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................