The Barguest, or Bargest. A fearsome spectral hound that haunts specified areas, it is unique to the British Isles. It should not be confused with the Guytrash, or the Grim, which foretell death and may materialise in almost any location. It exists, most likely, to guard something, a grave, sacred site, or hidden treasure. There is one case where a Barguest would appear whenever a woman locked her front door, accompanied by a mysterious voice that would call out "This door stays open!" It is "as big as a littlish bear." Normaly it is yellow, with large black eyes, although sometimes it is headless.
One of the most Notorious Barguests stalks Trollers Ghyll, a great chasm cut in the hills near Appletreewick in Yorkshire. The name of this chasm suggests that even the Vikings believed that something evil lurked there. One night a cobbler was walking the canyon when he came upon the Barguest, it passed close enough to his hiding place that he could give us this description:
"...yellow, with great eyes like saucers. He'd a shaggy sort o' smell as he went by, and I counted myself for dead. But he chanced not to glimpse me, praise all the saints that ever were."
By this description we can see that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was heavily influenced by tales of Barguests.
In the last one hundred years, five deaths have been associated with the Trollers Ghyll Barguest. One of the most interesting stories concerns John Lambert, a loudly outspoken sceptic, as far as the barguest was concerned. He went hunting for it in Trollers Ghyll at night, armed only with a walking stick. He was found dead the next morning.
The Barguest is by far the most prolific kind of open air haunting, I hear so many stories that I sometimes suspect there is barely a parish or country road in England without it's own ghost dog. If Whatever the Barguest is guarding is removed, then it will cease to appear, you are also safe on consecrated ground. (No surprises there then.)
Despite it's widespread place in folklore, sightings of the Barguest have become more and more uncommon in recent years. It is being replaced in the consciousness of Britain by Alien big cats. The beast of Bodmin moor for instance. Despite this, the Barguest remains for me one of the most striking and terrifying images in English folk tales.
- Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore - Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud.
- Ghosts and Legends of Yorkshire - Andy Roberts.
- Classic Devon Ghost stories - Compiled by Paul White.