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 😀

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 😀 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 😀 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 😀 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