Ghost hunter Michael Williams has been interested in the paranormal for almost half a century. His new book focuses on strange happenings close to his home in North Cornwall.
These are his own words….
“It was 49 years ago, on Midsummer Eve, that I had my first paranormal experience, strange lights at Bossiney setting me on the ghost hunter’s road.
But for the writing of the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould I should never have begun this great adventure. He, like Hawker, the legendary vicar of Morwenstow, had no doubts about the reality of ghosts. Hawker also claimed to have conversed with angels.
I cannot make this journey across North Cornwall without saluting Colin Wilson, one of the greatest paranormal writers in literary history, who resided in Cornwall until his death last December. Conversations with Colin and reading his books – there are about twenty of them in my St Teath library – have shaped a deepening awareness.
In our cottage, I once asked him: “Why are so many intrigued by ghosts?”
Colin replied: “It’s quite a cocktail. Mystery and adventure, romance and a kind of other-worldliness all play their part.”
He was fascinated by the fact that some of our North Cornwall villages boast not one ghost but several. Recalling his commission to write a book called Afterlife, Colin said he was far from sure about the evidence for life after death, but when he had finished the manuscript, “the evidence pointed unmistakably to survival”.
There was a curious encounter at Wadebridge, a town soaked in history, folklore and ghosts. Ray Bishop, a fine photographer who lived in town, mentioned to a friend one afternoon that he was going to see a local shopkeeper called Mr X. However, his friend broke the news that Mr X had died. Upset by the news, Ray postponed his visit and some days later called at the shop to order some items. Ray said that as the female assistant disappeared into another part of the shop, Mr X emerged from his office.
“He looked very solid and real,” said Ray. “Though the man’s complexion was ashen I quickly realised I had misheard – he looked very ill but was clearly very alive. In fact we talked about the bad weather for the time of year and how it was affecting business in the town. When I returned home I phoned my friend and enquired whether he had misheard about the death of Mr X.”
“No,” came the reply. “He’s dead and buried.”
This is but one of many haunted tales from North Cornwall. I have taken readers on paranormal investigations to haunted territories like Bude Castle, Jamaica Inn and the Crow’s Nest, an inn where we had the extraordinary experience of meeting a Charlotte Dymond imposter – the only imposter spirit we have ever encountered.
On an investigation in October 2008 at the Davidstow Airfield and Cornwall at War Museum, which is dedicated to the history of RAF, our group of 13 members all agreed there was a powerful sense of the past enriched with strong undercurrents and emotions. So much so that several of us were quite exhausted at the end of our five-hour investigation.
At one point we divided into four small groups for a silent session. Those in the air-raid shelter, which contains a simulated air-raid recording, felt some strange sensations especially on the right-hand side of the shelter. Elaine Beckton, for example, smelled rubber: a link to the wearing of gas masks. Elaine Flew of Tintagel and I had a surprising experience by the Fairey Gannet aircraft out in the open. Quite independently, we heard softly spoken conversation coming from within the empty aircraft and the sound of machinery quietly operating as if from a distance.
Another unusual feature of the silent session was that some members spoke of an aircraft flying over the site but those of us out in the open knew no aircraft had flown anywhere near the location. It would therefore seem that the airfield retains some phantom sounds – strengthening the theory that, now and then, ghostly planes are heard returning to Davidstow around 3am. We all came away with the impression that something of wartime activity hangs in the air.
So we move on to the King’s Head at Five Lanes where mediums have made contact with a young woman called Cross, whose uncle was a well-known Devonshire highwayman. He occasionally ventured into Cornwall and, on some excursions, his niece, dressed as a man and riding a dark horse, joined him. They made a cunning combination, the niece often picking up snippets of information in the bar about members of the gentry making journeys.
We also learned the inn was used by smugglers and customs men, one of whom had been shot by a smuggler in the yard at the front. But young Miss Cross made it clear her uncle had no direct business links with smuggling, though he did have the occasional social drink with a smuggler or two.
The inn became a posting stage for coaches in the mid-1700s and a local vicar described it as “an establishment where smugglers and shadowy characters frequented and shadowy deals sometimes took place”.
The King’s Head has long had a haunted reputation. Peggy Bray, a former landlady, is reputed to take an occasion stroll around the place at night and, more recently, a ghostly girl has been observed in the bar, seemingly real, only to suddenly disappear. Room 3 upstairs has an interesting reputation. More than one visitor has heard inexplicable tapping on the outside of the bedroom window and, on investigation, found nobody there. I have felt unseen presences in this bedroom and in the corridor outside.
Most significantly, four of our members did a night investigation here and picked up the sound of loud footsteps and a door latch being lifted in the empty bedroom and have them recorded. I have heard the recording three times – and know all four members are people of integrity.
So, thank you, Mr Baring-Gould”.
Haunted North Cornwall by Michael Williams is published by The History Press(thehistorypress.co.uk) at £9.99.