Cave Dwellers

entrance to the caves

entrance to the caves

On Friday we set off for another ghost hunting adventure, this time to Redcliffe Caves in Bristol. Neen’s mum, Elaine joined us. No, Calamityville has not been recognised as a reputable show and given free rein to investigate places overnight as well as a television deal and sponsorship. We went with Beyond the Grave. We’ve been with them twice before at Ruthin Gaol and the Skirrid Inn. They’re a great team – a lot of fun and they let everyone go off and investigate on their own, which we love.

Neen was driving, so there was no chance of us getting lost, although she did take one wrong turn, but that was entirely Siri’s fault. We got to the car park with half an hour to spare. Calamityville being early? We almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves. So we sat in the car. It was cold. Sadly, any misconceptions of us having an error-free time were swiftly sabotaged by the pay and display machine. You’d think arguing with a machine would be demeaning but we must stand up to their tyranny.We don’t know what it is about machines that take money - pay and display machines or self-serve checkouts, but they hate us and try to humiliate us at every opportunity. Frankly machines, we don’t need your help. We’re perfectly capable of humiliating ourselves.

Redcliffe Caves

the harbour

After that shaky start, we found our way to the caves by following the logic of heading right and down to the harbour. We didn’t know if the caves were by the harbour, but it seemed like a good place to start. We joined everyone in the boathouse for the introduction. Darran, one of the founders of Beyond the Grave, had messaged us asking us to wear our pirate hats in a bid to stir up the ghosts. We don’t need an excuse to dress up or provoke ghosts! If it had been warmer, we would have worn our pirate dresses too. We did get a few strange looks when we walked in. Jealousy is so unbecoming. We get these looks when we participate in Funky Hat Friday at our local chip shop. We seem to be the only ones who know about the hats…

We actually missed most of the introduction because we were trying to figure out how to attach our new IR illuminators onto the brackets on our cameras. This wouldn’t have looked so bad had we been sitting at the back. But no, everyone else had left the front row empty. In hindsight, we should have tested this when we got the lights. Or when we were sitting in the car for half an hour. But ‘be prepared’ is the Scouts’ motto, not ours.

P1070431The night started with a tour of the caves with Alan, a caver who holds tours there. This was his 556 tour and he has never experienced anything paranormal down there. The full extent of Redcliffe Caves is unknown. The caves that are open to the public cover about an acre, so there would be little chance of us getting lost. That sounded like a challenge Calamityville could rise to. The caves are made of sandstone, which was used in the production of glass, mostly in bottles for beer and spirits, as well as ships’ ballast. Bristol was the largest glass making centre outside London and often its products were exported to America. Goods such as elephant tusks for African & West Indie trade were stored there. There are rumours that slaves were also kept in the caves, ready to be sold in Bristol, and that French sailors were held prisoner there during the French Revolution and Napoleonic War. During World War II, the caves were used as an air raid shelter. There are also rumours that the caves were used for smuggling and that Blackbeard had a hideaway cave under St Mary, the church opposite.

While there aren’t any ghost stories related to the caves that we could find, they have had some supernatural activity – vampires. Season 2, Episode 3 of Being Human (which we loved) was filmed here. As well as a 16th century witch trial, Mitchell, the vampire, took fellow vampire Cara down into the caves to punish her for killing two children. He knocked her fangs out and left her there to die.

Redcliffe CaveBeing Human wasn’t the only programme to be filmed there. An episode of Casualty and a rival paranormal show, Most Haunted, filmed there as part of their hunting Blackbeard live show.

We spotted a tunnel that apparently extended 15 ft. We thought it would be cool for one of us to explore it. Cat was chosen as she was wearing PVC trousers and jacket, which meant she was wipe-clean. After the tour, we regrouped in the boathouse then went into the caves with Beyond the Grave for a group seance. We’re very jealous of the new equipment they’ve got, such as the SB7 spirit box and the EMF teddy. Well, not so much the teddy; we’ve always found them creepy. We were kinda glad the teddy wasn’t activated. We might’ve stamped on it. We’ve only ever seen the spirit box on Ghost Adventures and have wanted one for ages, so we were thrilled to see one in action, even if no voices came through. Some people were feeling stuff, mostly it was team member, Paul. As usual, nothing happened by us.

Redcliffe Caves

sneaking off on our own

After the seance, we split up. We managed to find a really secluded part of the caves. We’re not entirely sure we were meant to be in there, but there was no barrier and we wanted Elaine to have the full Calamityville experience. Well, minus the getting lost and swearing fits. We were also trying to eliminate possible contamination of EVPs but the acoustics of the caves meant it was virtually impossible to find somewhere where you didn’t hear someone else. This was the first time of using our new night vision camera, the Sony Handycam TRV140. Again, in hindsight, we should have practised things like switching it on and putting tapes in it BEFORE taking it on an investigation down dark caves. We are nothing if not unprofessional. Cat groping the camera in the dark during a seance whilst wearing a very noisy glossy PVC jacket doesn’t hint at us being experienced ghost hunters. It hints at us being clowns. *Note to selves – no more glossy PVC during ghost hunts.* *Another note – lift more weights. The TRV is a heavy bastard and adding two lights to it gave Cat’s arms a workout she wasn’t expecting.*

Redcliffe CavesWe let the dowsing rods lead us to our next destination and in true rod style, they led Elaine to a column. In Ruthin Gaol, they led us to the lift. They probably just like taking the piss. We got no activity, so tried a ouija board near the entrance, which had been very active. We must have the Midas touch, except instead of turning things to gold, we kill them. Unless the planchette was playing musical statues. A couple from Newport headed over. Their EMF meter was lighting up when they stood in this one spot. Hoping to match it, we took our K2 over. It was quieter than a sponsored silence. We even gave the K2 to them. Nothing. We pointed out to them that as ours says The Ghost Meter on it, it was clearly a professional piece of kit. Don’t think they were convinced.

Everyone regrouped for another seance, this time in the hermit’s cave. There was a children’s toy in the middle which had an alarm attached to it, so if anything touched it, the alarm would blare. And it did, several times. That was pretty cool. Luckily no-one had any heart conditions, though a death on a ghost tour would certainly be an interesting new addition. We keep trying to encourage this, but no-one seems keen. Paul kept seeing a shadowy female figure behind Alan. Naturally we were at the other end of the circle. It doesn’t matter where we stand, the ghostly activity never happens by us. Perhaps in future we should split up so the ghosts would have nowhere to hide. After the figure had been there for a while, we sent Cat to stand behind Alan with our night vision camera. She couldn’t see anything. It seemed to vanish when she arrived as nothing more was reported.

Redcliffe CavesThe group separated again. Neen and Elaine joined a small group on the planchette table. Cat filmed while Lynx sat out – Schofield, her scoliosis isn’t keen on standing still for long periods of time. After the planchette, we wandered off. And got lost. So lost even Neen’s internal Sat Nav kept recalculating with no solution. At the risk of sounding cavist, all the tunnels looked the same. We tried finding that tunnel we wanted to explore but failed dismally. We eventually found our way to the entrance so retreated to the boathouse for a few minutes before returning to join the final group seance. Nothing ghostly happened, so everyone went back to the hermit’s cave, but not even the alarm went off.

Are Redcliffe Caves haunted? We’re not convinced, but they are beautiful and definitely worth a visit.Redcliffe Caves

Hubble bubble toil and trouble

Tadcaster Travelodge

Mickey the Mini at Travelodge

Sunday, our last day in York. We packed up the Mini and said goodbye to Travelodge. We set off for York, celebrating the fact our £4 car park ticket didn’t run out til 2:30. Free parking! Except the police were blocking the roundabout, turning people away from the road. There had been an accident the other side of the tunnel. Guess what was the other side of the tunnel? Gold star! Our free bloody car park. We’re not called Calamityville for nothing. York’s car parks made a mockery of us that weekend. So we had to turn around and navigate ourselves to another car park. We say ‘we’, we mean ‘Neen’. We thought we’d been so clever when we saved all car park information to our Nexus for the trip. Except the document viewer decided to crash on only one document. Guess which one? That’s right. The car park info. We thought parking would be cheaper on a Sunday. We were wrong. Seems not even car park robbery takes  a day off. The castle car park would cost us £10 for four hours. We left. We worked our way to the second one we’d tried on Friday night. This one was £8 for four hours. Better, but it didn’t take the sting out of losing our free parking. We comforted ourselves with the fact that staying 5 miles outside York meant we only paid £21 a night for Travelodge between the three of us. Our first stop was the witches’ shop, Eye of Newt.

35 Stonegate

35 Stonegate

This time we were on time to do the tour. We thought it would be a guided tour with a group. We were happily wrong. We were allowed to wander the house by ourselves and listen to the audio guide. It was motion sensitive so when it finished, we were able to stay in each room to do our own thing, like EVPs and random dance routines. There are apparently 14 ghosts in the witch shop, which stands at 35, Stonegate. The house itself was built in 1482 but it’s believed a house has stood here for over 1000 years. Many of the ghosts became active after renovations made by owner Jonathan Cainer when he bought it in 1999. Queen Victoria apparently had tea there once so we all sat on the settee for a group photo and adopted ladylike poses. You’ve seen our photos in the playground, skirts hitched above our knees. There’s nothing ladylike about us :D We moved on to the hall where the ghost of a little girl has been spotted. Neen said “little girl,” which started an impromptu rendition of Green Day’s ‘Little Girl’ from Cat. Then we conducted an EVP session and Cat asked the girl to copy the rhythm she knocked on the dresser. Five seconds later, there was a response. Now we don’t hold much credibility to taps heard on paranormal shows. They usually take place old buildings that make a lot of noise. Heating pipes often make tapping or banging noises, floorboards creak etc. But this tapping copied Cat’s rhythm. We haven’t played the footage back on the cameras but we were recording on the DVR. It did pick something up but it’s very faint as the DVR was the other end of the hall to where we heard the tapping. Then Cat heard faint voices sounding like they were upstairs. We assumed it was the audio from a tour ahead of us. Turned out, we were the first tour. Though when we got upstairs, we could clearly hear voices from the people outside that we couldn’t hear when we were downstairs. This is the most likely explanation for the voices. The DVR didn’t capture them.

35 Stonegate

the nursery at 35 Stonegate

We were so enthralled with the house and talking to the ghosts that we kept missing where the audio told us to go next! The spookiest rooms in the house are in the attic. They are pitch black, which adds to the ghostly atmosphere and the floors are very uneven, with the nursery room even slanting. Luckily we have now gone pro with night vision, so at least Neen could see where she was going, even if we couldn’t. The nursery room was the creepiest. There is nothing creepier than child ghosts and empty cots. One room is filled with mirrors – our worst nightmare. Forget ghosts – having to stare at our multiplied reflections is far more unsettling. We were soon distracted by a camera which projects your ghostly image onto the back wall. It only showed our heads, which resulted in an impromptu and bad performance of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. We’re sorry Freddie. We murdered it in the most horrific way. The next room was the dining room, which was above the street. We stood in the window, shouting at the peasants below. They walked past the shop, unaware of our terrifying presence. So this is what’s it’s like to be a ghost. We could have fun with this. We scratched at the windows, cursing the peasants and begging them to free our trapped souls. Then Lynx’s jaunty text tone sounded, resulting in another random dance routine. Then we spotted a mirror opposite us and one behind us, creating a ‘wormhole’ effect. So naturally we took a photo of us ‘trapped’ in the wormhole. We did another EVP session, but got nothing.

35 Stonegate

us in the wormhole

The final room was the seance room, where the ghost of Tom has been seen. We don’t know who Tom is or why he is there. The room was so dark that Lynx kept falling over the chairs as we sat around the table to play with the ouija board. Cat suddenly felt very sick and nearly heaved. But no matter what lows we sink to on the show, vomiting on camera will not be one of them. Despite our best attempts, Tom refused to talk to us. Perhaps he has heard of Calamityville and is waiting for a more prestigious show to associate himself with. Well, we’re sorry Tom. Other shows may have television deals, camera crews and screaming makeup ladies to add atmosphere but we have…well there’s…there was that time when…fine. We have fun. We left the witches’ shop to meet Neen’s friend, Rhian for lunch. Cat’s sickness eased when we left the room and disappeared completely once we were outside. We went to the Ye Olde Starre Inn, which is haunted by an old lady dressed in black who is seen descending the staircase. The pub dates back to 1644, but it is believed the cellar is older. The pub was once used as a hospital during the English Civil War and the cellar was the morgue. Screams of Royalist soldiers have been heard. There are also the ghosts of two black cats. Local legend says they were bricked up in the pillar between the door and the bar to protect against fire and ill omens. Dogs are known to growl, snarl and leap at at the pillars. Luckily The Starre’s chips were vegan (yay!) so we had lunch there. We asked a barmaid about the ghosts, but it was only her second day on the job and she had no idea the place was haunted. Whoops. She called another barmaid over, who told us the story she knew of two lovers. The man was sent to fight in the Civil War and they agreed to meet at the Starre on his return. He died during battle. Their ghosts have been seen wandering, forever searching for each other.

The Olde Starre Inn

behind the scenes at The Old Starre inn

After our delicious chips, we set off to film some pieces about the haunted places we didn’t get a chance to visit. We started with Stonegate – number 41 is haunted by a little girl who fell to her death on the stairs. She’s heard walking down the stairs and has been seen sitting on the shop counter. We walked down Mad Alice Lane, Mad Alice Lanewhich is haunted by Alice, who was executed in 1825 for being mad. The K2 bleeped furiously through most of the lane, the needle shooting off the red. The narrow lane is flanked by buildings and the reaction was probably due to electrical wiring from the buildings. Bedern Arch was the site of a former orphanage. The orphanage’s owner starved the children and didn’t clothe them. When they died, he locked their corpses in a cupboard. One day, he thought he heard them screaming. He became so enraged, he murdered the other children. The next morning, he was taken to the asylum. People report hearing children’s laughter and screams and feeling a child taking them by the hand. Except we couldn’t find Bedern Arch so we improvised. When we say ‘improvised’, we mean we stood on a random street and talked about the story. In hindsight, we probably should’ve done the piece near an arch and not the modern housing estate we found ourselves in. We stopped in College Street, where Neen had acted out her nunly role. Number Five is known as the Plague House. In the tiny window, a child is seen. One story claims she starved to death after her parents died from the plague – they would have been locked in with the red cross painted on the door. Other stories say after she caught the plague, her parents locked her in her room, terrified of catching the plague, then left York.

College Street, York

The plague house (the one on the left). The tiny window is where the girl is seen.

The Treasurer's House

The Treasurer’s House

We stopped outside the Treasurer’s House where an apprentice plumber, Harry Martindale, was working in the cellar in 1953 and saw Roman soldiers walking with their heads bowed. He couldn’t see below their knees, so it’s believed they were walking on an old Roman road. Staff have also seen them. We’ve noticed that a lot of Roman soldier ghosts are only seen from the knees up. There is also a dog, a black cat, George Aislaby, who was killed in a duel, and Frank Green who converted the interior into what it is today. The Tapestry room has an oppressive atmosphere and it’s where the wife of a former owner murdered him after he had one affair too many. Sadly we didn’t have time to go inside. We had ten minutes to get back to the car park – on the other side of town. We dashed through the Holy Trinity church grounds, where the Thomas Percy, the Earl of Northumberland searches for his missing head. He was executed for treason in 1572. He was a staunch catholic. His head was put on a spike on Micklegate Bar, where it remained for many years until it was buried in the church.

Micklegate Bar

Micklegate Bar

We made it to our car park with five minutes to spare. We bid a sad goodbye to York. After 3 amazing days, we really didn’t want to come home and face everything we’d left behind, but our adventure was over :( The trip was tinged with a bit of sadness – every time we go away we’d send our Grampy a postcard of our adventures. This was the first trip since his death in November. So we wrote him a postcard anyway and we’re going to laminate it and put it on his grave. Then we will do this every time we go away so eventually he’ll have a book of them. At the least the drive back was hassle free. Apart from the bit where Lynx’s Scholiosis played up so badly we had to switch drivers and regularly stop for her to stretch it. And when a bus broke down and caused traffic chaos as it was winched onto the back of a tow truck. But York, we are not finished with you yet. We will return.

The Shambles, York

us at The Shambles

Duchesses of York

Saturday early evening got off to a bad start. Not only were our feet killing us, we were hungry. Our vegan diet consists of snacks but due to a stressful fortnight, we’d barely eaten anything and lost 4 lbs, so in York, Neen was determined to make us eat a proper meal to fatten us up for photographs :D To us, a proper meal is chips. We decided to be brave and try the two vegan places in York. Goji Cafe was closed. El Piano was Mexican themed. Not our style but we were prepared to try their chips. Except they were potato and carrot chips. People think vegans eat beans, lentils, nuts, healthy stuff. Not us. We eat cereals, ice cream and chocolate. Every day. And chips once a week. So we headed for a pub. Their chips weren’t vegan. By vegan chips we mean they have to be cooked in vegetable oil and cooked separately from the meat. We tried another pub. Not vegan. We tried another pub. They’d stopped serving food. We tried another pub. Also stopped serving food. We tried Cafe Rouge, which is apparently haunted. Chips not vegan. We were starving. Our feet were agony. We tried a haunted pub and got ID’d before we’d even walked in. They said their chips were vegan so we slumped at a table, removed all our layers and perused the menu. Then they came back and said actually they weren’t. Weeping, we left. We kept telling Neen to find somewhere for her to eat and we’d eat our snacks. She wouldn’t hear of it. She was determined we would eat together. She suffered for us, this proves what a great friend she is. We crawled our way to Crosskeys and they served vegan chips! We didn’t know whether to cry with relief or hug the barmaid. Instead we downed vodkas and lemonade. We had wandered York for an HOUR trying to find somewhere. Cat’s boots came off in every pub we sat in, even in Nandos, as her heel spurs caused so much pain. Sitting in your socks in a pub is surprisingly relaxing. Even Neen’s boots came off in Crosskeys. Can’t take some people anywhere.

York Ghost Walk Experience

Note Neen’s blonde head and the tall people in front of her.

After we’d eaten, we dragged ourselves out to film a talking piece by York Minster then it was time for the ghost walk with the Ghost Walk Experience. We knew we were in for a good night when we saw our guide, James. Gotta love a man dressed a highwayman with a tri corner hat ;) We’d spotted him earlier in the day on stilts and wanted to go and speak to him, as we guessed he would be our tour guide but our shyness wouldn’t allow it. So we did what we usually do – hung back staring creepily. We’ve mentioned before what a pain it is being short on these walks when tall people block your view but James had a solution – he carried a step ladder so even us pixies at the back could see him. The group was huge – about 40 or 50 people so being at back when moving from location to location meant you were easily a street length away from the guide, and as we always stop to talk photos, we were always at the back. But the great thing about the walk was we were allowed to film it!

York Ghost Walk ExperienceThe walk was absolutely fantastic. James was a brilliant guide: funny, articulate and a great storyteller. We didn’t even notice how much our feet hurt! That took some doing as before the walk, we’d been considering foot amputation as a serious option for pain relief. We’ve done many ghost walks around the UK and this was by far the most fun. What made it even better was it was interactive. People were picked to act out the roles of the victims, though in a group this big, there were only 3 people willing to actually participate. You guessed it – us and Neen. Though actually we enthusiastically volunteered Neen, almost shoving her into the circle to play the part of the nun who was bricked up alive. But she played her role well, even making herself a hood out of her scarf to make herself appear nun-like. We weren’t fooled. Only earlier today she’d been burned for witchcraft. The guy she picked on to play the part of her lover looked like he’d rather be chewing glass than standing in the circle, which made this part even funnier. If there was an award for reluctance, he’d win it. He didn’t even want to grab her arm to drag her behind the bush that would act as her tomb! Neen can take rough treatment – she’s an ex roller derby girl. She shook the prickly bush and wailed like a banshee. When challenged to hover three feet off the ground, she improvised and leapt on James’s back. Not easy, considering he towered above her. But watching her mount him was hilarious and unexpected.

York Ghost Walk Experience

grave where the shadowy hand is seen escaping from

Lynx was next to get chosen as a dead woman who had her fingers cut off so a priest could steal her rings. Lynx made her hand go floppy like a corpse’s hand. It was corpse-cold too, adding to the reality of the role. James removed Lynx’s fingerless glove, only to find a lace glove underneath. What can we say? Us Goths always have to look stylish. The woman in the story had five rings – Lynx has six on her left hand. It’s like she was meant to play the role. Though the rings in the story were gold. Lynx’s are…pewter at best. We stayed behind after the group had moved on to see if we could spot the shadowy hand slinking from the grave. Nope. Then we nearly missed our group as we couldn’t remember which way they’d gone. Luckily, a group that size is hard to miss. One couple were picked on to play the roles of the Earl of Northumberland and his executioner and even though they didn’t want to be in the circle, they soon got in to it and were brilliant. Think the wife enjoyed his execution a bit too much :D

For the final acting role, again, there were no volunteers. As two members of Calamityville had been picked, Neen and Lynx volunteered Cat for this one. She was to play the role of Margaret Clitherow, a Catholic girl tortured to death for hiding priests in her house. James took one look at Cat and said “you don’t look like any Catholic girl I’ve ever seen.” Not sure the church approves of piercings and green hair. Cat pleaded her innocence, claiming the priests were not priests at all, but her harem. Nobody was fooled. James asked for a volunteer to be her executioner. Again, silence and embarrassed looks from the group so Lynx put down her camera and stepped forwards. A bit too eagerly. After we gathered our bags, cameras and Cat’s crutches, Lynx seized her arm and frogmarched her along Little Shambles to the market, Neen running along behind with the camera. That’s how you manhandle someone, people! When we got to the market, no-one could remember which twin was supposed to be Margaret. *Note to selves, this may work with real crimes.*

York Ghost Walk Experience

Cat being crushed to death

Cat was put on an empty market stall to be pressed to death by a door. James grabbed her ankle and spun her around (that was fun). Lynx pretended to heave a door and boulders on top of Cat, making a much better show of it than the guy Neen picked on. James said it should be done for real and asked for people’s bags to be placed on top of her. Again, people wouldn’t even volunteer their bags. So we did. Except Cat’s rucksack contained the heavy JVC camcorder and ghost hunting equipment, Lynx’s held a bottle of squash, the Nexus and our Dungeon souvenirs: two chappie choppers, a chappie chopper bottle opener and a heavy book aptly titled The Big Book of Pain. Neen’s bag contained the food bag and a few cans of Red Bull. James asked her if there were bricks inside as it was so heavy. Lynx dumped the bags on Cat, who emitted death moans and did a death pose. We have a lot of practise in death poses. After the bags were removed, Cat sat up to leave. James grabbed her ankle and lifted her leg to his shoulder to stop her. When a hot guy in a tri corner hat puts your ankle to his shoulder, you just lie back and enjoy it ;) :D She had to give one last death moan then she was allowed to get off the stall. After this, we reckon the Calamityville team should give up writing (us) and scenic artistry (Neen) and turn to acting instead. Or maybe not…

It was an absolutely fantastic walk and the highlight of our weekend. Our only regret is that we don’t live closer to York, because we would happily go on this walk every Saturday. Hell, we stalk The Dungeons attractions, stalking a ghost walk is perfectly normal.

York Ghost Walk Experience

Calamityville cornering James for a photo

Dungeon Mistresses

Saturday dawned misty, despite the sunshine we were promised. We set off for Temple Newsam in Leeds, which was about half an hour away. The ghosts there include Margaret Ingram, who was robbed by highwaymen and had her pearl necklace stolen, which had been a christening present from her grandfather. The next day she remembered nothing of the attack and was convinced she had lost the necklace. She refused to eat and spent the next two weeks frantically looking for it, even unpicking cushions. Then she died. People report still seeing her wandering or see furniture moving and carpets rippling in her search. Most ghost hunting websites say she was 14 or 15. However, we found an epitaph of her headstone in Westminster Abbey and it says she was 12. The other ghost is Phoebe Gray, a 16 year old servant girl strangled to death by a vulgar, smelly man called William who took a fancy to her and attacked her on the dark stairway before tossing her body down the well. He was hanged for his crime. So not only does Temple Newsam have two great ghost stories, it also has a farm and an adventure playground. To be honest, we couldn’t decide which we were more excited about.

Temple Newsam

Temple Newsam

We didn’t get lost! We headed to the manor house as we wanted to get on the cellar tour, which started at 11. We weren’t allowed to film and photography was also prohibited, but as you can tell from the photos, not everyone is willing to follow the rules. No flash was used so there’s no damage caused, and as for taking photos in the cellar, they said ‘no photography inside the house.’ Technically, we were underneath it :D The manor house was lovely though the overuse of ‘please do not touch’ signs did hint at mistrust. There was no-one on hand to tell us stories about the place like there was in Baddesley Clinton, though one bored worker in charge of entertaining school kids happily talked to us.

Temple Newsam

stairway where Phoebe Gray died

Then began the tour. It was really cool. We were taken to the stairs where Phoebe was murdered and taken through parts of the house where normal tourists aren’t allowed, through servants’ passageways and then down to the cellars. We walked through the servants’ tunnel and our guide switched out the lights. It was pitch black. We could imagine how scary it must have been walking through there with only a candle, if they were lucky. We would’ve tripped and dropped the tray. They even had to master the stairs in the dark. We can’t even master stairs in daylight!

Temple Newsam

show us your babies!

After the tour came the part we were most looking forwards to – the farm! Yes the manor house had ghost stories and creepy tunnels but the farm had babies! We shouted “show us your babies!” and almost every animal obliged. We got to pat kids (the goat kind) and lambs. The lambs even nibbled our fingers and when we scratched them above the tail, their little woolly tails wagged! They were so cute. We wanted to take them with us but with a four seater Mini Cooper and our electric cool box taking up one seat, there was no room. Plus there’s the frankly unworkable ‘no more pets’ rule that has been enforced at Casa Raven. Temple NewsamWe spent more time with the animals than we did at the manor house. We interviewed chickens, donkeys, cows, ducks, sheep, goats, rabbits and pigs about the ghosts at the manor house but not one animal would talk to us. Even one particularly noisy sheep fell silent every time we mentioned the ghosts. Then four grey hens (who can’t be named for legal reasons) gathered around and they were very eager to speak to us. Through the syllables clucked, we were able to determine their answers. When asked “what happened to Phoebe Gray?” they responded with “she died.” And when we asked how, they said “William killed her.” We might now have to take these hens in to Witness Protection.

Temple Newsam

Neen on the swing

Time disappeared and we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from the babies. But York was calling and so was the adventure playground. We dropped our bags, hitched our skirts and showed the kids how it’s done. Think they were impressed. It’s not every day you see Goths in playgrounds. We took turns on the swings then the obstacle course, going up it the wrong way and demonstrating to the kids how not to use playground equipment.

Cat showing kids how it's done

Cat showing kids how it’s done

Neen was the only one suitably dressed for playground shenanigans but we never let style get in the way of having fun. And it turned out, satin skirts made the tube slide even faster, with Cat shooting out and landing on her feet before giving an enthusiastic bow. Only for her heavy locket to swing up and smack her on the nose. She still has a bruise and small lump there four days on. And Lynx hurt herself in the slide when she came out sideways and landed on a stone. Then we all jumped on the rounabout, only to feel sick with all the spinning. We were unable to walk once we’d jumped off. It’s a sign you’re getting old when you can no longer enjoy the children’s roundabout :(

Temple Newsam

Lynx demonstrating climbing skills

Then we set off for York and The Dungeons. We loved Edinburgh Dungeons and regularly stalk the Twitter and Facebook pages so we were really looking forwards to the York Dungeons. We even found a cheap car park! £4 for 24 hours, so we could use it Sunday too. It was quite a walk, but we’ll happily walk further to pay less. Though our feet weren’t thanking us by the end. Even Cat’s special insoles for heel spurs gave up. We had to queue outside The Dungeons but finally the sun had appeared so it wasn’t too bad. In Edinburgh there was only 8 in our group. In York, there was 23. It would’ve been better with less. Even worse was there were 3 intensely irritating 10 year old girls in our group. Even Neen wanted them to be locked in the mirror maze and she’s a mother! There were also 2 15 year old girls who spent the entire time clinging to each other with their eyes shut. The Dungeons say if you have a nervous disposition, don’t enter. The only ones who weren’t scared, were us and Neen. The attractions were great and the staff are amazing there, though the girls did ruin it for us. It’s hard to enjoy something when someone irritates you to the point of murderous intentions.

But the highlight was Neen being chosen as the witch. We heckled and called for her burning while the group were silent. They did eventually join in with chanting when the witch pricker encouraged it. Neen cursed everyone as the flames rose and when they died, all that remained was a charred skeleton. We asked if we could take it with us, as we were now a team member down and a charred skeleton would look great in our photos. We weren’t allowed and Neen was returned to us unharmed. Clearly a witch.

We had fifteen minutes before the final tour of the witches’ shop so we rushed across York to Stonegate and got there with two minutes to spare. Except the final tour had already left. Calamityville Horror – we didn’t get there in the end.

York Dungeons

Off with her head!

Ladies of the Manor

On Friday, us and fellow Calamityville Horror member, Neen set off for the annual Calamityville ghost hunting holiday. We were going to spend it in York, but decided to stop off en route at Baddesley Clinton, a gorgeous moated manor house in Solihull. It’s even more beautiful in the flesh. We started off by finding a cat. He tried to resist our affection, but we cornered him on a bench and he eventually relented and let us pat him. Going a whole weekend without patting a single animal is just unthinkable. We stopped to admire some ducks and geese who were swimming in the moat. Unfortunately, telling them we were grandmothers to a duck didn’t convince them to approach.

Baddesley Clinton

Baddesley Clinton

The island that Baddesley Clinton sits on was once used to keep cattle. The idea was that if the cows were surrounded by a moat, they couldn’t be stolen. The staff in Baddesley Clinton were brilliant. They were very knowledgeable, friendly and willing to talk about the house and its ghosts. They made the experience much better and gave us a new appreciation for the building. We got to see the priest holes, which were used during the Inquisition. Not a single priest was found at Baddesley Clinton.

One of the stories associated with the house is that of Nicholas Brome. Baddesley ClintonIn 1438, his father, John Brome, the Under Treasurer, bought the manor house. During the War of the Roses, they supported the losing side and fell out with the Earl of Warwick. John was murdered. In revenge, Nicholas killed the Earl of Warwick’s steward. He then bought himself a pardon, a get out of jail free card, which meant he was immune from the executioner for life. One day, he came home to find a priest in a compromising position with his wife. Some say it was intimate, others say the priest was tickling her under the chin. Nicolas killed the priest and as penance, built the steeple of St Michael’s church, which is on the grounds. Its said that the library is still stained by the priest’s blood. However, the National Trust have had the blood tested and it’s pig’s blood. It’s believed that the priest died in a part of the house that no longer stands. When Nicholas died in 1517 he requested that he should pay for his crimes by being buried standing up in the entrance to the church so that people would walk over his grave for all eternity.

He’s still there today.

Nicholas Brome

Nicholas’s grave

People have heard footsteps and seen door handles turn by themselves. A woman has also been spotted. Another site claims there are the sounds of voices arguing, the priest taking mass in the dark and a woman in black drifting through doors. Objects move and people have been pushed.

St Michael's Church

St Michael’s Church

After visiting the house, we headed for the church. Thunder rumbled in the bowel of the clouds and rain started to fall. We managed to get into the church and moved the mat to find Nicholas’s grave. We conducted a question session with a crystal in the church, with the atmospheric thunder crashing overhead. It was like being in a gothic novel without the doomed love story and one of us dying tragically. Though that would be great for the show :D

On our way back to the car, we heard the sheep bleating. They were scared of the storm. We went over to talk to them and it calmed them down. Though if they knew anything about the hauntings at Baddesley Clinton, they weren’t saying anything. One sheep did comply with “show us your babies” and showed us her twin lambs.

We decided to head for York as we wanted to go on a ghost walk which started at 8 p.m. We left Solihull at 3 p.m. We should have been in Tadcaster within two hours. Four hours of crawling traffic later, we finally reached our Travelodge. We stopped long enough to drop our stuff off then headed for York. We arrived at 7:50 and found a car park easily and it was close to the meeting point for the walk. We should’ve known it was too easy. The car park was full. So we moved on. The next car park had spaces. Except it closed at 8:30. Time started counting down. This was our first time in York. Panic started to set in. Next car park. Closed. Next car park. Closed. Tick, tick, tick…

The River Ouse

The River Ouse, where we met for the ghost walk

We found another one that was fairly empty but quite far away. We should’ve sensed something fishy but by now it was 8 p.m. Our first proper glimpse of York was a darkened blur as we ran to the meeting point. We arrived at 8:03 and the walk had just started. The group stared as we ran up, wielding our filming equipment, eyes twitching with rage at the car park situation. Except we weren’t allowed to film. The walk, the Original Ghost Walk,  took us on a tour of York. The group was big, which is a problem when you’re pixie sized like us and Neen, especially as tall people seem to be unaware just how tall they are and always stand in front of us. You get used to staring at people’s backs after a while. There were some interesting stories but there didn’t seem to be a lot of ghost stories. The guide told us about some places that were haunted but wasn’t allowed to actually tell us the stories.

The Golden Fleece

The Golden Fleece

After the walk finished we decided to head to York’s most haunted pub, The Golden Fleece. Neen brought games with her so we played Heck Meck while waiting for ghosts to show. The pub was built in 1503 and there are apparently 15 ghosts that haunt it. The most famous is Lady Alice Peckett, wife of John Peckett who owned the Inn and was the mayor of York. Guests have reported seeing Alice wandering the Inn and moving furniture.  Another permanent guest is a Canadian airman who fell to his death from the second floor balcony during WWII. In the bottom bar, a ghost known as One Eyed Jack has been spotted wearing a red coat and carrying a pistol. A grumpy old man is also spotted here and in the top bar, and a young boy apparently haunts the top bar. He was trampled to death by horses. In the cellar, Roman soldiers have been seen. The cellar was used to store the bodies of dead criminals. But the only spirits we saw were the Smirnoff Ices we were drinking. We nearly created our own ghost when Cat leaned back on her high bar stool only for one short leg to nearly pitch her to the step below. This was to kick start what would be a holiday of trips, falls and disgracing ourselves in a way no professional ghost hunters ever should. It’s a good job we’re not professional!

We returned to our car at midnight. To be robbed by the machines. £10.20 for four hours! We nearly wept at the pay machines and begged them to change their minds. The machines demanded we paid. We had a Mini. We’ve all seen that Mr Bean episode where he doesn’t want to pay car park charges and drives his Mini at the barrier when another car enters to avoid paying. We could do this. Except there were no other cars around and our mum made us promise to look after her car. After taking it off-roading in Cornwall, driving it at a car park barrier wouldn’t be wise. We’d left her our Smartcar and we didn’t want a revenge plot against General Pinkinton. We sobbed with each coin we pushed into the machine and drove away, shaking our fists. And we thought York didn’t have highway robbers any more!

Then we had to drive three miles past our Travelodge as it was on the other side of the dual carriageway and that was the next turning. Except we missed it and ended up six miles out before turning around. We finally got back at 12:30 a.m. So our first night in York didn’t turn up any ghosts but it has given us a new tagline – Calamityville Horror. We get there in the end.

Baddesley Clinton

Ladies of the Manor

Award Winning

Today we got to do something we’ve never done before – attend a prize giving. Our Horsemen of the Apocalypse novel, Bleeding Empire was longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize in January, so we were invited to the prize giving. We were a bit panicky – what should we wear? How will we cope? We were going to a town we’d never visited (not sure stopping at the services counts), on our own, to be in a room surrounded by complete strangers. For social phobics, this is what’s known as ‘flooding’.

The journey went surprisingly smoothly. We kept ourselves entertained with MCR & Rise Against & shouting “show us your babies!” to every farm animal we passed. Only the sheep complied. Yes we do this every time we pass farm animals on every journey we take. And we do it to the ducks and geese every time we pass Roath Park. No we don’t get bored. We managed to keep up with our directions and didn’t take a single wrong turn. We knew we were on course when we saw a Red Bull Mini, guiding us like a guardian angel. Then we reached the road where the supposed car park was. There was no car park. Once again AA route planner had betrayed us, the innocuous sheets of paper sitting smugly in the passenger footwell as we circled one way streets several times, nearly going the wrong way once. There were parking spaces, but only for an hour. We got out and studied a town map. Well, we stood there staring at it, acting like we weren’t at all lost. We got back in the car. Our directions tried to make us drive through a pedestrian zone. We don’t know what it is about English cities and their pedestrian zones, but please sign post them clearly. Neon lights clearly. We’re easily distracted. Luckily this one had a barrier, which thwarted us. The pedestrians eyed our pink charger suspiciously as we loitered. We bid a hasty retreat then had to find a different car park. We followed signs to John Lewis and were able to find the car park. As we were queuing to get into the car park, we heard a little girl telling her parents she wanted our car :D Little girl, you can only have it if you’re prepared to pay for all the pedestrian zone fines that are likely coming our way.

General Pinkinton turning heads.

General Pinkinton turning heads.

Unfortunately, we now had no idea how to get to St Stephen’s Church on High Street. We wandered out of the car park. Left or right? We picked left. It sloped upwards. We’ve based decisions on less. Now we had to do something we hate – ask people for help. The first person we asked was deaf. Our Makaton stretches to ‘thank you’, ‘toilet’ and ‘biscuit’ so we accosted a young guy in the middle of the road as the traffic edged forwards. He wasn’t local, so couldn’t help. The third person was able to point us in the direction. We don’t think the people of Exeter have ever seen Goths, judging by the stares and pointing. We’re used to receiving some stares from people, but this was from everyone. We hoped no-one attempted some sort of attack. Fishtail skirts look nice but they’re hard to walk in. Running was out of the question. We’d have to scuttle like forwards moving crabs. Despite having left ourselves an hour window to allow for getting lost, we reached the church with only fifteen minutes to spare.

Exeter Novel Awards ceremony

L-R Cathie Hartigan, Cat, Lynx, Margaret James.

As soon as we got there, we met novelist Margaret James. We’ve been Facebook friends for a while so it was nice to finally meet her. She’s just as lovely in person and introduced us to the rest of the judging panel, which consisted of herself, fellow Creative Writing Matters writers Cathie Hartigan and Sophie Duffy, and Broo Doherty from DHH Literary Agency. We then got talking to a fellow writer, Kathryn Eastman, who turned out to be from Church Village just outside of Pontypridd. She writes psychological thrillers and we’re dying to read them.

There was a shortlist of 6: 67 Ways to Kill Your Sister – Sonya Weiss, A Puff of Madness – Heather Reed, Brighton Revels, Anne Summerfield, Sealskin – Su Bristow, The Bean Farm – Joan Brennan and Timed Out – Barbara Hudson.

Exeter Novel awards ceremony

L-R Sophie Duffy, Broo Doherty, Ben Bradshaw, winner Su Bristow, Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James

The winner was Su Bristow with Sealskin, an intriguing sounding novel about selkies – shapeshifting seal women. The award was presented by MP Ben Bradshaw. We didn’t get to talk to him but we used to write to him frequently regarding farm animal welfare when he was minister of DEFRA.

After the ceremony we ended up in a group of Welsh & half-Welsh people. We go all the way to south England and still can’t leave Wales behind :D We also briefly chatted to a script writer from LA. He said his son Ben would love us as he’s a fellow Goth. A woman came over to speak to us as she recognised us from Writing Magazine. There we were, talking to a script writer from LA. And what did we decide to talk about it? The watchtower. Think we might need some coaching in small talk. Our psychologist used to tell us WEST – Weather, Entertainment, Sports, TV. We successfully covered none of these. But did describe Cold Knap’s brown sea well.

Then a guy called Tom came over to speak to us. We think he was Su’s son, but we are hopeless with names and recognising people, so we might be wrong. He seemed really nice and told us about wanting to teach English in foreign countries as he’s just graduated from uni. We described our African snails’ breeding techniques. *Sighs* this is why we don’t get invited to parties. In our defence, he started it :D Remember what we said about needing coaching in small talk? We must be the only people to describe how snails fire ‘love darts’ from their necks to a complete stranger. Think we’ve finally outdone ourselves.

People kept trying to persuade us to talk to Broo Doherty, the agent who presented the award, but we’re terrible at approaching people. We’re the kind of socially awkward penguins who will stand by someone until they notice us.  When it comes to social situations, we’re the ones sitting in the dark corner avoiding eye contact. But there were no dark corners in the church. Luckily Margaret took us over to introduce us. Broo was lovely and invited us to send her some of our work. :) We shocked her with how old we really are and attributed our preserved appearance to Red Bull. Yes Red Bull was present. The invite didn’t say ‘plus one’ but Red Bull is always invited.

St Stephen's church, Exeter

St Stephen’s church

Going to the award ceremony on our own was a major step for us. This time a year ago we would never have done it. This time six months ago we would never have done it. We would’ve begged and bribed someone to accompany us and if that failed, we would’ve skipped the ceremony. But today, there we were, surrounded by people we didn’t know and we didn’t panic and flee or hide in a dark corner. We even managed to make eye contact with people. Are we becoming…social butterflies? *Remembers the snails.* Maybe not quite…

All Along the Watchtower

We just checked our blog calendar and saw we haven’t blogged at all this month. We wish we had a good excuse, but we’ve had nothing to say, so rather than bore you with inane ramblings, we figured we’d wait until something came along.

And boy did something come along.

Those who know us are probably sick to death of us telling people about the castle we will own one day. Pipe dreams, yes, but our belief is unwavering. Then we found this. A watchtower.

Cold Knap watchtower

Raven’s Nest

It sits on Watchtower Bay in Cold Knap and the Vale of Glamorgan are putting it up for auction, asking price, £1000. We want it. We even wrote on our memo board telling ourselves to buy it. 001They said it would suit a writer or artist. We’re writers. Dylan Thomas had his boat house in Laugharne, C L Raven could have a watchtower in Barry. Even better, it looks like a castle. And we have plans. Big plans – writers or artists retreat, art gallery, board game nights – imagine playing Game of Thrones, Shadows over Camelot and Cyclades in a watchtower on the beach with only gas lamps. Think of Halloween! We could create our own haunted watchtower! Us and our mate Rich got very excited. He even renamed it Raven’s Nest and we then renamed the bay Ravens Bay. We’ve even circled the place on our map and written ‘Ravens Bay’ by it. It’s official. The tower was ours except for the legal documents. Had the auction been that day, the three of us probably would’ve driven down and bought the tower there and then. We should never be left unattended.

The more we tried convincing our mum that a watchtower was the thing that was missing from our lives, the more we convinced ourselves. Our sister sort of saw the appeal, until we got carried away talking about our flag and the raven symbol we would project into the sky, like the Thundercats alarm. Then she thought we were crazy. If we had money, we’d be dangerous. There’s eccentric then there’s Ravencentric.

these rocks should stop our enemies

these rocks should stop our enemies

On Sunday, Neen bundled her dog Meg into the back of the Mini and we set off the find the watchtower. And it is stunning. It sits on a rocky beach overlooking the freezing brown sea that Barry is famous for. No relaxing blue sea from holiday brochures, it’s just brown. And Cold Knap is ALWAYS cold, even in the summer. The name is not ironic. But that adds to the Gothic beauty of the watchtower. We explored the outside of the tower, hoping to find a low window we could squiggle through.

Lynx climbing to the door

Lynx climbing to the door

Sadly the windows were too high and the shutters for the boat entrance were padlocked. It’s like they knew and were deliberately keeping us out. We climbed the rocks but couldn’t reach the front door so we retreated for plan B – trespass someone’s garden and get in that way. We’re buggers for trespassing.

That failed. But as we lurked, we overheard a man asking someone about the watchtower. Our watchtower. Furious that this interloper was trying to glean inside info, we hung around, listening in and trying not to look suspicious. Bit hard when all the fishermen have seen you trying to find ways inside the tower and heard you openly discussing it. Note to selves – silence the fishermen. Then our rival approached the tower. So we followed him. Instead of going with our first instinct to body barge the man into the sea to drown beneath the freezing brown waves, Neen struck up conversation. Yes we know that’s not how they do it on Game of Thrones but there were witnesses. We had to know what he knew. And he knew more than us. *fists curl*

009He was a cake maker by trade and wants to buy the watchtower to turn it into tea rooms. We could see that working but it’s not as good as our Halloween Watchtower we have planned. He was from Southsea. Think that’s in England somewhere. So he had come a very long way just to look at the watchtower. Wasted trip our friend, that baby is ours. Luckily he wants to keep the tower original. So do we, but that’s mostly because we can’t afford to do much else to it. Although CADW do give out heritage grants…The tower needs repointing. We’ve watched Grand Designs, we can do it. He said he believed they’d installed stairs inside and electricity. “Good,” we said. “They’ve saved us a lot of work after we buy it.” Then he told us they’d opened up the watchtower on Thursday and it looks like they’re planning to do it again this Thursday. We rubbed our chins. We said “how interesting. We might have to come back.” He said the same thing. We smiled at him and eyed the lapping waves.

Meg will be the Raven's Nest guard dog

Meg will be the Raven’s Nest guard dog

He left before we did then as we were leaving, we saw people driving around, looking at the watchtower. “Stop looking at our tower!” we shouted. “Bloody trespassers.” Then we eyed the nearby apartments. People living that close to our watchtower could form a coup. The apartments will have to be flattened. And the cottage behind the tower. And the lifeguard station on the other side of the beach. We will not tolerate coups.

If what our rival said is true, on Thursday, when they roll up the shutters, we will be there. And once we are inside and shouting “squatters rights!” that watchtower will be ours. Then our world take over bid can finally begin…

it will be ours

it will be ours

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