First published last summer, Moor Mysteries by Steve Cliffe and Dave Kelsall, collects reports of enormous black dogs or cave bears roaming the moors, killing sheep and splitting the night silence with roars like a foghorn, and questions whether the secretive religious order the Knights Templar concealed their treasure in a cave on Kinder Scout.
Fernilee resident Steve, 69, the former editor of Stockport Heritage Magazine, said: “People seem fascinated by stories of strange goings on in places they thought they knew but have never heard anything quite like these stories before.
“We’ve always been interested in digging up old stories, and hit on the idea of collecting the weirder ones together for a series of books with Dave supplying the illustrations and me doing the writing. It also gets us out and about in the hills.”
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Mysteries followed the pair’s first book from 2019, The Strange Haunting of Marple Hall, and both have proved popular enough with readers for a second print run.
Steve said: “We didn’t know how well they would sell but they seem to have taken off. We’re now planning to do a third book and create a mini-series. We’re turning up new stories all the time.
“Several readers got in touch when the Marple Hall book came out, to share their own independent experiences of ghostly goings on there. It’s odd that so many people have witnessed things around that spot. It certainly has an atmosphere.
“One woman said that she had been watched by a figure from the old ruined porch, when she was taken past as a little girl in the 1950s. Her mother and father couldn’t see anything. She knew nothing of the story at the time but later learned the hall was haunted by a ghostly lady who hates infants.”
While many of the stories contain enough of the supernatural to challenge the limits of historical evidence, Steve and Dave, a retired teacher, have been thorough in their research.
Steve said: “We have to do a lot of background work to understand where the tales come from – reading ancient histories, investigating old buildings, talking to local residents. A lot of people have written about the Peak District so it’s a case of trawling through to piece together something new.
“These are legends we have been unearthing from records of former times, but we are always interested to hear from people with their own experiences to share about the mysteries of the Peak.”
He added: “The facts often make the supernatural part more interesting, but some of the stories are just weird stuff. The first bog bodies in Britain were found on Derwent Moors near Ladybower in the 17th century.
“They were thought to have been caught up in a snowstorm and buried in peat. There’s nothing supernatural about it, but the interesting part is how they were exhibited on the moors as a curiosity.”
In some cases, the stories are part of living memory, such as the reports from Edale in the 1920s and ‘30s that an enormous black wolf-like animal was haunting Edale, running amok at night and terrorising livestock and roaring with a terrific noise. Farmers and police went looking for it with guns but never tracked it down.
Around the same time, Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote a story for the Strand Magazine about a legendary troglodyte cave bear in the vicinity, thought to be responsible for the death of a local caver, giving an added dimension to the rumours.
Steve said: “There are recurring stories of black carnivores roaming the countryside throughout all periods of history. Whether there was a flesh and blood animal or not, something was certainly killing sheep and no one ever tracked it down or found out what it was.
“We spoke to a woman in Edale who said she remembered talk of black dogs around that time. She had married into a farming family and they talked about it a lot.”
The legend of the Champion Cross, a stone way marker of undetermined age between Hayfield and Edale, is another which is still unfolding.
Steve said: “The story goes that the Knights Templar hid a treasure in a secret cavern at Kinder Low End nearby. There is a good account of how the treasure was once glimpsed by two boys who became trapped there and had to be rescued before it was blocked up.
“In some versions, a knight was stationed there to guide pilgrims and travellers over the top of the hill. A story that’s only surfaced fairly recently, thanks to a historian from New Mills, suggests the Knights Templar owned a manor house on the Hayfield side of the hill, now known as Upper House.”
Intrigued readers will be able to hear some of these stories in detail when Steve delivers an illustrated presentation from the book at Chinley Independent Chapel, on Hayfield Road, on Wednesday, July 6, 10 am to noon.
Visitors will also have chance to share their own stories, with Steve and Dave already researching for their next book, which they hope to publish in 2023.
Steve said: “We don’t have a hard and fast idea of what it will be, these things evolve so we’ll just see how it develops as we work on it.”
In the meantime, copies of Moor Mysteries and The Strange Haunting of Marple Hall are still on sale, priced at £15 and £12 respectively, from retailers including the Scrivener's Books in Buxton, the High Peak Bookstore on the A515, High Street Books in New Mills, Waterstones, or direct from Steve by emailing [email protected]