One that got away and a few unpublished ghosts from the archives
By Richard Holland
Before I ‘got back into’ all things supernatural a few years ago, the flame was kept alive, if low, through the writing of columns for regional newspapers and speaking on the subject of ghosts at a local hotel.
My audience at the hotel consisted of people overnighting during whistle-stop coach tours of Scotland, Ireland, Wales before heading back home to southern England. Occasionally, a member of the audience would treat me to a story of their own: I could weep now at the recollection of some of those that ‘got away’ because I didn’t write them down. The best story I failed to record involved an ancient fortress on the South Coast that was used as a look-out and communications base during World War 2. My informant had himself been stationed there. He told me that an outlying tower, set half a mile or so away from the main structure, was believed to be haunted by a monk and had an eerie atmosphere. Every night an unfortunate soldier (working on a rota system) would have to spend hours of the night huddled in this spooky place with a radio and a pair of binoculars. Several soldiers spent uncomfortable nights here and a few thought they had seen the monk. This might have been put down to imagination, but one night a young soldier radioed for help from this abandoned tower, babbling in terror, his message entirely incoherent. His mates rushed to his aid, but it took them a quarter of an hour or so to reach him… by which time they found he had gone completely out of his mind. Yike!
I wish I could remember where this took place. If anyone has any idea, please let me know. The newspaper articles concentrated on my home area of Wales, and I was lucky enough to receive letters from many readers relating their own experiences of the supernatural and tipping me off about local ghost-lore. Most of these letters concerned Wales, of course, but occasionally a letter would recount an experience from elsewhere. Because the articles were strictly about Wales, I couldn’t use them at the time.
A Mrs E Berry, of Bodelwyddan, near Rhyl, for example, wrote to tell me that: ‘Many years ago I was staying with my daughter in Scotland. One night I woke up with such a fright. The bedroom door suddenly flung open with a bang and a lady came right up to me and said “Don’t be sassy, Maggie.” I know they say ghosts don’t speak, and there was no window open to make the door open like that.’
Ah, but where in Scotland did this happen? Why didn’t I write back and ask? Incidentally, Mrs Berry also mentioned that in the early hours of one morning, when she was taking the air after a bout of insomnia, she saw ‘a tall person’ wearing what appeared to be ‘a large helmet’ walking through Bodelwyddan. It turned the corner, she hurried after it, but it had vanished.
Mrs Phyllis Lister, of Brymbo, wrote to tell me that she had seen a ghost near the All England Jumping Course at Hickstead, West Sussex, when staying with her inlaws. She described the figure as: ‘dressed in a long checked coat and a flat cap to match. He had a very long white beard.’
‘We were walking towards the Coachman Inn when I spotted him,’ wrote Mrs Lister. ‘There were six of us but none of the others saw him. I said goodnight to him but there was no answer. Suddenly, he walked to the rear of the inn and disappeared. The stables used to be there, as years ago, when the coaches ran from London to Brighton, they would stop there. I didn’t realise I had seen a ghost. I was informed afterwards that it was the ghost of a coachman I had seen. It was a bit eerie.’
I still blush to think of some of the stories I have let go by. Thank goodness for people like Mrs Lister, who have written down their encounters for posterity. Naturally, all such stories will be welcome here at Uncanny UK.
[SOURCE: Personal communication with the author]
© Richard Holland