Spooky

It’s not often I’m lost for words but trying to describe the feeling I had when sitting in the pitch dark on the first floor of Margam Castle this evening is one of those times.

We went on a ghost night last night. Traditional Welsh Cawl (a rich lamb stew) at the haunted Prince of Wales pub in Kenfig, followed by a tour of Margam Castle. We’ve been on several ghost tours and walks and they’ve each been great in their own way. Bath was atmospheric, York was well delivered and Dunster was an all round good night.

But last night was different again. It felt more personal when we were in the pub, where the landlord told us about the things that had happened to him during his 9 years running the pub. They were stories of mischief and general good humour. The spirits in the Prince of Wales were friendly and generally non-threatening.

We moved on to Margam Castle. We’ve been there many times during the day but immediately we got out of the car, the place had a completely different feel. It wasn’t completely dark and there the house stood out against the cloudless sky. The stars were clear and bright and we couldn’t have asked for better conditions.

After some history of the house and the family that lived there, we proceeded inside. With all the lights out, the atmosphere was eerie and every sound was magnified with the echo. Our host told stories about the malevolent spirits that occasionally showed themselves and we watched and waited, unsure of what we were going to see (or not see). Despite the lack of sights or sounds, the place was full of atmosphere and I would not have been surprised to either see or hear something myself, or find one of the other people claiming to have seen or heard something. But the spirits were shy tonight.

We went upstairs and sat in the pitch black silence. Now, as the guide spoke, I could make out a faint murmur beneath his voice. But as I realised it was the echo coming back, he mentioned this as a characteristic of the house and it’s central staircase. He told us about the times he’s been setting up and has felt something, and one of his theories is that the presence upstairs is an elemental spirits, that is, more ancient than human beings.

We heard nothing upstairs either, but as the night was drawing to an end, I became aware of a feeling inside me that I cannot describe. If you have ever walked in on the aftermath of an argument, when everyone is quiet and there is a feeling of awkwardness, you can only describe accurately that feeling to people who have experienced it themselves. How do you describe it to someone who has never felt it? That’s why I find it hard to describe how I felt on the upper landing of Margam Castle. I can only say that I was uncomfortable, uneasy and didn’t want to stay there. But I can’t say why.

It was a tremendous evening. We’ve been to Margam many times and it’s always a rewarding visit. But the ghost tour was by far the best visit I’ve had.

York

I trawled the dark streets, looking for my fix. I was getting desperate. How would I get through tomorrow if I didn’t get it today?

Diesel, of course. I spent an hour on Wednesday trying to find a garage without a huge queue  and then panic bought a tank full of diesel. But since we were travelling up to York the following morning, I think I was justified.

We were fortunate that the traffic was very light on the motorways. The only slight delay was due to a wide load on the M5. We managed to reach the hotel, just north of York, despite my wrong turns, in a little under 6 hours.

After a quick freshen up, we headed in to York and the Minster. Its the 2nd largest gothic minster in Europe and in the afternoon sun the yellow stone almost glowed. We decided to climb to the top of the Central Tower despite the warnings of the 275 steep and narrow steps. It was hard going but the view at the top was worth it. It reminded me a bit of the view from the Hallgrimkirkja in Iceland, but York was much more compact, with the buildings of the old town crammed within the city walls. Only when you looked beyond the walls did you see buildingd with more space, larger gardens and wider streets.

The minster itself was huge and impressive but it seemed to have less character that Bath and Wells, probably because there were no old memorials or inscribed flagstones. The stained glass windows were more intricate and impressive, though.

We went in search of The Shambles, a street almost as old as York itself. It was once a street of butchers and slaughter houses and the shambles was the waste product of this business, which used to run down the lane. Today, the buildings are old and have suffered through time. Wooden frames sag, foundations sink and straight lines are non existant. The shops there today were modern, but their ceilings were low and each of the three storeys leaned in and overhung the lane, giving it a claustrophobic feel.

From the Shambles, we went in search of food and decided to eat at the Guy Fawkes pub. The claim was that Guy himself was born here. The place was very atmospheric and had bucket loads of character. The restaurant had dark wood panelling and candles on every table. The food was absolutely delicious and we both ate too much as a result.

Then it was time to find the ghost walk. We had seen several on our walk through the streets but the one that caught our attention was The Ghost Hunt of York, starting at the bottom of The Shambles.

From the moment our host, Mr Richard Rigor Mortis, appeared we knew it wa going to be good. He was dressed like a Victorian gentleman in top hat, bow tie and long coat. He gathered us all together with had gestures and then led us back up The Shambles at a slow, deliberate pace, all the time ringing a solemn bell. We met a second group at the tope of the lane and then we were off.

For the next hour or so we were enteretained, teased and scared by our host as we went from haunting to haunting. We learnt of the little girl who fell down the stairwell at her house, the child plague victime who waslocked in her bedroom and abandoned by her parents, the headmaster who murdered all his pupils and the ghost Roman legion. At one point, in front of an Italian restaurant, we pretended to be listening to a story until the diners were watching, at which point we stared at them, waved and approached the window before making faces at them. It was hilarious.

By the end of the hunt, we were both geting tired and so it was a short wak back to the car and a short drive back to the hotel, and bed.

The next blog is about Friday in Whitby.

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Ghost

I’ve just got back from a short break in Bath. I love Bath as it’s so visibly historic. Almost every building you look at has a story. We stayed in a terraced house just north of the centre of the city and the landlady explained that it was built in 1776, the year of American independence. I could picture the men working on the terrace not knowing much about America and certainly not knowing about their independence, as the news would have taken some time to get back via sailing ships.

We had our evening meal in Sally Lunn’s house. It’s meant to be the oldest house in Bath and in the cellar are the layers of Bath over it’s history. You can see the remains of a Roman kitchen, probably serving the nearby Baths, on top of which is the refectory from the Benedictine monastery built there in the 12th Century. Further changes over the next 500 years saw the street level raised (making the ground floor into a new cellar) but the house remains essentially as it was in the 15th century. The food was delicious.

After that, we went on a ghost walk through the dark streets. It was gloriously eerie and we heard tales of grey ladies, elegantly dressed citizens haunting the pubs and the ‘Man in the Black Hat’ a retired Admiral who chose not to dress in the normal finery expected of gentlemen, preferring instead the attire of an off duty navel officer. As the upper classes looked down upon his choice to clothing, he stared back at them. Now he stares back as passers by in the darker alley ways.

The most atmospheric place for me was ‘The Dell – in the 18th century outside the city – where duels were fought. There was a particular dip in the ground which was reputed to be the place where most of the fighting took place and which certainly felt a little colder to me as we walked through in the misty darkness. The ghost associated with this area was a young gentleman who is often seen walking from the back of the houses towards the Dell, carrying his sword. He must have lost as he has never been seen walking away from the Dell. (In the photo on the right, are there faint lights in the lower left part of the picture?)

We went back to the B&B looking for ghosts and maybe the strange noises of doors closing in the middle of the night or the unexplained voices after everyone was asleep were just coincidence?

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