ghost story that’s centred on a more diminutive creature. Spectral guinea-pig, anyone? Or a haunted woodlouse? I shall continue my search for the more unusual kind of ghost-animal, and report back when I find one!