Phantom ships are reputed to haunt the Solway Firth. Elliott O’Donnell, writing in 1954 of ‘nasty sea ghosts’, says:
One such story is of a phantom ship that appears in the Solway immediately before a wreck in that water. It is supposed to be the phantom of a vessel containing a bridal party that was maliciously wrecked in the Solway many years ago.
In The Midnight Hearse (1965), he adds to this story that the ghosts of the bridal party are visible on the deck before a wreck. There is some similarity here to the story of the phantom ship deliberately wrecked on the GOODWIN SANDS off the coast of Kent. O’Donnell also mentions a tradition reminiscent of ‘The Flying Dutchman’, saying that at times the spectres of two pirate ships are seen. ‘The pirates, on account of their many crimes, are fated to haunt the Solway till Doomsday.’
Another phantom of these waters is described by Gerald Findler in Legends of the Lake Counties (1967). He writes,
‘I have met several people who have stated that they have seen a ghost ship sailing along the Solway. At Allonby, an old villager said he had seen the ghost ship several times, always about Christmas time.’ This spectral vessel is the Betsy Jane, a slave ship which sank near Whitehaven on its home voyage laden with ivory and gold. Findler says that, in old copies of the Whitehaven News, he found the legend that the Betsy Jane was sailing along the coast of the Firth one Christmas Eve, and the church bells were ringing. The godless skipper, however, swore by the powers of light and darkness that the bells could ring till they cracked, but it would be the chink of his gold that rang on Christmas morning. He had made a fortune from the slave trade and was returning a rich man. But now divine vengeance overtook him, and the ship struck the Giltstone Rock. The terrible shrieks and curses of those on the foundered ship went unheard as the bells rang again on Christmas morning, and the waves of the Firth closed over the Betsy Jane and all aboard. ‘So about Christmas time, the Betsy Jane sails again and again along the Solway … The years roll by, the church bells … ring out each Christmas morn, and the Betsy Jane still sails on and on, never to reach port.’