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Posted @ 20:31:03 on 21 May 2008

I am having a bit of a ditsy week, which is probably a good thing. As if I had thought too hard about what was going to happen last night, I might have disappeared into the night never to be seen again. When I was growing up on Dartmoor, I used to spend a lot of time reading ghost stories. The moors are full of it, Conan Doyle knew what he was doing when he set the Hound of the Baskervilles there; it can be grey, misty, dark and a bit scary at night if you are not used to it being dark as a cow's guts (a wonderful Dartmoor expression) and hearing strange noises through the night. Most people freak out the first time they hear a vixen scream, as it sounds so eerily human. There are tales of the hairy hands that drive unsuspecting motorists off the road (usually on their way home from the pub), ghostly groups of monks seen walking the Lychway, and the mysterious Jay's grave where fresh flowers appear daily on the grave of a young woman who was murdered by her nobleman lover who had got her pregnant outside of wedlock As a child I went to school in Princetown in the shadow of the prison, which as the highest point on the moors is usually shrouded in thick fog. My friends and I used to love going ghost-hunting (as well as UFO hunting and generally running amock on the moors.) It was built by French and American prisoners of war, so it has quite a strange atmosphere. We used to scare ourselves silly by walking around the churchyard telling tales of a person who could be seen haunting the top of the church tower, having thrown himself off to an untimely death, and footsteps heard behind us on the gravel in the church yard. This would then be followed by lots of screams as we raced to the gate, hoping not to be the last one out, before holding on the the bars of the gate and looking back to see if you could see him on top of the tower, standing silhouetted against the grey sky. I used to be very impressionable, but in later years I have put this down to my imagination, and tend to steer clear of the whole "Most Haunted" stuff, as it scares me silly. But then last night I turned up at Psychic school as usual, and suspecting I was in the wrong place for some reason but without my diary, I decided to sit it out and look out for my teacher. When I found her, I was greeted with "What are you doing here? We are in Baker street tonight! Come on..." so we set off to Baker Street to a pub called the Volunteer, which is just down the road from the Sherlock Holmes museum. The exercise for the evening was for all of my Teacher's students to collectively see if they could pick anything up from the pub, as apparently it has quite a colourful history. This is the kind of thing I would normally avoid like the plague. I haven't even nailed my colours to the mast to say if I believe in ghosts (or my own psychic ability for that matter!), but keeping a fairly open mind seems to be working for me at the moment, so I thought I would just try and see what happened. I have to say it was really quite good fun! We duly filed down the rickety stairs to the basement in groups of five to see what we could pick up. The atmosphere down there was quite amazing. It was hot and damp, and you could tell it was very old, as parts of the floor were actually pavement stones. It was winding and a bit like a catacomb, as it wound around on itself and was full of things - storage space for the pub, bits of machinery and dark corners that didn't look like anyone had touched them for years. The atmosphere was definitely spooky, and every noise made us all jump, every sudden movement made us squeal. We had to touch the old walls and see if we could pick anything up. I immediately got several things, one was a small boy playing down there, another was a sense that people had lived down here in the past and that it was not just a storage, and thirdly the idea that someone had fallen down the stairs. My colleagues picked up a range of things, from also getting children sleeping down there and the figure of a man. Once we had done a bit of glass divination (contacting the "spirit" and then asking some questions; the glass told us he was a man who had lived and died there), and a bit of table-tipping, which was quite startling, we all filed back upstairs and waited until everyone had taken their turn, and then we were told the history of the building. It was once owned by the Neville family, who were a local mob. Richard Neville was very feared by everyone around, as he was the local godfather of the day, but in 1654 it was mysteriously burned to the ground, and the whole family died. Richard Neville is said to haunt the basement to this day, dressed in a surcoat, breaches and an outlandish pair of stockings. It makes me feel quite sad really. Surely he must be lonely down there after all this time? I am not quite sure that is what I am supposed to be thinking, but then I always did feel sorry for the baddies and think they were just misunderstood. Later on the cellar was used as an air-raid shelter during the Blitz, which accounts for the sense of people living down there. I don't think I would ever make it onto Most Haunted.... but it was certainly a novel way of spending a Tuesday evening.

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