Monday, 17 May 2010

Hand Hotel, Llangollen

The Hand Hotel has a few reported ghosts. It is not said whether they are all the same person or separate spirits. One ghost has been seen sitting at the organ, while another gives guests the feeling of being followed. One of the ghosts here is thought to be that of a woman who died in childbirth.
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Sunday, 25 April 2010

Langenhoe , Essex

Langenhoe church was demolished in 1963, but earlier in the century was said to be haunted by a young woman. A vicar in the 1930s reported much paranormal activity and thought he once heard a female voice say 'you're a cruel man' or something to that effect. Perhaps this was the voice of Arabella Waldergrave, who legend tells us was murdered by one of the vicars ecclesiastical predecessors. Perhaps the woman had been made pregnant by the earlier vicar and killed, but history is vague on the matter. Something odd was happening there and some said that the church was demolished because of these continued paranormal disturbances and not the official version that it was structurally unsafe. By all accounts the church was most likely a little wobbly, having been one of the many hundreds of buildings damaged in the 1884 earthquake, but someone close to the project at the time did comment that is wasn't so bad as to have been dangerous.
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Monday, 12 April 2010

What are ghosts? My answer to the question..

I do so enjoy it when people start talking about ghosts. With all the discoveries and technological advances the last century has brought I like it that there are still mysteries which instigate such passionate discussion. Between believers and non-believers there are hoards of people who just don’t know what to think. They are the most interesting, for whilst many will say they believe in ‘something’ they won’t commit to defining what that ‘something’ may be. I have even heard one interview in which the person detailed an experience while working in a supposedly haunted building. They had seen the apparition and found it to be like many other sighting at the premises. A traditional ‘ghost sighting’ you may say. Yet when asked if they believed in ghosts they said they didn’t. They said they believed that what they had seen was real, but were adamant they didn’t believe in ghosts, which made me wonder what their definition of a ghost was if it didn’t fit that criteria!

Some of the answers you get back when you ask that question are great. The enchanting thing is that none are wrong, as we have no certain answers. Some are more logical than others. Some based on religious beliefs. Some based on cultural upbringing. Some based on personal experience. Whether you believe or not it’s a debate anyone can join in.

I am a believer. I have ‘believed’ in a few different explanations over the years. For anyone who is interested in the subject for any length of time you will undoubtedly find your opinions changing as you learn more and experience different things. When I was very young I thought that ghosts were just invisible people that had died. As I got older I started wanting a more in depth explanation. It wasn’t enough for me to just call them ‘souls’ of dearly departed – I wanted to know what that actually was. What was a soul and how did it escape the human body? When that couldn’t be explained to me I started thinking about a scientific explanation. What if ghosts weren’t things at all. What if they were just made up hallucinations of overactive minds? I never really liked that explanation. There were too many things it didn’t explain. Why would lots of different people hallucinate the same thing in the same place over many years? Why would some hallucinations be about people who actually did live once upon a time and how would a hallucination be able to provide some of the historical data that some have done? For a long time I felt that the so called ‘stone-tape’ theory provided the more reasonable explanation. That the very fabric of a building could, when the conditions were right, record events and play them back at a later date. I quite liked that as an idea. Like any of these notions it did have its flaws. For instance, in some ghost sightings the apparition appears to react to or interact with the person having the sighing. If these apparitions were merely recordings they would not know there were anyone there to react to. It also didn’t explain things such as crisis ghosts - where an apparition appears at the very moment its living body is expiring elsewhere.

When it came to the investigation of ghosts I was always thoroughly on the side of science if we were ever going to find that elusive ‘proof’. Whilst I believe there to be people out there with genuine abilities over and above the usual set of senses, I also believe that they will never be able to prove what they experience. Their testimony, however compelling, would only ever be evidence to those people who trusted them wholeheartedly. For every true medium there is a handful of showmen and frauds to cast doubt over the profession. Whilst there are a few mediums I have met personally and am satisfied as to their integrity, I still felt that it was technology that would be able to prove the existence of this phenomena. With all the gadgets that the modern parapsychologist carries about it would sure be he who would find the thing that would convince believers and non believers alike.
Now I am not so sure.
My recent thoughts on the subject have rather turned all that about. It was while reading a book about Robert Monroe that a friend of mine had written. I hadn’t had much experience of ‘out of body’ phenomena and I had never read any of Monroe’s books of the subject. But a passage struck a chord and got me thinking. In very simplified terms it described how in his out of body state his consciousness could move around at will. We have all heard of the experiments where people in supposed OBE states are tested by being asked what objects have been placed on out of sight shelves etc. In this situation Monroe was able to move around, move through objects and be unhindered by a physical form, whilst all the time being ‘tethered’ to his body. To explain it fully would take too long here, but if you care to learn more I suggest you look up the Monroe Institute.

The reason I bring up this subject in the middle of an article on ghosts is this. Monroe claimed that when he died his consciousness would go on. Remain intact, but no longer tethered to is human body. What if this were true? What if a persons mind, their consciousness, were able to exist independently without the physical body? Could this in fact be what we call ghosts? Could it be that instead of us seeing a ghost in the conventional way, i.e. through one's eyeballs, we were actually seeing them the 'the mind's eye' so to speak. Our minds are connecting with another's and the brain simply presenting the image to us in a way we could understand - a visual image. There are a number of questions that would have to be satisfactorily answered, but many follow the same lines as the other current theories. The mind has to be in a suitable state at the point of death for this to happen – otherwise we would all become ghosts – and equally the people seeing the ghosts also have to be in an altered state of consciousness to see them – again, otherwise we would all be able to see them all the time. It may be, like mediums and sensitives, that certain people can control their ability to enter the higher states required to interact with these ‘ghosts’, while the rest of us may get there by chance. Monroe said that with practice anyone could achieve a state of higher consciousness, but its fair to say that most people won’t have read his books and won’t know what is happening to them when they have these ghost sightings. It is also fair to say that most will think that OBE states are something to be achieved when laying down, eyes closed and focused on that goal. If people are indeed connecting one consciousness with another it would have to be in a waking and unintentional way; they can’t control going into a higher state of consciousness and can’t control coming out of one - thereby explaining the sometimes random and unpredictable nature of the sightings. What their brains don’t understand about a situation gets filled in with what they would expect to see. Separating the facts of an experience from the 'bits' our own minds have filled in to enable us to process the information is, I imagine, almost impossible.

We have all have those extremely vivid dreams where we seem to be able to hear the words, smell the scents and see ourselves in the third person. It all seems so real. In the dream we believe it IS real; when we wake up we know we imagined it. What if connecting to the consciousness of someone whose body has left them is just seeing inside their head? Instead of seeing our dreams, we are instead seeing their memories or continuing thoughts of an independent consciousness? Of course this theory doesn't answer all the questions. There are a number of 'sightings' I would give perfectly ordinary explanations to, but whoever said all ghosts and haunting were the same thing? Grey Ladies, Poltergeists and Folklore often get lumped together in books on 'hauntings' but there is no reason to think they are all the same thing. I have never been particularly interesting in poltergeist activity. There is usually too much reliance on taking someone's word for it and that is of little interest to me. Ironically, with my current thoughts on the subject I am struggling to think of how the scientific gadgetry will now help find that proof. Unusual temperature changes and EMF readings may just be coinscidence. It looks as though the mediums may save the day afterall! More likely though is that it will always remain something that every individual has to look at and decide upon for themselves.

I hope this has provided some food for thought. I would emphasize that I am nothing to do with the Monrow Institute or any other organization. These are simply my own thoughts on an interesting subject. You may find it an interesting notion, you may be convinced I'm talking out of my trousers. Either way I hope you have enjoyed this scribble. There are so many variations on ghost stories it may be this theory is better suited to explaining some more than others. If you want to share any stories with me I'd be interested to see how far this theory goes to explaining them! Please visit my facebook group Our Haunted Isle and share your tales.

As far as I'm concerned ghosts do exist. Just not in the way I expected

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Co-op, Cottenham

Cottenham, Cambridgeshire

An older aquaintance of mine was born in a house opposite the old co-op shop, seen here as it was at the time. (It has now been replaced with a hideous piece of modern shop architecture - but is still a co-op) In his time it had always been the co-op, but previously it was a Nunnery. The upstairs was divided into separate sleeping cubicles by wooden partitions. A relation of his was the manager of the shop and lived above the shop. When this relation got older ( the villagers have a reputation for thriftiness still!) he sawed up the partitions to burn on his fire, so sadly were lost. However a nun has been seen on several occassions by several people (including my aquaintance) in the vicinity of the building and walking infront of the modern co-op.

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The Scottish Witch Trials - Part One - Folklore to Criminal Law

I have a longheld interest in the witch trials of Scotland as it touches on so many of my particular interests. This first part just thinks on the Scotland of antiquity and how the scene was set for the major period of the witch craze. While researching subjects such as this it is often the case that the 'history' is contradictory - such as most history, it rather depends on the personal viewpoint of the author as to whether they 'big up' the facts and figures or sweep them under the carpet. My little introduction here is simply my favoured balance of the available evidence.

Scotland has a long tradition of folklore and belief in the nature spirits (fairies and elemental beings), and although Christianity came to Scotland with St Ninian as early as the 4th century it was not a sweeping religious revolution. It was slow to take hold and thus rather than replacing the established belief system it blended with it, resulting in a somewhat unique cultural history. Unfortunately this is perhaps a contributory factor as to why the country suffered so much when the witch craze took hold in the 16th century, a belated revolution of proven godliness. The hag of folklore became the nextdoor neighbour – named and condemned.


Mention of witches as we would be likely to recognize them is rather patchy before the 16th Century, though it is possible to see a certain progress in the development of things to come and ideas eventually were becoming more accepted. In the year 697 King Kenneth, among the laws attributed to him, ordained that jugglers, wizards, necromancers and such as call up spirits “and use to seek upon them for helpe, let them be burned to death” . One often recounted tale from some 300 years later tells of how King Duffus suffered greatly at the hands of witches. In this a company of hags roasted his image of wax upon a wooden spits, soaked in a poisonous liquor. The women, when apprehended said that as the wax would melt, so the body of the King would decay likewise; that their words of enchantment would prevent him from the refreshment of sleep. The effigy was destroyed and the King’s health recovered. The witches, however, were burnt at Forres and their place of execution is now marked my a stone. Wax effigies were believed to be much used. The ‘poppet’ could also be made of unfired clay, which, instead of being melted over a fire, was placed in a flowing stream where the water would wash away the clay resulting in the same decay of its likeness.

Belief in the witch as a genuine, tangible being fluctuated. Many catutionary tales include a witch of some sort or other and not necessarily ever relating to a living person. From early on there is a legend of The Blue Witch of Rannoch Moor, in Perthshire. The hag is accused of luring travellers into bleak and dangerous territory on unkind winter nights and frequenting the fairy mountain, Schiehallion. Her face is blue with cold and her hair white with frost. However, she is a winter spirit; only casting her ill between Halloween and the onset of spring. She stalks the hillside and moor striking the earth with her forked staff to beat down the grass and harden the ground with frost; only stopping when the spring warmth made the grass grow quicker than she could beat it back. In contrast in the 12th century John of Salisbury judged the various kinds of belief in magic among folly and illusion. He mentions that women led by a night ‘Queen’, gathered at banquets at which they ‘most relished children stolen from their cradles’. But did not credit this as actually happening, rather that women, ‘being weak of mind, were just subject to demonical illusions and evil dreams.’Men, in his opinion, were stronger and so did not succumb! From this period there was a stronger idea that these stories went from being generally deluded females with wicked intent to women actually making a pact with the Devil and his work directly. However it was the period after the publication of the famous Malleus Maleficarum (’The Hammer Against Witches’) in 1487 that the persecution became more prominent.

When it comes to Scottish folklore, many of the common images associated with the witch did not apply in the cases of witches north of the border. The grotesque hag of the cautionary tale, with broomstick in hand and familiar by her feet is largely the stuff of myth. By the time we get to a period in history where actual people were being labelled as witches it was apparent that they looked the same as everyone else, save perhaps a mark of the Devil somewhere on their person. This was usually a birthmark or mole, but were supposed to be the point at which the Devil had touched her when accepting her into his ranks and would be numbed to pain. In Scotland professional ‘witch-prickers’ went from place to place, not unlike the witch-finders of East Anglia, touting for business. They used long bodkins to locate these places on the witches body. Broomsticks are rarely associated with Scottish witches and the idea of the witches ‘familiar’ is primarily an English preoccupation. The idea of a witch as a communal creature though is not so misguided. Although there is a notion that witches met in a group of thirteen, this a fairly modern phenomenon and the only sources for it from trial records are few and were probably obtained under torture. The groups could in fact number very few or very many. One legendary meeting in 1597, at which the Devil himself presided, no less than 2,300 witches were gathered at Atholl, in Perthshire – an area with many tales of witches in lore and legend. This where the extra Later on in history it is said that the Atholl witches also interested themselves in politics, for they are said to have presented Queen Mary with a golden deer’s horn as a token of friendship toward her.

In the next entry I'll look at some of those accused and the 'evidence' against them.

The Scottish Witch Trials - Part Two - The Accused

There were two types of individual accused of being witches. On one hand there were those who believed themselves to be a willing accomplice of evil and took steps to practice the dark arts and seek others who do so. On the other there were the poor souls who were singled out by others and were quite innocent of any misdeeds. They were tried the same and the jury didn’t always see the distinction.

In an age when medicine was entirely unscientific a person who practised healing by means of natural potions was in a very vulnerable position. Scotland is reputed to have upward of 600 healing wells, so the idea that magic could be used to cure was widespead and well established in everyday life. Unfortunately for the folk healers of the time, however many they cured and treated there was always the shadowy knowledge that magic of healing plants could be used for good or evil, they could kill as well as cure , and people knew this. Many were unashamed of being entirely two-faced in their use of the local healer, especially where churchmen were concerned. They were happy to be cured by magic while they thought they were dying, but once cured reverted to their ‘holy’ ways. An example can be sought at Byrehill in Ayrshire in the year 1588. A woman, ‘Alesoun Peirsoun’ was well known for her healing abilities, so much so that she was called to attend the Archbishop of St Andrews. She successfully treated him and he was cured, where upon he refused to pay her fee. Not only this, but he then proceeded to have her arrested and charged with witchcraft. Her trial note read “Convicta et Combusta”. As today, a number of the most commonly available plants were used in small doses to heal and in larger doses to harm – every flower a double edged sword. The population did have some natural defences of their own though. Blackthorn juice was used as an antidote to witches magic – not unreasonably even to modern eyes given that it is still associated with well-being and with suitable knowledge used as a natural remedy. To keep the witch at bay entirely folk sometimes planted Rowan trees by their gates. Rowan trees have a long history in world mythology, but were thought especially effective against witches due to the visible pentagram on the berries opposite the stalk and because of the vibrant show of red berries each autumn, thought to be a protective colour in many branches of magic. For this reason there are reports as late as the last century of people in Scotland being warned against removing Rowan trees from their gardens.

The exact number of witches accused in Scotland is almost impossible to tell exactly. We know from contemporary accounts naming or referring to specific persons, that there are something over 3,800. All of which date from the 16th to the 18th centuries. However, the concept of the ‘witch’ has earlier roots and how many men and women suspected of using magic or demonic will prior to the Witchcraft Act in 1563 will never be known. It is interesting to note that very often when times were at their hardest, during social or economic upheaval the witch-hunts peaked, almost as though the populous at large were keen to show their own godliness and moral worth by incriminating others.

It is a mistake though to think that all who were accused were executed. Many were ofcourse, but there were other outcomes. Some, after evidence, were acquitted. A case in 1589 states that ‘certain honest neighbours’ were brought together to declare whether a woman, Guddal, was a witch as one of her kin had stated. In this case four men were examined by the kirk-session and declared that “they never saw such thing of her whereby they might suspect her of witchcraft, but that she was an honest poor women.”

It is also an error to think that all who were sentenced to death were burnt alive, This is a very graphic image and as such often depicted as a most sensational fate and ultimate deterant to any misguided soul contemplating calling upon evil to achieve their goals. In reality only a few were still alive when the fires of hell licked at their feet. By far the most common method of despatch was strangulation, followed by the burning of the body at the stake. Where a witch was accused of other crimes, the more human crime of murder for instance, they could be beheaded or hanged the same as any ordinary criminal. In addition, and according to the type of court presiding, a witch could be banished or excommunicated. Some escaped and fled, but this was no easy was out either in a country where rural life was harsh and kin and communities were close.

Such was the growing paranoia that there was a number of ways a person could be identified and thus tried as being a witch. Aside from the Devil’s Mark, as already mentioned, having or indeed causing physical defect was also deemed incriminating. In times when genetics and science couldn’t teach that occasional random mutations took place in nature the only explanation was that there was someone to blame. Someone had actually done this and by means that a God-fearing community could not hope to understand. Indeed some of the deformations were so sensational it had to have been done with the help of a force beyond a mere human. In the reign of King Caratake “in Carrick was a child born perfect in all his limbs saving the head, which was like unto a raven’s” . This, however, was a very early example, and by the time of the main persecutions the defects could be far more subtle, but equally damning. At trial other forms of evidence were brought forward. The most useful for the prosecution was a confession, usually procured under torture – a valid form of interrogation. Not only did they hear what they wanted to hear, they very often got the names of other witches. If a confession was not secured there was always Neighbours Testimony. Curiously, these cases rarely included mention of the Devil, but rather the accused just being held to blame for some local misfortune. As already mentioned, other witches often provided the names to the authorities and this was considered quite damning evidence, especially if the original witch had indeed been condemned. The accused would then be subject to the same indignities and hopefully produce more names for consideration. Trials were not always swift. An accused witch could be thrown into gaol for a year or so before moving on to a more final fate. Such was the case for a witch named Elspeth McEwan, from the parish of Balmaclellan. Her story is told in another blog.

In the final part of this blog I'll cover some of the trials and and final days of the witch hunts.... 

The Scottish Witch Trials - Part Three - Trials

In parts one and two I have generally mentioned the witch in the feminine. It is true that most witches accused were women, but certainly not all. I say accused, for no one knows if there might have been just as many men practising the art but not accused, simply because of their gender. No one knows, but it is worth considering. As a generalisation, the witches accused were middle-aged women with one or more reasons for those in the community to single her out. A small percentage of cases were for those under thirty or over sixty. Probably because of the social standing of women at the time it was thought more likely for a female to resort to underhand methods to solve her problems, particularly if she were single or widowed and did not have a husband to fight her battles. Interestingly, most of the males convicted were husbands of accused witches rather than wizards in their own right. Sometimes even the children of the accused were included, it being assumed they would have been brought up to worship the Devil and not be worth trying to ‘save’. In ‘A Discourse on the Damned Art of Witchcraft’ published in 1610 it states “Women, being the weaker sexe is sooner intangled by the deuills illusions with this damnable art, than the man. And in all ages it is found true by experience, that the deuill hath more easily and oftner prevailed with women then with men, hense it was, that the Hebrues of ancient times, vsed it for a prouerb The more women the more witches: His first temptation in the beginning was with Eue a woman and since he pursueth his practice accordingly, as marketh most for his advantage.”

It could be argued that men feared these women in a time when men held all the power in politics and law, but women had the power over life and death, the power of child-baring and healing. You can go a long way back in history and mythology where examples can be found of women controlling men with their powers of seduction and persuasion. Men cursed with a weakness for the female form and women exploiting this, their singular and favoured method of manipulation. Sex has always been a source of spiritual power and it was perhaps easier for a man to accept that a women got her skills of manipulation from cavorting with the Devil rather than admitting that women were in anyway equal in terms of intelligence and moral strength. Of course there were times when a fear was quite justified in the male mind, as illustrated in a case in 1597/8. On this occasion a witch, Ellen Grey, was found guilty of bewitching one Thomas Riddell so that “his wand lay nevir doune”. It is reported that the poor fellow died of this somewhat uncomfortable affliction. Reasonably perhaps men generally feared the opposite curse, that of impotence – a very personal message between witch and victim; more so in times when families needed to make the most of a fertile wife simply because of the difficulties in getting all her children to adulthood.

As the years of the hunts peaked and began to become more infrequent for the witches accused they became no less devastating. Infact some of the most tragic and cruel cases are found in the latter stages of the craze. It was in 1704 (only 23 years before the last execution for the crime) that the harbour village of Pittenween in Fife saw one of the most violent exhibitions of public hysteria toward an accused woman. It had begun when the apprentice to the blacksmith had got it into his head that a local girl, Beatrix Lang, had bewitched him. She had asked him to make some nails and when he had said he would see to it later she apparently muttered to herself as she left. This sparked the notion in him that she was muttering a curse against him. Whether his intention was just mischievous or whether he, at this stage, believed her evil intent it soon progressed out of all control. He saw her again and once more thought he was being bewitched. Shortly afterward he lost his appetite and as his body became weak he suffered fevers and even believed the Devil visited his bedroom. What started as a rather insubstantial suspicion soon turned to the more serious accusations of witchcraft, seemingly encouraged by the local minister. With the Reverend Cowper relating tales of the Devil and spell casting to the boy he soon went as far as naming others in the village. The accused were rounded up and thrown into gaol, where they were subjected to the tortures common in the extraction of confessions. Beatrix was subjected to many public indignities by both the minister and the local inhabitants. She was then subjected to five months in solitary confinement in the gaol’s dungeon. But this was not the worst of the punishments handed out. The others were tortured into various confessions. One of them just starved to death while incarcerated. A glimmer of light briefly shone through when a few of the erudite members of the community set about releasing Beatrix and her companions. Eventually, on the payment of a five shilling fine Beatrix and just two others were released. Sadly the villagers as a whole were under the influence of the obsessive minister and as soon as the three prisoners were released they were chased from the village by a mob. On seeing the public will in action the minister brought fresh charges on those he still had captive. One of these, Janet Cornfoot, managed to escape, taking refuge with a family in the village. Before she could move on a mob had formed and came looking for her. In their shared madness they went house to house until they found her. The tormented and already beaten woman was dragged to the beach where her limbs were bound. She was tied around the waist with a long rope, one end of which was tied to a ship off shore and the other held tight by the men of the village. She was swung back and forth into the sea until nearly drowned. When this cruelty did not ease their rage the crowd dragged her onto the sands where anyone who could get near enough beat her, each raining blows on her broken body. From somewhere a heavy wooden door was produced and placed upon her. It was weighed down with rocks and boulders as could be collected. This she did not survive, having had the life simply pressed out of her. As a final indignity the villagers then had a horse and sledge driven back and forth over the body – as a final spiritual indignity the minister would not allow a Christian burial. The authorities did not intervene and no punishments were ever brought upon her murderers. The blacksmith’s apprentice eventually confessed that his accusations were false – but who knows what he felt when he considered that all this horror had come because of the quiet mutterings of a frustrated customer…

The last execution is often stated as being in 1722, though contemorary writing suggests it may have been in 1727. Either way, it refers to the same woman. Janet Horne, who ‘suffered that cruel death in a pitch barrel’. The statutes against witchcraft in Scotland were repealed in 1736, but the legends go on. It was known for some time that relatives and decedents of condemned men and women still suffered prejudice because of their associations for some time.


Ghosts and Ghost Stories... with a note on Wicken Fen!

I had a familiar discussion today. The subject – as you may have guessed, was ghosts. Or rather, ghost stories. As most of my chums are aware, I collect ghost stories. I don’t do anything with them, I just keep them – as you would any other collection. Occasionally, if I am in a new area I may venture off to visit somewhere I know to be haunted, but mostly I just write them and file them. The subject came up however because I also collect books, many of which are fictional ghost stories of the Victorian era. By the chaotic nature of my bookcases they are all mixed in. Fact and fiction happily living side by side because I value them the same.


We’d had this chat before, but I felt the need to argue the fact that when someone says they believe in ghosts you can’t stereotype them into someone who believes in anything. (I have had this same argument about vegetarianism, but that is another rant entirely!) Even limiting the subject to ghosts (as opposed to including a belief in other supernatural elements, mythological creatures or out of body experiences etc) you cannot know what idea to which someone subscribes until you have asked them what their definition of a ghost is. For instance, some will explain them as a spirit, capable of interaction, whereas others will tell you they are merely recordings of something past. There are many variations and for those undecided in their true beliefs, it might be that the definition is moulded to the story they wish to be true. Personally, in todays environment of computerised ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, I like that so many people have so many explanations. It is good that there are still some mysteries.

Going back to my point of collecting both fiction and non-fiction… I was asked how I knew which to believe and which to not, because surely if I was collecting a tale from an individual there was always the risk of embellishment to make a good story. Of course this is true in some cases, but I said it did not deter me. I love the stories and if you view it with the right attitude, it essentially did not matter. If you enjoy a story, then the fact that elements may actually be true only adds to the excitement. Whereas, taking something as fact , only to find bits which don’t ‘add up’ is just too disappointing to be entertaining or of value. A point in case is that of a tale still told with utter conviction here in Cambridge – that of the Everlasting Club of Jesus College. It is a great story, but that is all it is, written by a former Master and published in 1919. Nevertheless, I would still tell anyone who’d listen to find themselves a copy of ‘Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye’ and read this wonderful collection for pure enjoyment.

It is a question of exercising the imagination, while relating our thoughts to reality. For example, I like to walk across the fen by Spinney Bank and the Wicken Nature Reserve while accompanied by my imagination. To the ordinary soul this landscape must seem flat and empty, with a sense of ‘nothing ever happened here’ but this is not so. Allowing your mind to wander could have to bumping into the likes of Charles Darwin collecting specimens as he did here in the 1820s. Perhaps you may see the author James Wentworth Day, who lived in the village and even owned part of the fen at one time, or the spectral black dog that he spoke of stalking the causeways by night. From Spinney Bank you can see Spinney Abbey, which despite its name was actually a Priory. The ghosts there are well documented, although you will mostly hear of the monks or the chanting and less so of the former residents. One of which, Prior William de Lode, was murdered in the priory church by his own canons. A more peaceful occupant who walked the area was the 4th son of Oliver Cromwell, Henry. After the Restoration he was allowed to live here without too much trouble and I believe is still buried in the churchyard. A more mysterious local to said to be buried somewhere out here is PC Richard Peake, who mysteriously disappeared after a dispute in the village and whose body was never found. The 24 year old constable was last seen on the 18th August, 1855. For a landscape unchanged in 500 years, the atmosphere is heavy with history and in a way that cannot be read like the architecture of an old building. I have never visited my favourite haunt with a medium, but I should like to one-day if only to see what else is out there. It must surely be the nearest thing to time-travel that we will be likely to experience.