The ghost of a murdered nun, an ambitious young priest who marries a woman 60 years his senior, and an iron founder who murders a young apprentice and pays a terrible price: just some of the weird and wonderful stories in a new compendium of Yorkshire tales. STEPHEN LEWIS and EMMA CLAYTON report

IN 1781 The Gentleman's Magazine carried the following announcement: Married, the Rev Mr Roger Waina, of York, about 26 years of age, to a Lincolnshire lady, upwards of eighty, with whom he is to have £8,000 in money, £300 per annum, and a coach-and-four during life only.

The course of true love runs in ways that we can never predict. But The Gentleman's Magazine was rather sceptical about the good Reverend's motives. "How long this unequal pair enjoyed matrimonial bliss we are not in a position to state," it carped, in an accompanying editorial comment. "He certainly got a good fortune with his dame, but one is disposed to think that a union at the price is not to be envied when so many lovely women are prepared to give heart and hand to worthy men, and add poetry to the prose of life."

This curious story - which would surely have made material for Jane Austen had she ever come across it - is one of many strange, oddball or downright spooky tales told in historian David Paul's new book Illustrated Tales of Yorkshire. It is a book that mixes snippets taken from real life (such as the above account of the Rev Waina's marriage, which comes from a chapter on eighteenth century wedding notices) with crime tales that seem more than a little tongue-in-cheek, and the most outrageous ghost stories based upon nothing more than countless retelling.

But the book is no less fun for being an odd mixture. And Mr Paul has uncovered stories from across Yorkshire - from the wolds, dales and moors to the coast and many of Yorkshire's towns, cities and villages - so there's something in here for those from every corner of God's Own County.

No such book of strange Yorkshire tales would be complete, of course, without a chapter or two devoted to York - surely one of the quirkiest and most interesting as well as oldest cities in the country.

So let's meet the ghost of Sister Hylda...

It was St Mark's Eve (April 24) 1281, and the nuns of St Mary's Abbey had gathered together with the monks from nearby Acaster Malbis to lay to rest Sister Hylda's haunting spirit, which had plagued the abbey for several years.

Outside, as always in these tales, the night was dark. "A gale was raging, the sky intermittently being lit up by flashes of lightning accompanied by claps of thunder," writes Mr Paul.

The Archbishop of York had attended the gathering. As he stood at the altar, with the nuns and monks arranged beyond the pillars of the chapel, there was a loud knocking at the convent gate. With 'some trepidation', the porters admitted a grey, cowled figure - the Grey Palmer, whose coming had been foretold by the spirit of Sister Hylda herself.

As it made its way through the worshippers, this mysterious figure recounted in booming words how it had fought in the Holy Wars, crossed burning sands, and met the wild lords of the desert. But nothing, it added, could match the horrors of this evening. And as it spoke, the spectre of Sister Hylda appeared, shrieking in its ear: "Grey Palmer, they bed of dark, chill, deep earth and thy pillow of worms are prepared; thy fleshless bride awaits to embrace thee."

All the candles suddenly went out. But in what little light remained, Sister Hylda could be seen throwing back her veil with a skeletal hand - and the Grey Palmer was revealed as one Friar John.

The ghost of Sister Hylda spoke: "In me behold Sister Hylda, dishonoured, ruined, murdered by Friar John. He stands by my side and bends his head lower and lower in confession of his guilt.

"I died unconfessed, and for seven long years has my troubled and suffering spirit walked the earth. Your masses have earned grace and pardon for me. I now go to my long rest." Whereupon the roar of the elements outside ceased, and she and the Grey Palmer vanished, never to be seen again...

OK, OK, so that's probably not one you're going to read in the history books. The sources may be a little doubtful. But as folk takes and ghost stories go, it's pretty.

There are plenty more where that came from in Illustrated Tales of Yorkshire - a book so-called because it is illustrated by Paul's own photographs of some of the locations he tells tales about.

There are ghostly sightings in Micklegate and, further afield, a chapter called Hell’s Bell takes us to Soothill, Batley, in the late 18th century, where an iron foundry master, in a rage, threw a young apprentice into a white-hot furnace. His somewhat lenient sentence was to provide a new bell for the steeple, but whenever he placed iron on the furnace the fire, weirdly, went out. After months of this he built another furnace... but couldn’t extinguish it.

What gruesome fate awaited the foundry master when the bell was finally installed in the steeple? Find out in Mr Paul's book.

You'll find the answers to many other pressing questions, too.

Why did two lovestruck brothers end up in the hands of a Whitby press gang? Why does a howling hound haunt lead mines in Mossdale in the Yorkshire Dales? Why were two security guards on patrol during construction of the Stocksbridge bypass, in 1987, left terrified at the sight of laughing children?

And why did the river rise in Semerwater, an isolated Wensleydale spot, covering the entire village but halting just before the cottage of an old couple? It is said that the roofs and chimneys of houses can sometimes be seen below the water - a tributary of the River Ure near Aysgarth Force - and the muffled bell of the old church is heard in stormy weather.

There is, writes Mr Paul, an old saying in Yorkshire: ‘From Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord deliver us’. Halifax, with its mighty Piece Hall, had its own way of punishing thieves stealing cloth - they were instantly beheaded. The Halifax Gibbet can be traced back to Norman times, and the town’s parish register contains a list of 49 people who lost their lives to it, from the first execution on March 20, 1541.

Colourful characters highlighted in the book include Ursula Sontheil - born to an unmarried 15-year-old mother in a cave on the banks of the River Nidd, and later known as Old Mother Shipton - and William Bradley, the ‘Yorkshire Giant’, who, at 7ft 9ins was the tallest Englishman ever recorded. Born in Market Weighton in 1787, weighing 14lbs, he towered over his classmates at school and went on to be a star attraction at Barnum’s circus.

* Illustrated Tales of Yorkshire by David Paul is published by Amberley, priced £14.99.