Wednesday, 24 May 2017


Wednesday May 24th 2017

In a recent conversation on the W.M.G.C. Facebook page, we were greatly interested to see one of our members, Alan Wheatley, relating a story concerning a family outing on the Shropshire Union Canal some decades past.  The spot in question was a section of the waterway not far from Market Drayton in Shropshire... a stretch of canal that is seemingly noted (in numerous sources, it seems?) as having something of an 'eerie feel' to it!? 

While we will post Alan's initial story (mentioned above) in a separate post, we will, for the moment, focus on something mentioned in the subsequent 'comments' on the topic concerned.  Alan had happened to mention a specific matter that we'd never heard of before.... though the details concerned certainly brought to mind another topic that we were all-too-familiar with!  The comment included the most intriguing line:

"I know lots of the old working boatmen used to claim that Betton Wood had a shrieking ghost and would not moor there over night....."

On seeing this reference, we were instantly reminded of the classic story, 'A Neighbour's Landmark', by the late, great, ghost story writer, M.R. James.... in which the focus of the tale is a 'shrieking ghost' that haunts a region formerly occupied by an area of woodland called 'Betton Wood'! As mentioned, we had never heard of the real-life matter mentioned by Alan previously, but, on checking further, it seems that the association had certainly not been lost on Jamesian scholars, the information being reported on in a number of online sources.....!

A further reference, supplied by Alan, was taken from L.T.C Rolt's famous book, 'Narrow Boat':

"The name Betton Wood seemed vaguely familiar, but it was not until we reached Betton Wood, where the trees, pressing close, made a darkness about us and the water was unruffled by the wind which tossed their branches, that I recalled the association in the line: 'Than that which walks in Betton Wood knows why it walks or why it cries'. Connoisseurs of the ghost story will doubtless have read 'A Neighbours Landmark by the immortal M.R James, and so remember Betton Wood where walked the shrieking ghost having 'no language but a cry'"

As can (and most definitely 'does', of course) frequently occur, did the real-life haunting influence James' writing, perhaps.... or is the entire case just a matter of sheer coincidence!?!  Maybe - we cannot be sure now, needless to say - James' story actually influenced the 'lore of the canals', thereabouts, possibly?  This sort of thing has certainly happened before, to our knowledge: there is a real-life story, for example, of a haunting in the Wolverhampton area - from the mid-1800's - that ties in VERY closely indeed with another of James' tales.... so was he in the habit of taking references from the popular news for his stories, maybe?

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