To round off our series of ghost stories and ghoulish yarns from all corners of the West Country, we travel to the Dorset coast to recount the legendary tale of The Black Hound of Lyme Regis.
The setting for our story is Colway Manor and a grand old fireplace. It’s here that a lonely old man would sit by a roaring fire in his favourite chair, his faithful black greyhound beside him, both now long in the tooth and enjoying a quiet life. The people of ‘old Lyme’ knew that the man preferred to be left alone and so rarely bothered him, but rumours were rife that hidden in the house was a small fortune acquired during his days on the high seas.
One night, a gang of wandering rogues, who had got wind of the rumour, broke into the house in the pitch-black dark. They found the old man asleep in his bed and began to cruelly beat him when he refused to reveal the hiding place for his riches. His loyal greyhound was in a frenzy downstairs, shut behind the oak door of the kitchen and unable to protect his master. The gang of marauders ransacked the house and eventually found the loose floorboards and the chest containing the old man’s riches, leaving him for dead on his bloodstained mattress. As they ran from the grounds they were startled by a tremendous crash – the sound of splintering wood – and saw the shape of a huge hound tearing down the yards between them.
The next morning, the local sheriff found three bodies in the woods near to the house, their throats ripped out and their entrails scattered across the path. Next, he found the body of the old man in the manor house; icy cold in his bed, his face battered by violent fists. Only a handful of locals came to the old man’s funeral but howling at his grave was his faithful old greyhound who refused to leave and growled when anyone came near. And there the greyhound stayed, for days on end without food nor water – a truly heart-breaking sight – until eventually it drew its last breath.
A number of centuries later, another mysterious old man bought the title deeds to the manor house and began to lead a similarly lonely life; attracting the same kind of rumours that had once shadowed the house’s former resident. One night, the man was sipping brandy by the roaring fire when he heard something enter the room. He froze in his chair as he saw a huge black greyhound sitting beside him. The man swallowed his fear and sat quietly in the company of this strange and ghostly beast until he watched it walk out of the room in a contended manner. The same thing happened the next night, and the next night, until the old man grew entirely fond of his unearthly canine companion, and the years slowly passed.
Then, one dark and dreary night, whilst the man was asleep in his bed, a band of robbers snuck into the house having preyed on drunken rumours at a local tavern about the manor’s secret stash of French silver. They dragged the old man from his bed and started to beat him with sticks to try and force its whereabouts from him. The old man begged the villains to stop, swearing that he had no such riches and the tales they’d heard were untrue. Unconvinced, the mob continued to set about him, beating him to within an inch of his life. Then, as the nastiest of the scum-buckets raised his baton, the door behind them smashed open and a huge black greyhound roared into the room. Terrified, the robbers tried to flee, but the next morning their remains were found scattered across the grounds of the house, their bodies ripped limb from limb.
After weeks of convalescence, the old man eventually regained his strength but found himself in desperate poverty; not an ounce of truth in the rumours that he was sitting on a secret cache of untold wealth. In fact, the old man was crippled with debt, having given much of his money away to worthy causes without a second thought for himself. Facing the prospect of seeing out the rest of his days in the cold, damp cell of a debtor’s prison, he sat by his fire wondering if his beastly friend and protector might return to pay him one final visit.
He waited and waited, but the black greyhound never appeared, until one night, in the glow of the open fire, on the eve of his eviction and trial, he heard paws on the wooden floor of the hallway and standing in the doorway was the black greyhound. He beckoned it to come and sit beside him by the fire, as they’d always done, but the greyhound seemed agitated and turned its giant body to leave. The old man summoned his walking stick and tried to pursue his erstwhile companion, desperate to say one final goodbye.
He found himself in the woods not far from the house, the moon was full and all was quiet around him. He saw the greyhound sitting patiently in wait for him, the old man in tears as he finally got to stand side-by-side his long-lost friend. “Thank you for saving my life,” he said to the huge beast from another world. The greyhound looked up at the old man and then lifted a giant paw and dug down into the cold earth. The old man watched on as it began digging furiously, until it sidled away from its freshly dug pit. As the old man shuffled forward the greyhound leapt; its spectral glow vanishing into the woodland, leaving him alone and staring down into the hollow. He could see something shining in the broken roots and earth and slowly sank on his creaking knees to investigate further. He managed to grab what felt like a handle and using all of his strength he pulled up what appeared to be an ornate chest. The lock had been crudely forced, so he opened the lid to see what was inside. There, before him, glinting in the soft moonlight, was a small fortune in foreign silver and precious stones the like of which he’d only read about in books on flights of fancy.
The old man was now the richest gentleman in the county. And with the time he had left, he carried out many kind deeds; becoming the chief benefactor to the local orphanage and often inviting those less fortunate to banquet at the manor house and sip brandy and warm milk by the open fire. At his funeral, the whole parish gathered to pay their respects, and as the last of the mourners left the graveyard, they swore they’d seen a huge, ghostly, black greyhound sitting at his grave.