Thursday, 9 August 2012

Strange Days Have Found Us

I've always wondered what I would do should I chance to see a ghost. I'd like to think that I'd be fearless and confront it head on, perhaps even try to interview it for inclusion in my next book!

However, the probability is that I would turn heel and get out of there as quickly as possible.

Indeed there was an occasion when I think I might have experienced a ghost. I say experienced as opposed to "seen" because few people actually do see ghosts. You might sense, smell or hear a ghost, but a full blown materialisation is a rare occurrence indeed. Indeed, seeing a ghost is as rare as the two sides in the coalition government being actually agreeing on something!

So, to return to the day that experienced a ghost.

I'd love to begin by writing "It was a dark and stormy night." But it wasn't. It was a bright and sunny August morning in 2003 and I was at Rait Castle near to Inverness.

Now there are several things I should say about Rait Castle lest any of my readers should decide to pay it a visit.

First off, it's one of the most difficult places to get to I've ever encountered. I drove round for over an hour trying to get close to it before finally giving up the ghost (he he I couldn't resist that), abandoning the car and heading off across the fields on foot.

Secondly, it's little more than a ruin surrounded by farmland and woodland. In fact hollow shell is a more accurate description.

So there I was traipsing across the fields as the ominous walls of the old castle (or what remains of them) got closer.

On arrival I started to explore the ruin and had got to a corner where there was a stone stairway that went nowhere. Suddenly the temperature dropped alarmingly, and I mean A L A R M I N G L Y . Then i heard footsteps ascending the staircase above me. Going round there was not only no one there, but there were also only about three steps before the staircase ended in a jagged drop.

And then.  I began to feel absolutely terrified and I mean T E R R I F I E D. Why do I keep doing these capitals?

I have never felt fear like it before or since and, I can honestly say, I couldn't get out of there quick enough.

It was a good mile or so back to the car over the open fields and all the way I felt that I was being followed and I had to keep looking over my shoulder, convinced that I was being followed.

Once back at the car I drove away as quickly as possible but it was a good two hours before the feeling of dread left me.

To this day I can't explain my experience. There is, honestly, no natural explanation for it. It just happened.
Which is why when people say they've seen a ghost or they've felt a ghost I rarely shake my head in disbelief. Because I know that things can happen and, even if we can't explain them away, they can terrifying and confusing in equal measure.

Till the next time ... Good hauntings.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A Strange Tale

One of the great things about walking around London is the sheer joy of discovery that can be experienced as you explore the old streets.

The other day I was walking along one of the roads to the south of the River Thames when I came across the London Nautical School.

Popping in to the front pitch I was able to read a little of it's history and discovered that it was founded in 1915, as a direct result of the official report into the Titanic Disaster. Titanic. The School's stated aim is "to educate and prepare pupils to meet the needs of society either at sea or in any other occupation where responsibility, attention to duty and regard for others are valued equally with academic and practical skills."

Mention of the Titanic got me thinking about W.T.Stead, the pioneering investigative journalist who was very much involved in the reporting on the Jack the Ripper case of 1888.

Stead was a committed Spiritualist who, between 1893 and 1897 ran a journal entitled borderland In which he discussed his interest in psychical research extensively.

Now you might be wondering how the London Nautical School got me thinking about W.T Stead?

Well, as it happens, Stead was also a great peace campaigner in which capacity he was invited to speak at a peace conference at Carnegie Hall in 1915.

As it happened he chose to cross the Atlantic on the maiden voyage of the unsinkable Titanic and the rest, as they say, is history.

After the Titanic hit the iceberg, Stead helped several women and children into the lifeboats, after which he went into the 1st Class Smoking Room, where he was last seen sitting in a leather chair and reading a book.

A later witness claimed to have seen him in the sea clinging to a raft until the freezing water compelled him to let go. His body was never recovered.

Interestingly Stead had always maintained that he would die either by lynching or by drowning. There have also been claims that he may have even predicted his own death in two works.On In March 1886, he published an article named "How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor," in which he wrote of a steamer colliding with another ship, with high loss of life due to lack of lifeboats. Stead had added,"This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats". In 1892, Stead published another story entitled "From the Old World to the New" in which a vessel, the Majestic, rescues survivors of another ship that had collided with an iceberg.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A Face Lift For The Haunted Britain Website

Over the last month or so I've been hunched over the laptop revamping my Haunted Britain website.

I originally put the site together way back in 2002, when the web (or at least my knowledge of it!) was very much in its infancy.

The site looked very dated indeed. Indeed, it looked as though my (then) five year old son had got together with our pet dog and had come up with a regurgitated effort.

So a few months ago i began tinkering with the template and the new website is now rolling out in dribs and drabs.

I've currently got as far as the Haunted Hereford section of the website and have added several short films that I took of the locations that I visited last year whilst writing my book on Haunted Britain.In this section I decided to give the wonderful Hellens Manor, largely because I think its a great location and I think everyone should pay it a visit.

In addition, as mentioned in my previous blog, I recently gave a talk on Jack the Ripper at the magnificent St Briavels Castle in the heart of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, and was able to do several films in its various haunted rooms. Again it was a fantastic location and i would urge you to pay it a visit if you get the chance.

I read in the paper to day that they're thinking of scrapping the Oxford Comma. as a writer i find this a most interesting idea. Apparently it was only brought in a hundred or so years ago and is the comma that is used to separate a grouping of words. So, for example, (I don't think that was an Oxford Comma) if i were to say I have paid a visit to Hellens, St Briavels Castle, St Michael's Mount and the Tower of London - well that is an oxford Comma. Personally I quite like it as I think it a good idea to divide words like that, and don;t you think it would look untidy if they just followed on one after another?

Speaking of St Michael's Mount, I was most intrigued to read in the paper this week that an underwater landslide is thought to have caused a small tsunami that sent holidaymakers and anglers scattering in Cornwall, and soaked visitors who were crossing the causeway they joins St Michael's Mount with the mainland. Witnesses told how the sea was "sucked out," before a wave hitk the coast on the morning of 27th June 2011.

No damage was caused by the wave, thought to have been about 40cm (16in) high and causing a surge up to 90cm (3ft) by the time the seawater pushed into the Yealm estuary, 70 miles up the coast near Plymouth, Devon.

What intrigued me most about the reports was the fact that many people reported that static electricity in the air at the time made their hair stand on end. Curiouser and curiouser!

Anyway, just returning to the Haunted Britain website, I've got two more locations to add to the next section - Haunted Gloucestershire - and then that will go live on the website.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A Decent Night's Unrest

Have you ever spent the night in a haunted room?

I ask because in a few weeks time I will be pitching up at the very, very, very haunted St Briavel's Castle in Gloucestershire.

It's just over a year since I was last there and, hopefully, this time I'll get inside!

Last time I arrived there on a Monday afternoon and, as I discovered, Monday is not the best of days to go off in search of the inexplicable because, inexplicably, many haunted places seem to be closed on Mondays.

So having tried to get inside a smattering of haunted houses, finding myself locked out of Littledean Jail (intriguing concept that, to be locked out of a jail) I headed for St Briavel's Castle on the off chance that, since it is a Youth Hostel, it might just be open.

Well I could get inside the Castle itself, and I had a lovely stroll around the interior, but it was all locked up when it came to getting inside.

Not to worry though as in a few weeks time I'll be speaking at Ghost West South West and the heartbreak over not being able to get inside in 2010 will be replaced by the sheer joy of having done so in 2011!

I was at the Castle last year as part of my research for my (then) upcoming new book Haunted Britain, which was published in October by the AA. I was absolutely thrilled when Tom Baker agreed to write the forward for the book a d even more when I saw the finished product. The AA did a brilliant job on the production of the book, nice paper, nice cover, stunning photographs and the writing wasn't too bad either.

So if anyone out there fancies a night at a ghost fest at a truly haunted castle, then Here's the web link.

Ghostfest Southwest

If you would like to see the photos I took on my vist to St Briavel's Castle then pop over to the haunted Britain website at the St Briavel's Castle page.

Till the next time Good Hauntings

Friday, 4 February 2011

A Jack the Ripper Walk

On Wednesday night I took a Jack the Ripper Walk around the East End of London. Now when I say I took the walk I don't mean I pitched up and traipsed around the streets where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred, but rather that I was the guide who led the walk.

It's been a while since I've actually led a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, but to be back in those old alleyways again was truly nostalgic. Inevitably the question came up as to whether or not any of the sites where Jack the Ripper committed his murders is haunted?

Well the honest answer is "I don't know." By "I don't know" I mean that I personally have not seen any ghosts lurking around the Jack the Ripper murder sites. But then again, most of the time when I visit the murder sites I am in the company of around 34 people who I am guiding around the East End, which probably isn't that conducive to a phantom appearance.

However, there are certainly tales aplenty that concerning strange goings on at the places in Whitechapel and Spitalfields that are associated with Jack the Ripper.

Hanbury Street, for example, where Annie Chapman - the second victim of Jack the Ripper - was murdered in the back Yard of number 29, is now occupied by an unsightly former brewery building. The murder site itself no longer exists, but some sort of psychic trace reputedly lingers in the ether of where the murder site stood and, in the days of the brewer, it was said that the air in the brewery would turn deathly cold on the anniversary of Annie Chapman's murder, which was on the 8th September 1888.

Ooh, the air here has just turned decidedly cold and I have come out in goosebumps!

Just around the corner from Hanbury Street is the Ten Bells Pub which features in the Jack the Ripper story in that several of his victims are said to have drunk at this veritable old hostelry.

The pub has recently undergone a major refurbishment and is now unrecognizable as the down at heel place it was twelve or so months ago. Back then the exterior was very shabby indeed. In some places the paint peeled of the walls and in other the walls peeled off the paint. But no longer. The Ten Bells has been given a face lift and is now as handsome an East End boozer as you could wish to find.

Whether, the refit has rid the place of its ghosts only time will tell.

Not so long ago staff rooming on the pubs upper levels frequently commented on sightings of a ghostly old man dressed in Victorian clothing. More alarming were the times when they would wake up in the early hours, roll over and find his spectral form lying alongside them!

New staff, who had no knowledge of this ghostly visitor, would eventually encounter him, and, when asked to describe him, their descriptions would always tally with those given by previous staff who had had the honour of meeting the pub's oldest resident!

So yes, there are reportedly several ghost lurking in the shadows of Jack the Ripper's London and, despite the fact they seem relatively harmless, their antics certainly have the ability to send a shiver down the spine and a chill to the marrow!

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