Tuesday, 11 May 2010

No Wind, No Rain, No Room At The Inn

It was a lovely morning as I set off on day two of this weeks haunted Britain jaunt. Bright, blue sky, scudding clouds, the perfect day to head off for Cornwall.

Emily told me the journey was going to take close on three hours, so I set off post haste and the journey was underway.

En route I stopped off to pay a visit to Maiden Castle, the largest Iron Age Hill Fort in the Country. It looked great, although I resisted the urge to hike to its summit as it looked, well to be blunt, exhausting.

So it was back to the Car and I headed further into the South West.

As I did so the bright blue sky gave way to a dull, grey, leaden sky which proceeded to open and shower my car with hail stones. I thought we'd seen the back of the winter, evidently not.

Skirting Oakhampton, I decided to pay a visit to an old favourite The Highwayman in Sourton. This little inn perches on the edge of Dartmoor.

In 1959 it was taken over by a true character by the name of Buster Jones (no relation!) who turned it into a fairytale inn that is a trulky magical place. I've got a full article about it on my main Haunted Britain Website.

One thing that puzzles me is why The Highway man isn't busier. It's not far from the Jamaica Inn, which is much more famous and which is, to be brutally honest, an absolute tourist trap. The Highwayman is much better, much more atmospheric and certainly more eccentric. Pay it a visit, you'll be glad you did.

Having partaken of a glass of lemonade, I headed down to Bodmin and pulled into the Lower Car Park at Bodmin Jail. What a place. Creepy corridors, creepy stone spiral staircases and even creepier cells.

I was much taken with the story of Anne Jeffries who was suspected of being a Changeling by her neighbours, and who then ended up being thrown into Bodmin Jail on the spurious charge of being a witch! She was kept in solitary confinement and was given no food. However, the poor woman showed no ill effects from being starved. Her health and weight remained constant, indeed she lost no weight whatsoever. Her explanation.. the fairies were feeding her in the night. I bet this didn't go down well with the prison authorities. I must learn more about her.

From Bodmin I headed to Warleggan, a remote village surrounded by the bleak expanse of Bodmin Moor. The roads leading to it are very narrow and very twisting and Emily (my trusty sat nav) had never heard of it. It was down to good, old-fashioned, atlas navigation.

Eventually I arrived and was very intrigued to find out that Warleggan is "twinned" with "Narnia."
I bet that makes for an interesting party when the residents of the two places get together!

I had come to Warleggan to visit the church of St Bartholomew, a tiny little church which in the mid 20th century became famous on account of its eccentric vicar F. W Densham. He arrived at the church in 1931 and so offended his parishioners with his autocratic style, that they boycotted his services. He resorted to replacing the parishioners with card board cut outs of former vicars which he placed in the pews as his Sunday congregation. Following the Sunday service he would note in the register "No wind, no rain, no congregation." Inside the church I found the message I'd scrawled in the visitors book back on my last visit here in April 2000. Phew... where did those ten years go!

My next destination was The Spanish Barn at Torre Abbey in Torquay, Devon. Here's a few photos to give you the measure of this beautiful place.

I decided to get as close to tomorrow's first location before finding a hotel, so I headed for Holford in Somerset. Coming off the M5 I spotted the perfect place to spend the night, the wonderfully named Friendly Spirit Inn. They were very friendly indeed, but they were also very full, so I couldn't spend the night there.

Still, the upshot was that I found the lovely Apple Tree, which is near Nether Stowey. An absolutely wonderful place and I'm shortly going to sample its fine cuisine.

So until next time.. Good Hauntings.

Monday, 10 May 2010

I'm Getting Married In The Morning

Well, actually I'm not but today I visited a site that illustrates the possible pitfalls of the marriage ceremony or, at least, its aftermath.

This morning myself and the lovely Emily (my trusty sat nav) set out from London and headed in a sort of westerly direction.

"Where've you been? " scolded Emily, "you men, you think you can just vanish for almost a month and think we'll still be here for you, well let me tell you something......... please drive to the highlighted area."

With Emily back on side, I headed off along the North Circular Road and, having encountered a few jams thanks to roadworks, I was on the M40 heading west.

My first stop today was the wonderful Lydiard House, the former home of the St John family, a family that laboured under such wonderful names as Sir John St John.

Sadly, the church is only open with a key from the house, which, as it transpired, is not open on a Monday. As Shakespeare might say .. bummer! Still, I got some lovely photos of the house, or at least its exterior, and I have to say it is one of the loveliest spots you can imagine.

Since it wasn't actually open I wasn't able to inhale the aroma of ghostly tobacco that sometimes permeates the air so one might say the ghosts evaded me.

Not to worry, I thought, I'll head for St Briavell's (pronounced Brevells) youth hostel, in the heart of the Forest of Dean. So off I went and, an hour later, I pulled up outside this spectacular place. It really is spectacular.

Its sturdy walls are close on 900 years old and it really is a stunning place. The problem is it isn't open on Mondays until 5pm. I just happened to be there at 2pm. As Shakespeare might say .....bummer.

Still, the gates were open so I wandered around and had the courtyard, old fireplace in an old wall, all to myself. Again, a fantastic place.

On the off chance that on the third time I might strike lucky I headed off for Littledean Jail, "The Alcatraz of the Forest" as it has been dubbed. Surely. I thought this one will go according to plan. Alas, it opens Thursday to Sunday. But as I drove up the drive I did meet Andy Jones, the owner, who was on his way to pick his kids up from school.

Monday isn't perhaps the ideal day to plan on visiting haunted locations so I then opted on two locations that must be open.

An hour or so after making Andy's acquaintance I had pulled up by a stone wall and was walking along a narrow path that brought me to the Stanton Drew Stone Circle. It was open!!!
Well, since its in a field in the middle of the countryside, it's always open. So off I went down the mud path that leads to the stones. When I got to the first stone I made a very strange discovery. Someone had filled every crevice in the stones with strawberries. Yes, strawberries. Don't ask me why. I asked all around the village, or at least all three people who I met in the village, but no-one knew why the strawberries were there.

Tradition maintains that these stones are a group of long ago wedding guests who were turned to stone for dancing through the night when the devil turned up to play them a merry jig.

But the stones are fantastic. This is a lovely spot, far more impressive than Stonehenge and not half as crowded. Well, actually, not crowded at all as I had the whole site to myself. Magical.

It costs just £1 to visit and the £1 is based on an honesty box policy. Should anyone consider scamming on the £1 honesty box, remember that the devil was, reputedly, behind the creation of this group of stones. If you've never visited the Stanton Drew Stone Circle... just do it. You will be, as they say today, well pleased.

My final destination today was the Knowton Church in Dorset. At first this was a bit tricky to find as Emily got me to Cranborn, which the Circle is near, but apparently this church does not feature in whatever ethereal world the sat nav lady inhabits.

En route my warning light flashed to tell me I was fast running low on fuel. Aha, I thought, I'm passing through Batcombe and, since we have camped at the wonderful Batcombe Vale Campsite as a family for the last five years I know there's a petrol station and shop in the nearby village. No worries!! My local knowledge has saved the day.

And then...

Why do they always close down petrol stations without telling you? The place had been gutted and did not sell anything, let alone petrol.

Luckily, Emily found another petrol station just a few miles away and, arriving there at 6.25pm, I was well within their closing time of 6.30pm.

Refueled, I was off to the Knowton Church and I got there at 8pm. This has to be one of the most mystical places I've visited this year.

It nestles in quiet seclusion amidst some glorious countryside. I spent a good thirty minutes wandering around the site photographing the evocative church ruin from all angles. Again, if you've never been here ...go.

So the day ended I checked into the St Leonards Hotel in Ringwood in Hampshire. It is a lovely place and, to cap the day off, Derren Brown is on the TV scientifically testing some medium in Liverpool called Joe. Apparently a dog wouldn't take the test so Joe isn't going to do it. I always thought dogs were more able to detect these things than humans but... ho.. hum.

Tomorrow I head down to Devon. And so to bed.

Incidentally. There is a tradition that if you try to count the number of stones at the Stanton Drew Stone Circle(s) you'll die before you complete the count.

Encouraged by Derren Brown's investigative antics, I'm going to challenge such an absurd idea and I am half way through counting the stones on the photos I took during my visit. I can honestly say, nothing has happened to me. So it just shows what nons................

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A Martyr To Excessive Sensibility - The Doctor Won't See You Now.

Wow. Winter's gone. The sun is shining and we're heading for the hottest weekend of the year. It's amazing how life looks so much more cheerful when the warmth of a lovely spring day permeates the fuzziness of winter.
All that snow, now just a distant memory. The freezing, finger numbing temperatures consigned to the dim distant days of BC. That is Before Clegg!

Actually, I haven't the foggiest idea whether or not Nick Clegg is going to win the election (well I have but that would be telling). But, since I didn't watch the televised debates as the paint was drying on the wall in the back room and that seemed slightly more riveting to me, I'm dependent on what the papers are saying, and, apparently, Nick Clegg has taken to smoking huge cigars, drinking copious amounts of whisky and telling us that we will fight them on the beaches.

But I digress. Summer is icumen in and life is good. Unless, like Sarah Fletcher, you are a "martyr to excessive sensibility."

The other day myself and Emily (my trusty sat nav) had a brief discussion about where would be a good place to visit.

As I had an appointment in Oxon, the democratic consensus was that Dorchester might be a nice location. So, the appointment over, I cranked Emily up and she told me to drive to the highlighted area.

Twenty minutes later I had turned right along Dorchester High Street and, I have to say, it is one of the most delightful and prettiest places imaginable.

Parking up, I walked along the High Street and paused to admire the George Hotel which has an old coach sitting outside it.

It also sports a brass sign informing the passerby that it is a "Boarding Establishment." How quaint.

Now the George Inn is one of the locations haunted by the aforementioned Sarah Fletcher. Who she? I hear you ask. Haven't you been paying attention - she was a martyr to excessive sensibility. What that? I hear you ask. In a nutshell, she committed suicide.

She is in fact buried in Dorchester Abbey, a lovely little place that I'd urge everyone to visit.

Her tombstone is in the aisle immediately to the right as you enter the Abbey and its inscription is actually quite famous.

“Reader,” it implores, “If thou has a Heart famed for Tenderness and Pity, Contemplate this Spot. In which are deposited the Remains of a Young Lady, whose artless Beauty, Innocence of Mind and gentle Manner once obtain'd her the Love and Esteem of all who knew her.”

The inscription continues with the tantalising remark, “But when Nerves were too delicately spun to bear the rude Shakes and Jostlings which we meet in this transitory World, Nature gave way. She sunk and died a Martyr to Excessive Sensibility.”

Having given a little biographical detail that Sarah Fletcher was the “Wife of Captain Fletcher,” and that she “departed this Life at the village of Clifton on the 7 of June 1799 in the 29 year of her age,” the inscription ends with the wish “May her Soul meet that Peace in Heaven which this Earth denied her.”

Sarah's husband, Captain Fletcher, was a naval officer who was also a cad and a bounder. He was constantly unfaithful to his wife to the extent that one day he proposed to a wealthy heiress and would have married her had not Sarah found out and raced to the church just in the nick of time to stop the wedding and denounce her spouse as a would-be bigamist.

The furious Captain Fletcher set off for the West Indies and the heartbroken Sarah headed back to their house, Courtiers, in the nearby village of Clifton Hampden and there she hanged herself from a bed post.

As a suicide she would not have been allowed burial in consecrated ground. But the jury at the inquest into her death took pity on her and returned a verdict of lunacy.

Thus Sarah was buried at Dorchester Abbey and the inscription on her tomb was composed to suggest she died of her nerves rather than by her own hand.

Having shed a silent tear for Sarah I got back into the car and headed over to Clifton Hampden to pay a visit to her house.

Once there, I couldn't find anywhere to park. So I opted for the car park of the local doctor's surgery and then headed over to Courtiers. As I left the car park I noticed a sign nailed on to a tree.

Do you remember Swine Flu?

This time last year it was going to wipe us off the face of the earth and the Swine Flu Hotline was set up as the government stockpiled vast quantities of Tammy Wynette (I think that's what it was called) to stand by us in our final sneezing agonies.

I must confess I'd forgotten all about it. But nailed on to the tree of the doctor's car park was the stark order - Think You Have Flu? Please Go Home.

Anyway, I found my way to Sarah's old house and, since it was private property, was only able to photograph it from the other side of the road.

But, at least I had acquainted myself with her sad tale and got the desired photographs. So it was back to the car park where another tree bore the stark warning - Think You Have Excessive Sensibility? Please Go Home and Hang Yourself.

Ok, I made that last bit up. But, once back in the car, I started sneezing. Only one thing for it. I'm going home.

Till the next time. Good Hauntings.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

It's London Today.

I have decided to look into some London hauntings today, and so am about to go off and visit one of my favoured spooky locations and take a look at London's cursed cobblestone.

I'm particualry fond of this one as it concerns someone who took my London Ghost Walk on Halloween 2005.

About three weeks after the Halloween tour I received a phone call from a lady who has brought her family on the Halloween tour. She wanted to know where the courtyard was where I told a particualr ghost story. Having given her directions I politiely enquired why she wanted to know.

It transpired that, on the Halloween Ghost Tour, her duahgter had noticed that one of the cobblestones in the courtyard was loose. Deciding it would make a perfect souvenir of the tour she dropped it into her back pack and, by the end of Halloween 2005 that cobblestone was enjoying pride of place on a shelf in her daughters bedroom.

The next night, they came home from school and work respectively and, despite the fact the central heating was going full pelt, the house was freezing cold. Try as they might it just would not warm up.

Well, over the next three weeks, thinks kept happening in their house. They got cold spots, thought they saw people, and heard voices. But the night before she made the phone call she'd gone up to turn the light off in her daughters bedroom but could't open the door.

She called her husband up and together they maged to ease the door open. But when they got into the room it had been trashed. Light fittings smashed, bed covers pulled off the bed and dumped in an untidy pile on the floor. There on top of the pile was the cobblestone!

That was it. They decided that ever since the cobblestone had come into their house they'd had nothing but trouble. Hence her call to the office to find the location of the courtyard from whence the dreaded cobblestone had come!

That night I was doing a ghost walk and was in th courtyard and could clearly see the gap where the cobblestone should be. I came back the next night and the cobblestone had been returned.

Funny thing is, that the Corporation of London, keep fixing said cobbelstone with cement, but it always mnages to work free!!

Spooky or what?

Till next time .. good hauntings.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

What's In A Name?

I was on my way to another haunted location when I started to notice some of the great street names with which the spectral landscape of Britain is blessed.

My ultimate destination on this leg of my journey was the church of St Peter, in the village of Tewin. So I was poodling along through the leafy byways of Hertfordshire -well given those byways were still very much in the grip of winter they were more stark and skeletal than leafy, which, I suppose, is more in keeping with the theme of Haunted Britain - when, lo and behold, I saw the name Robbery Bottom Lane on a sign.

What a great street to live on! Imagine phoning up a call centre to order something and then when they ask for your address proudly announcing "44 Robbery Bottom Lane." There'd be that brief pause then, "can I just place you on hold Sir whilst I suppress the urge to giggle." Or perhaps I'm just being puerile and Robbery Bottom Lane isn't in the least bit funny? In which case I offer a thousand apologies and promise to grow up. Still here's a photo of it just on the off chance.

Anyway this was a pleasant diversion as I headed through Herts on route to Tewin and, before you could say Robbery Bottom Lane, I was driving up the drive to St Peter's Church where I hoped to reacquaint myself with Lady Ann Grimston.

You approach the church along a fairly long drive, which curves into a circle, that is surrounded by trees, just in front of the church door. This posed something of a problem as I couldn't work out where I was meant to park. So I pulled over to the side of the circle and got out of the car.

The last time that I visited Lady Ann was in 1999 when I was writing my first book on Haunted Britain and Ireland, but since she's been dead since November 1780, I wasn't expecting her to have changed a great deal, and nor did she disappoint. The reason I wanted to visit her again was that the last time I was here I had photographed her grave on film, yes film, that's how long ago it was. So I wanted to update my collection by obtaining a digital image of the grave.

Now Lady Ann Grimston was a Sadducean who lived on Robbery Bottom Lane. I'm just kidding about where she lived, just wanted to try and get it into the blog again. Being a Sadducean meant that she didn't believe in the Resurrection of the dead. As she lay dying, in November 1780, she point blank refused to recant her heresy, even though the vicar implored her to do so. "If, indeed, there is life hereafter," she told the vicar, "trees will render asunder my tomb."

When she died she was buried in St Peter's Churchyard. Now whether what happened next was a divine response to her death bed challenge, or was the vicar's attempt to prove that he had been right and she was wrong, is uncertain. But her tombs has indeed been rendered asunder by several trees that have sprouted and grown up through it, causing the stone to crack and shatter.

So, there I was happily photographing the tomb when a lady with a spade suddenly appeared as if from nowhere. "Is that your car?" She asked. I confessed that, indeed, it was. "You're not meant to park there, it's against health and safety, we need to keep that clear for fire engines," was her reply. I looked nervously at the spade, wondering if she might be the local traffic warden and the spade was the implement by which Tewin enforces a zero tolerance response to parking violations, one strike and you're buried sort of thing. But no, it transpired she was simply working on the churchyard. "And we've got a funeral at 2.30," she said "so we need it to be kept clear for the hearse."

Apparently, when you visit St Peter's you are meant to park between the trees, not on the path - so now you know dear reader.

Anyway, I offered my profound apologies and asked if I could quickly photograph the tomb. So I quickly snapped a few photos as she headed to the corner of the churchyard and commenced tidying around a few of the graves.

As I walked back to the path, I noticed another car reversing into the gap between the trees and arrived at my car just as a very tall, gentleman got out. of the other vehicle. "Is that your car?" He asked. "You're not meant to park there." I explained that I'd already had the conversation with the lady over there and pointed to where she had been standing, except - yes you've guessed it - there wasn't any lady there!

Just as I was contemplating the prospect of making a cameo appearance in my own book, she appeared from the other side of the church. "Hello vicar," she said to the gentleman. Whereupon, I climbed back into the car and head further into the Hertfordshire countryside. Till the next time...

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Clibbon's Post - Walter Clibbon

The Strange Tale of Walter Clibbon and Clibbon's Post

I'm beginning to wonder if this winter is ever going to end! When I headed out to Hertfordshire in early January it was a bit of an adventure driving through the blizzards and hiking to haunted houses over snowy fields. Now it's just starting to be something of a bore.

Still, unperturbed by this being the winter of our discontent, myself and my trusty Emily (my sat nav) have been ploughing on through the snows collecting ghost stories and taking photos of haunted houses(well I have as Emily hasn't yet learnt the art of photography - mind you, judging by some of the results, neither have I!

So the other day I headed off to drive through Hertfordshire and Bedfordhsire and, despite the ice covered roads, it was a great and rewarding day.

My first destination was the village of Datchworth which, as it transpires, is a lovely place. Having found it a drove along the road from there to Bramfield as I wanted to find Clibbon's Post. The road was clear, but in sections, was covered in solid sheets of black ice, so I brought my speed down to a crawl and was amazed by how many people overtook me and then speeded up once they had done so. Having passed the village, well to be honest it is more of a hamlet, of Bulls Green I pulled into a clearing in the surrounded woodland and parked up.

A man was clipping the hedges of a house opposite so I decided that a little local knowledge might come in useful. That is one thing I love about these quaint English villages that you find within an hour or so of the centre of London. They are so timeless, so quintessentially English. These villagers are the people that take tea at 4pm, play cricket at the weekends and attend church on Sundays. They also know an awful lot about the surrounding area and can help a lost ghost hunter get back on track. So I went over to this friendly local and asked if he could direct me to Clibbon's post. He replied in a dialect that was somewhere between Polish and Lithuanian and its soon transpired that English wasn't one of his languages. Hoping desperately that Can "Clibbon's Post" wasn't a way of insulting his mother in his native tongue I beat a hasty retreat and began walking along the road, trying to stop myself slipping over on the ice.

After about five minutes I found the post, a nondescript wooden affair, set back from the road and enclosed by creeping woodland and vegetation. Carved into the post, along with the date 28.12.1782 is the name Clibbon's Post and it is at this spot that Walter Clibbon is reputedly buried. Who he? I hear you ask. Well, dear reader (I've always wanted to write that) Walter Clibbon was a pie man who, along with his dysfunctional family of pie men and women, hawked his wares around the fairs and markets of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

But they also had a nice little sideline in that they were using their position to eavesdrop on their customers conversations to work out which of them would be carrying substantial amounts of money on their homeward journey after a good days trading at the market or fair.

They would then change into the guise of Highwaymen and rob these unfortunate farmers as they travelled home along the lonely byways of Herts and beds.

Unfortunately for them, on 28th December 1782, close to the spot where the post now stands, they picked on a lad whose uncle lived close nearby. Having robbed him they let him go. The affronted youth went straight to his uncle's house and, armed with a pistol, they came hurrying back to the scene of the crime only to find the dastardly robbers lying in wait for another unsuspecting victim. A battle ensued in the course of which Walter Clibbon was shot. Tradition holds that he was then taken to the inn at Bull's Cross where the local people tied him to the back of a horse and dragged him along the rough road back to the scene of his crime where they beat him to death and then buried him with the stake of the post through his heart.

Ever since then, people walking here in the fading light of day have sometimes heard a horse, dragging something, moving along the road towards the post beneath which the remnants of Walter Clibbon are still said to lie.

I have to say, it is a very chilling spot. The post itself is somewhat timeworn and a lot of graffiti has been carved into it. But the, who's going to show respect to such a dastardly villain who is very much now a part of local folklore?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Poltergeists and Ice Rinks

I spent a very snowy week in Edinburgh as part of my journey around Haunted Britain. Arriving on the Monday night I checked into my usual Edinburgh bolthole - The Ibis on Hunter Square. I had hoped to check into Robert Louis Stevenson's childhood home in Heriot Row because it's reputed to be haunted by him (an obvious reason for wanting to stay there!) and also in the hope that just a fragment or morsel of Stevenson's abilities might rub off on me. Anyway the upshot was that I actually forgot to book. So, on arrival at Waverley Station, I trundled my suitcase up Cockburn Street, crossed the Royal Mile and checked into the Ibis.

I then made a pilgrimage over to Stevenson's old home, stood outside and admired the gaslamp that adorns the property and about which stevenson wrote in his poem The Lamplighter

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!

Incidently, if anyone would like to sample the hospitality at this wonderful old house for themselves, they do bed and breakfast so why not stay at Robert Louis Stephenson's childhood home?

My pilgrimage over, I headed across to Frankenstein's pub on George 1V Bridge and tucked into a hearty meal of the finest Irish rump steak with chips, cooked for me by a New Zealand Chef, and which I washed down with a fine Australian Merlot, poured for me by a fine Canadian barmaid, Edinburgh's so multi-cultural!

It was now 8pm and outside it was perfectly dark. So I had one more glass of wine to steady my nerves (that's my excuse anyway) and headed out into the night for an appointment with the Mackenzie poltergeist in nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard.

I adore Greyfriars Kirkyard because it is so wonderfully creepy. The moment you step through its gates a distinct feeling of otherworldliness descends upon you. Surrounded by its high walls the sounds of modern Edinburgh become strangely muffled.

Tonight, as I stepped into its enveloping darkness, the aura of unease was heightened by the fact that I nearly lost my footing because the pathways were covered with sheets of solid ice.

Nervously feeling by way over the snow and ice, I slithered and slid between the graves and suddenly the Mackezie vault loomed over me.

I don't know what it is about this sullen, domed tomb, but something about it well and truly creeps me out. It is the tomb of Sir George Mackenzie (1636 - 1691), the advocate who successfully prosecuted many of the Covenanters, for which reason he has ever since been known as 'Bluidy Mackenzie.'

Edinburgh children used to terrify themselves by sneaking up to his tomb and shouting through the keyhole, 'Bluidy Mackenzie, come out if ye daur. Lift the snek and draw the bar.' They would then run off on account of the fact that Mackenzie was known to oblige.

In recent years there have been hundreds of reports of poltergeist attacks on those who visit the vault on the City's ghost walks.

Thus, any ghost hunter worth his salts must visit the vault in the dead of night (well at 8.30pm). Hoping to prove my mettle, I slid over to the door of the vault, stooped down to the key hole and ended up flat on my back. I hadn't noticed that the step itself was covered in a sheet of ice.

Deciding to give taunting Mackenzie a miss tonight, I carefully made my way back to the gates and, with one nervous backward glance, left this necropolis to its memories and its shadows.

Tomorrow I will relate the strange case of the missing Sherlock Holmes.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


The thing about old coaching inns with roaring log fires is that they don't have roaring log fires in the bedrooms!

I was at the Unicorn in Stow-On-The -Wold overnight, a lovely old inn with dark corridors, low beams and creaky floorboards. Nice old fashioned sash windows, and boy do they let the draft in. I ended up popping down to reception to borrow a fan heater, which did the trick.

This was a delightful place. There were only a handful of guests there last night, but the night before they'd had two guests booked in at 5pm, and they ended up full as more and more motorists abandoned their cars as the blizzard raged outside.

This morning the locks were frozen on the car and the normal de-icer wouldn't clear the windows. Luckily, I found that at some stage I'd had the foresight to buy some Super De-icer and that did the trick. So, after a few skids, slips and slides, I managed to reverse out onto Sheep Street and was on my way.

All along the road from here to Shipton there were abandoned cars and vans still wating to be retrieved after their owners had ditched them on Tuesday.

Even Emily, my trusty sat-nav, was feeling the cold "recccccccallllllculllaaaaaaaating" she stamerred as I went straight through the lights on the A429, instead of veering left on the A424 as she'd instructed.

Undeterred, I managed to turn round and got back on track.

Soon I was descending into Burford and, there on the left was a sign telling me that Shipton was just four miles away. "What the heck" I thought," only four miles," and headed off on a road that was icy but passable.

Arriving in Shipton Under Wychwood, I suddenly remembered why I knew it.

On the left was the Shaven Crown Hotel. I'd actually stayed there in 2004 whilst writing Haunted Inns of Britain and Ireland. I hate to admit it but I'd forgotten all about this place, which is a pity because it's an absolute gem.

It dates back to 1380 and originally provided accommodation for the monks of nearby Bruern Abbey.

The Abbey was dissolved in 1534 and the building lay derelict for over forty years. Then, in 1580, Elizabeth 1st, having used it for a time as a hunting lodge, presented it to the village on condition it was always kept as an inn.

In (or should that be inn?) which capacity it has been attending to the needs of weary travellers ever since.

Amongst its most infamous residents was Oswald Mosley, who was incarcerated here for six months during World War Two.

The ghost that haunts this venerable old hostelry is, apparently, a leftover from its monastic days, and is a harmless old fellow known to the staff as Brother Sebastian.
So I decided it was time to get an update on Brother Sebastian's spectral antics.

You enter the hotel through a massive oak door to find yourself confronted by a residents lounge that is graced by a double collar-braced roof that is 600 years old. It really is a fantastic place.

Eventually I found the receptionist, who told me that there hadn't actually been any recent sightings of the phantom monk.

She also told me that there had been no guests at the hotel for the last few days.
Which means that, had I pressed on last night and got to Shipton as I intended, then I could have had the entire haunted old place to myself.
But then I might just as easily have ended up ditching the car along with all the others that I passed on my way here.

Oh well, in another 30 years, when they are speaking of the worst winter since the snows of 2010, I'll hobble in on my zimmer frame and hope that there are no other guests.
When I was there in 2004 the owner had told me something that I've encountered time and again at haunted hotels.

Obviously, if you decide to publicise the fact that your hotel is haunted you are walking a fine line between attracting customers and terrifying them into staying away.

Thus, at every haunted hotel I have visited the staff have always been adamant that their ghost is very friendly and is not in the least bit frightening.

Wouldn't it be great if a hotel decided to go the whole scary, spooky hog and advertise that their ghost is "an absolute evil b***d that rips guests livers and hearts out whilst they're sleeping and eats them?" Just an idea.

Leaving the inn, I crossed over to the green and the church looked magical across the expanse of white. So I drove ,or rather slid, down Church Lane and spent a pleasant 20 minutes wading through knee deep snow in the churchyard snapping the church from different angles.

Returning to the car I found a group of local seniors gathered around bemoaning the fact that the news agent's had a notice up reading " Not Times, No Telegraph, No FT."

"No comment," mused one elderly gentleman in exceedingly clipped tones.

Back in the car I coaxed it back up the slight incline of Church Lane and then headed back to Burford.

I parked up by the side of the road just as a local lady was coming out of her front door alongside my car. I asked if it was OK to park there. "No problem, they always do," she replied in a jovial country accent that was either Australian or Kiwi.

Burford Church looked a picture, and having snapped it against a deep blue sky, I made my way over to the wall to take a photograph of the plaque commemorating the three Levellers.

In the wake of the English Civil War in the mid 1600's a group of Parliamentarian Soldiers (the side loyal to Oliver Cromwell) en route for Ireland suddenly decided that England would be a happier society if a policy of equality and religious tolerance was adopted.

They became known as the Levellers, and Cromwell led them to believe that no action would be taken against them until the possibility of a negotiated settlement had been explored.

Now, with England's long history of those in power - be they king's, noblemen, governments - making promises they had absolutely no intention of keeping, you'd have thought that, by the 17th century, your average GI Joe would have learnt not to trust a word said by a despot when you're rebelling against him.

But the Levellers had, evidently, not read the Oxford Concise Guide to English History and, on the evening of 13th May 1649, they bedded down at various inns, private houses and barns in and around Burford to dream of the Utopian brave new world of equality and understanding that would soon envelope England in a warm blanket of goodwill and tolerance.

They were rocked from their slumbers by the approach of Cromwell and General Fairfax (plus of course a few thousand troops) who swept in on them in a pincer movement and, following a brief skirmish, 340 Levellers were taken prisoner and spent three days locked up inside Burford Church.

One of their number, Anthony Sedley, passed the time by carving his name and "1649 Prisner" onto the font, where it can still be seen today.

On the morning of the 17th May 1649 the prisoners were marshaled up to the church tower from where they watched as Cornet Thompson, Corporal Church and Private Perkins, whom the court-martial had decided were the ring leaders, were put up against the church wall - where the plaque now commemorates them - and, according the then Vicar of Burford's later record in the Parish Register, were "shot to death."

Once inside the church I crossed to the font and tried to take a photograph of Anthony Sedley's inscription. Having done so I turned round to take in the splendid interior of the church and there was a white shape hovering in the distance.

A spectre? A Ghost?

Well actually it was a particularly ethereal looking angel hovering over the nativity scene in the church's crib. But for a moment there........

There are several other points of interest to detain you inside Burford Church.

There, is the memorial to Christopher Kempster, a 17th century stone mason, who was for many years employed building the cathedral and dome of St Paul's Cathedral

High up on a wall is a stone carving that shows three figures, one of which rides on a donkey, and which has been known to centuries of choir boys as "The Three Disgraces."

Why? It doesn't say. But that's what the plaque beneath it says and I'm sure whoever wrote it knows what the choir boys have called it for generations.

No-one actually knows what it is meant to depict, nor for that matter how old the stone is. It may be 12th century, it may even be Celtic and date from the 1st century AD.

There's another little mystery on a nearby floor tombstone to John Pryor, Gent who, according to the inscription, was murdered on 3rd April 1697 and was "found hidden in the Pryory Garden in the Parish."

The church information board wasn't particularly forthcoming on this long ago act of infamy as it simply mentioned the murder and then added the enticing "but that's another story."

There's one more macabre sight inside Burford Church in the form of a Memento Mori beneath the effigies of Sir Lawrence and Lady Tanfield on their very ornate tomb.

Caged behind sturdy iron bars underneath the two effigies there is an extremely realistic carving of a skeleton.
Well I think it's a carving.

There is a tradition that Lady Tanfield had a reputation for oppressing the good people of Burford, and that she continued to terrorise them in ghostly form after her death in 1629 .

Well, that's it for this leg of the Haunted Britain journey. On Monday, providing the snow doesn't return and disrupt the railways I'll be heading to Edinburgh and will resume the blog then.

Until then... Good Hauntings.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A Winter Wonderland - But Where Are The Ghosts

The BBC were giving out an extreme weather warning this morning, at least for some parts of the country. Just outside Hereford, where I ended up last night, a good five or six inches of snow had fallen and when I got out to the car it was covered with a thick coating of white snow.

The road outside the car park though had been gritted and the traffic was bowling along at cracking pace.

But, I decided to play it safe about where I’d head today as the snow was still coming down in some parts of the country, notably the South West for which I was planning to head. I opted to delay setting out until around 10am when I could watch the news and see where it would be madness to drive towards.

I trudged over to the neighbouring pub, which served breakfast from 8am to 10am, only to find it was locked up.

The spade that I bought from B and Q yesterday proved a godsend as, not only was I able to dig out my own car, but two other drivers borrowed it to dig theirs out as well.

Then, the pub opened and the day looked a lot more promising following a hearty breakfast and a few cups of hot, strong coffee.

As far as I could make out to go south west would take me straight into the snow. But at the hotel I found a leaflet for Littledean Jail near Longhope, which invited people to come and make the acquaintance of the ghostly jailer.

Although the jail doesn’t open at this time of the year I thought a little peek at the exterior might be worth it just to see what it looks like. So off to jail again.

The A roads were fine and there was hardly any traffic about. But when I got to the turn off it was a narrow B road and the snow was thick.

So I decided to wait a few months, untill the jail opened, and instead I headed for Tewksbury.

The Abbey looked lovely with its covering of snow. There was also an apple tree next to the car park that still had apples all over it, albeit they were all wearing snowy hats!

Although I didn’t catch a glimpse of the hooded monk who is said to haunt the Abbey, I did find out what a Gurney Stove is, since Tewksbury Abbey has two of them.

They were made by the wonderfully names London Warming and Ventilation company in the 19th century and were meant to burn anthracite.
Since they provided a very cheap source of heat, most cathedrals and large churches in England had them. So now you know! If you’re wondering what they look like, that’s one to the left.
Tewksbury has some lovely old buildings, and draped in snow, they looked really lovely. I popped into the Royal Hop Pole, which has what I’m sure is one of the longest and darkest corridors I’ve ever seen.
It is a place of shadowy corners, with a large fire place, although there was no sign of a fire. It was also featured by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers.
Then I walked down to The Tudor House Hotel on the High Street. This is really nice beamed place and is reputed to be haunted.

I came across an interesting predicament here, one that I’ve encountered at several properties. The last time I was here was in 2003 and then I met with a lady who told me all about ghostly activity, chairs moving, items being moved that sort of thing.

Today I met with the manageress who told me that she had been there for three years now and had not seen or experienced any ghostly activity. I find this many times when visiting haunted places. On one occasion you’ll meet someone who wants to tell you in great detail, and in hushed tones, “all about the ghost,” on the next occasion you’ll meet someone who thinks it’s all nonsense. Such is life, or death.

This afternoon I headed for Shipton Under Wychwood, which I’ve seen somewhere is incredibly haunted. Apart from a hair raising climb up the Broadway bypass, the gritters had obviously been out and the roads were very quiet. Just past Stow on the Wold the A424 was passable but I was slipping a bit. So I decided it was time to call it a day, headed back to Stow and checked in to The Unicorn, a lovely old inn, which might be haunted. I intend to find out tonight!

Tomorrow it’s back to London and that’s it now till Monday when I’m heading up to Edinburgh. So till then Good Hauntings.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

I'm Dreaming of a White.......

What a Difference A Day Makes!

Woke up this morning in Worcester Travel Lodge, switched on the news and discovered there was a severe weather warning in place. Looked out of the window and it was a bright blue sky.

Having started to head south, I’m determined to get to Somerset this week, I had hardly gone any distance - actually I was still on the Travel Lodge Car Park -when I realised I still hadn’t visited Hampton Court (did you know there‘s one in Herefordshire?), Harvington Hall and Hanbury House.

Since Harvington Hall was the one furthest away I tapped its postcode into the sat nav and Emily woke up with her usual morning greeting of “please drive to highlighted area.”

As it happened there was a B and Q en route to the "highlighted area," so I stopped off to buy a wind up torch and a spade (every paranormal investigator should have one), because I’d heard on the news that motorists were being advised to have a spade, blanket, torch and flask of warm water with them just in case.

Armed and ready, I drove to the "highlighted area" and headed off into a slightly overcast but otherwise pleasant January morning.

And then.

It started on the M5 with just a few flutters of snow. But, by the time I’d turned off the motorway, and was heading along some A road or another en route to Harvington Hall, the snow had become a veritable swirling mass of white.

Traffic was reduced to a crawl as the conditions became atrocious. “At least the road’s flat” I thought, counting my blessings I wasn’t up in Cumbria.

And then.

Why do hills turn up when you least expect them?

Rounding a bend, I was confronted by a steep hill. Crawling up it I experienced the first of many slides, but at least I made the summit. Actually that’s a bit grandiose, summit is probably a bit of an exaggeration , as it wasn’t that much of a hill - it just seemed like it.

I’d crept along at about 10 miles an hour in a line of traffic and achieved an amazing 15 miles in 40 minutes, when Emily woke up and told me to “take the next right.” A quick glance at the turn, and the deep snow that blanketed the road, and I made the executive decision not to risk it and to ignore Emily‘s order. “Recalculating,” she snarled.

But there on the left was a pub car park, so I slid off the road and parked up. “I don’t know why I f*****g bother, why can‘t men follow simple directions” snapped Emily. She didn’t really, but I know she was thinking it in whatever satellite she is looking down from. I have an image of her as one of those Greek Gods you see in the films looking at the fickle human species beneath in a golden bowl (geez what did they put in my coffee at breakfast?)

Once out of the car, I locked up and set off down the road that Emily had told me to turn right along.

I passed a couple who were out walking their dogs, a greyhound and a ferocious looking bull dog. I nodded that non-commital "goodmorning" that you feel obliged to nod when encountering others as nutty as you to be out on a day like this, and headed up a track that was signed 'Harvington Hall'.

Then it suddenly dawned on me that I’d left Emily on the windscreen, still switched on and in full few. Ok, our relatonship isn't what it was, we're arguing a lot about which direction our relationship should be taking, but I'd hate to lose her, or at least hate to return to a smashed side window, so I decided to do the decent thing and gallop to her rescue.

Heading back to the car I saw the couple and their dog approaching. So, being a polite sort of person, I proceeded to manoeuvre around them.

And then.

The road dipped sharply left at that point, which I hadn’t notice because of the snow. Suddenly, the world turned upside down and I was flat on my back with a slobbering bull dog nuzzling my face. The couple helped me up and luckily only my pride was injured.

Back at the car, I hid Emily away.

Then it was off up the lane, and in about ten minutes I caught my first glimpse of Harvington Hall through the trees.

It looked fantastic. Its roof was draped with a thick covering of fresh snow. Its red brick exterior, punctured by a myriad of dark windows, looked like something off a Christmas card. The trees and bushes around it were likewise covered in snow. I've said this before, and I'll no doubt say it again, but - what can I say - WOW.

The whole place looked truly magical. I photographed it from all angles, even trying a few arty shots, framing it with snow clad branches or trying to snap it through the icicles that clung tenaciously to the branches of the trees. It was fantastic.

There wasn’t a living soul around.

In fact, there wasn’t any kind of soul around as, despite a thorough search, I failed to catch a glimpse of Mistress Hicks who is reputed to haunt the grounds of Harvington Hall.

Perhaps she too had ignored whatever type of sat nav ghosts have and had decided to stay on the gritted ghostly paths or roads?

I love visiting houses like this when there is no one else around. Admittedly, that means coming to them when they are closed so I can’t actually get inside them. But I really believe that all old houses have an atmosphere, or if you like a spirit, and that that spirit exudes from every pore and crevice of abodes such as this.

But I also find that that ambiance just doesn’t come through in “the season” when hundreds of visitors are traipsing through these old houses. I like to view them out of season, sense their atmosphere and then, should it really captivate me, return during normal opening months.

Harvington Hall pulsates with atmosphere and spirit, so I’ll most certainly be back in early March and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Opposite the Hall there is a delightful little church which I snuck into and sat down inside. One of the curious fixtures was a stained glass window about which I could find no information, but which showed a group of people, and behind them was a depiction of Harvington Hall. I really must find out a little bit more abou this window, although I suspect it is depicting something to do with the Elizabethan persecutions of Catholic priests, as Harvington Hall has numerous Priest holes, where priests would hide to avoid the authorites in the reign of Elizabeth 1st.

Walking back to the pub car park I noticed a lovely black and white timbered house, which looked particularly picturesque so I snapped a few photos and then headed back to the car.

Hanbury House is about 20 minutes from Harvington Hall, so I decided to head over there next and arrived about three hours later!

The roads were abysmal. Cars were slipping and sliding all over the place. At one stage I sat in a traffic queue for over an hour before discovering that cars were actually holding back before launching at a steep, snow and ice covered, hill. The trafic quite simply wasn't moving, but the usual impatience that drivers show in this kind of circumstance was strangely absent. People were getting out of their cars and chatting. It's amazing how these sort of adverse weather conditions bring out the old community spirit that we once had in the days before reality TV.

Still, there was one consolation. We recently decorated our front room and, being a total snob when it comes to sloshing on a coat of B and Q mix and match, I had chosen what I was assured were the finest paint brushes available. These were made by Harris.

Thoughts of home, and our newly spruced up front room, swept over me as I found myself sitting outside the Harris manufacturing premises for over 60 minutes.

When it finally came to my turn to attempt the hill I took one look at the cars that were slipping and sliding at all manner of strange angles and decided it wasn’t a good idea.

So I did a perfectly executed U turn (actually I just hit the brake pedal and the snow did it for me) and told Emily to take me down to Somerset.

But, as I arrived at the turn off for the M5, I saw a sign for Hanbury Hall that pointed along a road that looked particularly clear of snow.

So off I went. “Are you trying to p*** me off on purpose,” spat Emily from the windscreen sat nav. “Well find your own way, I quit.” Ok I made that bit up, what she actually said was “recalculating.”

But the upshot was that I made it to Hanbury Hall.

I had to scramble over a gate and trudge across a snow covered field, but the red brick walls of the Hall looked magical surrounded, as they were, with a field of pure white snow.

Alas, 18th century society beauty Emma Vernon, who left her husband for the local curate, and who has since been condemned to wander the house and grounds as a ghost till hell freezes over, was conspicuous by her absence.

Mind you, it was so cold that hell may well have frozen over, so that may account for why I failed to make her acquaintance.

From there I drove over to Hampton Court, the one in Herefordshire, but found the gates locked and no way of getting a peek at the Castle itself.

So, as darkness began to fall, I decided to head for one of my old favourites, the Skirrid Mountain Inn, as a night at one of the most atmospheric haunted inns in Britain, with one of the cosiest and warmest log fires to sit by, really would make the perfect end to a perfect day in which I encountered the perfect snow storm.

Alas, a thick fog suddenly engulfed the entire landscape and, just past Hereford, the sight of a Travel Lodge proved too tempting and I decided that I’d done enough for one day.

So I’m writing this in a nice old beamed pub, called the Grafton, on the road just outside Hereford. It's a lovely place, good food, and lovely friendly staff who can't do enough for you.

It’s snowing again (according to the forecast we’re due 16 inches by tomorrow), but, with a nice rump steak and a glass of Merlot in front of me, I find myself able to cope.

So, until next time, - good hauntings.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Ask Not For Whom The Bells Toll

Heading down the M40 this morning was a pretty winter picture. In places fields glistened with their light covering of snow, elsewhere you'd hardly believe we're in the grip of the coldest winter for 30 years.

I stopped off at Minster Lovell Hall, or at least its ruins, to search for the underground chamber where a long ago Lord (I must look his name up when I get back) starved to death because he was forced to hide after a long ago battle and he hatched a cunning plan with his servant which, as cunning plans often do, turned out to be a gross act of stupidity.

He hid away in a secret room that could omly be opened from the outside by the servant. Now please feel free to point out the obvious flaws in this train of thought. Servants can be fickle, or the unforseen is pretty much guaranteed to happen. As it happened the servant died and the master was left to ponder the wisdom of not having a keyhole fitted on the inside of the door as he slowly starved to death. His ghost has haunted the place ever since.

So there I was at midday poking around the ruins looking for the secret chamber that has eluded me for fifteen or so years. And guess what? It still eludes me.

Seriously though the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall are beautiful, located as they are behind the parish church. There can't be that many more tranquil place to be condemned to wander as a ghost or, for that matter, to wander as a shivering living being.

Anyway, my ulitmate destination today was the Church of St Mary's Avenbury in Herefordshire and so (having stopped off at an Old Prison in the Cotswolds for a bowl of Scotch Broth that took forever to arrive)I headed down the M5 and as the sun started to sink Emily (my sat nav lady) told me to turn next left. So I did. "Recalculating," came her familiar seranade. Not wishing to be given the Emily runaround I opted to do a U turn and got back on track.

I turned left too soon. So, once back on the road, Emily told me to turn left and off I went along a narrow farm track of a road that was thick with ice. The track got narrower and narrower and, to top it all, brought me to a farm gate that I had to open, slipping on the ice as I did so.

But Emily got me there. I managed to coax the car up a steep earth hill with the wheels skidding and finally I was able to park up. Heading off down a rough earth path it was about two minutes work and then there it was St Mary's Avenbury. And is all I can say is - WOW!
This place is a ruin in two parts and its surrounded by leaning and toppled tombstones that lean at awkward angles. A circle of skeletal trees surrounded it and the place felt well and truly spooky in the closing light of day.

I started filming and photgraphing it from all angles and that's when it got slightly weird. I was photographing one section of the church when, just before I took one picture, the cameras viewer filled with mist. I looked at the picture and, sure enough, as you can see on the photgraph to the left, there was a white mist over the tree to the right.

This wasn't on the photographs I took immediately before and after this one, and I was at a loss to explain it.

Then it dawned on me that I had breathed out as I took some of the pictures and I wondered if it could have been my breath on the freezing cold air. So I took another photo and breathed out as I pressed the button. No mist. So I'm still at a loss to explain it. The mist appeared on five of the photos I took and two of those were taken when I made sure I didn't breathe out as I took the picture.

St Mary's is a lovely spot and the ruin really does stand in the middle of nowhere. It is most certainly creepy and has an atmosphere that really does envelope you as approach.

There is something decidedly disturbing about the number of tombstones that either lean at awkward angles, have been swallowed by the ever cloying undergrowth that has long since wrapped itself around the fallen walls

Oddly I cover it on my London Ghost Walk as one of its bells, known as Gabriel, was always meant to ring out of its own accord to mark the passing of a vicar of Avenbury, is now located in the Church of St Andrew's by the Wardrobe.

I was thinking about this story as I knelt onto the cold earth to get another photograph of the church when I noticed a broken tombstone poking from the undergrowth. It was all that remained of the gravestone of V. John Smith a former vicar of the parish. I wonder if Gabriel rang out to mark his passing?

Anyway with night descending I head for Somerset but decided to submit to the allure of a raodside Travel Lodge en route. So until next time - Good Hauntings.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Haunted Britain - Emily and My Dongle

As part of my New Year Resolution for 2010 I'm going to knuckle down and get back out on the road gathering stories for my new book Haunted Britain, which is due for publication in October this year.

Although October sounds a long way off, as is always the case with publishing, my deadline for the book is in fact in March. So time is of the essence!

Thus tomorrow, Monday January 4th 2010, I'm off on the road and will be heading for Herefordshire, Worcestershire and, snow and time willing, Somerset to gather another batch of ghost stories.

It's actually been five years since I wrote my last book about Haunted Britain (Haunted Houses of Britain and Ireland) but researching the new book has got the old creative juices running and, I have to confess, I'm quite excited about the prospect of traipsing down mud tracks and up hillsides to soak up the atmosphere and sample the ambiance at some of Britain's spookiest locations.

Now I know I'm a little behind the times, but I've actually bought one of those sat nav thingies that sticks on the windscreen (actually it fell off the other day so it's going to be on the seat next to me) and I have the honour of being guided on my search by the sensual tones of Emily, replaced every so often by Doug, when Emily gets fed up of "recalculating" and her tone gets more and more aggressive.

On previous journeys I've had to trust in the AA's excellent Road Atlas (they're my publishers so I've got to be nice about them), which has been extremely reliable. However that method of navigating around the country can also prove frustrating when I, as I often do, take a wrong turn and end up in the middle of nowhere with a white van tailgating me as I desperately try to read the road signs to get back on track. But now, thanks to Emily's timely intervention, and her amazing ability to "recalculate" on a whim, such frustrations are a thing of the past (yeah right!)

I will be posting several updates a day on this blog as to the places I've visited and the stories I've acquired along with photographs and, possibly, even videos.

The thing is I've gone really techie on this trip and have even bought myself a dongle (I think that's what it's called) which I am assured will enable me to keep my connection up (I think that's what the man in the shop said anyway!) in some of Britain's most places.

Time, and the regularity with which this blog updates, will be the measure of the success of my dongle and my ability to maintain my connection (why did the man in the shop keep sniggering when he told me that?)

Well I'm off to pack the thermals and, if I leave now, I might just make it round the M25 by this time tomorrow night. Hopefully the updates will go like clockwork so, as that chap with the goldfish bowl on his head once said "to infinity and beyond."