Intersecting the Roman road from Ribchester to Lancaster, just outside Longridge in the village of Grimsargh you will find the aptly named Written Stone Lane. Perhaps unsurprisingly at the top of said lane, beside Written Stone farm (formerly Cottam House) you will find the ‘Written Stone’, a sandstone slab of considerable length bearing the legend “RAUFFE:RADCLIFFE:LAID:THIS:STONE:TO:LYE:FOREVER:A:D:1665:”
Many folk tales and fables surround this gritstone block, it has been suggested it was once a standing stone, possibly an outlier or altar piece, a relic of past paganism Mr Radcliffe wished to see stand no more hence its horizontal positioning.
Other theories include it having been the lintel stone which once sat above a doorway.
However, non of this explains how the stone found itself established beneath the holly bushes at the crossway of two quiet country lanes. The quintessential mythos is as follows, that on the very spot where the cursed stone rests an atrociously brutal murder was said to have occurred, and collaborating in such a heinous crime were members of the Radcliffe family!
The restless spirit of the victim, unable to achieve eternal repose, began to bedevil the conspirators. Family members died in unexplainable and mysterious ways, as though the whole household were cursed. In a vain attempt to appease the relentless disquietude (and perhaps as atonement for his part in the slaying) Mr Radcliffe arranged for the inscription of the monolithic tablet before organising its emplacement at the scene of the crime.
Despite such measures being put in place the disturbances amplified: from an audible haunting of screams, shrieks, knocks and banging it grew into the more malevolent (& physical) spite of painful pinching and clothes being torn asunder by unseen hands!
Alas, the plague and torment became so relentless the Radcliffe’s upped sticks and moved far away, to an undisclosed location. Remember this was the 17th century, a time of sorcery and witchcraft where the weltscmerz felt regarding curses seemed undoubtedly real.
Cottam house became the home of new tenants who knew nothing of the trauma and tribulation suffered by the previous occupants, they happily went about their business of dairy farming until the day they decided the stone in the lane would be better put to use as a ‘buttery stone’.
Removal and relocation of the stone proved far more laborious and problematic than the residents could have ever imagined, many local folk and a team of six strong horses battled to move the great hunk the short distance to the house. It was heard to emit a strange echoing sound and several locals were injured during the remotion!
Once repositioned in the farmhouse kitchen the strange occurrences accelerated – on its very first evening in its new residence all hell broke loose, any object placed upon the stone was forcefully thrown across the room by an invisible power and an unearthly cacophony unceasingly emitted from it until first light.
Fearful the newly liberated spirit would never permit his family rest at night the farmer felt compelled to convey the stone back to whence it came. Strangely, only the farmer and one horse were required to facilitate the return.
Unfortunately, this was not the last to be heard of the malevolent spirit, a doctor on horseback had his mount spooked when riding up the lane, it hysterically galloped off at full speed leaving the poor physician hanging on for his dear life for at least two miles! Deciding upon a return to the area he bravely confronted whatever dwelt below the stone only to witness a shapeless mass form atop it. Taking on substance the mass was able to seize him and drag him from his saddle almost crushing the last breath from his lungs.
A lady wearing a fancy bonnet has also been reportedly spotted walking the lane on several occasions, nothing strange about that you might be thinking . . . except her head, complete with bonnet, is being carried by her side in a basket!!
Walkers braving the hike down from Jeffrey Hill have had their hats whipped from their heads and encountered indiscernible hands tugging at their anoraks. To this day strange phenomena is described as occurring in the vicinity of the Written Stone.
So who, or rather what, can these occurrences be attributed to? Many folk believe the cursed stone is home to a boggart and the narrow track has become locally known as Boggarts Lane. Dissimilar to the modern storybook boggarts who live in houses our Lancashire variety are much more likely to be encountered outdoors. They favour fields, marshland, under bridges and holes in the ground. Some have been known to dwell by the roadside at dangerously sharp bends .
North West folklore is teaming with tales of these wicked, geographically defined spirits. Always vengeful, spiteful and vicious they are considered insuppressible. Beware getting lost over moor or marshland as you may just fall foul of a flesh eating boggart, yes dear reader, they can devour our kind! Others lurk deep in the still waters of rivers, ponds and lakes – for who’s mother hasn’t warned them of Ginny Greenteeth when they’ve strayed too close to the brink of a pool. Appearing as both man and beast I recently learned some have the ability to shape-shift, taking the form of various animals and that of the most fearful of creattures!
Perhaps we will never know the true story of Written Stone Lane and why a four hundred year old inscribed slab is still shrouded in mystery and superstition. Ramblers often meander by the stone seemingly oblivious to its terrible history, yet visiting paranormal enthusiasts have feared to even reach out and touch the reposing pillar in trepidation of what could ensue.
The stone has been recognised as being of national importance and special interest and has been given a grade II listing.