The secrets of Teesdale are laid bare in a new book by Andrew Graham Stables. It is a fascinating collection of stories, events and incidents. Chris Lloyd selects ten of Teesdale's strangest secrets from the book

1 The Butter Stone

IN the 17th Century, Teesdale was afflicted by outbreaks of the bubonic plague. It was a terrible way to die: bubboes (big boils) exploded out of the body and deep fever set in.

Barnard Castle was regularly ravaged, and so no one would enter the town.

Supplies were left for the townspeople on the Butter Stone on Cotherstone Moor. The buttermakers would retreat to a safe distance allowing the infected Barney people to approach the stone, collect the goods and drop their pennies into a bowling of disinfecting vinegar.

The Butter Stone is on the lane between Cotherstone and Bowes, next to a curiously square paddock, and now is a good time to spot it before the vegetation envelopes it.

2 Murder

BOWES HALL was a boys' school in the early 19th Century where events might have inspired Charles Dickens as he researched Nicholas Nickleby. One night, headmaster George Clarkson returned from the Ancient Unicorn, in Bowes, full of ale and found the usher, Mr Wedgewood, playing parlour games with older pupils. He started shouting which roused Mrs Clarkson who entered the room with a candlestick. In the ensuing struggle, the candle was blown out, and when it was relit, Mrs Clarkson was shown to be dying on the floor from a wound to the head.

Wedgewood was charged with murder, but acquitted four months later because there were no credible, sober witnesses.

3 Ghosts

ANY old place can have a spook or two, but the Ancient Unicorn at Bowes quite literally has a whole garrison of ghosts. The A66 over Stainmore was an important Roman road – there's a 2nd Century fort nearby – and it seems that a number of centurions were massacred by local villains. It is said that the centurions walk every year on the anniversary of their mass wipe-out.

4 Dirt Pit

THIS ugly name, for a farm near Newbiggin in upper Teesdale, was originally "Dor Peth" – something to do with a path, as in Brancepeth? – and was owned by Rievaulx Abbey. In fact, there once was a chapel and a convent at Dirt Pit.

5 Guano

THE 1855 Ordnance Survey map of Barnard Castle shows a "guano warehouse" in George Street on the east side of Horsemarket (near where the library is today). From here, Thomas Caldwell sold guano imported from Peru to fertilise the Teesdale soil. Guano is, of course, bird droppings.

6 Deepdale ranges

THE curious shapes in Deepdale have intrigued many people over the decades. Amid the huge leaves of butterbur, you can find a stone barn, a gallery and a berm which are the remains of the Teesdale Rifle Volunteers' shooting range.

Author Andrew Graham Stables says: "The ranges were used for a shooting contest on New Year's Day 1879. The challenge was won by Colour Sergeant Ainsley, who won nine shillings and a cheese."

The range was taken over by the 3rd Durham Light Infantry which, from 1890, used Deerbolt as a campsite, and then were in use during the First and Second world wars. Generations of Barney schoolboys have since sought out prize souvenirs, like bullets, amid the butterbur.

7 Railway aqueduct

AT Lartington, there is an extremely unusual cast iron aqueduct which carries a beck over the trackbed of the Stainmore railway as it approached the Deepdale viaduct. Like the viaduct, the aqueduct was designed in 1858 by the great railway engineer, Thomas Bouch.

The new book reports that, on December 8, 1873, the author reports that engine driver George Pearson, of Shildon, who was in charge of a heavy mineral train bound for Tebay, was killed here. He seems to have been walking along the top of his engine as it went under the aqueduct, sending him flying.

The D&S Times didn't mince its words. "His head was found in the five-foot way, and his body between the rails, completely cut in two," it said. "His house door key was also found near his body, which was also cut in tow, and his pocket knife was found crushed quite flat."

The brief report finished: "Seventeen laden mineral trucks and a guard's van had passed over his body."

The aqueduct no longer seems to be watertight as large quantities often gush out of it, but much of the beck still flows crystal clear across it.

8 Frank the Hermit

IN the 1850s, former soldier Frank Shields, a veteran of campaigns in Africa, made his home inside the ruined tower of Barnard Castle, and made a living from guided historical tours.

In 1856, Lewis Carroll found Frank's "unceasing spiel" so monotone and boring that when it finally ended, Carroll fell on the grass outside the castle roaring with laughter – much to the bemusement of arriving visitors.

Frank, who also lived in the ruins of Egglestone Abbey for a while, was known as "the Duke of Teesdale".

9 Webb memorial

FOLLOWING the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854 during the Crimean War, Captain Augustus Frederick Cavendish, of Westwick, near Barnard Castle was found "amid the carnage of Balaclava, his shin shattered and unable to ride".

Troop Sergeant-Major John Berryman, who had just had two horses shot from under him, disobeyed Capt Webb's orders to save himself and carried the injured soldier to safety, despite heavy fire. Webb was taken to Florence Nightingale's hospital at Scutari where, with a limited dose of chloroform, his leg was amputated.

Berryman was awarded the Victoria Cross, but Webb, 22, died two days later. There is a monument to him in St Mary's Church in Barnard Castle.

10 Love crash

ON March 1, 1942, a Spitfire flown by Pilot Officer Albert Logan, from the Royal Canadian Air Force based at Catterick, flew long along the River Tees before rising up at Brignall where the pilot's sweetheart, Jean Norton, was playing tennis. "She cheered and waved as he zoomed past," says the author.

Seconds later, the Spitfire crashed into farmland.

"It is believed that the pilot had blacked out and had come round just before he hit the ground," says the book. "He died from a head wound caused by the gun sight as the Spitfire collided with the ground.

"The official reason for him being in the area is not known, but he was almost certainly trying to impress his girlfriend from Startforth."

PO Logan, 22, is buried at Startforth, and his grave was tended for many years by his intended.

l Secret Barnard Castle & Teesdale by Andrew Graham Stables is published by Amberley for £14.99