Friday, 6 April 2012

Introduction to Book One: Cambridgeshire

This is the first draft of the introduction to my book. It is very much a work in progress, but it might give you an idea of what I'm working on!

'England is a country rich in history. Due to its dainty proportions there are few swathes of land untouched by human hand. Some places that seem desolate now are dotted with antiquarian interest and many places inaccessible to our ancestors are today bustling and industrial settlements.

In a land so well used over the last few thousand years it is hard to find somewhere without interest to someone. That said, you sometimes have to dig a little deeper and engage more than a little imagination to appreciate some of our forgotten sites; an empty field that once contained a windmill, a tumbledown house that was a hundred years ago the village pub or a lonely 'gallows hill' that would have scared local children because of the tales that were told about it. Not so long ago they were known to all around, but as people travelled further afield to work and television took over from story-telling as evening entertainment, the stories of these places fell into the closed books of history. Now it is only the likes of you and I that care to look them out.

Rather than setting out lengthy paragraphs on general sites across the county, this book has been arranged more as a localised gazetteer. With entries grouped into small areas, it is my intention that the reader can find their closest point and easily see all the sites of interest around them - be it our distant history, recent folklore or even just curious facts I have picked up on my travels.

It is my hope that I can go one to write similar books for more counties of England, but it is for a very good reason that I started with Cambridgeshire. Firstly, it is my home county. Secondly, it is where my Grandfather chose to write about. In the 1970s, before I was born, he wrote two small booklets 'Curiosities of Rural Cambridgeshire' and 'Dovecots of Cambridgeshire'. It was reading these that inspired me to seek out some of our more overlooked places. When I started visiting the dovecots and rural curiosities it became clear that much had changed in the thirty years since my Grandfather had been there.

I wondered what the next thirty years would bring and how many of our local places would be totally redeveloped or left to rot away to nothing. It was then that I decided to start visiting all the places I could find. Not only did I start seeking out buildings, but also airfields, burial sites and disused railways. I already had a collection of haunted sites from my hobby as a collector of ghost stories, so I had plenty to make a start with. Some places were well known to be haunted, but others were so infrequently visited by the living were more mysterious still.

I hope that you enjoy discovering the fascinating past that is all around us and will take an interest in how these places develop over the next few decade. I hope that all these places will be preserved, if not in fabric then in memory.'

A few of the archive of photos my Grandfather took during his research can be seen on Flickr.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Being a 'Basic' Ghost Hunter

So, just what do you need to have to be a ghost hunter or paranormal investigator? Is there any benefit in buying a sack load of gadgets? Well, personally I think not. However, it very much depends on what you think ghosts are. You have to decide that before you can possibly select the right tool to detect them, unless of course you can afford to buy one of everything and have a go with them all!

You have to think about what your chosen 'gadget' is designed to detect and whether it fits in with your own theory regarding paranormal manifestations. It is also worth remembering that ghosts have been experienced for thousands of years and it is only perhaps the last hundred years that we've had the technology that is widely available to all. So what's the relevance of that? Only that in my opinion, most people have been turned from sceptics to believers without need of detecting equipment and the chances are that it will be a personal experience that will tell you what you want to know - i.e that ghosts DO exist. I don't believe that any piece of kit can tell you anything more useful than what you can sense with your own body.

This is where I hear the yells and calls of the investigation teams as I denounce their favourite tools. As I say, its a personal opinion, but one I stand by. The EMF meters, thermostats, lasers, EVP recorders and night vision scopes are brilliant at what they do, but how many of the people that use them understand the technology on an in-depth level (some professionals, but not many) and how many can translate the findings to proof of ghosts? I'm sure I would have seen something on the news if that had happened.  Yes, they might be able to indicate fluctuations in whatever it is they are detecting, but a fluctuation isn't going to convince any but those already wanting a reason to believe.  But its not personal beliefs that are at stake are they? Most of the teams using these kits are out to convince the world, to capture that elusive 'proof' and to be the ones to show everyone else that they've shown ghosts to be 'real'. That is all very well and good luck to them, but for the ordinary individual with a genuine interest in the subject you would do well to not get involved with those preaching their beliefs and start by examining your own. It took me a long time to formulate my own beliefs, but it was a journey worth the taking.


I have come to think ghost sightings to be one persons brief connection with the consciousness of another, dead or living. As such I don't believe you can photograph, video or measure this in anyway outside the brain of the individual having the experience. For this reason I don't carry electronic equipment for any other reason than to explain outside influences on my own body. If I feel cold, its because it is cold. It being cold doesn't indicate a ghost, it just means I'm more likely to have over-sensitive skin etc.

It is important to distinguish between ghost sightings and other paranormal phenomena. My notion of ghosts perhaps has more in common with out of body experiences than anything else, but if you're going to have an unproven theory its best to have one you are truly willing to argue and debate, and debate it often I do!

The most, most, most important thing to remember though is that these 'ghosts' were once people. People with feelings, families, happy times and tragic times. Whether you find evidence of your ghost is largely irrelevant when compared to the importance of learning these peoples lives and keeping them alive in our society. Yes, its cool to see a dark figure disappear into priest hole, but it is a worthless experience if you don't understand why he had to be there in the first place and what he would have been feeling at the time. Remember the people and the times in which they lived and you can step into their world far more authentically than looking at a dot on a photograph, trying to decide if it is 'proof'....

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Kenmure Castle - Kirkcudbrightshire

Brief history: Legend has it that there has been a fortification on this site since the 1100s, however it is during the 1500s that it is first firmly recorded in documents. It was severely damaged, requiring re-building work in both the 16th and 17th centuries. During the 19th century the owning lairdship was declared dormant and by 1900 much of the contents were sold off. It saw new life as a hotel in the 1940s, but was de-roofed in the 1950s and has been a shell ever since.

Because of the remote location and the fact that the building has been derelict for so long, its understandable that recent reports of paranormal activity are lacking. However, in my opinion this would make it a good candidate for exterior investigation by a medium. A site of this age and with such a violent history undoubtably has a story to tell. It should be noted however, that although the ruins are easily accessable, this is a privately owned ruin and the interior is in a very dangerous state so should be treated with respect. If you visit the ruin DO NOT GO INSIDE and stay a safe distance from the walls.