Jul 6 2012

The Kirkstone Pass Inn and the potentiality of ghostly Wotsits

A lone pic shot on a camera phone to follow…

I want to go to the Kirkstone Pass Inn because someone tragically died there of course but long enough ago to make it romantic and nice not all horribly miserable and actually deathy. It is up a squizzle of a road through the Lake District, which is surprisingly not too hideously filled with middle class children, crammed into people carriers with an unfeasible amount of mountain bikes carried proudly and smugly aloft. On one such occasion we worked out there were two bikes per winsomely grinning face (we were in a queue and bored)

The rain is of course pouring down because it has never ever ever stopped.

So the woman who died trying to traverse the Kirkdale pass with her baby many years ago, long enough to make the suffering romantic is of course a ghost. I am bored and would like to see a ghost to brighten up conversational gambits I occasionally have to make and also because its raining and I can’t think of anything more interesting than to see a ghost and a large house red in hospitable surroundings. Instead of going to reduced bit at Asda again. And I already have far too much slightly rancid but well priced tzaiki.

I am by nature slightly credulous, hence the guilty library rental of local ghost books with their unfailing belief in Bogarts and bad photographs of gateposts to old manor houses but before the arrival of our Kia in the car park I was thinking ‘how could anyone die two hundred or so (the library book has gone back and I have a vague memory) years ago in a place where there is English Lakes Ice-cream for sale every few miles?

Then I nearly died walking from the car park to the pub.

It is enticingly windswept, grey stoned and ancient looking and I look forward to meeting a tragic ghost clutching a baby to a cold cold breast and letting her know that mother to mother, she is not a bad parent for giving up her life going to see her sick father and nearly so nearly killing her beloved babe in arms and that I have left mine in the car asleep with his neck at a unfortunate angle and his father murmuring crossly at the cricket on an appallingly tuned radio.

But then the chilling realisation that I will not see a ghost in a pub which sells key rings, has a rhyming poem telling people not to use the toilet unless they are customers and where some loud women are cackling about how they thwart the school packed lunched rule by hiding chocolate in lunchboxes underneath sandwiches. There is no magic left anymore in the world, dear reader.

Until my second glass of wine by the fireplace, the discovery that there is no phone signal and the finding of The English Book Of Ghost Stories by the fireplace.

In fact I am still there now.

If you, dear reader, ever travel up that squizzling zigzag path to the Kirkstone Inn, look out for the ghostly red dented Kia from which the sounds of an ancient cricket game can still be heard. And give the baby a packet of Wotsits.

I’m on the house red. Ta.

Mar 11 2012

Haigh Hall and highlighters

This post is dedicated to Lemons who replied to my blog when I thought I could not be arsed to write anything and after the realisation I had a reader, I wrote….

The elegant manor house hides nothing more sinister than flip board charts featuring ‘mind maps’, corporate slang and possibly some comic sans handouts in the cheap tin bins. I don’t know. I never went inside but ghosts do not appear wherever there is designated parking.

Haigh Hall near Wigan looked very haunted on ghost hunting sites on the Internet where in some Ballardian scenario it is now more scary than in actual reality. It was owned by People of Pedigree and a delve through its old parkland, skirting dog poo and having to reply to cheery people saying ‘hello’ did not diminish my enthusiasm and trust in coming face to face with some wraithly ancient nobleman-would he have a 19th century Wigan accent? And how would I be able to tell?

Then I saw the designated parking. My heart sank. For ahem, some strange reason I never get to actually see any undead but the conference rooms on the first floor looked despicably modern for being in such a glamorous sweep of antique façade and the function rooms downstairs were too red napkinny looking to harbour a visitor from another realm. I suspect he would be asked to pay a sixteen pound a head surcharge in case of potential ectoplasm stains on the canapés.

The view across Wigan is glorious and tinged with a little irony, as now, it is the slightly shabby around the edges manor house, which works for a living. The chaise longues have been carted off to auction and replaced with well-lit fire escapes and I imagine precautionary laminated signs possibly with warning Clipart near the hot taps.

And now the people who used to work at the mills whose chimneys still stand untouched, admired and part of the landscape come to t’ manor to sit in rooms now stripped and unsmocked of velvet and learn in a different less physically grubby way of how to make more money for someone richer. But at least there is probably a coffee machine. I was too scared to enter the building, it being a Sunday morning and looking neither bride or slightly over eager trainee at Footlocker who really wants to maximize her potential by getting there a day early.

The parkland surrounding Haigh Hall is still (apart from the dog poo dodging) timeless (actually I suspect dog poo dodging or the lack of dodging and thus resultant swears might be the only thing that links all of humanity throughout the ages)

A handwritten sign states that the small gauge railway described and pictured on Haigh Hall’s website in a charming glossy chugging photograph is not working today. A look at the rusty tracks says that the small gauge railway has not worked since Chesney Hawkes was number one.

The enshrouding managed nature is extensive and beautiful though and free to wander around in. I liked the high barbed wire walls surrounding the abandoned zoo-such things are a delight to the macarborous viewer imagining the entombed lion skeletons which clearly do not lie within. There is a derelict crazy golf course; surely the perfect setting for a first novel that nobody ever buys. There is a walled garden for people to read in, surely the best use of council tax to ever exist, apart from boring sanitisation.

I like Haigh Hall and respect to the ghost hunters on the websites I guiltily peruse who profess to have found the undead here hanging around the Douglas Suite, possibly like me, wandering what the hell is a slide carousel? I suspect it is not as fun as it sounds.

And what is more terrifying? The possibility that ghosts exist in this Hall or the actual realization that people are forced to sit in a room in it, visualising not the past but future profits and how they can be a key marketer and upsell, upsell, upsell.

This is why I like the past more. But even now the Past has to work for a living.

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.

Jun 11 2011

Misery and despair in Goosnargh and Barton Grange Garden Centre

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.

Apr 23 2011

Failing at the paranormal in Lancashire and Cumbria

I have always had a strong interest in ghosts and witches. Unlike with most people however, it did not stop when I was nine.

It is an interest on the periphery of my life, I do not spend vast sums of money on occult paraphernalia or obsess over ‘orbs’ which are clearly dust but I like the thought of ghosts existing. It is pleasing. I also like witches.  I believe in witches less than ghosts and feel faintly guilty being interested in them at all as I think a lot of slightly eccentric women who loved cats and had an interest in herbs died very nastily as a result of people believing in witches.

The Pendle Witches have made the victimisation, persecution and murder of women a tourist trail featuring a witch on a broomstick.  I have though always wanted to visit Pendle hill, scene of their alleged naughtiness because of the way it glowers over East Lancashire, always in the distance, always dark and long and strange, it being not a hill as such but a long looming landmass.

We finally have a car and it is my first destination, it previously being pretty much inaccessible via public transport from Lancaster, the scene of the witches’ sorry demise.  It is annoyingly a beautiful day. Even more annoyingly, the fact it is so beautiful thwarts us. I have a small baby, even more annoyingly a small ginger almost translucent baby and the sun beams unseasonably down and there is no shade whatsoever on the cold dead slopes of Pendle hill. Apparently people with a dark side climb Pendle hill on Halloween night. Maybe they are just ginger and freckle easily.

Reaching the no doubt impossibly eerie summit of Pendle hill is out (for now) but there is a Pendle Inn at nearby Barley featuring a pub sign of a witch on a broomstick. It’s practically dancing widdershins with Aleister Crowley except for the fact it sells tagliatelle for 9.95 and has self-catering cottages in the car park.  Oh, and was built in 1935.

The picnic area opposite is pleasing in that it looks like a poster in Nursery Times magazine celebrating diversity. There are saris and old men in shorts and sandals sitting in deckchairs.  Kids run around with nets on sticks, big scary looking men enjoy strawberry ice creams and don’t litter.

But I am still in search of the unknown and so we head to Newchurch in Pendle, home to Witches Galore. The name should perhaps have given away the fact there are no dark grimoires to be had here but esoterica lite, incense and car stickers that say ‘My other car’s a broomstick.’

And among the fluffy black cats, gemstones and wind chimes. a display of royal wedding memorabilia, Kate Middleton’s bland face next to some rune stones and books on walking in the northwest. It’s what Alice Nutter would have wanted.

We head to Burnley to a vegetarian café so meticulously researched on the net that we can’t find it and even of we had it would have been closed anyway.  The rest of Burnley looks to be honest, fucking awful so we head to Colne as the Internet says it has a ‘restaurant quarter’. A restaurant quarter must have some nice veggie inoffensive fare but we search the streets of Colne in vain. There are a surprising amount of butchers, deep stretching grey terraces than make Coronation Street look like Kensington but no restaurant quarter. Is Mr Chips the restaurant quarter?

We finally find an Italian restaurant offering three courses for ten pounds. It appears an oasis in the desert and I rhapsodise until the food arrives. I never learn the whole quantity versus quality thing. The ice-cream (third course) remains untouched and research on the net suggests that the restaurant we are in and the two closed ones nearby are in fact the restaurant quarter. I curse council press releases. And the meal costs with two drinks and the garlic bread thirty quid, which is actually more than we have ever paid in our lives for a meal. My partner leaves most of his and we bicker the whole way home about whose fault it was that we went there. We both admit we should have known from the plastic ivy. And in retrospect the angry people on the Internet who say they went to environmental health after a meal there. But first the toilet.

A new day beckons and the search for adventure and somewhere to take the taste of the oily orange pasta away beckons. First Sedburgh, a wonderful market town also nestled under hills but more benevolent hills-God seems to smile on Sedburgh, its higgledy piggledy quaintness, bookshops that still exist like their patrons have never heard of Amazon, a church and graveyard in the middle of the town and a charity shop where after chatting to the people within, you feel like sending them a Christmas card. We have 90p chips which are far pleasanter a dinner than the thirty quid horror we are still apportioning blame for.

We have a picnic today and yomp into the wilderness albeit with a printed map outside Kirkby Stephen (another almost too quaint market town which in Devon would be heaving with tourists with cameras but in Cumbria, just is) we walk along viaducts, past abandoned cottages, through moorland and woods and everything is utterly perfect. People say hello when we pass and it is all so utterly English and pleasant.

But even more excitingly in the car on the way back I see not only ghosts but also murder. In one of my guiltily read books about ghosts I read of a pub ensnared in Northern wilderness, perched amongst moorland and with a dark bloody history and with a name I instantly recall as being the name of the self same pub.

The car screams to a halt, we enter, I try to stop the baby shrieking. I sense no evil presence but to be fair it is a sunny bank holiday. And maybe the undead feel at unease where peach vinyl wallpaper still exists. Its one of those pubs where the décor may be stuck in the seventies but the prices are definitely Now. I always think of a tenner for a meal in a pub to mean it comes with coulis, foams and all the other things I read about in out of date Good Food magazines at the doctors. But I am clearly old, poverty struck and out of touch and an old skint vegetarian needs to bring her own picnic or suck it up.

But now lets’ look for atmosphere! I have no blue light to hold under my chin and the sun is still blazing, there are no bloodstains but I can envisage the ghastliness of the murder, the horror on the windswept night, the restless spirit still prowling. Then the baby starts crying and we have to go.

I am trying to convey the sacred terror of the place to my partner who sneers as he has seen the residents lounge enshrouded not in unearthly terror but in brown velour. I look it up on my phone to show him the true unearthly bloody history of the car park we now reside in. Then realise we are in the wrong pub.

I decide not to ghost hunt anymore.