The stately homes of England
Though rather in the lurch
Provide a lot of chances
For psychical research
There’s the ghost
Of a crazy younger son

Who murdered in 1351
An extremely rowdy nun
Who resented it
And people who come to call
Meet her in the hall

The baby in the guest wing
Who crouches by the grate
Was walled up in the west wing
In 1428

If anyone spots
The Queen of Scots
In a hand-embroidered shroud
We’re proud
Of the stately homes of England

(Excerpt from song ‘The Stately Homes of England’ by Noel Coward)

 

If I may, I want to engage you in the sort of conversation that frequently occurs when the whisky has been passed around for a third or more times, or a cork is popped on a second bottle of rich burgundy.  Experience, if you can, that warm after-dinner glow –  I want to immerse you in candlelight and comfort you with the crackle of a log fire, for it is in such cossetted mood that the company is inclined to discuss real questions; those that explore the true meaning of life.  And one of those questions will almost certainly be:

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

Does it surprise you to learn that I do?

My encounters with the spirit world are rare, I grant you.  I can think of three, possibly four such moments in all of my long years which defy rational explanation; for now, let me select just one.  Let me show you this picture?

How odd, you might think, to produce a photograph in this dim light – especially one so contemporary and unremarkable!  Yet, if you hold it close to the candlelight you may see it as I do.  Though dressed in modern clothes, this building; ‘The Grange’, is the surviving wing of something that was very old, a great house raised in the 16th Century, when a Tudor rose ruled England and no head that rested upon other than Catholic shoulders could feel secure.  Oh, it has been altered much since then, renovated and remodelled many times, but its soul is not in doubt, and its heart, its beating heart, is more ancient still.

It is the unseen that must detain us here.  Imagine the foundations upon which this remnant of a mansion sits, because its footings harbour a secret:  once they founded a priory, the indulgence of a bishop whose goods and properties were coveted by an acquisitive King.  Once, these unruly thickets and meadowlands were a park with gardens tended by monks.   And although few tales or sketches of that bishop’s country palace survive (it was stripped of its gold and levelled by the forces that drove the Reformation) those stones – those ancient, buried stones – have their memories.

At the time my story starts the house itself lay abandoned, but nestling at the foot of the hill upon which it sits, beside a field gate, was a small caravan occupied by a man I knew as ‘Pete’.

Pete lived alone.  He was a polio survivor whose disabilities meant that he rarely left his compact home.  If you ask me for my most vivid memory of Pete I would have to admit it was his warmth.  No, I am not referring to his kind and caring nature, though doubtless he had one; I am talking about the heat of that caravan.  Upon a summer night when he opened his door a blast of hot air would greet his visitors like a Sirocco:  once inside it could flay the skin from their bones.

The source of so much radiation was a diminutive coke stove which crackled away, winter, summer, day and night at one end of the little van.  Guests would be urged to replenish its fuel from time to time, if its ferocity threatened to abate.  Personally, I became accustomed to the torment; it was a price worth paying for the tales Pete could tell.

Pete’s lifestyle afforded him plenty of time for study.  He was well versed in the lurid history of ‘The Grange’ and would describe the hauntings from its past with vivid conviction.   I, sometimes in the company of friends also drawn to this place, was a rapt audience for his stories of restless shades he had seen drifting through the darkness beyond his window, of grey-habited monks toiling in a garden that no longer grew.

“Whenever the moon’s up you’ll see them.  They look strange, of course, because in those days there was no wildness; no bushes or trees, unless ‘twas they that planted them.  So you see them moving through the underbrush as if it didn’t exist.  They walk along paths that’s not there anymore, digging in new trees that disappear with the moon, or…(here Pete would pause for effect)…just once in a while planting a tree that does still exist!  That elderly gentleman, the yew at the bottom of the cornfield there – I seen that as a sapling, with a couple o’ young initiates tending it.  And now…There it is!   Grown!”

At the zenith of our enthusiasm Pete rarely passed an evening of the full moon alone.  Two or three of us would be perched on the edge of his bunk, sipping hot tea as we stared through his window at the rough meadow and the gaunt, empty house on the hill.  His voice coached us from the darkness:  “Look carefully!  Remember they were smaller people then, and they walk on ground they tilled five hundred years ago.  The level of the land’s higher now, much higher in places:  sometimes you can only see them from the waist up.  There – over there.  See?”

But we never saw.  The blue land, silent in that eerie light, surrendered none of its secrets to us.  Pete’s explanation was simple:  “Vision isn’t given to everybody.”  And we accepted it.  He enjoyed our company, and we were willing enough to provide.

Nothing is forever.  I called one day to find the little caravan padlocked and its curtains drawn:  although I asked, nobody knew where Pete had gone.  I never saw him again.

Is that the end of the story?  Oh, no.  Ghosts I have promised you and a ghost you shall have.  The same year Pete disappeared The Grange was bought by a local landlord, who intended to turn it into apartments.   We knew the gentleman, and asked him if we could spend a night in The Grange before its interior was gutted and altered forever.   A bonafide ‘night in a haunted house’.

To our surprise the landlord agreed so, loaded with enthusiasm and sleeping bags we embarked on a ghost hunt, a night I can remember to have been one of the coldest of my life.

We were four.   On the Grange’s middle level we made a pitch on bare boards, surrounded by the workings of carpenters and builders; new un-plastered stud walls, stacks of plumbing and sanitary wares, some doors that were new, some much older.  Our sleeping bags did nothing to defend us against the October cold, so after a couple of shuddering hours of conversation and too chilled for sleep, at the dead of night we set off on a tour of the house.

There were many rooms to explore, many doors to open, all shrouded in darkness so intense we could touch it.  With our torches as our tentative guides we probed a confusing agglomeration of structures either old and part-demolished, or new and incomplete.  Too much was already altered – the structure of the old place was gone.  We quickly resigned all thoughts of haunting in so cluttered an environment.  The consensus was for abandonment and home.

The last door we intended to investigate was a modern one, set in a partition wall on the ground floor, at the centre of the house.    We expected nothing from it, having already opened a dozen precisely similar doors, and mentally, in my mind at least, I was already starting my car, looking forward to the full blast of the heater.  One of our group turned the handle briskly, thrusting the door open, expecting to reveal yet another small room in the making.  He was wrong.

Instead, we found ourselves staring through the doorway into a large hall bathed in soft, grey light.  A long refectory table made from three large planks dominated the centre of this space, at the further end of which, upon a substantial chair, was seated an aged monk.  Such was the light and the state of his habit, it was difficult to tell whether its colour was grey or brown; his face, certainly, was drained of all colour, but I recall exactly how he looked, and how his eyes raised to acknowledge us.  There was no feeling among us of shock, we felt no need for fear; in fact, the overwhelming sense was of intrusion, and it was that, perhaps, that induced our group member to quietly and discreetly close the door.

Initially I might have wondered if the others had shared my impression, but their odd behaviour confirmed for me that they had.  Before opening that door we had all been fairly buoyant, talking eagerly about going home.  Afterwards no-one spoke.  We walked away; we almost tiptoed.  There was no double take, no rush to open the door again, not even a conversation about what we had seen for several minutes, when the darkness suddenly descended once more and we realised all our torches had gone out.   Much later, when we had packed our sleeping bags back into the car and settled for the journey home, we agreed we would write down our individual versions of what we had seen.  When we compared these notes the following night they were surprisingly consistent.  Three of us had shared exactly the same experience in every detail, only our fourth insisted he had seen nothing.   When it was suggested we go back for a second look, however, he displayed marked reluctance.  In the end, we returned the key to our friendly landlord.  We did not return; not then.

One outstanding feature of what I will call ‘supernatural’ experiences is absolute clarity of memory.  I will never forget any detail of that ancient hall, although it happened a lot of years ago.  It remains with me:  it has become a part of my psyche.  I might make a number of attempts to explain, or to justify a collective illusion shared equally among my friends, but I can never satisfactorily pass it by.

There is a footnote.  In fact, one of our quartet did return to The Grange.  The following year those renovated apartments were put up for rent and I, with my immediate family, moved into the uppermost flat, the windows of which are shown in the photograph.  In all of my stay there, I had no further visions or clues that would lead me to suspect anything ‘supernatural’.  The place was warm and the views from those windows quite breathtaking.

In the summer of my second year at The Grange, a truck came to tow Pete’s caravan away.  I have never forgotten him, or that night.  I would wait more than twenty-five years for my next brush with the spirit world, one which would convince me that there are boundaries beyond which logic has no dominion.   But that’s a story for another time…

14 Comments

  1. Do I believe in ghosts? Yes. But for all my love of cryptid-type monsters and folklore, I tend to steer clear of the supernatural. Just the thought of stepping into a haunted house freaks me out.
    That said, I loved hearing your experience and was riveted throughout.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Were these sightings ghosts in the conventional sense? I don’t know. I can affirm something affected our collective psyche in that house, and I can also assure you there was nothing to be scared of. No sudden ‘chills’ – alright it was a cold night and difficult to imagine how it could have become even colder – but nothing creepy or terrifying; just an intrusion (I can’t better describe it with any other word). We really felt we were disturbing him! The next experience was mine alone, and as such somewhat different, but the same calmness prevailed. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My brother says he has seen and heard the ghost of our grandmother a couple of times in the house where we grew up. He lived there after he was married, and said she calmed their crying baby on one occasion.
    I will not discount his story, nor yours, because there are many things of which we are unaware and happenings that we still cannot explain.
    I particularly love the way you tell your stories, Frederick. They really draw me in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can empathize with your brother’s experience. We sensationalize these episodes by associating them with bad horror movies, but my encounters with ‘spirits’, or whatever we choose to call them, have been very personal and almost comforting. I’m glad the tale came over well, because I am much more at home with fictional rather than factual content, so I found it quite hard!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the way you weave your tales Frederick and they capture me from the first sentence. I believe that everything is an energy and death, as we know it, is not the end and our soul and spirit goes on. I have seen and heard spirit since I was a child and as I neared 50 years old I started to blend this into how I worked. I see and hear spirit guides, my loved ones and my client’s loved ones when I connect for them. I am shown (like a film playing out) what has happened to them. I can then help them to help themselves and change patterns and scripts running through their lives. It’s a loving energy that flows. Hugs for you. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You see? I knew there was something mystical about you, Jane – now the cat is out of the bag, so to speak! I would love to have your depth of perception, although sometimes I think it must be as much a burden as a gift. You have such a talent for seeking out the love and goodness in people, though – is it wrong to think of you as a medium, or better to describe your skills as clairvoyant? I am trying to tread carefully; so many of these terms are open to misinterpretation, aren’t they?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Frederick, I hesitated before I posted the comment, but the time and your blog was the space to do it. You write so eloquently and I am sure that we all connect when we are true to ourselves and therefore true with others. There is such honesty and a touch of magic in your writing and that can only come from within you. I can flow as a medium passing messages from loved ones, it can also flow through me clairvoyantly where I sense things and I always link into emotional energy, so I can feel how my another soul feels. It helps a great deal not to do this face to face I have discovered. I don’t need to see my clients. I connect with them over the telephone, or through instant messaging or my email where I ask my guides to connect with them and I write what comes through for them. I am always humbled by how this flows and it springs from a source of love. In the outer world I have strangers in all sorts of places pouring out their vulnerability and I pick up things as I go about my daily round. Everything goes into a vault to hold a safe space for people and I have found that I need proper periods of solitude and silence to let things flow through when I am not working. If I don’t let it flow through I can get exhauted on all levels. I am just gathering the courage to put my writing out to a larger audience. I am sitting here writing to you and watching the tide on The Mersey gently come in. September has always felt like a time of re-birth, do you find that? Hugs for you. Xx

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jane, I know I should have responded earlier, but the last few days have been so hectic (in the disorganised sense) that I had only time to spray a few ‘likes’ around. I wanted to reply to you carefully and with some thought. It certainly seems to me, to use the contemporary idiom, that you are in a ‘good place’. Your love of people and your shining nature beam through in your writing. I cannot imagine a more worthy cause than yours, so I can only applaud it. I can also sincerely thank you for your honesty.
          The question directed at us most is ‘are your characters based upon people you know’? We are constantly urged to ‘write about something (you) know’ or recount (your) personal experiences. I don’t. Yes, my fictional characters are drawn from life, and some have more direct references than others, but they are all nonetheless fictional. When I write I want my reader to see the world as I see it, and a very peculiar, twisted world it is! Events in that world are dictated entirely by my mind asking ‘what if’? For these very reasons, I find the business of recounting actual personal experiences very hard, because my brain constantly wants to augment, catch the subject by its tail, and twist!
          For all that, I think I have been honest. I have at least two further accounts to relate on the subject, one of which would seem to prove your beliefs. For myself, I don’t know. I ask myself often if these experiences occur somehow inside our brains, but when several minds experience the same phenomena simultaneously?
          Many hugs in return, Fred

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thank you for your honesty too Fred. I love the way you write and your stories and characters are instantly relatable. I look forward to reading the two further accounts. I don’t question how it flows through me, but I can ‘see’, or I am shown, what has happened to people in detail, so where the trauma went in and caused a destructive pattern. Is that a sharing of minds, or spirit at work? I feel my writing comes from spirit too. I dislike labels intensely…so I tend not to err on whether things are definitive, like good or bad, right or wrong, etc…things are as they are and so much in life is not measurable, yet as humans we quest for certainities. Many hugs flowing to you Frederick. xXx

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It was Laurie Lee, I believe, who said of his writing that the words flowed from him through his arm and the pen, as if it was something other than a physical act. I so agree with you on issues of good and evil: we all strive to be good, it’s just the lines get confused sometimes. If I were a ‘monster’ I would be the last to know. You have a rare gift: I envy you!

              Like

              1. As within, so without. As above, so below. It’s all there: the life force, universal energy…flowing through us and around us. We are all connected by it. It makes you wonder what we could all be if we could just get out of the way of ourselves. Writing comes from another place when I manage to step out of myself. Many hugs for you Frederick. Xx

                Liked by 2 people

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