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."