WAS Whorlton Lido ever troubled by a ghost? The riverside countryside on the edge of Teesdale is said to be haunted by the restless spirit of a murderer priest, the Reverend Sir Roland Mewburne.

Sir Roland was the rector of Wycliffe. Early in 1482, he stopped one of his parishioners, Robert Manfield, and enquired whether he had paid his church tithes. An argument ensued which ended when Sir Roland used a knife to “pierce Robert’s heart so that he died”.

For some unknown reason, King Edward IV pardoned the murdering parson – but the victim’s family were not so forgiving.

Three years later, on February 25, 1485, James Manfield, gentleman, of Wycliffe, arrived at Durham Cathedral in a distressed state. He knocked on the knocker and demanded sanctuary within.

Anyone knocking on the sanctuary knocker was granted immediate access to the cathedral. He would be dressed in a black gown with a yellow cross on the left shoulder and taken to the sanctuary floor beneath the west tower where he was supposed to confess every detail of his crime. The clerics would write down everything he said, all the while the bell in the Galilee chapel was tolled to tell the city that someone was seeking sanctuary.

So the cathedral records state that James had "about the 26th of January as he thinks, insulted a certain Sir Roland Mewburne, chaplain, rector of Wycliffe, and had struck the same feloniously in the body with a wallych bill, and given him a mortal hurt of which he incontinently died".

"Incontinently" means instantly, and a "wallych bill" was a Welsh axe - hence the instantaneous nature of Sir Roland's death.

So the murderer had been murdered, and the victim had been avenged by his own kinsman.

But the restless spirit of Sir Roland had plagued James so dreadfully that, a month after the second murder and fed up by the hauntings, James had ridden to the cathedral to seek sanctuary from the ghost.

Having confessed, the sanctuary-seeker now had 37 days in which to secure a pardon from the monarch. If that failed to come through, he would have to pray before the shrine of St Cuthbert and ask for his sanctuary – an unhindered journey to the nearest port from which he would sail to a foreign country, agreeing never to return to the land in which he had committed his terrible crime.

The king failed to grant James a pardon within the permitted timespan so, wearing his black gown, he approached the shrine and prayed for St Cuthbert’s sanctuary.

St Cuthbert was unmoved. For killing a holy man – albeit a holy man who had murdered his own kinsman – James died in agony at the altar rail.

But the ghost of the rector is still said to haunt the countryside and the riverbank around Wycliffe. You know you are in its spooky presence when you hear the rustling of its silken, priestly gown – although that may have been drowned out by the “choo choo” of the miniature steam railway.