Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Don't believe it, that's the Spirit!

Sometimes when I was a teacher I’d be stuck for a lesson or a lesson would finish early. In which case I’d only have to say, “What do you know about ghosts?” and we’d be away. (I know, I know lesson plans are important but nobody’s perfect!)
“My granny says the Old Post Office is haunted and she knows ‘cause she’s old.”
“My mum says she saw a girl in odd clothes and a funny hat in her bedroom when she were a girl.”
(How many times have I told you, Trixiebell, it’s ‘you were, she was,’ not ‘you was, she were.’)
“Granddad often sees strange things on his way home from the pub.”
(I’ll bet he does!)
There’s no doubt many people believe in the supernatural and motorhomers are no different to anyone else. Plus the fact that they, motorhomers have the capability to visit places most likely to foster an unearthly presence. And though most of our metaphysical experiences can be explained, sometimes, just sometimes experiences are not so easily resolved.
I remember camping near Cromer many years ago when our children were very young. We, adults and small children wandered in the severest of fogs from the campsite towards the town. I seem to remember the weather often being foul, howling gales, or dense fog being the norm. (Which accounts for a proliferation of holiday photos showing anorak clad families braving the elements year after year.) Suddenly the ghostly sound of galloping horses echoed through the mist, becoming louder and louder, ghostly yet terrifyingly real. And real they were indeed, a group of runaway horses appeared out of the mist and fled past us at high speed to we knew not where.
I remember too food mysteriously spirited away nightly from our awnings in a park in Southport. Very strange, except that ghosts and apparitions have no need of our pork pies and treacle tarts, whilst tramps forced to sleep rough on the seafront definitely rate such culinary delights.
In the selfsame park on a late night walk our English Bull Terrier Buster became very agitated, at the same time doing my already high blood pressure no favours. I continued our walk, alone in the eerie darkness, a spooky experience guaranteed to set the heart pounding. Suddenly a large boxlike object came into view. Some sort of electrical substation, it emitted a persistent buzzing noise which could be heard only when you were very close indeed. Yet Buster had picked up the noise from some considerable distance. No ghostly cause then, but food for thought.
We have stayed in our trailer tent days inside the RAF Museum at Cosford. It is reputed that one aircraft, the Avro Lincoln RF398 is haunted. In the evenings when the public has gone home the place has an eerie mystique not easily dismissed. Whilst we cannot claim to have even fleetingly glimpsed a ghost, we did meet a volunteer who adamantly claimed an unearthly presence regularly misplaced his cleaning clothes as he worked on the aircraft.
Often we associate history with haunting. My wife and I visited Culloden on a cold, miserable morning. Culloden of course is the site of the last battle to be fought on mainland Britain. The date, April 16th 1746 when the army of the Jacobites were defeated by British Government troops.
We found the site fascinating and informative yet one thing stood out. The place had a chilling presence not easily ignored. And, though it was early summer, surprisingly not a single wild bird’s song could be heard; the silence was shattering in the extreme. Coincidence, perhaps, a fluke situation, maybe, but if ever a place deserves to be haunted, it’s Culloden.
Similarly Hadrian’s Wall is awesome yet, on a dull day at least, foreboding. Built by the Romans between AD 122-30, it is a stone and turf fortification built to keep out the Pictish tribes. It takes no great imagination to picture Roman soldiers marching the wall tops, weapons at hand to deter the warring Pics. And when the wind howls and the snow falls, who can be blamed if they hear the sound of caligae (military sandals) tramping the wall or the shouts of those in command urging on wet, cold soldiers.
A visit to Naseby is somewhat disappointing. The site of the most important battle in England, its importance in English history is unsurpassed. Here on June 14th 1645 Royal troops led by Prince Rupert fought Parliamentary troops under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax. There has been little attempt to market, if that be the right word so important a place in our British heritage. Contrast the wonderful, informative modern displays at Culloden and Hadrian’s Wall. Staying in the area we visited the site of the battle, its presence almost grudgingly acknowledged by the local authority. A monument, open fields and that’s about it. Yet shut your eyes and the sound of battle can be heard by anyone with a feel for history. In the daytime just fields that could be any old fields. But at dusk an indefinable presence takes over and the sound of battle cries are never far away.
We have wild camped near Castleton in the Peak District, an area particularly steeped in murder and ghostly happenings. Particularly famous is the tale of the young couple on their way to be married, who were waylaid, robbed and their bodies flung unmercifully down a nearby mineshaft. We regularly park up overnight within a hundred yards or so of the site of the grisly deed. It’s not for the faint hearted of a stormy night yet we never seen sight of the merest apparition I’m sorry to say. My wife, by the way is not so sorry.
There you have it. Goulies and ghosties are for believers or those wanting to believe. Old sceptics like myself have little time for such silliness. I used to say, ‘think ghoul, think fool.’ That is until a strange experience challenged my entrenched beliefs.
Some years ago we visited Lindisfarne, a favourite haunt if you’ll forgive the pun. It was a bright summer’s day, not a cloud in the sky or ghosts in the air. We had by then a new, all white English bull terrier by the name of Sam. The churchyard contains several thought provoking graves and I was keen to see them.
We walked down the path and through the lynch gate. That is, my wife and I walked, Sam refused point blank to enter the churchyard despite being coaxed gently then pulled less gently on his lead. Bystanders thought it hilarious, I was somewhat embarrassed. The result being my wife and Sam sat on a seat at the lynch gate whilst I wandered alone round the churchyard and adjoining abbey ruins.
Holiday over we returned home and the holiday memories faded. Come Christmas and I was present hunting. I espied the Atlas of Magical Britain by Janet and Colin Bord; an inspired choice for a son in law interested in apparitions, phantoms, spooks and sprites.
I happened to read the book prior to it being gift wrapped (My wife says I’m a cheapskate, too mean to buy two copies) and there it was.
By tradition the ghost of St Aiden is said to still haunt the abbey and the Island. Plus the amazing statement that a ghostly white dog is also said to haunt the abbey ruins.
Coincidence, maybe; perhaps dogs are more perceptive than humans or merely one daft dog wanted a rest. Whatever the answer, this is one old cynic who’s not so sure about it all as he used to be. What do you think?

I wrote this article for Motorhome Monthly. I think in view of this weeks 'ghostly happenings' it is worth revisiting!

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