Silky has been compared to both ghost and brownie, and by the year 1863, Balfour claimed that she had not been heard of for some years. In appearance, Silky was a tall woman, dressed in silk (hence her name) but at that point tales of her appearance varies widely. Some say that she dressed in glowing white silk, others in dark rustic browns; and there are those that say her appearance was terrifying and ugly, and yet by the same notion, others say that she was a calm, gentle apparition, soothing in appearance.
According to legend Silky used to haunt Belsay and Black Heddon, appearing here and there in flowing, rustling silk, and some say acting very brownie-like, disrupting things that were kept tidy, and yet tidying with great care things that were left awry. She continued like this, often being seen by an old tree known as Silky’s Seat, until a hidden treasure was discovered in Black Heddon, the recovery of which released her from walking this world. One of the last reports of Silky’s whereabouts comes from the Reverend J.F.Bigge, who claimed (in the Tyneside Naturalists’ Field Club, 1846-64) that he was attending an old woman at Welton Mill who claimed that she had seen Silky, the night before, sitting at the bottom of her bed. Mrs. Pearson, the old woman, died a couple of days later, so in this case Silky seemed to be a death portent!
Black Heddon Bridge was another favourite spot of Silky’s, so much so that it is often called Silky’s Bridge even to this day. Of course the original bridge has long since been replaced, but before it was rebuilt there were tales of horses often taking sudden flight, their drivers or riders hearing the loud rustle of silk – or in some cases the frightened travellers actually reported seeing an apparition itself standing on the bridge, barring their path.
In more recent years there have been numerous reports of people walking home and feeling as though they are being followed – and other stories exist that cars have suddenly cut out and lost power while crossing the new bridge (built with some stone from the old bridge). So who or what is Silky? Is she the product of two centuries of folks’ imaginations, or perhaps a folk memory of a local woman who used ‘haunt’ the area? Whatever her origins, Silky continues to be seen in the area around Black Heddon and Belsay – so next time you drive across the bridge and your engine stutters, keep your eyes open for swishing skirts…
– Originally published as an article in Otherworld North East: Ghosts and Hauntings Explored (Author: Tony Liddell, Publisher: Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2004)