What I will share with you here is honest fact gained at first hand.
The subsequent tale that I shall relate to you is true and taken from a work I have been writing in connection with my passion of fly fishing on wild, northern English spate streams.
Angling is, for some of us at any rate, all about getting back to our aboriginal organic roots. It’s about being in desolate lonely places in which the only thing between you and raw ‘tooth and claw nature’ is your intrinsic intuition for self-preservation.
I do not make this assertion frivolously, for the seemingly temperate Yorkshire/Lancashire becks can be treacherous following a brief downpour, turning good dry footholds into glassy slides straight into lethal hidden depths.
A pleasant day’s angling very soon transforms into a life or death nightmare when one’s head unexpectedly disappears underneath the rapids. This I personally know, not from any ‘third hand’ experience, but from quite a few hands-on close calls, which still remain in the mind as a significant warning.
By no means should one ever wade into unfamiliar depths however secure they may initially seem. Experienced fly fishermen know never to try and overextend their casting distance on these waters just to get that bit extra into a cast for life is too precious. It just isn’t worth the underlying risk involved even if you’re a trained lifeguard!
The Mysterious Kelpie
The great dangers of all waters, particularly those with a secret undercurrent, have always held a deadly charm for man.
Our primordial Celtic ancestors even saw fit to exemplify this energy force in the semblance of the mythical Kelpie, whose folklore is particularly popular in the Scottish Isles.
This fierce water-sprite took on many forms the most frequent being a big black horse or a tall, angry woman garbed in green who would tempt the unsuspecting to their watery doom in the nearest deep pool.
The Kelpie was also believed to give warning of impending storms by wailing banefully, which would carry on through the tempest. This relationship with thunder was thought to rise from the sound of its thrashing tail as it submerges under the water. Kelpies also had a positive side though and were thought to occasionally assist millers by keeping the mill-wheel running in the evening.
Any person who’s ever fished a flood-engorged salmon river and observed the sinister, swirling brown currents and the massive amount of organic materials washing past will have a certain understanding for this old indigenous legend.
Conversely, past experience has led me to believe that the local tradition surrounding the Kelpie may have greater links to our indispensable survival instincts than we may at first care to appreciate.
Could perhaps the Celtic folk in their wisdom have presented us herein with an essential extrasensory defence message ingeniously put in place, not to scare us, as usually seems to be the case with many old ghost tales, but to actually help fishermen and hunter-gatherers far from their dwellings to stay alive?
The Celts of course had a profound spiritual empathy with the land, seeing spirits and gods in the hillside, trees and streams. They were an exceptionally poetical and nature-orientated society that used many shrewd analogies to get important messages across.
Precarious places also gained their serious consideration leading to mythological explanation for good reason as we see herein.
The Hodder Apparition
Some years ago I recollect, while night fishing for sea trout on the River Hodder seeing something that still makes me wonder.
This old Lancashire area holds many strange tales of ghosts and unearthly apparitions. I also recall hearing some years back that the body of an old monk was buried in some undisclosed spot very close to where I fish on the hillside behind the river.
The Hodder at night is a spooky place and I know of several grown men who prefer ‘not’ to venture forth alone into this lonely region, after darkness has fallen.
On one particular night I was having a few last casts with a silver and green lure across a deep pool, which had half an hour before given me a lovely energetic three pound sea trout.
I’d decided that it was time to finish off and head for the car park when I saw, what appeared to be a woman cloaked in grey ever so silently walking up the pool.
She was not however on the rock-strewn bank but in fact drifting effortlessly ‘over’ the river itself, just about fifteen yards away from my position. It was in the region of two thirty in the morning.
The night was especially dark with no moon or shadows. Before long the unearthly apparition simply disappeared into the gurgling black watercourse, accompanied by the haunting cries of a solitary brown owl perched high in the surrounding alders.
I stood in amazement for some time, simply trying to make sense of what I had just witnessed.
I left the river not afraid, but in a state of tranquil astonishment feeling vibrantly alive, a sensation which still remains with me to this day!
Perhaps this ‘Grey Lady of the Stream’ was really a beneficent danger sign sent from the old Celtic gods that inexplicably protected this wild little tributary.
This peculiar vision didn’t seem logical as such an aquatic achievement was not physically possible. No human could have possibly walked over the deadly swirling waters in such a fashion. The river flow herein was in excess of ten feet deep in the middle and it held a fatal undercurrent. Furthermore, even in daylight hours people are extremely rare in this bleak region due to the inaccessibility of it. The far side of the pool was solid vertical rock that was unapproachable to man or beast.
I shook my head and rubbed my eyes as I thought I must be either dreaming or hallucinating and I certainly wasn’t inebriated. In reality I was wide awake as I always am when in my ‘hunter gatherer’ mode in the wilderness.
In retrospect, I in fact did feel quite indebted, rather than afraid, that such a bizarre spectre had joined me on that lonely dark night.
Who knows, if she hadn’t then possibly I wouldn’t be here today unfolding this strange account! My intuitive feeling was that this ephemeral spectre was telling me to ‘take care’.
Nevertheless, kelpies, undercurrents or whatever you want to call them are all interrelated on different planes of reality; danger remains to be danger any way one wishes to interpret it.
Peril is never too far from the appealing yet treacherous surface film so do take the safe alternative and be vigilant for if you don’t then you may be keeping the kelpies ‘closer’ company very much sooner than you would ever wish to.
So how do I now feel about visiting spooky riversides alone after dark, following this strange experience?
Well – I am fortunate as trepidation does not, for me at least, enter into the equation. Nature, and most especially the babbling river, haunts me yet it is my friend and I am at one with it all.
Yes – the Grey Lady of the Stream was I believe a beneficent spirit, rather than one sent to create alarm. She was not malicious in any way – she was a kindly soul.
I am in fact enchanted and quite honoured to have had such a rare experience, which I deem to be a valuable blessing rather than any type of threat.
As I am now able to share this with you today perhaps I was chosen by the good lady for this particular purpose.