Weird Norfolk: The shrieking pits of Aylmerton and Northrepps
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
It's a lament said to travel across the centuries, a shriek that rips through time to tell the tale of a woman who loved and lost and whose spirit wanders in North Norfolk, restlessly searching for the baby murdered by her jealous husband.
Past the picture-perfect corn and poppy fields close to Aylmerton, Runton, Beeston Regis and Weybourne are shallow pits in the ground, once thought to be prehistoric dwellings but now known to be early medieval in origin and created by digging for iron ore to be used in smelting.
Three miles from Cromer, five such pits are visible in Aylmerton in the wooded slopes close to the Gresham Cross, close to the pilgrims' path which heads towards the holy shrines at Walsingham– these are known locally as the Shrieking Pits.
Folklore tells of a ghostly figure wearing white that haunts the pits, weeping and wailing as she walks between each pit, endlessly searching the depressions in the ground, looking for her baby. The child was killed by her husband who was convinced the baby wasn't his and, after he had buried the infant in the pit west of Aylmerton church, he went back and killed his wife.
Tall and willowy, the woman is seen wringing her hands and uttering piercing cries as she searches the pits: she has been seen during the day, at dusk and at night time and those that encounter her remark on her heartbreaking cries for her lost child.
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The same apparition, the ghost of a woman in a 'winding sheet' is said to rise out of the ground and roam the 'hills and holes' of the Weybourne area, where some believe the pits were made by Oliver Cromwell when he destroyed the village's priory.
At nearby North Repps, just south of the wonderfully-named Hungry Hill, is a track which leads to several tree-shrouded and water-filled hollows which also bear the name of the Shrieking Pits, this time named for another wailing woman, whose change of heart after a suicide attempt fell on deaf ears.
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It is said that at midnight on February 24, the spirit of a village girl named Esmeralda appears between the veil of the living and the dead. At the age of 17, Esmeralda had fallen in love with a wealthy but untrustworthy young farmer who conducted a secret relationship with her behind his wife's back.
The local vicar discovered the affair and ordered them to draw it to a close – the farmer skulked back to his wife and, without word from her sweetheart, Esmeralda's heart broke and she drifted into misery and depression, unable to forget her love.
On a frosty February night, she was wandering the lanes close to the village when she came upon the pit and, in a moment of desperation, she threw herself in. Almost immediately, she regretted her hasty decision and called for help – but none came and she perished. Her desperate screams can still, it is said, be heard on February 24, adding an extra chill to a winter's night.
Further tales suggest that an entire horse and cart have been swallowed by the North Repps pool and another source claimed the pits were to the west of the village in a wooded area called Grave Holes and that the wailing heard from the pits was connected to 'old sea kings' (or Vikings) and where they buried their heroes.
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