This is something I have been looking forward to for a very long time. When perusing a library copy of Lancashire Pub Walks I discover that not too far away lies Chingle Hall, a 12th century house, positively dripping in evil entities and reputed to be the most haunted house in England. I watch a documentary on youtube, which makes it apparent that if I leave without seeing at least one ghost, I am clearly not paying attention.
There is not one priest hole but two, not just one ghost but many undead-all drifting around in a big ghostly X-Factor, all competing to be the most tragic. I personally am rooting to feel the presence of Eleanor Singleton who was imprisoned, raped and forced to bear children by her uncle and finally murdered. Apparently in her bedchambers, a terrible sensation of fear and loss can be felt and what better way to spend a breezy summer day by getting titillated by the tragic story of a rape victim and hopefully being filled with utter utter terror?
I forget that I need to leave the bathroom light on at night despite being 32 years old and decide this sounds like a splendid day out and even more of a delightful trip into other peoples misery is the fact that the walk takes in an old abandoned mental hospital. I imagine stepping through gothic ruins carved with intricate crazed graffiti with gnawed straightjackets lying about. It is going to be the best day ever I decide.
Goosnargh is not the ancient windswept village I imagined but a modern smattering of suburbia cloistering around an old village green. There is The Grapes pub, the one famous for being in not only Lancashire Pub Walks but also Lancashire Pub Strolls but it is hemmed in by Audis and Mercedes and people in very expensive looking clothes, tans and laughter celebrating a very expensive looking wedding. I fear they can see and indeed smell the baby vomit down my left shoulder and we do not enter The Grapes.
I am not good at navigating but we successfully follow the Lancashire Pub Walk up someone’s drive, through a field, over a surprising variety and style of styles and then we see the abandoned mental hospital. It looks like a boarded up Toby Carvery and is a crushing blow. Then it starts to rain.
We get a bit lost until seeing the ghastly white veneer of Chingle Hall shining like a beacon of terror; I roll under the electrified wire that is blocking the alleged footpath.
A strange walk through strips of field that have been heavily creepily fenced seemingly at random and with no expense spared to height, cost and general forebodingness. A squat tin building sits surrounded by more looming fencing and gates bigger than my house. There are no windows or doors to be seen but a very expensive looking vehicle sits emptily in our path with blacked out windows. I think the alive are sometimes more scary than the undead.
We continue to walk through our fenced in strip until there it is. Chingle Hall. Recognisable from a thousand bad paranormal forums and websites with black background overuse of exclamation points and ‘dripping’ fonts. A smaller than expected white building almost slumped in the ground with an archway so swallowed by time that the top of it is nearly in the grass.
I am even more desperate for the toilet than to see proof that science and thus everything we know is wrong and hope there will also be ice cream. It doesn’t look like there is ice cream here. I suspect there are not pencils embossed with ‘I had a spooktacular time’ style puns here. I suspect that something is wrong.
There is no-one fleeing screaming down the driveway. There are no signs, no entrance charges, no people and err no entrance. I walk around bewildered but it is clear. I am at Chingle Hall. But I cannot get in. Well, at least without walking around the building but I can see I am as unwanted here as an exorcist at a spiritualist group. This is not a place for the esoteric day-tripper anymore. My partner points out yet again that the pub walk book is quite an old edition and asks yet again if I had phoned up to verify ‘Chingle Hall is open to the public between 10 and 5 pm.’
I reply somewhat testily but my whole world is crumbling away and not in the manner I had hoped. And I still really really need the toilet.
A last doleful look at Chingle Hall as we walk down the driveway to the main road just in case a White Lady pops sympathetically out of the shrubbery but nothing. My partner who is not a fellow delver into unknown realms but prefers technology, smugly shows me a page from the BBC website which states that ‘Chingle Hall is now a private residence and not even open for charity events’. (Chingle Hall used to kindly let spook hunters give them cash in return for a night of hopefully being scared shitless or photo an ‘orb’-even I scorn ‘orbs’)
I begin to get angry. Why buy the most haunted house in England to then close it to the public? There are lots of ancient lovely old piles around-why pick one that is so famous and then shut it down? I wanted to see the priest holes nearly as much as a transparent monk. It is a piece of history and intrigue- now like its’ strange neighbours, fenced off and closed to those who can’t afford it. A part of heritage swamped in legend and stories the proles can now only read about in obsolete library guides. Meh. And I still need the toilet. A lot.
A stomp down the main road, we see a pub advertising real ales and the like and we enter, I order a hot chocolate and dash to the loo. My hot chocolate comes sans cream and with a stupid biscuit instead of a chocolate and such is my general anger that it makes me feel like dashing my head in on a mock beam. It is a normal historic (a fancy sign says so) pub that has been vampirised and made into fake history. Main courses at fifteen pounds but old unread books from an auction on a ledge to make you feel you are in the past despite the piped music and the cheery blackboards and the sachets of condiments, people with fake tans and white smiles talking loudly over expensive white wine. But it does sell butter pie, a pleasing and random find when boredly looking at the menu we can’t afford and there is also strangely a large selection of sweets for sale in the foyer.
And in a small village, there is a modern shop development opposite which features a modern trendy looking sweetshop which optimistically and so Englishly has chairs and tables outside cowering in the shade of June thunderclouds. A sign for ‘natural’ ice cream draws us within and I am surprised to find that Vimto is a ‘natural’ ice-cream flavour. We share an ‘Italian Eton Mess’ ice cream, which tastes a bit aniseedy and I do not like it. I do not like anything today and am cross. I wanted the paranormal, ancient history and oil paintings with tragic stories attached to them and I all I got was a hot chocolate with no cream and a weird tasting ice cream.
I buy a ‘lucky bag’ from the strange sweet shop for 50p looking around me at all the lovely handmade fudge and chocolates. I get a bag of gelatine filled sweets, which was to be fair all one can expect for 50p but I am a vegetarian, and in a bad mood. A really bad mood which even animal bones and colourings moulded into the shape of a mouth and teeth can’t alleviate.
We decide to leave Goosnargh.
We sit in the car and are sad. The early promise of summer besmirched by rain, high fencing and privacy, all such English diseases.
A silent journey and then a sign, which states Barton Grange-its attractions, are garden centre, restaurant, café and farm shop. So desperate am I to salvage something from the remains of the day, we perform a dangerous u-turn as I pretend to need bread, thinking of meandering though an antiquated artisan farm shop but instead we enter a 4×4 bedecked car park with colour coded parking areas. My boyfriend has a panic attack and a life crisis as we enter the Pink Zone but I feel curiously young and attractive as I look at all the other denizens of the Barton Grange Experience.
There is something called along the lines of a ‘tasty cabin’ but more alliterative as we enter. This sells small chocolate lollipops in the shape of footballers for £1.75 and other small expensive chocolate novelty items along with gourmet jellybeans, inertia and despair.
The entrance to the ‘farm shop’ has farmyard implements embossed impractically into a fake wall. Trowels and hay forks are haphazardously swirlingly embedded into the wall of a modern purpose built block on a major A road. Within the ‘farm shop’, a big airy modern shed are rustic plastic displays of wheelbarrows with over spilling unseasonal fruit, chickens, more trowels, all a glorious cacophony of what used to be on this land before it was paved over to assemble a farm shop selling overpriced luxury crisps, jam and dry cake to antiquarian idiots. There is a queue at the till. It is a day out.
We do not enter the garden centre. In my head the flowers will be plastic and all the same shade of pink. We do not enter an adjoining shop, which has a bright array of expensive bolshy umbrellas, and foul jaunty or understated clothing. People who seek a fake idyll of Britishness swarm here, who romance a hideous past but instead of looking for a ghost, buy a Victorian chutney for three quid and thus feel a faint faint sense of immortality before getting into their Peugeots and driving back home back to the same old boring boring present.
I hope whoever owns Chingle Hall absolutely pisses themselves every time there is a faint thump in the background as we the hideous poor public drift like ghosts in search of a past we can never find, but can only attempt to purchase ourselves, where the real past is hidden and a fake sanitised past given to us to overspend on as we drift between past, present and a future that we don’t want to think about thank you very much because it won’t be picturesque and pretty so best to bury our heads in cheese with an oldie name when we have a ‘free’ weekend, to rhapsodise with starry eyes over others deaths a pleasing century away and try like hell to not think of the horrors that await for the alive.