In the grey of the evening ‘about half a century ago’, says M. A. Richardson in his Table Book (1842–5), a stripling was making his way to Bellister Castle to seek service there. After he had crossed the Tyne at Haltwhistle, his route lay along a broken road, and he had not gone far when he saw a traveller ahead of him. This seemed a little strange, as he knew that no one had come over the ferry much before him. He quickened his pace and shouted, wanting company on the road, but the person ahead took no notice and, try as he might, the youth could not catch up. The stranger had long white hair, and was wrapped in a grey cloak reaching to his heels. He appeared to be carrying a small bundle.
They reached the broken gateway of the old castle of Bellister. At that moment, the stranger turned round and revealed a pallid face across which was a bloody gash. His beard and garments were red with blood and, fixing his lustreless eyes on the youth and pointing with a scowl at the ruin, he melted silently away.
The boy went to the house and told the old mistress what he had seen. She was much concerned, for she had heard of a spirit haunting the place from an older generation. It had never appeared, she said, without calamity ensuing. ‘It came to pass as the old lady feared and predicted. That very evening the unfortunate lad was seized with the severe illness, and before next morning was a corpse.’
Richardson gives an explanation of the haunt, pseudo-medieval in tone, perhaps someone’s literary embellishment of the tradition. According to this, many years before, when the manor was occupied by the Blenkinsopps, a wandering minstrel had sought shelter one night and was admitted. Later, the Lord of Bellister began to harbour suspicions that he was a spy for a neighbouring baron and told his attendants to bring the harper before him. When he could not be found, the baron’s suspicions seemed confirmed. He ordered out the bloodhounds, which overtook the poor old man by the willow trees near the banks of the Tyne and tore him to pieces. After that, whenever the baron returned to the castle after sunset, the ghost of the harper followed him home. Its occasional more terrifying appearances were found to be the prelude of misfortune in the house of Bellister.
Richardson concludes, ‘The Gray Man no longer appears at Bellister, or traverses the broken pathway … But Bellister and its vicinity continues to be a haunted and forbidden place after nightfall.’