May 6 2012

Wray Scarecrow Festival 2012

They take parking a car in a field very seriously in Wray. About three men in luminous tabards and various facial expressions from ecstatic enthusiasm to somber steady seriousness gently guide us through to a sweet smooth spot next to another car in a field. I feel it was £1.50 well spent.

Wray seems to be a place where many things might be Taken Very Seriously and Decided by a Committee. I went to a cold car boot here last week and all the books had all been very recently featured in Sunday supplements of Good Newspapers. I suspect nipping to the Post office here with a hangover on a Saturday morning might be fraught with discussing meta-textuality within AS Byatt and Victoria Beckham’s Learning To Fly is hidden next to the empty Gordons bottles in the conservatory.

The theme for this years scarecrow exhibition encompasses anniversaries- the Titanic, the Jubilee, etc and the Olympics.

Many villagers decide to try and take on all of these grand narratives by having a sagging straw filled queen saying something about the Olympics beginning with ‘One…’

The first scarecrow I was going to caption was of Boris Johnson but my boyfriend could not bear to take a photo of the mop topped lumpen caricature. Or even his scarecrow…

I have never see such immaculate rubbish in my life. I could quite happily live in this small triangle where I suspect a protractor might have been involved. And this was the rubbish from a fun fair! It was a very neat fun fair to be honest. I wanted some awful chips in a cone and perhaps a wild-eyed carnie but there were kangaroo burgers and soft rock played in quiet measured tones instead.

A canoe, a scarecrow and the queen all united against Cameron. Now THIS is how revolutions happen.

What Jubilee? What recession? In this house we only like spies. Spies are awesome. I was not allowed to have a scarecrow in a holdall. The committee said No.

You know you are in a bad way when looking at scarecrows in swimming costumes makes you compare cellulite with them.

It is also the anniversary of the Pendle witches. And Colonel Gaddafi apparently, looking towards the back.

This looked so much like the actual queen I had to stop and stare and fire five rounds just to be on the safe side.

In Wray, people have spare Dysons just in case of the occasion of gay/queen/Queen/I Want To Break Free video scarecrow puns.

I like the photos of local children in the portholes of this one. Are they simulating drowning or just simulating watching scarecrows drown? Leonardo De Caprio scarecrow’s big rubber glove hand on Kate’s nether regions adds extra pathos and intrigue.

Usain Bolt is actually made of bolts. An astounding feat but I would not want to be neighbours with the dedicated, literally minded welder of metal.

Wray loves synchronized swimming. This was terrifyingly ambitious, splendid and detailed. Apart from the feet. But feet are hard.

There was a parade of giant scarecrows on Friday night. It was somewhat reminiscent of middle England Wickerman. Apart from the fact that nobody died. Unless the Teacup ride at the fair turned nasty later.

Unicycle Emptiness also covered Wray 2011 and 2010. Click the links for more (slightly dated) topical scarecrow related shenanigans than is probably healthy….

Apr 29 2012

Cross Bay Walk

There is no way I am going across that fucking bay. The walk to the toilets from the car park has nearly broken me. It is cold, at least 50 metres and at the end the toilet demands 20p per pee and I have no cash on me. This is it. This is as much as a personal challenge as I can face on a Saturday morning but a nice woman holds the loo door open for me, a delightful example of middleclass anarchism.

I look across the churning sucking bay. There is far too much water there. I seek sanctuary under the awning of ‘She Sells’ eco boutique. I decide I love Arnside so much I do not want to leave it.

Volunteering to do a cross bay walk is easy. The reality is terrifying. You forget about the elements when sitting on a sofa blankly clicking on Facebook.

But it is for the Bipolar UK and I have told a good friend and organiser of the walk that I will do it.

The assembled crowd are jolly and friendly.

The bay is the opposite of jolly and friendly. I look wildly around for escape routes but it is 9am, I do not drive and the pubs are shut. Thus I have no escape routes and am embarrassed by the assembled lively enthusiastic children.

I can see Kents Bank, our destination, twinkling in the distance; it does not look too far away.

Then we wade into the water and walk away from it for hours and hours.

The feeling of doing something you have never done before is discombobulating, terrifying and exciting.  I realize I hate adventure and try and make a break back to the Albion pub that will be open in a few blissful hours but a woman casually walking with a sturdy four year old in her arms and a serene smile makes me keep going. Albeit not in the spirit of charity, more envy and spite at her impressive upper arm structure. I am struggling to keep my bag of crisps out of the water.

The sand is cold, the sand is freezing, we head out across the bay and it is amazing.

Crabs crawl from under our feet; we are still not walking towards Kents Bank, that small village across the bay but to the far horizon.

But from this mismatch of people with rucksacks comes a festival in the middle of the sea. But without the shit music. People chat, share hipflasks, coffee and stories, strangers natter and we hold hands as we go knee high in water, water which is surprisingly warm compared to the elements outside it. The views are amazing. It looks like dinosaurs could still live in those yonder blue shadowed mountains. We walk and walk and watch our destination sitting like a mirage, never ever getting closer.

The sand is colder, colder but alive and fresh and so wonderful to feel nature between your toes, feel the texture and depth of natural materials, assess the sand before plummeting your feet in. I trust Cedric Robinson, official Queens guide to the Sands and his biblical route marked with branches but suddenly feel a sinking sinking sensation in the feet and stomach and a scrambly second of panic before twisting my toes away from the tiny hole in front of me and trying not to think about how it would feel to keep sinking like others have here before me. Horses and carriages lie under these sands.

With the first submersion into proper water comes at first the denial and then rebirth. I cannot escape this so I walk into it, head held high and people around me whoop and cheer.

The second delve through the river Kent and the current makes this impromptu al fresco town realize the true power of nature-it is only up to our thighs but we have to concentrate on walking because there is a surging churning invisible power that is desperate to take us far far away and I can see how it might be easier to give in to it, let your legs be sucked away by the invisible maelstrom beseeching you to go away, away, away, it seems almost easier than this dogged stomp against nature.

This transient population is now alone on a sudden sand desert in the middle of nowhere that could be the Caribbean if it was not for the hazy mirage of Heysham power station in the distance, power and danger again in a squat faint box on the horizon.

We walk through the sea barefooted and biblical, take photos of views we may never see again, we are doing something very special today.

Kents Bank is starting to appear closer. I want a drink and a wee. But I also don’t want this to end, because this experience will never happen again.

I walked across the bay to raise money for Bipolar UK

If you have ever enjoyed reading this blog, it would make me very happy if you could chuck a quid in their direction.

Dec 11 2011

Witchcraft, cake and wine

The car parking is suspiciously cheap.

Maybe I don’t want to go to a town that offers four hours of car parking for a pound and free car parking on December Saturdays. This must be a rancid desperate whore of a town.

But I do love a bargain. We leave the car. We will probably never see it again in such a frontier town frowned over by the misty misshapen satanic Pendle Hill, too far away for celebrity, too close for pleasantry.

We slither up the first ice we have encountered this winter. It would be here, darkly shadowing the paths up to the castle. Because how can we not go to the castle first? It has a Grim History. And I do love a Grim History.

But where were once gargoyles heads and revolving smouldering oxen’s bodies are now too bright lights, fake heat, cheery informative placards and MDF plastered over ancient dank walls. I can see why.  Schools will not pay to witness a dank ruin and risk a small modern knee smote through with an ancient rusty nail.

And now here is an over lit room with fossils and timelines. I have always hated fossils and timelines and little displays showing soil changes through the ages. Which is annoying, as I have always wanted to be an archaeologist. But without the boring bits. I find it sad though that the castle looks more like a Little Chef with display cabinets and a good view than an ancient building perched high on a hill.

But now is the Witchcraft Bit, which makes it all ok, and you can hear people with Lancashire accents talk through a speaker about long dead malevolent servants enticing people into a local river. And here is a tiny ancient shoe found hidden in the eaves of a nearby cottage. And the owner of that tiny shoe is forgotten, dead, unnamed and blown to the wind. And so is the optimistic owner of the supposedly charmed shoe.  Heh.

The Keep, also  at Clitheroe Castle has a sound installation based on the Lancashire Witches Trials. In a sleet swept happily unmodernised crumbled building, next to the castle, it is the only building in Clitheroe, which has the height and the bloody history to stare Pendle Hill in the eye.

Sighs and murmers echo and chasten, murmer and fold through the ruined prison where an ancient door on a floor that nobody earthly can access stays forever locked. The sighs and hummings are through a speaker but in this desolate spot so near humanity but so far away, it is hard to tell the difference between the past, nature and a heavily advertised sight specific musical installation. Which means in my head at least it worked. I suspect letters to the local paper might suggest otherwise. Although on my brief perusal it seems the good citizens of Clitheroe are more obsessed with cat murder and dog shit.

A licensed café built into an historical site is what the world needs and the Atrium Café is very impressive with its alcohol list wider than its food range. I think I will move to Clitheroe I decide after soup, chips, and wine which is pretty much all one needs to be happy and alive and with change from a tenner.

I do not want to leave the castle, its over lit history, shops featuring glass bracelets, highly censored children versions of witches, well priced shiraz and crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside chips is pretty much all I have I have ever wanted out of life.

But then I discover a market with cheap butter pies, a shop that sells expensive cheese and bread with fancy stuff in it, the most ludicrously gorgeous trendy café featuring antique rocking horses, flamingo wallpaper and mulled wine tea.

People are so friendly I keep looking for a TV camera. Because this is Islington meeting the North in the shadow, the ever looming and ominous shadow of Pendle Hill.

And I shall return.

Nov 14 2011

Lancaster Photoblog

Oct 27 2011

Misery, suicide and ghosts- a pleasant day out in Chipping

I like the concept of a walk until I have been actually walking for a bit, slipped in some mud and had a bit of a fight about being lost. Then I see something like a deer or an abandoned cottage and I like walking all over again until I slip in some mud and get a bit lost.

This walk was in Lancashire Tea Shop Walks, a book that must be about two decades old and it was not the teashop or the walk that attracted me although that is how I presented it to my partner to get him to drive there. It is a good old  fashioned  tale of misery, betrayal, suicide and ghosts. Which is also licenced.

Lizzie Dean, a servant at the Sun Inn in Chipping was having a romance with a local man. He dumped her to marry her best friend in a true cliché of wankerness and on the day of the wedding, rather than make gestures as to the small size of his cock from her window overlooking the church, slag him off on Facebook or go on the Jeremy Kyle show, it being the 19th century, she chose to hang herself and her ghost is well reported as being said to haunt that very same pub.

I feel sorry for Lizzie. There is now a Lizzie’s Lounge in The Sun and although I wandered wide eyed around the pub hoping something ghostly might happen, there were only well priced pub meals and posters advertising a Halloween event featuring bats. It was a nice pub though and even nicer for having completed the six mile walk in the aforementioned Lancashire Tea Shop Walks.

A woman came in when we were there and when told about the sausage hotpot, asked grimly how big the sausages were to which the confused teen attempted to measure with his hands and then perform a clumsy chopping motion.

The walk itself was soggy, muddy but ultimately wonderful due to a sudden fold in the hills opening up into a heathery glen, the sort of one you just want to lie spread-eagled in and shout ‘aaaaaah’ at the skies. It is muddy though so I do not. There are wooded copses of the sort that hide bodies and treasure, creepy glens of stunted trees where surely wraiths must glide when not disturbed by the sound of an argument over which way is next whilst holding a sodden charity shop guide book and there are crumbling barns. The fells overhead are magnificent and it is like being in a budget Glencoe.

Back in Chipping, we  peruse the village store which is antiquated and excellent, selling local cheese, faded birthday candles and Wispas. There is another pub, The Tillotsons Arms that ahem, has to be explored/drunk in and I am delighted by its gothicness until realizing it is preparing for Halloween and the skulls are not permanent. It is a friendly pub though with decent ciders and awards by CAMRA.

On the way back, we go to see Lizzie’s grave. According to her suicide note she wanted to be buried at the front of the church so her ex lover and friend would have to step past her grave every time they went to church, which has to be the ultimate in passive aggression.

Oh Lizzie. Seeing your grave you made me realize you were real and I apologise for nosing excitedly for your unhappy ghost. You were too dignified in life and I suspect you regret it bitterly now that your only outlet now is to attempt to spook over a Meal For A Fiver menu.

You should have just killed them both.

Oct 21 2011

Self pity, chips and Lancaster

It is recession time and it is bleak. Remember when this blog was started? Unless you are my mum you probably do not. I wrote about boutique hotels in major cities, I critisied canapés and described third courses in words stolen from Sunday newspapers. Now I have a baby, no money and a part time public sector job. I am a vox pox of 2011 and my roof is leaking, the camera is broken and to cut a long whining story short, my blog has not been updated in a while, I can’t afford to go anywhere so I will walk around Lancaster with a pushchair and hope for something exciting to happen.

Hmm, nothing exciting has happened as yet. I walk past the quay where there were gypsies camped but they have left it relatively clean. Apart, surprisingly from a baby bath.

The quay is wonderful to me and I try to walk past it every day-I like its urban dereliction, shattered boats, adverts for long defunct businesses and the history behind these mammoth facial slabs of building-behind which now lie broken office chairs, badgers, feral cats and tumbling nature. The river Lune shoots past, grey and angry possibly because it is heading towards Morecambe and nobody likes Morecambe on a bleak October day. Sorry Flotsam. Sorry Jetsam. You were washed down here from the more cerebral heights of the Lake District and now are passing a grave to British industry. To the right across the river is Skerton, which makes these 19th century derelict warehouses look positively antiquely charming.  Over there lies all concrete ‘office space’ where nobody has taken an office, snarled up roads and an enormous spaceship Asda to which I am attracted to more than I should be.

But we are still firmly on the left side and so we pass the Maritime Museum, a wonderful pillared place, formerly the town hall and a place I spend so much time in, the staff recognise me. My baby’s first words will hopefully be anchor. It is a cosy place where people are pleasant at all times, has a changing room full of painted fish and a quiet café where you will always be chatted to. There are wooden replicas of ships, terrifyingly realistic 18th century figures rolling barrels (one of which I rather fancy) canal boats you can sit on and one for the children, a replica stagecoach where a disembodied voice narrates the deaths of people who traveled the treacherous sinking sand of Morecambe bay.

I should really take the baby to Stay and Play sessions at the nursery a bit more but I want him to be aware of mortality and also I don’t have to make asinine conversation about the weight and cleverness of other babies. He seems to like it anyway.

We walk along over the Millennium Bridge, a wonderful piece of architecture shaped like a ship’s sail which everyone else in Lancaster hated and is still a feature in angry letters to the Lancaster Guardian along with the traditional favourites of dog poo and cyclists.

In town, filled with happiness on this bright Autumnal day, I enter a charity shop and then leave frozen and still by the talk of misery, illness and death and also by the prices on bobbly Primark dresses.

We go to NICE, a bar and café that unlike most others on the high street does not offer pie, chips and peas for under four quid. And thus the middleclass flock to it.

It has quotes from clever books embossed on the wall, Japanese beer on draught, sporadic poetry and music events in the next room, an art gallery overhead and an air of well-fed middle class gentility. A meal is about a quid more than a large house red and nearly as good- think date based cous cous recipes with foreign names for under six quid. Think women in Monsoon clothing with large lattes and a general sense of wellbeing.

I prefer The Merchants pub next door but the baby hates it because it is dark and thus bedtime. It is underground, an old wine merchants, does the best chips known to humanity and has a variety of newspapers. It is my idea of Nirvana and I miss rainy Sundays there very much and is the only reason I resent the baby sometimes. I like the combination of students, alcoholics and random people who have missed a train (possibly due to alcoholism)

Sometimes it has the Evening Standard or The Scotsman left by a weary (alcoholic) commuter which makes it a portal into another glamorous world when you did not have a baby in a pram you can’ t quite fold up, a bank balance that equals zero and memories of when a meal out was not eaten with fingers in a cold Northerly wind and your life did not take place within half a mile. I blame the Conservatives. Because they are easier to blame than contraceptives and far far less cuter than babies.  And in short, just because I can.

Oct 9 2011

Romance, rain and petty vandalism in Carnforth

You know you have hit rock bottom when you catch a train just to go to the next  station along the line. And then don’t even leave said station. But if you have ever been to Carnforth you will understand why as it is a grim straggle of a town where the goods in the shop windows appear to have stopped being replaced in the mid eighties. There is a pub called The Canal Turn where someone has painted out the C on the sign. This is the second best thing about Carnforth.

But within this windy hinterland of £3.95 Sunday Carveries and wretched looking charity shops lies simmering passion, thwarted carnal desires and unmentioned love.

The waiting and refreshments room at Carnforth station is famous for it appearing in the 1940’s film, Brief Encounter where two well-spoken people gaze longingly at each other, talk about nothing and you wonder why they just don’t get some bloody Durex and get on with it. Although this would make it another sort of film entirely and one possibly less desirable to the pleasant grey haired people sitting  in its restored interior eating toffee and date cake. There is a gramophone playing quiet jazz, a wood burner and a general air of gentility and pleasantness. The Comments book is unsullied by rude words in childish hands and we are called young by some nice old people by the fire who natter on about their childhood. What better place to go on a rainy Sunday morning? And it’s licensed. That always helps. There are sticky cakes of the old fashioned no nonsense tray bake variety and a short stodgy menu. It is always raining outside and the nice old people are always instantly replaced by other nice old people. Or the occasional grumpy looking cyclist in Lycra.

There is a museum devoted to trains of yore and in the gift shop a woman is re-imagining the Cumberland sausage she had at lunchtime with the dreamy eyes of the film heroine. No-one appears to be buying anything train related, they just wonder around in the romantic daze only tonnes of combustible metal and coal can arouse in people of a certain type. There are no teenagers sneering, there is no rubbish or complaining but reality trickles in with a sign saying the steam train excursions are now cancelled due to security issues at Sellafield. I suspect al-Qaeda would not stand a chance trying to infiltrate a steam buffs excursion-especially if they were not wearing corduroy and making genial remarks about the wetness of the summer.

The Harry Potter train is here but lies hidden in a tunnel after teenage vandalism several years ago. Other trains in various states of antiquity and dishevelment lie around like a big rusty elephants graveyard. Within the station museum, the TV screens endlessly show Brief Encounter, the black and white images of unconsummated love flickering silently as people shuffle around and are delighted with the safe comforting representation of the past in politeness and British steel not the reality of the Anal Turn and a merrily smashed Hogwarts Express.

I like it too but find nearly three pounds for a piece of cake a slightly too high a price on nostalgia but am comforted by my glass of wine and bowl of chips, an uncouth meal compared to my white haired neighbours cups of tea and slowly sipped soup but it is cosy in here and foul  outside so I too shall hide from the present for just another half hour.

Sep 13 2011

Deaths on a Sunday

I am terrified of backwards reincarnation. It is probably not number one in most peoples fears. More prosaic and unoriginal ones like cancer and car crashes possibly top the fear Top Ten but right now at 11.30 on a Sunday morning I am petrified of going back in time and waking up lice covered, chained and doomed in a cell at Lancaster Castle.

It is National Heritage weekend-places not normally open to the public are free to nose around and ones which normally charge are free, hence myself and a slightly befuddled baby are staring into the thick thick black of a cell where many people died. You can be locked up in there for a whole minute to have a Full Terror Experience-I decline and the people who smilingly enter look different when they come out-a bit of the sheen has been knocked off them and they are quieter. And probably in need of a double gin.

The past was really quite spectacularly terrible.  I feel slightly fobbed off in an age where Katie Price is headline news. We traipse around the castle listening to the cheery Geordie voice of the guide regaling us with all manner of treachery, betrayal, murders and uprisings- more people were sentenced to be hung here than at The Old Bailey in London and if you look up at the ceiling in the old court room, you can see gilded embossed nooses. A nice touch worthy of a psychopathic Laurence Llewellyn Bowen.

The pedant in me winces when hearing the story of the Lancaster witches cheerily told as truth, even down to shape shifting familiars as I feel this does a disservice to the innocent who died hideous deaths due to superstition, ignorance and malice. And I normally love a bit of superstition, ignorance and malice on a Sunday morning.

And talking of which-our next stop is St Thomas and Elizabeth Catholic church in Thurnham, formerly the private chapel of the Dalton family. A mausoleum gapes creepily open; only four spaces filled. I should feel somewhat cheated if I was one of the four interred, have a sneaking suspicion that my other relatives have somehow escaped death and are mocking my gullibility and naivety at embracing it so easily.

Inside the lavishly decorated church some elderly women are offering cups of tea and cakes like the last 100 years has never happened and discussing the surprising wetness of the tea towels.

There are treasures on display, glamorous kitsch Catholic ones replete with their own bloody histories of theft and death. It is turning out to be an excellent Sunday morning.

The wind has risen further and it is suddenly darkest dankest winter. Our last stop is the wind battered octagonal chapter house at Cockersands Abbey which was strangely enough used as a mausoleum by The Daltons of Thurnam Hall, whose church and mausoleum we have recently visited. A jolly grey haired woman pops up like a guardian elf in waterproofs and tells me the floor is on a higher level because of the mounds of dead underneath. The dead at St Thomas’s give a muffled cheer. It is a far less genteel resting place than the green peacefulness at Thurnham. A big gothic car boot sale, all tumbled old relics, faded inscriptions on weather-beaten stones haphazardly piled against the grey stone walls. It is exciting in its shambolicness, in the lack of artifice, brochures for sale or history tucked neatly away behind glass. Here history has been pulled in by inexperienced passionate hands from the elements who wail and howl outside as the sea churns and threatens and it is a very very real threat that soon this outcrop of history perched on the edge of the sea will soon be swallowed by it and it will only be remembered on laminated sheets looked at by the bored or curious on windy Septembers when history is free and the ground is quietly and slowly being washed away.

Jul 27 2011

A stone, Satan and finding mortality in graffiti

I am on open moorland, I am wearing a playsuit with leggings underneath and I need a wee. This is not good. This is really not good. I knew I should not have bought an all in one playsuit at the age of 32. To undertake the weeing process will render me startlingly naked so I perform clumsy hopping motions trying to remove leggings from underneath the legs of the playsuit and then fall onto spiky moor. I resolve not to ever wear a playsuit again.

This is proper moorland too, well if proper moorland consists of seeing the dried desiccated husk of a sheep adhered to the road. We are on a mission to see the Great Stone of Fourstones, a behemoth of a rock said to have been dropped by a clumsy satanic hand when the devil was somewhat somewhat helpfully for an entity of darkness building The Devils Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale. The other somewhat more prosaic and rational explanation is that the monolith is a remnant from the ice age but I prefer to ignore cold hard science in favour of lubricous badly remembered anecdote, legend and lies (but no, I am not a fan of the Bible)

Upon the great stranded rock’s sides, centuries of graffiti have been carved. The more modern graffiti seems rubbish old vandalism-crude hearts with ‘Kevin 4 Sue’ ripped crudely into the rock but look closely and you can see the faint and beautiful swoop of calligraphy from others who have made the trek through the moorland to carve their name on this isolated rock, to proclaim their immortality. And now only a faint elegant swoop of a letter `J’ remains. Look for the name Metcalfe, admire the feathered elegance of the letters, elegy to a time when the precision and style of writing was as important as the content.  The Great Rock is a graveyard of names from the past and the future.

There are small carved steps leading to the top. I want to know who carved the steps and when but like the fact there is no information office telling you exactly what happened and with illustrated timelines because no one really knows, its past is not meticulously photographed, explained and sold in a glossy pamphlet format. Not all history is recorded, especially not here in this bleakly beautiful boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire.

There are even smaller steps, mere rough grooves around the other side of the rock, steps you would not even know were steps if you were not to have read the small and light of information vandalised board so distant from the rock, it is almost invisible. The sign references enticingly and briefly the probability there were another three stones, hence the name but the other three stones have disappeared over the centuries or were never there to begin with. We will never ever know.

I like this and am yet frustrated by it. I like not being told but I still want to know. But the mystery of this rock, its surface slightly scarred but its bulk still reaming unlike the weak flesh and bone who over centuries attempt to reclaim it.  But they become mere dust whilst the rock remains, an Ozymandius looking out over moorland, fields and mountains immobile and desolate, the names of once living breathing humans slowly fading away over time to become nothing more than a faint and fluttering letter J.

Jul 20 2011

Wicca, WKD and an absence of ghosts

I do not think I have ever been happier. It is not yet noon and I am knee high in grass and the half buried remnants of Hollinshead Hall, hidden and almost forgotten in this wooded copse on the west Pennine moors.

There are no other people here, there is no entrance fee, just an old sign, which wonderfully states that the well house is an ancient sacred site, and there are many ghosts (well, one man is stated to have somewhat extravagantly seen six before sunrise.)

Other people have been here before me. Some have made a fire pit and enjoyed some blue WKD, a surprising choice for those choosing to spend a night at an abandoned manor house in the middle of inhospitable moorland. I would plump for something with a far higher alcohol percentage.

There is a quite fresh very dead rat sprawled nearby. It is all very intriguing. There must be hidden treasure here in the shape of an 18th century sapphire ring in a crevice (I am nothing if not optimistic) but a search yields nothing until I find a small square rusted bolt which must be from an old mysterious thing from the past. My boyfriend thinks it might be from a JCB when the Liverpool Corporation Waterworks demolished most of the Hall but I prefer not to listen to him.

I am so, so happy here, in history reclaimed by nature. You are not told the details of everything that happened here. The sign optimistically and enigmatically states something along the lines of ‘What really happened here, no-one really knows, maybe someday we will find out the truth’

We won’t though but it is pleasing to not have the past of this manor house described in such detail that we know what they had for dinner. We are not looking at a roped off chair a famous bum once sat upon although we do know from an old quote on the sign, there was ‘much revelry here.’ I’m sure there also was when the blue WKD was drunk too.

The old well house remains intact and is the most terrifyingly gothic building ever. I peep through the barred windows at the gloomy interior that someone has clearly penetrated judging by the tea light husks within when my boyfriend suddenly does a ghostly noise behind me and despite the blazing July day I am suddenly cold. Then angry.

I walk around the Well house and discover a black gloomy slick of water. Then see something else. Against the black, the white. A note of paper carefully rolled up and tied with the delicate stem of a foxglove with the fresh head still unwilted. A dead tea light stands guard nearby, together on a rocky outcrop hazardously near the water. It is the most exciting thing I have ever seen. I want to lean over and uncurl the paper but I can’t.

It might be a 13 year old who has read A Beginners Guide To Wicca and thinks the letter might make Andy Moore fancy her, it might be a curse, a suicide note, a picture of a Lolcat. I want to know and I don’t want to know. I am now sitting here in my house writing this and still not knowing which makes it so much more exciting than the guilt of breaking that carefully weaved foxglove seal to look at the secret within which I suspect is not for my eyes.

Or is it?

Anyway, it’s all better than Christmas. This is a memory that will stay with me forever due to not being signposted, planned and researched and because I did not open the letter. But I will never ever sleep again.

Our original intention on this trip was Smithills Hall, a haunted historic place of repute near Bolton. Now I have found an abandoned manor house in the woods I am suddenly unimpressed by a place I have longed to go to and sneer condescendingly at a Bolton council van parked outside its bulging ancient exterior.

Things aren’t helped by a gift shop selling reduced Bounty bars and the merry hum and chatter by women in a conference room with a large amount of cakes and donuts beside them. Ghosts will not appear when there is a conference meeting of women with donuts. Everyone knows that.

Everything is roped off and despite me reading on the net about the rope occasionally suddenly moving of its own accord in these areas, I have a sudden chilly feeling that no ghost will appear on a bright bold July morning in a municipal building where women on plastic chairs say  ‘ooh, I mustn’t, go on, just the one then’.

However the entrance fee of three pounds is a bargain compared to similar but non-council owned buildings of antiquity smattered across the landscape of this country. It has a fascinatingly bloody pedigree and there are acres of historic woodland and parkland to walk in. It is a gateway through centuries – the wooden shell of the medieval kitchen remains along with the clear diamond in the servants frosted window panel for them to spy upon their lord’s comings and goings. The history is too much for a blog, could fill a thousand pages of intrigue, death and betrayal. I will leave it to you to look it up rather than badly recite it. People who lived here were burned for their beliefs. I would betray everyone I know should I be threatened with a paper cut.

I do not see a ghost. But I see history. Although it is hard to feel you are in the past when modern signs about the past repeatedly remind you that you are in the present.  So much is recorded, fenced off, dusted, rebuilt. I talk to a lovely man at the desk who doesn’t openly mock my opening gambit of ‘Have you seen any ghosts here?’ He is a prosaic friendly man who states his disbelief and then mentions he saw a door open and close by itself. He talks about the second storey abandoned, spooky and derelict since it was an old nursing home and I nearly wet myself. But we can’t go up there and I am glad in a way because like Hollinshead Hall I want the mystery.  And I want to imagine.

And I am so glad I never opened that letter. Because now mystery still remains.