On the morning before last Halloween, or Samhain if you prefer, there was a piece in a newspaper featuring the top twenty most haunted places in Britain. I’ve been to two of them; Ruthin Gaol and Plas Teg Mansion, both in North Wales. Given my past history I was nervous as we creaked across the old floorboards to the room where most sightings were reported, but I didn’t see, feel or hear anything strange whilst I was there.
I have had other experiences, though, that make me wonder how it all works.
The first house that husband-before-he-was-husband and I bought had a presence. She appeared at the top of the stairs and in our bedroom. I used to wake, heart racing a bit, with an image of a woman in my mind and the sense of being watched, but no animosity. There is a state called a hypnogogic state, that time between wakefulness and sleep, where people reportedly experience strange phenomenon and it could be argued that this is what I experienced. It’s strange though that I don’t consistently experience presences as I awake. They are not spread evenly through my life, regardless of location. I’ve observed, over the years, that first house of ours go up for sale with regular monotony; every eighteen months or two years. Perhaps it’s just that it’s the kind of house you buy as a first-time buyer.
One hotel in Dumfries and Galloway had a scarier presence, distinctly unfriendly, but nothing untoward happened other than a disturbed night’s sleep. The one place that truly scared me was a holiday place in France. It was a modern, well-appointed property, light and airy; definitely not your usual Scooby-Doo haunted house. The owner forgot to ask us for our breakages deposit when we arrived. What good luck, we thought.
There were eight of us. We all had separate unexplained experiences that we each dismissed, up until the point where we could no longer. They were physical things, not just creepy feelings and wild imagination.
My watch disappeared from the shelf above the kitchen sink. I searched the bedroom as the first obvious place to look. No watch. I checked with everyone. No watch. A couple of hours later, it lay across my pillow like a gift. Horrible smells wafted from one cupboard every so often. I accused my other half of fart-related pranks. One man’s half a bottle of after-shave ‘evaporated’ and shaving foam sprayed out by itself, in a cool room shaded with shutters. Some of us caught glimpses of a figure dressed in brown; I saw a small man in 20th Century infantry style uniform.
One afternoon, we returned from three hours at a market, to find the woman that we’d left behind chilling-out over coffee and a newspaper, shaking at the bottom of the garden. All the doors in the house had banged shut at the same time as our car tyres had crunched away over the gravel drive. She had climbed out of the kitchen window in her night-dress, with her newspaper, rather than dash through the hallway where the nasty sensations were strongest.
On our last night there, the contents of a box of matches—just enough to last until we left in the morning—disappeared. We came back from our evening meal to find the wall mirror lying face down on the tiled floor of the bathroom, beneath the wash hand basin, unbroken, string still attached and wall-hook still in place. Needless to say, it was another sleepless night. It is the only holiday ever where I couldn’t wait to go home.
We had another house where the property came with a previous owner’s walking stick hooked over the bottom of the stairs bannister. It was kind of cute, added to the history of the place so we left it there. It belonged. We loved the place. The combination of very steep stairs, children, and their insistence on playing with the stick led me to hooking it on a top kitchen cupboard. Well, the stick’s previous owner—Dolly—was not at all happy. Dolly let us know that she was distinctly annoyed. My eldest son stopped staying up to watch T.V. programmes by himself. He said the living room was creepy. The place was suddenly noisy; creaks and groans and rattles. I put the walking stick back, apologised and we made sure to say ‘hello’ to Dolly each time we came in. Things settled back down again.
Now, just in case you think I’m mad, or very impressionable, I contrast these experiences with a night spent wild-camping in a Scottish woodland. The place was truly dark at night away from the screened camp fire, and with the wild sounds around us (owls screeching, leaves rustling) and the smoke drifting, it ‘should’ have been scary, creepy, venturing out alone to answer nature’s call. But it wasn’t. I’ve stayed in many places, old and new, where I haven’t felt presences or experienced strange goings-on; those are the exception rather than the rule.
I do wonder what these experiences are: an entity, an energetic echo, a thinning of the veil between dimensions or universes, an aspect of our own inner workings? I like the mystery.