ONE morning in the late 1970s, Inspector Don Smith returned from his nightshift with Crook police just as his children were getting ready for school.

Above the breakfast hubbub, he mentioned that it had been a peculiar shift, and began to tell his family what had happened.

“He always used to tell stories when he came in from work and we would listen to them with half-an-ear,” says his son, Sean Wigley-Smith, of Coundon.

Insp Smith said that in the early hours of that morning, he said, he had been proceeding from Crook to Fir Tree via the Harperley roundabout where the A68 meets the A689.

“As he approached the entrance to Harperley Hall, he noticed a lady dressed in old fashioned clothing and a bonnet, leading a horse to the top of a farm lane,” says Sean. “He was surprised as it was about 2am and so completely dark – why would anyone be out leading a horse at such an unearthly time in the morning?

“He stopped almost immediately, turned his police car around and went back to check all was OK.

“However, when he got there, neither woman nor horse was to be seen. In fact, there was no sign that either of them had ever existed.”

The strangeness of the happening really struck Insp Smith. Just to prove to himself that he hadn’t been seeing things, a couple of days later he visited the owner of the farm, whom he knew well, and casually asked if anyone had taken a horse out during the night.

The farmer said definitely not.

The strangeness of the story stayed with Insp Smith, who was born in Hamsterley, right up to his death in 2016 at the age of 85.

“I always believe that my father was a rational thinker and especially so when on duty,” says Sean. “However, he was adamant that what he saw could only be a ghost!”

And then came Memories 357, which mentioned a story that may prove that the policeman really had encountered a ghost…

Harperley Park is an ancient seat. The original manor house was at Low Harperley Farm, but in 1790, Marmaduke Cradock built a new mansion on higher ground and called it Harperley Hall.

In 1817, the heiress of the hall, Elizabeth Pearson, married George Hutton Wilkinson, a Cambridge-educated barrister who came from Stockton. Mr Wilkinson, who died in 1859, acquired many interests: he was a Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham, the Recorder of Newcastle, owner of Greenhead mine, and the first chairman of the Weardale Railway.

The railway was financed by the Pease family of Darlington to extract minerals from the dale. Its first section, from Wear Valley Junction near Witton-le-Wear along the banks of the Wear to Wolsingham and Frosterley, opened on August 3, 1847. Its first stop was in the middle of nowhere – a private halt that was conveniently a short carriage ride from Mr Wilkinson’s hall.

One day, the Wilkinsons were expecting an important lady visitor who was to arrive by train at the private halt. A horse-drawn trap was sent down the track from the hall to meet her.

She safely disembarked from the train and climbed aboard the trap.

Then the engine announced that it was about to depart by blowing its whistle. This startled the horse which reared up in the air in a great commotion, overturning the trap, throwing out the lady who landed on the rails right in front of the departing train.

There was nothing anyone could do to stop the train or to save the lady. She died a terrible death beneath the engine's giant wheels.

In Memories, we regularly feature ghost stories because they are good fun, even if they are complete nonsense. However, some buildings and places draw us back so regularly that there really must be something odd going on.

And Harperley is the most haunted corner of our patch. There is undoubtedly a runaway spectral horsedrawn carriage that still dashes from the roundabout up the dale, and there is undeniably an old-fashioned figure, usually with a black horse, that is seen on the farm tracks walking away from the railway.

DAVE WILLIAMS, of Willington, grew up in Station Cottages at Harperley in the 1940s.

“There was supposed to be a ghostly carriage that drove through Low Harperley Farm, the old mansion house, but I never saw anything,” he says.

The Station Cottages were in the late 19th Century when a clay pit opened up near Harperley station. There were also quarries and mines operating on the opposite bank of the Wear, accessed by a footbridge over the river.

Dave Williams remembers an old wooden footbridge being washed away in about 1947 and the new metal one not being built until the late 1950s.

“We used to cross the river by means of a wooden plank which was tied to a tree at the far side,” he says. “When the river flooded, the plank used to wash to the far side.”

He remembers that next to the cottages was a small Methodist chapel that served all of the workers, be they industrial or agricultural.

And David Armstrong writes to say: “I preached at Harperley chapel several times in the 1960s. It was attended by members of the Hartley family who farmed Low Shipley and who would have to use the footbridge to get to chapel.

“Jack Hartley always walked me back to the bus and always left me with the phrase: "If things don't change David, they will stay the same!"

EVERYTHING did change at Harperley. In 1946, Harperley Hall was sold to Durham police and it is now a police training college. In 1955, the station closed. It was demolished in 1964, followed soon after by Station Cottages and the Methodist chapel. Now all that remain are the ghosts…

HAVE you any tales to tell about Harperley? Please get in touch.