Monday, 28 May 2012

Ghostly Chills at Chillingham...

Chillingham - ghost on the staircase?
Grinning skeletons, a radiant blue boy, tragic Lady Mary Grey and a crying baby. These are just four of the manifestations haunting Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, reputed to be THE most haunted castle in England.

With a history dating back to the twelfth century, its walls could tell tales of many a bloody deed committed on its fortified premises. In 1298, Edward I (the 'Hammer of the Scots' was based here, as he prepared do battle with William Wallace ('Braveheart') who, far from being that nice Mel Gibson with the blue face, was in fact a mass murderer, burning the local women and children to death. Since then, it has been the site of many a battle and many unfortunate souls were tortured and murdered here in cruel and imaginative ways I will not go into here!
The castle has been owned by members of the Grey family since 1246 and the present owner - Sir Humphry Wakefield Bt.-  has been renovating it for over thirty years. It is a curious place, much of it still derelict, and the atmosphere is one of quiet expectancy.
Torture rooms
But what of the ghosts?
Lady Mary

Poor Lady Mary Grey was deserted by her faithless husband, Ford, Lord Grey of Wark and Chillingham, during the reign of Charles II (17th century), she can still be heard wandering the corridors in an endless search for him. Her dress rustles as she passes.

The radiant Blue Boy was frequently reported in one of the bedrooms. At the stroke of midnight, the agonising cries and moans of a child in pain were heard and, as these died down, a bright halo of light would form close to the old four poster bed. If anyone was sleeping there at the time, they would see a young boy, dressed in blue, surrounded by the light, approaching them. Curiously, in the wall of that room were found the bones of a young boy, along with some fragments of a dress. A blue dress.
Lady Leonora

Lady Leonora Tankerville, who documented the castle's ghosts in 1925, recalled having strange experiences of her own, including a manifestation of a nun praying on the battlements, accompanied, a few paces behind, by two young men dressed in clothes from the time of King Henry VIII. She also experienced a visitation by the ghost of a young officer who, so far as she knew, was actually alive at that time. Only later did she discover that he had died at the very time she had seen him appear in her room. Lady Leonora was also responsible for the discovery of the skeletons of a man and a boy who had been walled up in her bedroom. Indeed, there seems to have been a fair amount of walling up of people in this castle!

If you are brave enough, you can actually stay at the castle and many who have done so have reported strange events. Some have even left before morning, too scared to sleep! 

But if you do stay, think twice before taking the complimentary shower gel or shower cap home. In one of the rooms, letters and returned items are displayed (including a door knob removed 'by accident'). Reading these letters, you will see that the guests returned the items because no good came to them while they possessed them. Above the display is a portrait of a woman, reputedly a witch, who is said to take a pretty dim view of such thieves. She has a tendency to haunt them... and not in a friendly way.

Want to see more? Follow this link and scroll down to the clips Chillingham Ghosts

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Haunting of Ruthin Gaol

The Denbighshire Free Press included an article recently following an appeal from a former Ruthin man curious to discover the identity of the ghost of a young girl he had encountered 63 years earlier.
Clwyd St., Ruthin
The girl was blonde, her hair in ringlets, and she wore a blue dress. When David Thorp saw her, she was walking slowly up Upper Clwyd Street. It was night time and she was illuminated by the light from a window, but she cast no shadow and appeared to be floating slightly above the ground.

When the paranormal events assistant at the gaol (Karen Messham), read of his experience, she contacted him. His description matched that of the daughter of a former governor. Her name was Josie Walmsley and she was born in 1862. Ms Messham says she has spoken to Josie many times as the young girl plays in the gaol, slams doors and has allegedly been recorded, singing the alphabet.
She is, however, not the only ghost to haunt the cells and walkways of the prison.

John Jones escaped twice - once in 1879 and then in 1913 when he was shot and died soon afterwards. Now he doesn't seem able to leave.

William Kerr, Ruthin's cruel and infamous Gaoler from 1871-1892, used to beat and starve prisoners as well as infuriate them by jangling his keys outside their cells. One day he simply disappeared, having left the Gaol on a perfectly normal day. No one knows what happened to him but his jangling keys and incessant banging on cell doors can still be heard today.

Then there's William Hughes who was the last man to be hanged in the Gaol. He murdered his wife and on the 17th February 1903, six people watched him die for it. But he has never left...
Ruthin Gaol is open to the public and is a creepy enough place in the day time, but a number of paranormal groups have staged night time vigils and reported many strange phenomena. Mists have appeared in cells (see photo), people have been touched, one investigator was sworn at as she explored a lower cell, one person felt as if they were in cold water up to their chest and experienced a sense of panic and voices were picked up on a camcorder that hadn't been heard on the night, including an entity that called himself 'Jake'.
strange mist caught on film in a Ruthin Gaol cell
Do you dare to visit the ghosts at Ruthin Gaol? Here's the info you need: Ruthin Gaol
and here's a Film Clip you may find interesting. As I always say - don't have nightmares...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Berwick - The Little Town that Could...

...Be So Much More
 You may never have heard of it, but Berwick-upon-Tweed is the northernmost town in England. Its often fraught history goes back to Anglo-Saxon times when it was a small settlement in the Kingdom of Northumbria. In 1018 it was captured by the Scots and was then fought over repeatedly, changing from Scottish to English, back and forth no fewer than 14 times until finally settling on the English side of the border in 1482.

There is probably no other town in North East England that can claim such an eventful history. It stands, strategically, on the mouth of the River Tweed and was considered so important that King Edward I fortified it in the fourteenth century, supplementing the stronghold of Berwick Castle. Ramparts were built in Henry VIII's reign and modified under Mary I, Elizabeth I and then later in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

 It was a prosperous international port and trading centre and had a thriving shipbuilding industry for 200 years, finally ending in 1979, but it continued to be a garrison town until 1964.
The town enjoyed such a special status that the declaration of the Crimean War had to be made in the names of 'Great Britain, Ireland and Berwick upon Tweed'. When the peace treaty was signed, Berwick's name was left off, meaning that the town was technically at war with Russia until the error was rectified in 1966.

OK, you've got the picture. Berwick is a relatively small town that has the capacity and history to punch way above its weight. You would think that, with all this rich past, its colourful history would be screaming at visitors from every street corner.
Sadly, not so. I was there, with my husband, a few weeks ago. There are indeed the impressive remains of the walls and ramparts and you can walk around them easily enough. It's only about a mile. The former barracks has been taken over by English Heritage and has been turned into a number of museums and an art gallery. There is the museum of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the 'By Beat of Drum' museum, showing life for an infantryman from the Civil War to the First World War. Certainly well worth a look. 

But, for me, I wanted the history of the people of Berwick to flood over me and the Berwick Borough Museum, while quirky and a little eccentric simply didn't do it for me. Inexplicably, a walk-in Chinese dragon dominated the area, while the displays were quite imaginative but fragmentary and didn't serve to present any kind of timeline. Lack of space is probably a key factor here - but why not move to larger premises? There seem to be quite a few sizeable empty buildings around.
Berwick Borough Museum
 The local guide book, on sale at the Tourist Office in the main street, listed at least one museum that, when we found it, had clearly been derelict for a number of years, as had, sadly, a number of once fine Georgian buildings. Surely the National Trust could take on at least one of these and furnish it to tell the story of Berwick's prosperous Georgian past? 

Of course, there's always the Lowry Trail. Artist LS Lowry used to holiday here and this is promoted with some enthusiasm.

There is still a lot of attractive architecture in Berwick, and the views across the river and its distinctive bridges, as well as the rare Cromwellian church, are well worth the day trip there, but we were left with an impression of a town that had lost its way somewhat since the garrison left and the shipyards closed down. We were told that a lot of people come there to retire, while others buy second homes there. Maybe this is part of the reason why a lower profile is maintained. Maybe the incoming people like a quiet life and don't want hoardes of tourists all year long, like Bath or York or other significant towns and cities.

But the price paid seems a harsh one. So many once grand buildings left to decay and a need to have to search to find out the real history of the people of Berwick whose lives were played out against such a rich tapestry. I think this town's unique history and traditions deserve more overt celebration.

In all fairness, I must applaud the Berwick-upon-Tweed Preservation Trust who, since 1971, have done stirling work in renovating a number of the town's listed buildings. I am sure the picture would be far worse without them.

Do you know of anywhere that isn't, in your opinion, doing itself justice? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

How Gruntled Are You?

Don't you just love the vagaries of the English language?

I mean, I have often been disgruntled (don't get me started!) but why, oh why, can't I be gruntled?

Having recovered from being discombobulated, shouldn't I now be combobulated?

Musing on this, during a car journey back from northernmost Northumberland, I decided to investigate just what has happened to the missing opposites of words we use every day, so here goes:
Disgruntled comes from the middle English 'gruntelen' which meant 'to grumble' and apparently, since 1926 (according to Merriam-Webster), I can be as gruntled as I like because it was in that year that the first use of this antonym was recorded. Success there then! As it means 'to put in a good humour', consider me well and truly gruntled.

Discombobulated. Back to good old Merriam-Webster (I'm getting to like them), who inform me that it probably derives from 'to discompose' and was first used in 1916. "But what about combobulated?" I hear you cry. Well, Merriam-Webster let me down here, but I am informed that it IS  a word - an urban slang word - and can be used thus:

"Yo dogg, Mr. Dan really combobulates calculus! Fo shizzle D!"

Um, yes, well. Translations on a postcard please and apologies if I have just sworn at you. Don't think I'll be rushing to be combobulated. Might find I've bitten off more than I can chew.

Moving on...

I've been overwhelmed and sometimes underwhelmed but surely I should just be able to feel whelmed even if only occasionally. Back to Merriam-Webster who didn't shy away from this one. They told me it was of Middle English origin, first coined in the 14th Century and means 'to turn (as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something : cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect'.
In other words, it means pretty much the same as 'overwhelmed'. Uh?

Over to you, what are your favourite words that lack an obvious antonym?

I shall be most gruntled to hear from you!

Friday, 4 May 2012

My Futuristic Debut...

I am delighted to announce that my futuristic short story,  'The Dust Storm' has just been published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing.

In an apocalyptic Britain of the future, Domenica and her husband, Leon, win a Lottery - a chance to escape the lawless and hopeless world they live in, for the faraway green fields of Orkney, as the inhospitable climate encroaches ever more northwards. 

Every minute of their lives is a battle for survival, while the ever-threatening danger of the killer Dust Storm has cast a cloak of darkness over generations of their people.

First the blurb:

In the cool reddish-green of a November dawn in the 24th century, Domenica Sarsen stands at her doorway and looks out over the filthy street, hugging her secret to herself. Soon she and her husband will leave the sprawling, gasping metropolis of Carlisle and head for the green fields of Orkney, where the Rampagers will never find them and they can live out their lives in peace. If only they can out-run the Dust Storm…

Here's an extract:

Domenica Sarsen hugged herself in the cool reddish-green of a November dawn and inhaled the dry air, only to exhale in a fit of coughing. Even at seven in the morning, before much of the world was up and about, the atmosphere tasted rank and toxic. It was the same every day but for Domenica and her husband Leon, today was different. Today they would leave the sprawling, gasping metropolis of Carlisle for the green fields of Orkney Islands far to the north, off the coast of Scotland, and they were never coming back.

She stood at the battered front door of their shared house; her gaze traveled up and down the dusty street. Years ago this would have been a busy road, teeming with cars and lorries and all manner of engine noises unfamiliar to Domenica. It would have been covered in tarmac; where now it was rutted, littered with remnants of hardcore and little more than a wide dirt track. Then, traffic fumes would have polluted the atmosphere, where now lingered the more earthy smells of human habitation in a world devoid of fancy chemicals to sweeten the air and the inadequately washed bodies. Where dogs and cats might have played, now there were none, and at night, as she lay awake, Domenica heard the scratching of rats and the scurrying of roaches.

But it would all be different in Orkney. The Lottery people had said so and Domenica felt that surge of joy she had contained inside her since they had heard the news three days earlier. It would never do to broadcast such good fortune. The Rampagers might hear.

“I heard you coughing. Are you sound?”

Domenica turned to her husband who had come up behind her. “I’m sound,
Leon, don’t worry.”

“You’re not getting the old trouble back are you?”

Domenica shook her head. “I shouldn’t think so. I think they got it all out when they gave me the replacement lungs. Toxic Dust—something else to thank our forebears for!”

Leon wrinkled his nose. “Our ancestors have a lot to answer for, burning fuel like there was no tomorrow.”

Domenica agreed, her lip curling as it always did when she thought of the profligacy ultimately leading to such global warming that two thirds of
Great Britain was now an uninhabitable arid wasteland. “Thank God for President Norton. My grandfather said that if it wasn’t for him and others like him, even this place would probably be a desert now and, let’s face it, it’s not far off it.”

“Yes and imagine what it would have been like if he hadn’t banned all fuel-driven transport?” Leon ran his fingers through his wife’s fine blonde hair, taking care not to snag it and pull out any more. After all, she was twenty-four now. At her age, a lot of women were already wearing replacement hair. At this thought,
Leon unconsciously rubbed his own bald pate and found himself wondering what color his would have been now if he had been lucky enough to keep it.

“Was it Norton who moved the capital up to
York? I get him and President Steele confused,” Domenica said.

“No, it was definitely Norton. He was also the one who organized the mass evacuation of the south of
England and Wales during the Forty Year Dust Storm. My granddad was only a child at the time, but he remembered the terrible choking fumes and people dying on the streets of London, unable to breathe.”

Domenica shivered. “They must have been awful times. My grandma told me she remembered her mother crying when the doctor told her she must be sterilized as part of the population reduction program.”

“Well, at least she’d had her one child. Now we’re not even allowed that! I’ll never understand why they turned down our application to breed. What’s so wrong with us? We’re normal, intelligent people, but clearly our gene pool wasn’t strong enough for the Population Control Board.”

“Welcome to life in the twenty-fourth century,” Domenica said.

'The Dust Storm' is available from: