Laura Bolick

Tormented Souls in Buttermere

Laura Bolick
Tormented Souls in Buttermere

Buttermere, a quaint English village, perched beside the lake by the same name, is loved by avid walkers and Lake District enthusiasts alike. However behind the idyllic photo opportunities and endearing stony facades, lies a tale of flying saucepans and ghostly interference – so innocent ice-cream lovers beware, if you’re venturing to the café by Sykes Farm, you may get more than you bargained for.

The ghost in question is believed to be one John Nicholas Size, a railway magnate, hotelier, tourist provider and inventor of battles extraordinaire (it is thought that Sir Size, in an attempt to attract tourists to the town, altered the details of a battle with Norman invaders to include Buttermere – well we’ve all done it haven’t we!).

Originally born in Liverpool in 1866, Sir Size followed his father into the railway business: working as a goods manager in Bradford. However he seemed to have a change of track (or tact, for those who don’t appreciate railway puns) and in 1920 went into the hospitality business: restoring Victoria Hotel after its long period of neglect.

As one would be if one had just gambled ones railway career in favour of buying a hotel, Nicholas was interested in the heritage of his new neighbourhood and so joined the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society in 1927. While a member here he expanded his ever growing curriculum vitae by writing booklets then published in the local area: one named The Epic of Buttermere, which presented the sleepy valley as the supposed location of the battle of Rannerdale Knotts. In fact he was so successful in his writing endeavours that he went on to publish several novellas, including The Haunted Moor, ironically about the ghostly goings on at Ilkley Moor near Bradford.

Although you may be thinking to yourself, “what a nice, well-rounded type of chap,” the locals didn’t agree and our Sir Size had continuous problems with local landowners who began knocking in ‘No Trespassing’ signs. It was during these squabbles that Sir Size found himself renamed Old Nick, which luckily for us, lends itself rather more nicely to a ghost story.

Unfortunately, Old Nick’s altercations with the locals prevented him from fulfilling the next logical step in his career: a Bavarian-style beer garden of course! And so, beer garden-less and unwell, Old Nick spent the last of his days in the care of his wife at the Buttermere hotel.

However, don’t think that this railway worker cum hotelier cum author cum beyond the grave nuisance maker, did not have the last laugh. After battling with the local authorities he was finally granted burial where he pleased: a hole dug into the rock of Fairy Glen, naturally. Supposedly he wished to keep an eye on locals from this resting place, haunting them for the rest of their days.

Yet it seems that Old Nick’s work was not done, from beyond the grave he has ventured into the world of catering and taken up residence at Sykes Farm. Here he helps in the kitchen – hurling pots and opening cupboards, according to Anne Sykes, the farm owner. So if you’re in the area and intend to indulge in a bite to eat here, just make sure you keep your wits about you.