It was two friends of mine, who had a passion for walking in lonely places who discovered the lake.
Returning from a walking holiday in some remote part of the British Isles, they excitedly telephoned me to tell me of their discovery. While walking across a sparse track, through some marshland, their attention had been attracted by the glint of water in the distance. Like a magnet, it had drawn them to it, and they were surprised to find that the water was in fact quite clear, and didn’t contain the characteristic peaty brown stain of most waters, both running and still, in that area.
On the banks grew water mint, forget-me-not and purple loosestrife, and here and there a stand of reedmace stood, defying the high winds that so often swept this flat countryside. In the lake itself grew hornwort, starwort and water milfoil, rare plants in this part of the country. That they had discovered a real jewel was confirmed when a huge common carp leapt out, to catch the sun on its immaculate scales for a brief second before disappearing once more into this magic pool.
There were no trees they could climb for a better view, but looking around for a better vantage point, had found what looked to be the ruins of what had once been a building of some substance. Who would have built this way out here in the middle of nowhere, they asked themselves as they clambered onto the remains of a huge stone block, which gave them a good view of the whole pool. They spent some hours there, and saw more carp, all exceptionally large, and all commons, one or two of which they agreed looked to be well in excess of 40lbs. Eventually, after carefully marking the location of the lake on their ordnance survey map, they left the place, intending to return with some fishing tackle at the first opportunity.
When they arrived at a small inn where they intended to stay the night, they made enquiries of the landlord as to the ownership of the pool. The landlord had only recently acquired the in n, and was not even aware of the existence of the lake. He suggested they contact the local minister, who had records for that parish going back nearly 1000 years. The following morning they did just that. The minister was most helpful, and explained the history of the pool and the building to them. Apparently the building now in ruins had been built by monks of some diverse order, some 500 hundred years ago. They had discovered a natural spring rising in the area, and had dug out the shallow lake themselves. What had become of them, no-one knew. They had lived in almost total isolation, and one day had just disappeared as mysteriously as they had come.
This apparently is fact, and is well documented in the records kept by the local minister, which anyone with an interest can inspect. It seems the monk’s outpost had been thriving, and almost self sufficient. Then one day they were just not there any longer. No-one had seen them go, and they had taken nothing with them. All their a rtefacts had been left behind, and all their foodstores were well stocked for the coming winter. They had simply disappeared. The building had gradually given in to the wearing winds of that area, and had for many years been completely demolished.
All this excited my friends greatly – could these carp be the descendants of one of the first batches to be brought into this country? So far as the minister knew, no-one had ever fished the lake, and he was not sure if permission had to be sought from anyone, though it seemed unlikely. Thanking him, they returned to the inn. During that day, they again walked out to the lake to watch the carp, spending most of the day there, and only returning to the inn that evening. This was the last day of their holiday – tomorrow they would catch the train to return home.
As they sat in a quiet corner of the bar, excitedly discussing the prospect of fishing this new lake, they became aware that a strangely dressed gentleman across the room seemed to be taking slightly more than a passing interest in their conversation. Perhaps he was a carp angler. The last thing they wanted to do was to make the return journey, only to find half a dozen anglers bivvied up around the lake. They continued their conversation in lowered tones, occasionally stealing furtive glances at the stranger, who persisted in looking in their direction, making them both feel most uncomfortable.
Eventually, they found it unbearable. Who was this man? They would confront him, sort it out with him. They stopped talking, and both stared back at the stranger. To their surprise, he smiled at them, then got up and walked towards them. His clothes were certainly odd – perhaps he WAS a carp angler! As he reached their table, he pulled up a chair, and at the same time began to speak.
“I’m sorry if I appear rude” he said, “but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. I have the rights to the lake you have been discussing, and if you wish to fish it I can give you the neccessary permission”. My friends were both taken aback at this. They were under the impression they needed no such permission, and said so.
“If you want to fish the lake, you must have permission” replied the stranger. “But I am a gentleman, and can see you have been genuinely mistaken. Do not be alarmed, permission costs nothing – all you are required to do is to sign these forms”. Saying this, he passed them each a form, upon which were inscribed the rather curious words: “I declare that I am a good Christian, and that I would do no harm to the Marsh Pool.”
Puzzled, my friends first looked at each other, then at the stranger. “What does this mean?” they asked.
“Just an assurance” the stranger replied, “You see, the pool lies on sacred ground”.
Realising this must have some connection with the old monk’s building, my friends then asked the man for how long their permission would remain valid.
“For as long as you could wish” said the man in a mysterious tone.
Well, that seemed fair enough. They each signed their forms, and handed them back to the stranger. With that he rose, bade them good fortune, and walked to the door. Then he did a curious thing. Passing the open fireplace, where the fire had been lit to ward off the late evening chill, he leant over, and quite deliberately set each of the forms to the flame. As they burst into a bright fire, they illuminated the man’s face, and they could see he was smiling. Then he left.
This odd behaviour baffled both my friends. Still, they had permission to fish the pool whenever they liked, if, which they now doubted, they had in fact needed permission in the first place. The following morning they returned home. That evening they phoned me, and told me the above story. They intended going to fish the pool for a week, in a months time, and asked me if I’d like to join them. I said I would, very much, but what about me getting permission. They said they didn’t think I should worry too much about that – thinking about it they had come to the conclusion that the man at the inn was probably the local loonie, and that it would be alright for me to fish there. So that was settled, and the date was fixed. We would all drive down in my car.
Unfortunately, when the day arrived, I found myself tied up with work, and unable to get away until a day later. My friends were keen to get down there, so we arranged that I should join them the following day. They would fish the night at the pool, then drive back to the inn and collect me. The next morning, after finishing off at work, I drove home, packed my tackle and overnight gear and headed north. A few hours later I pulled up outside the inn and walked into the bar where I had arranged to meet my friends. They were seated at a corner table and as I walked in they turned towards me. I could see straight away that all was not as it should be. They both looked ill, and bore no trace of humour.
“Sit down” they said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, pulling a chair up to their table.
Dave went to the bar to get another round of drinks – by the look of the empty glasses on the table they’d had more than enough already. Setting the drinks down, they pushed one in front of me, and then told me to listen. They began the story.
They had arrived at the lake in the early evening of the previous day. After a quick look round, they had seen some fish feeding on opposite sides of the pool, and had set up in those areas, with about 80 yards of water between them. It had been a lovely evening, typical of the summer of that year, and as darkness came, the wind fell away completely, and all became quiet. The only sounds were occasional splashes from the lake, excitingly loud.
By midnight they had both drifted into a half sleep, their optonics still silent. Then Pete heard a noise – someone was approaching the bivvy. He thought it must be Dave, though was surprised at the noise he was making. They had fished together for years, and he knew Dave knew exactly how to move round a carp lake. Perhaps he’d caught one. He lay there waiting for the familiar voice, as the rather loud footsteps halted outside the bivvy. But no voice came. Dave became a little worried, and lay there intently listening. But he could hear nothing, no sound at all. He knew someone was out there – he hadn’t imagined those heavy footsteps.
“Is that you Dave” he called out, rather nervously. Instantly, whatever was out there let out a roar, and the next second the bivvy, complete with umbrella and bivvy pegs, was lifted high in the air, leaving Pete laying on his bedchair with nothing but the stars above him. Well, almost nothing. There, to his side was someone, well something, Pete estimated to be around 10 feet tall, tearing the bivvy to shreds, snarling the whole time. Pete froze on the bedchair, terrified. What the hell was it? This was no time to dive under the covers though – he needed to be out of there fast, before the creature turned its attention from the bivvy, to what was inside it. Slowly he slid out of the sleeping bag, then leapt from the bedchair and ran as fast as he could round to the other side of the lake, to warn Dave.
“Dave wake up!” he shouted.
“Have you got one?” mumbled Dave, rather sleepily.
“No, there’s something over there, and it’s ripping up the bivvy – get out of there”.
“What” chuckled Dave “are you winding me up?”.
“For Christ’s sake, get out of there”.
This time the message got through – Dave recognised the note of terror in Pete’s voice and struggled from the sleeping bag.
Over on the far bank, they could see the outline of the creature, still smashing up Pete’s gear.
“What the f*** is that?” exclaimed Dave.
“I don’t bloody know” replied Pete, “but it’s nearly 10 feet tall – let’s get out of here”.
The car was parked halfway between them and the creature. As they started to run towards it, the noise on the other bank stopped. Noticing this, they stopped running.
“What’s it doing?” asked Dave. Pete, whose night sight was excellent peered into the darkness. There he could make out a huge shape moving towards the car.
“Oh no!” he cried, “it’s going towards the car. Quick, we’ve got to get there first”. They ran as fast as they could across the uneven ground, and reached the car. They could hear the creature approaching, but could no longer see it. Fortunately, Dave hadn’t locked the car, so they dived in and locked all the doors from the inside. After a moments panic trying to get the key into the ingition, the car started first time (unlike in the films!.
Dave slammed the car into first and roared up the track. But suddenly, the “thing” was in front of the car, blocking the path, snarling and spitting. They had seen it quite clearly in the headlights, a massive creature, in the shape of a man, but far bigger, with blazing eyes and glistening fangs. It looked the colour of the marsh.
Dave drove straight at it, swerving at the last minute and catching the creature a glancing blow which knocked it from the path, leaving them room to get away. They sped across the marsh by the light of one headlamp – the other had been broken in the collision – and arrived back at the inn some half an hour later to find they were locked out. Eventually, they woke the landlord, who let them in, listening to their garbled story with indifference, thinking they were drunk. He had a double room to spare, and soon they were enconsed within it, talking over events at the pool, and trying to make sense of it all.
There was no chance of them getting any sleep. They had lain awake all night wondering whether or not they should tell anyone what had happened. Come morning, they washed, and made their way downstairs.
“Morning lads” said the landlord, in his best patronising tone, and with a grin added “had a good night did we?”.
They knew it was no good talking to him. They sat down to breakfast, then, both weary, returned to their room, where they catnapped away the rest of the morning. Around midday they woke, and made their way into the bar, which is where I found them some time later.
“Are you sure it wasn’t a horse” I said, “or a cow or something”. Their combined looks were enough to tell me that they were sure! “Well, what are you going to do?” I asked them.
“We’re not going back there” said Pete, and Dave agreed.
“But you can’t leave all that gear out there” I said. “Come on, I’ll drive you back there and we can have a look around – it’ll be alright now it’s light”.
After another drink or two,I had persuaded them to come back to the pool with me. I drove carefully, and it took about 45 minutes to reach the pool.
“Look there” shouted Pete as we approached, “there’s the glass from the headlight”.
I stopped the car, and we all climbed out. Sure enough, it was glass from a car headlamp, but there was no sign of anything else at all. We got back into the car, and drove the short distance to the pool side. We walked round to where Pete had been fishing. I was taken aback by the devastation there. The largest surviving piece of the bivvy and umbrella was about 6 inches square, and even the pole and stormrods were snapped in two. The rods were broken into many pieces, and the reels bent and crushed into the ground. Banksticks and buzzers were gone, and the bedchair was unrecognisable as such, as was the sleeping bag, which was torn to shreds and covered in slimy mud. Smaller items were scattered all over the place, most having been bent, broken or crushed.
Much the same scene greeted us at Dave’s pitch. There was nothing at all worth salvaging, though we did clear everything up as best we could. All the gear was insured, though heaven knows what they would put on the claims form. At least the damaged items would be some proof of what had happened should they decide to report the incident. While they were clearing up, I looked around for any sign of footprints.
I found a trail of horribly slimy mud heading away from Dave’s swim, and, quite bravely I thought, followed it. It led towards the ruined building, and there, in the centre of what had obviously been the monks main dwelling area, it simply disappeared. I didn’t mention this to the others – I had only just calmed them down!
Eventually they got their remaining bits into the car, and we drove back to the inn in silence. There was nothing for it now but to return home. All the broken gear was transferred into Pete’s car, then we made our way into the bar to rest a while before beginning the long journey back. After an hour or so, we had tired of the landlord’s jibing, and decided to leave.
As we passed through the narrow hallway leading to the car park, I noticed a picture frame containing an old newspaper cutting hanging on the wall. The wording caught my eye: “No trace of angler missing on marshes” it proclaimed, and underneath was a rough picture of the unfortunate man. I pointed this out to Pete and Dave. They looked at the picture, and turned white. It was the same man who had given them permission to fish – and the date on the paper was 1872 – over a hundred years ago!
We walked to the car park in silence. Pete and Dave had decided to report everything to the police when they reached the nearest town. I bade them farewell, and arranged to meet them during the next week. We would go fishing together – take their minds off the terrible events of the previous night. But I never saw them again.
The next day the crash was reported in all the papers. They had collided head on with a large fuel tanker, and the whole lot had gone up in a huge fireball burning everything to a cinder.The strange thing was, no trace of the tanker driver was ever found, and apparently the vehicle had been stolen earlier that day. The police couldn’t understand how anyone could have survived the inferno, but checking the road nearby, which was otherwise dry, they found a mysterious trail of mud disappearing into a nearby field.
If Pete and Dave had survived, this story may have hit the headlines then. But with them, and all their smashed tackle gone, no-one would have believed me if I had tried to make anything of it. I was reluctant to tell the tale anyway, perhaps for fear someone may try to discover the lake and suffer a similar fate.
But now the lake is no more – the whole area is under concrete as suburbia has spread its wings even further. There may be people who scoff at this story, but the facts are all there if you know where to look. From the original records kept by the minister, to the old newspaper cutting which still hangs in the inn, which having been declared a listed building, was spared the bulldozers though now looks sorely out of place in its new surroundings. The reports of my friend’s deaths are still available too, if anyone cares to investigate it.
Me? I have my own ideas of what happened – so don’t ask me to help you.