Kirkstone Pass Inn

Kirkstone Pass Inn, Nr.Ambleside, Cumbria


This is the highest pub in Cumbria. It stands right at the top of the pass, just before the road forks off for Windermere or Ambleside. It was built in 1840s and before that time this road was very hard for the weary traveller and many died in the attempt.

This area can enjoy brilliant sunshine but it has its fair share of snow and very often mists hang about the valley. If they clear you will see the land fall steeply away towards Ambleside, while the crags tower above you in front. When I was there recently, I heard the croaking of a raven through the mist before it briefly appeared, huge and black with its diamond shaped tail, flapping above.

One story of the pass itself concerns Ruth Ray who came up from Patterdale and was on her way to see her sick father. The snow began to fall and when she did not return, her husband went out looking for her. He would have died, but he came across a sheepdog which led him to its master who had some kind of dwelling nearby. In the morning the man and the shepherd set off to look for Ruth Ray. When they found her she was dead, but she had wrapped the child in her shawl and by some miracle it lived still. When I spoke to Pattie Yates, the owner of the inn until the end of 1998, she told me that the ghost of Ruth Ray had been seen around the building. A sign outside claims the Kirkstone Inn was originally built in 1496, but though that may be true it was a ruin for a long time until the middle of the last century when it was rebuilt as an inn.

The Kirkstone Inn was put up for sale in September 1998, but just before this I spoke to Mrs Pattie Yates who had run the Inn for some years but was intending to return to her native Blackpool. She said that she had never intended to run a pub, but having fallen in love with the building when she first saw it and learned it was for sale in 1988.

Shortly after she moved in she was sitting in the snug when a man came and sat down near her. She realised that he was blind, apparently his wife was at the bar. He started talking to her straight away, seeming to know that she was the new owner. He said that the place was full of spirits, but that she shouldn’t worry because none of them wished her any harm. She said that since that time she had been at the Kirkstone Inn through storm and blizzard, with and without electric light and had never felt frightened.

However, some of the customers took one step into the place and turned straight round and went out. Many, many people have reported feeling the presence of ghosts in the Kirkstone Inn. On one occasion a group of friends booked all three rooms for three nights. In the middle of the first night one woman took fright and went out to sleep in the car. She wouldn’t go back in and the whole party were forced to leave despite their booking and their lost deposit. 

The inn certainly feels old and cosy. It is a long, low building with old black beams and a stone floor. One ghostly incident that made the local papers dates from April 1993. A family called Cave stayed there overnight just after Christmas, a father, mother and son. Though they then lived away, Angela Cave was originally from Windermere and liked to come back to her family’s home area. Mrs Yates remembers having a chat with the man about how the branches of the Christmas tree had lost their needles and how it needed to be taken out. She thought nothing more of them until she got a letter.

Apparently just after their conversation, when Brian Cave had been at the bar a man in an old fashioned black tricorn hat had come into the bar. His clothes looked as if they were in the fashion of the mid 1700s, but it was near Christmas and thinking it could be fancy dress, the man said nothing. Not even to his wife. Later on he took a photograph of his wife and son standing outside the door of the Kirkstone Inn. He stood on the other side of the road. The weather was fine and there was no one else about. However, when the photograph was developed, in it was a man in a tricorn hat standing behind his wife. Both he and she swear that there was no such man there with them when the photograph was taken.

Another twist is that during the visit Angela had felt a pressure on her shoulder as if someone was gripping her. When she looked at the end of the day, she clearly saw red fingermarks against her skin. It appears that the ghost followed them home from the Kirkstone and now lives with them. He is a coachman called Benjamin and was Angela’s great great grandfather. 

This story in the paper prompted the recollection of a local man who used to come into the bar for a drink on a fairly regular basis. He said that when he was about sixteen he came up from Kendal where he lived with a local building firm to help put the new grate in.

The pub was closed while the work was done and his boss left him to get on with it for a bit while he went outside. The young lad worked away and then he thought he heard someone come in. Thinking it was his mate returning he didn’t turn round first of all. Then he began to feel cold and when he looked up, he was terrified to see a grey woman standing above him. The awful thing was that she had no face and she was reaching out to touch him. He says that he doesn’t remember how he got out past her, but he found himself outside on the road and couldn’t be persuaded to go in again. Another of the ghosts dates from the 1970s.

There was a young man who worked there as a barman called Neville. Neville’s great hobby was fell running so the Kirkstone was a great place for him to work. However, after he had been there a while, he went out on one of his regular runs and didn’t come back. The police and the mountain rescue searched for him for a long time but eventually gave up. A colleague found him dead twenty four hours later in the water tank. He had a stone in his throat and it’s thought that he may have choked. It is fairly common practise for fell runners to have stones in their mouths to keep them from getting too dry. The police had been sitting by the tank all day, but hadn’t found him. Some staff claim to have seen Neville’s ghost.

Neville doesn’t mean anyone any harm, but he’s known to leave doors open and move things around. He is particularly associated with Room 2. The final mysterious thing in the inn concerns a picture hanging there. It is a copy of an original that is in the church at the village of Troutbeck down the pass on the way to Windermere. It is a picture of Rev. Sewell who built the inn in 1847.

The strange thing is that in this copy there is the figure of a man standing behind Rev. Sewell. In the original, this other man doesn’t appear. Outside the Inn, on the pass, there are very few trees. One of these is an old broken tree called the Hangman’s Tree. The ghost of a woman is seen near this tree and the story is that she was hung there after being found guilty of murdering a child. 

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