In the early eighteenth century, a phantom army was seen on Souther Fell, east of Blencathra. In 1747, the Gentleman’s Magazine published an account by someone who had spoken to witnesses of a first sighting on Midsummer Eve 1735, and then a second sighting precisely two years later:
Wm. Lancaster … imagined that several gentlemen were following their horses at a distance, as if they had been hunting, and taking them for such, pay’d no regard to it, till about ten minutes after; again turning his head towards the place, they appeared to be mounted, and a vast army following, five in rank … He then call’d his family, who all agreed in the same opinion; and what was most extraordinary, he frequently observed that some one of the five would quit rank, and seem to stand in a fronting posture, as if he was observing and regulating the order of their march, or taking account of the numbers, and after some time appear’d to return full gallop to the station he had left, which they never fail’d to do as often as they quitted their lines, and the figure that did so, was generally one of the middlemost men in the rank. As it grew later, they seem’d more regardless of discipline, and rather had the appearance of people riding from a market, than an army, tho’ they continued crowding on, and marching off, as long as they had light to see them.
The phenomenon was repeated on the Midsummer Eve preceding the Scottish Rebellion of 1745. This time about twenty-six people saw it, and so convinced were some of them that it was real that they climbed the mountain-side next morning looking for hoof-prints. William Lancaster of ‘Blake hills’ (Blake Hills Farm), on the other hand, said that he never thought it could be a real army because the ground was too difficult and the number of troops too huge. Villagers later thought it was an apparition, a foreshowing of the Rebellion.
Educated writers explained it away as an optical illusion, the editor of the Lonsdale Magazine in 1821 stating that it had been a mirage caused by a reflection of the rebels performing their military exercises on the west coast of Scotland. Whatever it may have been, local people gave it a supernatural explanation as a spectral army, such as has also been reported in other places, including EDGEHILL, Warwickshire, and HELVELLYN.