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Ghostly guide to the Shropshire Union Canal

The picturesque Shropshire Union Canal is perhaps Britain's most ghostly waterway.

Cutting through rock towards lock on Shropshire Union Canal Shropshire Union Canal, copyright Eddie Starck

Deep cuttings at Woodseaves and massive embankments, such as Shebdon, are the hallmarks of the waterway and add to its eerie reputation. At least five ghosts are associated with the Shropshire Union Canal.

Roman centurion

At Chester's old Northgate where the canal was dug into part of the town's moat, a Roman centurion can sometimes still be seen guarding the entrance to the city. At Betton Cutting, near Market Drayton - which has always had a dark reputation among boating people - a shrieking spectre has been seen and heard.

An American pilot who crashed his plane beside the canal during WWII has been seen at Little Onn, near Church Eaton in Staffordshire. And Tyrley middle lock, just beyond Market Drayton, is reported to have its own helpful resident ghost. If you come up to it in the middle of the night the ghost will push the lock gates shut behind your boat.

The 'Monkey Man'

But probably the best known and most disturbing phantom associated with the canal is the hideous black, shaggy coated being said to appear at double arched Bridge 39. This is supposedly the ghost of a boatman drowned here in the 19th century.

A famous sighting of the ghost occurred in 1879 when a labourer was employed to take a cart of luggage from Ranton in Staffordshire to Newport in Shropshire. He was late on his return journey, his horse was tired and it was about 10pm in the middle of a bleak January night when he arrived at a bridge crossing the canal just outside Norbury.

Just as he reached the bridge, he claimed that a strange black creature with enormous eyes sprang out of the shrubs beside the road and landed on the back of the horse. The man tried to push it off with his whip, but when he lashed out he was horrified to see the whip pass right through the creature. The labourer fell to the ground in fright and the horse galloped off into the darkness with the thing still clinging to its back.

A strange black creature with enormous eyes sprang out of the shrubs beside the road

The man was so frightened that he took to his bed for several days and when he finally went back to the canal he found the whip, just where he had dropped it.

In fact, he had met a well known local phantom known as "The Monkey Man" - and when British Waterways (now the Canal & River Trust) appealed for information about ghosts on the waterways in 2002, one respondent reported a more recent sighting of the ghost and thanked us for proving to his family that he was not seeing things!

"Huge black hairy monkey"

He told us that during a boating holiday on the 'Shroppie' in the 1980s he took the tiller while the family were inside the boat preparing lunch. Passing under a bridge he looked up to see what he described as "a huge black, hairy monkey" staring down at him.

Astonished, he called his family out to see the creature. But by the time the boat had passed under the bridge, the creature had vanished. The man said he had been teased by his wife and children ever since over his sighting of the phantom monkey and was grateful to hear that others had seen it too.

Princess Eira

One other ghost is worthy of mention, on the nearby Montgomery Canal - part of the historic Shropshire Union system. At Burgedin, the former lock keeper's cottage is reputedly haunted by the ghost of an early Welsh Princess named Eira.

The cottage was built on the site of a very ancient building where the girl was said to have been walled up alive as punishment for running away with her lover. Her ghost has been seen near the brick-built fireplace in the old basement of the building. Today, the cottage is a waterway office - and objects are regularly moved when no one is around!

Last date edited: 29 November 2016