Author Topic: Tutbury Castle world's biggest ghost hunt  (Read 2160 times)

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Tutbury Castle world's biggest ghost hunt
« on: May 07, 2003, 01:52:56 am »
They say that it is always spookier than Halloween. And with the dawning of the little known Walpurgis Night - the springtime equivalent of the ghostly occasion - hundreds gathered at Tutbury Castle. They hoped to break the record for the world's biggest ghost hunt - and to venture with strength-in-numbers against the forces of the afterlife.

Feature writer David Clensy took a deep breath and joined the massing throng.

I arrived at Tutbury Castle a sceptic. Cool, calm, reserved, and not a little handsome.

I left somewhere near a gibbering wreck - my suit caked with mud, sweat streaming from my brow - a man foaming at the mouth, trying to start a car without putting the keys in the ignition.

The things that happened on that ancient site on Walpurgis Night - the springtime equivalent of Halloween - would turn the blood of the bravest man to ice.

It was billed as the World's Biggest Ghost Hunt - but nobody had accounted for such violent results.

"We wanted to see as many people here as possible," explained Will Hanrahan, presenter of the Most Haunted special being filmed for satellite channel Living TV.

"The previous record of 230 ghost hunters in one place at one time was in Edinburgh a couple of years ago. The idea here is for Tutbury to beat that."

In fact, the record had been smashed within the first couple of hours - and numbers would rise steadily through the evening to more than 700 curious souls, waiting patiently in the rain for a chance to experience the horrors of the King's Chamber.

"We never could have imagined a success like this," explained the castle's curator, Lesley Smith.

Dressed as Mary, Queen of Scots - a one-time guest of the castle's walls - Lesley made a stately survey of the queue of ghost hunters that wound its way around the site as dusk set on Wednesday evening.

"But we have had enormous interest in this event for weeks. People have come here tonight from all across the country and we have allowed people to camp overnight in the grounds.

"Every ghost hunter worth his salt has heard about the ghostly goings-on in the King's Chamber, so they are coming from far and wide to experience them for themselves."

A recent episode of Living TV's Most Haunted programme saw presenter Yvette Fielding and supernatural expert Phil Wyman running out of the room screaming obscenities at the top of their voices.

The fated chamber - where Charles I slept as he sheltered at the castle from the Roundhead forces - is a regular haunt of spooks.

A couple of years ago, the castle management made the decision to close the room to the public because of the unexplained phenomena.

"We had so many visitors fainting as they walked into the room that we had to close it," Lesley said. "Of course, it had to be opened up again for this event."

The castle is believed to be home to no less than seven ghouls, including a monk, a drummer boy, a baby and a "grey lady".

But none have had the kind of aggressive impact that the King's Chamber poltergeist has inflicted on visitors.

"People have been touched and even slapped by the ghost," Lesley explained. "But we don't really know anything about him at all.

"Even those who do not suffer the full aggression of the spirit often feel a blowing in their ears or a sudden drop in temperature."

A storm was building in the sky above the rolling Staffordshire countryside - and the atmosphere was just right for a frightening night.

A walk through across the dimly lit main hall led to the chamber's unexceptional white door.

Strange things started to happen to my brain as soon as I walked in there. Like many of the other visitors, I felt a little dizzy - almost queasy.

But there were many possible reasons for this - the room was dimly lit, and strangely shaped - with a cone-like ceiling leading up to a skylight.

The floor was sickeningly uneven, and carpeted with a migraine-inducing rug. And, most significantly, the temperature dropped dramatically from the oppressive main hall.

So I took a deep breath and concentrated on rational thoughts. But like everyone in the room, the nerves were certainly welling up as Lesley gave a warning about the seriousness of what could happen once the lights were switched off.

I shivered. The lights were flicked, and all was darkness. "Put your hand out in front of you," Lesley said. "Do you feel an icy wind?"

I did, but I would need more than a draught to convince me.

A woman in her 20s on the other side of the room gave a sudden shriek. "I've got the most terrible headache," she announced dramatically as Lesley put the lights back on and led her from the room.

Outside, people discussed their individual experience excitedly.

"I have not seen anything this evening, but I am quite open-minded about it," explained Jamie Smith (34), of Castle Gresley.

His wife, Alison (33), who was celebrating her birthday, admitted that she had felt a presence in the room.

"I could definitely feel a sudden drop in temperature as the lights went out," she said.

Andy Grey (58), of Belper, added: "I don't know what it was exactly. I just felt like there was someone very close to me."

On the other side of the main hall, psychic artist Shirley-Ann Summerwill, of Hull, was feverously sketching a picture of a nun.

Kerry Miller (36), of Measham, looked on amazed as Shirley-Ann drew the picture of her "spirit guide" - or guardian angel.

"It is quite moving," Kerry said. "To think that this spirit is watching over me all of the time."

Caught up with her enthusiasm, I asked Shirley-Ann whether she could see anyone around me.

With an unnerving look over my shoulder she put pencil to paper. "It's not a spirit guide," she said. "It's a relative that I am seeing."

"Do you have a Celtic background? He's either Irish or Scottish." I nodded, as she produced the image of the great, great uncle who had been a familiar sight in the Victorian picture frame at home.

Spooky was not the word. "Was his name Jack?" she asked, as she wrote the name at the bottom of the page. It was. I felt a shiver run the length of my spine.

This was the great, great uncle that my otherwise rational brother had seen standing at the bottom of his bed when he was a child.

But spookier things still were happening on the other side of the room.

The bulky 6ft 2ins figure of Glenn Baggaley (26), of Derby, ran out of the King's Chamber, clearly shaken.

"It was horrible," he said. "I was stood in the room, and I suddenly felt an ominous presence. Then I felt a tapping on my right shoulder.

"I tried to keep calm, but then I felt a burning sensation in my neck. It was painful - like bad sunburn.

"Lesley turned the lights back on straight away, and discovered this," Glenn pulled his collar down to reveal a long three-pronged claw mark on his neck, still oozing blood.

Glenn is a bouncer in Derby city centre. He said he felt powerless and vulnerable.

"I don't mind admitting that I burst into tears," he said. "It was terrifying. I know it sounds daft for a bouncer to be so afraid."

Lesley told Glenn to leave the room for his own safety. "She explained that the ghost clearly had it in for me," he said.

St John Ambulance first aiders were on hand to treat Glenn's injury.

"We were half expecting a busy night," Adrian Jobling (34), of Burton, who was leading the team of four medics in the room, explained.

"But this is the most dramatic thing we have had to deal with. We have had a few people swooning and fainting, but we half expected that.

"In these circumstances, people tend to feel a little overcome and strange - it's not surprising with all these strange things going on."

The witching hour arrived. The village's church bell struck 12 times.

The storm clouds passed from above the castle, and revealed bright stars, lighting the faces of the hundreds still queuing to experience their very own taste of fear.