Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Ghosts of Princethorpe, Warwickshire

The ghosts of Princethorpe are an enigmatic bunch. There are local legends in plenty to explain them, but no recorded history. Perhaps the stories are just legends.

The ghosts themselves rarely appear together, though one man claimed to see them acting out a scene of violence and murder. The most active is a phantom priest. Dressed in a long black cassock, the man walks gently among the woods west of the village bothering nobody. Seen less often, but rather more dramatic, is the ghostly nun. She runs as if upset or angry about something. Like the priest, she is seen in the woods but she has occasionally appeared in nearby fields as well. The most exciting ghosts are those seen least often. A troop of armed men wearing helmets and breastplates marches up from the village to the same woods where the other ghosts roam.

Local legend has it that the ghosts date to the days of Queen Elizabeth I. In those days the Pope and the Catholic King of Spain intrigued endlessly to oust the Protestant Elizabeth and replace her with a reliably Catholic monarch. The mighty Spanish Armada was the most open and violent attempt, but there were frequent plots to murder the queen or to foment rebellion. Fanatical Catholics, usually priests recruited from English families, were sent to England to arrange the plots.

The hapless Catholics of England, the vast majority of whom far preferred an English Protestant on the throne to a foreign Catholic, were caught in the middle. Their religion might be tolerated and they were free to conduct services in private, but their priests were suspected of treachery and hounded by the government.

It seems that a Catholic priest from abroad came to Warwickshire to minister to the spiritual needs of the local Catholics. He sanctified marriages, conducted baptisms and performed funeral rights for those who had died since a priest last came that way. Of course, he had to stay out of sight of officialdom, so he holed up in the woods. A loyal former nun, living as a lay person in Princethorpe, brought him food supplies and directed him to wherever his services were needed.

But the government came to hear of the priest roaming Warwickshire and, fearful he was a religious fanatic planning what we would now call a terrorist outrage, sent armed men to arrest him. The nun managed to warn the priest of the approaching force, but the soldiers overtook the pair. In the ensuing struggle the nun was killed, while the priest made his escape. He fled abroad, never to return except in spectral form.

The local catholic community, however, survived. In the 19th century an order of French nuns opened a house in Princethorpe. It is now a catholic school of fine reputation and impressive buildings.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

An unusual ghost in Worksop, Notts.

The National Trust maintain an odd little property in Worksop in the form of “Mr Straw’s House”, otherwise known as No.7 Blyth Grove. The house is, at first sight, identical to thousands of other Edwardian town houses to be found in Worksop and across the country. What makes this place unique is that after the death of Mr William Straw in the early 1930s, his son and heir, Walter, refused absolutely to have any changes made to the house. He lived the life of a recluse until his death, when the property was acquired by the National Trust.

The Trust keeps the house in its pristine original condition, only undertaking necessary repairs. It has period wallpaper, furniture and garden, while the only heating is by way of open fires and lighting is by gas.

The identity of the ghost is not hard to guess. It must be Mr Straw, senior or junior. He walks noisily around his old home, presumably to ensure that still nothing has been changed. He is heard more often than seen, his footsteps changing clearly in tone as they move from carpet to floorboards and back again.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Ghostly Highwayman of Mereworth, Kent

Friday the 13th is generally reckoned to be an unlucky day. It was certainly very unlucky for one Jack Diamond, a highwayman who made using the roads of northern Kent rather dangerous in the late 18th century.

Diamond was not this criminal’s real name, that has long been forgotten by both history and legend. Young Jack gained his name by wearing a large and showy diamond ring on his right hand. It was one of the first things that he stole on the open road and he kept it as a sort of talisman. It did him no good at all one Friday 13th when he was at home in his cottage just south of Mereworth, near to West Peckham. Early that morning, about dawn, a sudden and ferocious fire bust out in the cottage. What started the fire is unknown, but it was the end of Jack Diamond and his career on the road.

Dressed in tricorn hat and a long cloak, Jack Diamond returns to the site of his misfortune on most Friday the 13ths, usually early in the morning.


Sunday, 24 July 2011

The mighty spinsters of Drewsteignton

The heart of this hilltop village is the square, with the impressive church on one side and a welcoming pub on another. This is clearly a village where the womenfolk are a redoubtable lot. The pub had a landlady who managed the business with efficient charm for no less than 70 years in the 20th century.

Just as impressive is the feat reputedly carried out by three spinsters from Drewsteignton one morning many years ago. The three sisters awoke this particular morning but, for some reason, did not feel up to eating their usual fried breakfast of impressively large size. So, in order to work up an appetite, they went for a stroll down the hill. There they came across four boulders which they playfully tossed about. Eventually, tiring of their game, the girls placed three of the stones upright and balanced the fourth across the top. Now suitably in need of nourishment, the girls trotted back up the Drewsteignton to tuck into their sausages, bacon and eggs.

The Spinsters Rocks still stand where they left them. These must have been strong girls. The upright stones stand over six feet tall while the slab across the top measures about 14 feet in length. In reality, of course, this is a prehistoric tomb. Originally there would have been a mound of earth over the stones, but this has worn away in the course of the past 4,500 years. There is no doubt, however, that women are connected to the stones in some way for the faintly outlined shape of a lady in a long cloak has been seen here in the early morning. Perhaps it is the ghost of a prehistoric noblewoman who was buried here.

The village of Drewsteignton itself was formerly famous for an indelible bloodstain on the pavement outside the house where a foul murder was committed in the 18th century and the blood came leaking out from under the front door. It was said that on the anniversary of the crime each year, the stain became wet and the pavement once again ran red with blood. However in 2004 the stain could not be found, though several local people knew of the story.

Just below the village the River Teign runs through a narrow gorge which is famous for its trout fishing. In the midst of the quiet ravine lie the still, dark waters of Bradford Pool. It is here that a ferocious ghost lurks which claims the life of one person each year. Some believe that talk of this ghost is merely a way to dissuade the local children from swimming in the fast-flowing river which can, after heavy rain, be treacherous. Others believe that the ghost, if it is there, is the last surviving manifestation of a pagan water god to which human sacrifice was once made.

Just to be on the safe side, it is probably best to keep to the dry riverside paths when visiting the gorge.


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Haunted Swan Inn of Flitwick

The Swan public house is best described as being a traditional pub. The ghost, however, is more insubstantial than most.

Flitwick, itself, is one of those villages that until the mid-20th century had not changed much in hundreds of years. Thatched cottages crowded round a green, a medieval church had benefited from Victorian restoration and the 17th century manor house was home to the local gentry. Even the River Flitt was largely untouched, flowing through unstrengthened banks and forming wide flood meadows where rare bog plants grew in profusion.

The cottages, green, church, manor and rare plants remain, but Flitwick has changed radically. Large new housing estates have sprung up to cater for the rapidly increasing population. Many of these folk work in London, or in nearby satellite towns, but many of them go to the Swan to drink and eat.

And most welcoming the Swan is too. So is its ghost. The phantom is said to play host to a number of tricks. He will hide things, move objects around and such like pranks. Generally it is newcomers who attract his attention. Any new member of staff can expect their tools or jackets to be moved unexpectedly. Not terribly welcoming, some might think, but that is how the ghost is said to go about things.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Ghost of Well, Hants. First Hand Account

Not far south of Odiham is the little village of Well, with at its heart the Chequers pub. This charming 15th century structure has a distinctive olde-worlde atmosphere to it with wooden beams and open log fires, giving a warm and welcoming greeting to the large numbers of regular customers. A former barmaid here told me that “people are always seeing things”, but quite what the things were that they were always seeing she was not entirely certain.

Fortunately I managed to get hold of the new landlord as I was writing this book. He responded to an email, writing:

“I have been here two years, and have to say that during the early part of my tenure, strange things did happen here.

“The ghost is reputed to be that of a landlady, who apparently was murdered in the cellar area of the pub. She is thought to be fond of one corner of the seated area of the bar area - and when I took over I used to push a table right into the corner where she liked to sit. In the night, I could hear furniture being moved and when I went down to investigate, would find the table I had pushed hard into the corner, moved out by about two foot!

“Another odd occurence was that the hot water tap in the gents loo was being turned on full during the night, even though I had made sure it was turned off securely before retiring.
This activity seemed to stop shortly after my black cat arrived at the premises - or maybe she (the ghost) doesn't see me as a threat anymore!
“Roy Burgess-Wells”


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ghosts in Brighton, Sussex


Distance:            3 miles

Ghostly Rating        *************

Route:                Brighton

Map:                OS Explorer 122

Start/ Parking:        Brighton

Public Transport        Brighton is served by main line railway and by several bus routes.

Conditions:            This walk is exclusively around the town centre streets of Brighton, all of which are paved.

Refreshments:        There are numerous pubs and caf├ęs in Brighton, and no shortage of shops selling snacks and soft drinks.

This is the shortest and certainly the least demanding of the walks in the book. There are no hills and no difficult terrain to overcome. There are, however, man made wonders in plenty with lovely architecture and spectacular buildings. And, of course, there is the sea. The ghosts are a diverse and numerous group which reflect the history of this lovely town from the middle ages down to the present day.

The Walk

1) Park in central Brighton and walk to the Promenade, just to the west of Palace Pier.

The beach which stretches to east and to west is what made the sleepy little fishing village of Brighthelmstone into the fashionable and hectic seaside resort of Brighton. The beach and safe waters attracted the local gentry after a Dr Richard Russell of Lewes began recommending sea bathing as a cure for skin complaints and aid to a general healthy constitution. Dr Russell published a book on the subject, which found its way to the practices of several London doctors. There it was picked up by young Prince George, eldest son of King George III and later the Prince Regent. Fancying a break somewhere reasonably close to London, the prince took himself down to Brighton in the summer of 1783. He loved it. As the most fashionable gentleman in Europe, Prince George was followed by Society. Brighthelmstone adopted the new name of Brighton and never looked back.

It is fitting, therefore, that the beach should be home to the newest and most modern of the many ghosts to be found in the town. The spectre in question is that of a large dog with a pale coat and rather floppy ears. If this sounds the sort of ghost that could be encountered with pleasure, bear in mind that it stands some five feet tall and has the unnerving habit of following lone pedestrians at dusk. One man walking his own dog on the beach in the late autumn of 2003 heard nothing as the phantom hound approached from behind, and only turned around as his own pet was snarling at something behind him.

The seas off the coast here play host to the oldest of the Brighton ghosts, or rather they did as the phantom has not been reported since the Second World War. This ghost is that of the Good Ship Nicholas, which was wrecked on the beach in the 1100s. According to legend this cog, a type of double-ended ship with high-freeboard, was bringing back pilgrims who had been on a trip to the holy places of Jerusalem. The doomed ship fetched up in the English Channel just as a southerly gale began to blow. Unable to make a safe harbour, it was driven ashore on the shelving beach at Brighton and all on board were lost. Ever since, on moonlit nights when a southerly gale is lashing the sea beneath a clear sky, the ghostly ship rides the surf on to the beach, vanishing the instant its keel hits the shingle.

Strangely there is a second ghost ship to be encountered at Brighton. On 17th May 1916 at midnight the few people out walking the promenade were astonished to see a tramp steamer dangerously close inshore. At first it was thought the ship might be edging into shallow waters to avoid the attentions of the German U-boats then patrolling the area on the orders of the Kaiser, but this idea was discounted when it was realised that the ship had its lights switched on. As the bemused viewers watched, the ship abruptly vanished. It has been reported a few times since, always about the middle of May. The origins of the apparition are a total mystery.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Ghost of Blue Bell Hill, Kent. England's most famous spook?

Stamina and the ability to scramble up and down steep hills is called for on this short walk, but the effort is repaid with sweeping views from the North Downs south over central Kent and the valley of the River Medway. The  ghosts are a disturbing lot, ranging from the truly terrifying to the barbarian.

1) Park in the side road at the foot of Bluebell Hill. Take the A229 south from Rochester, leaving at the slip road signposted to “Eccles” and “Barham”. Follow the slip road as it curves to the right and passes under the A229. Turn right immediately past the bridge and park near the top of the hill, where a footpath sign to the left indicates the way to “Kits Coity House”.

This stretch of road is possibly the most famous haunted highway in England, certainly it is well known in Kent. The spectre represents the supernatural at its most terrifying. Not that she appears all that frightening at first sight.

The ghost of Bluebell Hill is a rather attractive young lady with long blonde hair. She stands by the side of the road and jerks her thumb at passing cars as if seeking a lift from drivers. Some motorists have stopped, which has been their first mistake. Exactly what happens next varies between witness accounts, but all are agreed it is a quite terrifying experience.

Some drivers report that as they slow down the young woman leaps out in front of their cars, running forward as if intent on causing collision. They brake sharply or swerve, only for the woman to vanish into thin air an instant before impact. Others say that they pull up next to the girl, only for her to transform slowly into a twisted old hag who exudes a feeling of intense evil and malice before running off into the woods. Perhaps most bizarre of all are the few who actually pick up the young girl, only to find that she vanishes abruptly once in the car.

Now that the modern A229 bypasses this stretch of road, the reports of this terrifying phantom have become much rarer. But you might be lucky – or unlucky depending on how you look at it.


Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Isle of Purbeck

The Isle of Purbeck has more ghosts than the local people know what to do with. Some of the oldest and most dramatic are to be encountered on this walk. The village of Corfe Castle is, of course, named after the magnificent ruin that dominates this area and guards the gap in the hills which leads into the Isle of Purbeck. This has been a strategic spot for generations of military commanders, so it is no surprise that the ghosts here have a distinctly martial air. Today the village is largely given over to catering to the needs of the tourists who visit the castle, so there is no shortage of places to eat, relax and recuperate after this strenuous walk.

The Walk

1) Park in the Council Car Park, signposted from the village centre – or walk there if arriving by public transport. Leave by the kissing gate near the pay machine beside the exit.

From this field you can look to your right to take in magnificent views of the towering castle ruins. The long, steep hill to the left of the castle is Knowle Hill along which the walk later passes.

Walk straight across the field in front of you to a second kissing gate, this one with stone walls. Pass through a patch of woodland and then cross a grassy area to cross over a stream by way of a small stone bridge (2).

Pass through the gate beyond. Ignore the path to your right, but strike straight across the field to exit via a gap in the hedge to the left of the clump of trees visible on the far side of the field. A broad track runs up the right hand side of this field to a farm, Bucknowle House.

3) Just before the farm the track turns right, you need to cross the stile straight in front of you to enter a field. Keep to the right side of the field as you skirt the farm grounds. When you reach the far side of this field, pass through a gap in the fence. Strike out diagonally left across this field towards the left side of a clump of trees. The field slopes down steeply here and the grass can be slippery when wet.

4) At the base of the slope ignore the path to your left which crosses the stream, but walk along the right bank of the stream. Climb over a stile to cross over a gravel track. Stay beside the stream to enter a path through a patch of woodland. A stile takes the path from the woodland into a field, stay beside the stream as you walk across this field, climb over another stile and cross another field. At the far side of this field a stile takes the path on to a wooden bridge.

5) Ignore this path and instead turn right to climb a steep and sometimes slippery hill. Over the crest of this rise the far side of the field comes into sight with a gate in the far left hand corner. This gate leads to a gravel track. Follow this track past various houses to the main street of the village of Church Knowle.

This village is one of the oldest on the Isle of Purbeck. For many years in the Saxon period this was the only place of Christian worship in the area, and it is this which gave the village its name. The church in question was replaced in 1225 by a new church, which still stands though it has been much altered.

6) At the main street, turn right and walk along this road for 100 yards to reach the Church of St Peter.

The church stands on the site of the earlier Saxon church, itself probably a replacement for a stone cross from which passing priests would preach the word of God to the local pagan farmers. As late as the time of the Domesday Book in 1087, Church Knowle was the only village in the Isle of Purbeck which had a permanent priest living in the village where he preached. It is worth paying a visit to the church as you pass. There is a small, but fine monument to the Clavell Family. Erected in 1572, this monument serves as a tomb for several members of this local family of gentry. The family came over with William the Conqueror in 1066 and was granted estates in this area by a grateful conqueror. Descendants of the family, through the female line, still own extensive acres around this village and inhabit the local manor.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Ghost of Greestone Steps, Lincoln

Rather obscure, but seen  often is the ghostly vicar of Greestone Steps. The narrow alley that runs south from the far eastern end of the green runs between houses, then grows steeper, passes under an arch and becomes a flight of steps that drops down to the lower part of the city. It is up these steps that the ghostly cleric toils his way.

Jane, who lives just 100 yards away in a house with views to the cathedral, knows the phantom well. “People are seeing him all the time. He even features in that Ghost Walk the tourist people organise round here. Of course, they tell an awful lot of nonsense about him, you know. Saying he glows with an inner luminescence, interferes with cameras and jumps about shouting boo, I shouldn’t wonder. But he is real enough. I saw him once, some years back now. It was mid-winter and dark, though it was not yet five o’clock. I was walking up the steps, and a stiff climb it is too, when I just happened to glance ahead of me. Now I was all alone, see. I knew that as you can see right up those steps from the bottom. But suddenly there was this man there. I saw him as he walked into the light cast by that lamp-post that is up near the top. He walked into the light and I saw him. Tall he was, but bent forward a bit so I could not see his head properly. And dressed in a long, dark coat of some kind. Then he walked on out of the light and was gone. There was no footsteps like you should hear on the stones and though you can see the arch by the light beyond it, he never went through it. So there was me and a vanishing ghost in a coat. What did I do? Well just carried on walking up the hill. I had to get home to cook tea for the children didn’t I?”