Darcus Wolfson is a writer who lives in the Peak District, England. Holding down several part-time jobs and equally strange hobbies. His inspiration comes from his brain. Either that or real-life trauma.
Darcus published his book 'Hidden Places on Earth' on Amazon in 2013. Twelve tales of terror that may be connected, Hidden Places on Earth is a journey into the unknown: A small town journalist discovers a bizarre secret in the woods. A pirate joins the crew of a mysterious ship. A young girl goes missing in Sasquatch country. A LARP club get more than they bargain for. A young woman develops an infatuation with a statue. Vikings journey to Loch Ness in search of its monstrous occupant.
Unidentified flying objects or UFOs don’t make the headlines like they used to. It’s almost like they’ve gone out of fashion. This may be due to the fact that recent scientific research has established that although we may not be alone in the universe, visitors from another world probably aren’t traversing the vast distance to Earth just to frighten some poor individual on a lonely road. However, that doesn’t mean that people have stopped seeing strange lights in the sky as one woman found out in late July.
The Cheshire resident who regularly visits Buxton witnessed an aerial phenomenon around midnight whilst driving on the A537 or as it more commonly known, the Cat and Fiddle road (named after the pub about halfway between buxton and Macclesfield). Like many who see such things, she wishes to remain anonymous. However, she wants to share the encounter in case anyone has experienced anything similar:
I kept seeing something in the corner of my eye and I just thought it must be a bat but it kept zipping, no lights, just movement, so so fast. I followed the road, then I started seeing green lights and again, zipping movement. I saw three red flashing red lights in a triangle, then it zipped off. I took the long way round and kept my eye on the sky, then I saw a very faint light ahead. I kept looking and it was just hovering. At one point, I stopped and tried to take a video but it was dark and cloudy. When I got closer, it was like someone turned the switch off and it just disappeared. Once I realised I was alone in the hills, I got scared. Well, I clearly wasn’t alone! I googled it when I got home and there was a similar story in the Derbyshire Times in January.
On the twisting Cat and Fiddle road, the lofty summits of Derbyshire offer a commanding view of the Cheshire plains, home to Jodrell Bank and its radio telescopes. A quick internet search will tell you that this part of the world is no stranger to UFO reports. In fact, the town of Chapel-en-le-Frith, about 13 miles away, has one of the first ever recorded UFO sightings in its parish register dated 1716. So what is going on? It’s easy to dismiss the object as a remote-controlled drone, rare cloud formation, weather balloon, figment of a tired imagination, etc. but as someone who has had a UFO experience, I know that it may never be fully explained and that it will continue to haunt you. One of the UK’s leading UFO investigators, Jenny Randles, used to live nearby and the advice she gave me was “keep watching the skies.”
Guest blogger Bret Gaunt from Buxton Museum and Art Gallery reveals a grisly artefact from the collection and its place in folklore. Over to you, Bret:
Cats have played an important role in the everyday life of humans: as companions and for hunting vermin, as well as being both revered as gods, and reviled as demons. One of the most recent acquisitions at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is the naturally mummified remains of a cat. This cat, however, is not from the deserts of ancient Egypt, but from here in cold and rainy Buxton! Unlike the cats of ancient Egypt which were worshipped as gods and carefully mummified to be placed in tombs, the presence of the Buxton cat reveals something far more sinister.
Over a hundred naturally mummified cats hidden in buildings are known from across the UK, though more will have existed but been disposed of because their significance was not realised, and possibly many more remain to be found. What all of these cats have in common is that they were hidden in secret cavities within buildings and used in a form of folk magic to repel evil spirits. The majority are positioned as if they are hunting or attacking, with some even having mummied mice or rats in their mouths.
Naturally mummified cats are found sealed into walls, under floors near doorways, sometimes in a roof space, and occasionally in cavities within a chimney – liminal spaces that were believed to be subject to the intrusion of malevolent forces. The cat from Buxton was found during renovation work at the site of the old post office at the Quadrant. Workmen disturbed part of the ceiling in one room and the cat fell out onto the unsuspecting men.
The majority of the cats from the UK seem to have been hidden in buildings during the period of the witch trials in the 16th to 17th centuries, though the practice did continue in some parts of the country well into the 19th and early part of the 20th century; in the case of the Buxton cat this would seem to be the case as the Quadrant was built in the 1850s.
Folklore regards cats with special powers, such as having sixth sense and possessing nine lives, as well as their ability to see in the dark. Cats are also very territorial and will protect their homes from threats and are prolific hunters. But cats also have an ambivalent character where they were regarded in the past as being the familiars of witches, and having associations with the devil.
An important clue to the nature of the cats is the secrecy involved in hiding them, and secrecy is often a key feature in magical practices; they are hidden from view in parts of the house where evil spirits or witches could gain access. Other items are often found sealed into houses, most commonly shoes, but also horse skulls and bottles, the latter often containing urine and nails and commonly known as Witch Bottles and which have a known role in averting the powers of evil.
The Buxton moggy is now safely on display in the Wonders of the Peak Gallery, protecting the museum from the forces of darkness!
Dicky’s Skull, or Dickie, is a fairly well-known Peak District legend. The haunted cranium is a standard inclusion in an endless sequence of Derbyshire guidebooks and much has been written about it already. However, my own investigation can provide you with an updated overview of the whole mystery, as well as the unearthing of an obscure stage play called Plays of Derbyshire Life: Dickie’s Skull. Seeing as the nights are drawing in and the witches’ eve is fast-approaching, I thought I would visit Dicky again and perhaps, finally put the poor soul to rest.
Origins of the Skull
There is some uncertainty about who exactly the skull belonged to and how it came to reside at Tunstead Farm near the town of Chapel-en-le-Frith. The most common version of the story specifies its owner as Ned Dickinson who returned from the Huguenot Wars in France (1562-98) to reclaim his farm, only to find it had been taken over by his murderous cousins who were not too keen to give it back. They chopped off Ned’s head and buried him in the garden, only to find the severed bonce back in the house one dark night, where it insisted on remaining.
According to an 1895 collection of Derbyshire folklore, the fearsome skull belonged to a woman, killed by her sister after they fell out over a man. The tale specifies that the siblings lived in The Royal Forest of the Peak, which throws the age of the story back to medieval times. Dicky seems a peculiar name for a lady unless perhaps her surname was also Dickinson.
Whichever account of the tale is recounted, it seems to involve someone meeting an unfair and untimely demise and that anyone who seeks to remove Dicky from his or her unconventional resting place on a window sill at the farm is doomed. Various owners of the place have attempted to remove the grisly souvenir, balking at the absurdity of the claims, only to suffer some misfortune and end up putting it back again.
There are photographs of the skull in situ so we can be sure that it did exist and that the individual was not given an orthodox burial. It may be more likely that someone just found the skull in a neighbouring field one day, brought it home and made up a creepy story about it. The Peak District is strewn with ancient burial sites, after all. There were other skulls in nearby Castleton and Flagg and at one time, it was a bit of a fad, especially in the countryside where people were afraid of change. There are other examples of “something that should not be removed or bad things will happen” across the UK; the most famous of which are probably the ravens at The Tower of London. You could say that humans have now swung to the opposite end of the spectrum where alteration is so rapid that many people are scared of being left behind and feel like they will drop dead if they don’t have the latest app or gizmo.
Dicky gets Famous
The legend peaks in the 1800s when visitors to the area could buy postcards of the sinister noggin, like this one from the collection of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
A railway bridge needed to be built on land owned by Tunstead farm which would have linked Buxton with Whaley Bridge. However, the railway company did not seek planning permission from Dicky; big mistake! The curse soon began to take effect on the building work; foundations collapsed and the workmen became ill. In the end, the company decided to put an end to the spiralling costs of going head-to-head with the jinx and decided to build higher up the line at Dane Hey. The story attracted so much publicity at the time that Lancashire poet Samuel Laycock wrote this poem in 1870 called “Address to Dicky”:
Neaw, Dickie, be quiet wi’ thee, lad,
An ‘let navvies an’ railways a ‘be;
Mon tha shouldn’t do soa, it’s too bad,
What harm are they doin’ to thee?
Deed folk shouldn’t meddle at o’
But leov o’ these matters to th’ wick;
They’ll see they’re done gradely, aw know-
Dos’t’ yer what aw say to thee, Dick?
The Legend Fades
After hearing about Dicky a few times, I grew curious and went to visit the skull myself. I wasn’t too sure about the precise location of the farm but I knew it was a stone’s throw from another mystery I had recently investigated where rock drummer Matt Swindells discovered the lair of a family of big cats. I was also aware that adjacent town Chapel-en-le-Frith was the location of one of the first ever recorded UFO sightings in the UK (it’s in the parish register dated 1716). The supernatural associations with this part of the world were starting to stack up. Wandering around Tunstead Milton on a gloomy day, the place seemed deserted and I found myself looking over my shoulder a lot. I found no one, alive nor dead, and went home, imbued with a sense of melancholy.
It was not until recently that someone who resides in the area told me that Dicky was laid to rest decades ago, most likely in nearby Taxal Church. I was on a wild goose chase. Apparently, the new owners of the farm were horrified by the infamous skull. They sought to do the right thing and without making a fuss, returned him to the ground from whence he came. Upon hearing this news, I had mixed feelings. It does seem wrong that someone’s remains should become a ghoulish exhibit but also disappointing to know the owner had decided to put the brakes on a Peak District legend. I assume they didn’t endure some terrible consequence. Of course, this is only what someone told me; if you know different, please get in touch.
Dicky’s Skull: The Movie
Amusingly, my friends at Buxton Museum were reviewing their archives recently and found a story about Dicky’s Skull; not another guidebook entry, but an entire semi-fictional script for the stage. The drama is no.9 in a series called Plays of Derbyshire Life and therefore features lots of authentic dialect. There’s lots of “aw, reet?” (a greeting translated as alright? And still quite common today) It was written by someone called Crichton Porteous; a writer with a name even more ridiculous than mine. There’s no date but the adverts suggest it was published around 1930.
In the story, a sophisticated young lady called Alice marries in to a Derbyshire family who live at Tunstead Farm. It’s not long before it becomes apparent that the family are afraid of Dicky’s skull, particularly Grannie; the somewhat menacing old crone of the household. Alice and her husband have trouble pleasing Dicky on their wedding night (a problem most newlyweds face). Quite why an intelligent and cultured woman decides to get involved with a clan not too far removed from the one in The Hills Have Eyes is not explained. Alice soon gets naffed off with pandering to the rotten old skull and chucks it. Of course, Hell ensues.
Any Hollywood directors wanting to discuss translating the tale for the screen, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
I’ve always wanted to play a zombie in a film ever since I saw Zombie Flesh Eaters when I was a kid. There’s something about pretending to be a mindless shuffling monster that appeals to me, and it comes naturally. Infact, first thing in the morning, I don’t even need any make-up. When asked if I wanted to be a zombie in a music video, I couldn’t pass up the chance. I was unlikely ever to be asked the same question again.
I’ve had a stab at making a few films myself and I know that it’s easier to surround yourself by cool people who cooperate and don’t grumble about anything. However, I spent the first two hours on location watching a queue of people get made up as zombies and it looked like the cameras were about to roll. I grew increasingly anxious about missing my opportunity. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about; I had about 10 hours between make-up and the scene I was in!
The first problem presented to me as a member of the undead was not to touch anything as there was make-up all over my hands. Of course, the first thing I had to do when I got out of the make-up chair was to go for a pee. This presented me with an interesting challenge; the details of which I shall spare you.
So with virtually a whole day to spare before “action” was called, how does a zombie pass the time? Plastered in horrific make-up and dirty stinking clothes, the options are limited. You can’t go on a date or pop to Tesco. Some of the other zombies and I decided to stumble around the Peak District village where the film was being shot, holding up traffic and making children cry but the fun soon wore off. I even went for a pint in the pub with Denis, who was playing the priest in the video but there was still time to kill (pun intended). Lunch was kindly provided although it was sandwiches and chilli con carne, not human brains. I wiled away more time by watching some of the other scenes being shot but I kept getting in the way; it’s not easy being a large and foul creature.
When “action” was finally called on my scene, my enthusiasm had worn off a little and I struggled to psyche myself up again. I wondered if Tom Cruise ever had the same problem. My heart sank even more when the director looked me up and down and said “put this big zombie at the back”. I had waited all day and I wasn’t even going to be in it! It turned out okay; I just pushed the smaller zombies out of the way during my rabid advance and you can see me in the video (if you don’t blink).
With special thanks to Denis Higgins for the photos and Seashaped
If you have an amusing tale about appearing in a horror film or would like to contribute to World of Wolfson in any way, please get in touch.
Thanks to those of you who have commented or sent in your own stories about supernatural hotspot The Goyt Valley. Most notable of contributions was this photo sent in by Chloe Drabble: A phantom interloper photobombs a shot of Errwood Hall at night, when Chloe’s parents visited. Intriguingly, the figure resembles the one that appeared in my film, shot nearby. It seems that the otherworldly residents of The Goyt are very keen to get in on the action! Click here for the original article.
The Goyt Valley is a wild and bleak place a few miles north of Buxton in the Peak District in the UK. The valley is a dip in the moorland that cradles the twin reservoirs of Errwood and Fernilee, which go on to nourish the nearby town of Stockport. Walking the network of trails that orbit the expanse of water can be pleasant in the warmer months. Only the hardiest of daytrippers brave the valley in the rest of the year; it seems to grip the cold and its unyielding silence breeds a strange melancholy. Like me, you may know a few peculiar tales which only encourage you to shun its paths during those quiet months.
Deep within the valley, situated off the old moorland Roman road known as The Street is a shrine to St. Joseph, the patron saint and protector of the Catholic Church. The Goyt Valley was once a prosperous and industrious community and the shrine was a popular destination for people seeking a peaceful place to pray. Now the villages, factories and farms of the valley are long gone and the monument seems somewhat isolated and forlorn amongst the pine trees.
It was in the woods near this location that I had a strange experience that still baffles me to this day. About fifteen years ago, I chose this spot to make a horror film called The Horror of the Legend of the Night of the Beast. The most chilling aspect of the film was unintentional. A ghostly visitor made a cameo in the background. The phantom only appears only for a few frames and I didn’t even notice it until a couple of months after filming. Looking back at the night of the shoot, there was an oppressive and irrational atmosphere; the camera equipment kept playing up and the actors were jumpy. In short, we were all glad to leave and go home. My blood turned to ice the first time I became aware of the wraith-like extra. I’m still at a loss to explain its presence; camera fault, trick of the light or aspiring actor from another world?
One of my friends (who does not wished to be named for fear of recrimination) became thrilled about the apparition when I showed it to him and he decided to visit the location and investigate in the light of day. He didn’t find the ghost but he did have an encounter that was equally as strange. When he tried to climb a fence into the woods, unseen dogs started to bark ferociously from within the trees, prompting him to withdraw and hesitate. As soon as he was back over the barrier, the commotion ceased. He decided to enter the woods from a different direction but every time he approached the spot, the dogs would start to bark and every time he stepped back over the fence, they would suddenly stop. He started to think that the hounds did not actually exist and that he was merely triggering a recording. Reflecting back on his peculiar day out, he suspects that someone had set up a very unconventional yet effective way of keeping strangers out. The question remains; who and why?
The focal point for the whole valley is Errwood Hall. Once the heart of a flourishing community, the Hall was demolished in 1934 By Stockport Water Corporation to make way for the reservoir, along with almost everything else in the valley. Quite why the company felt the need to knock down an impressive Victorian mansion that was nowhere near the water is a matter of dispute. The most likely explanation is that they did not have the funds for its maintenance. Now little more than a ruin in a sea of rhododendron, the Hall still gets thousands of visitors every year, drawn to the mystique of the mansion in the woods. Slowly but surely, the building is being reclaimed by the wilderness and may one day vanish completely.
Is Errwood haunted? This is a question that local man Carl Bothamley has already asked himself when recalling an odd experience:
When I was a child, we visited The Goyt Valley and Erwood Hall hundreds of times. Mum and Dad, myself and two brothers. I recall walking past a pipe that the river ran through and one time as I looked down, myself and brother saw a pair of legs lying in the water. It was wearing Wellington boots and the body lay inside the pipe. We ran back to our Dad and told him what we had seen.
That is what I recall. My parents, however tell it different…
They say that my brother and I had walked on ahead and had come running back with a look of fear upon our faces. They said how we told them that we had both seen a young boy walking in the river. He was wearing long trousers, a dirty shirt, long socks, big boots and a flat cap. The same kind of clothing they would have worn when Errwood Hall was up and running! We told my parents that we saw the boy walk into the pipe so my Dad ran ahead, jumped into the river and went into the pipe to look for this boy.
He never found anybody.
Now every time I pass the pipe with my children, I tell them of the time saw this little boy and still have a look to see if he is still there!
A lady called Nicola Sutton told me an equally chilling tale about the same place:
A friend and I decided it would be a dare to go for a midnight walk up to Errwood Hall but it was pitch black and I was frightened to death. On the path leading up to The Hall I felt like piercing eyes were all upon us from every direction so quickly I suggested we went back to the car. The reason my friend wanted to return to the site was because a few weeks prior to that, he and a pal went up the same path and were stopped in their tracks by an apparition of someone dressed as a butler. They fled and went back home. Weeks passed and we returned in the daylight where we made it to the graveyard to find that all the people who worked at the hall; all named and the position they held there. To the discovery of a Frank who happened to be the butler to the family. A very eerie feeling fell upon us.
If the restless spirits of the Goyt Valley are not enough to chill your blood then there are tales of more earthly exploits. Someone once told me that they witnessed two groups of shifty-looking men meeting up in one of the carparks. The men exchanged bags and went their separate ways. When you consider that the valley is a quiet and secluded spot adjacent to Stockport and Manchester, it is perhaps no surprise that it would be used for an illicit rendezvous. Back in the 1980s, two youths were murdered here.
A man called Matt Finney got in touch with his own Goyt Valley experience:
I was out biking in the Goyt one morning and came across a sheep carcass. When I say sheep, there was not much left of it and it had been ripped apart. Definitely not a dog. Another episode up near Erwood Hall, late at night and four of us heard a roar. We all looked at each other in case it was someone joking only to hear it again. Never ran 200m in the dark quicker than we did then, straight in the car and off!
Although the presence of a wild predator might seem beyond belief, I recently spoke to an elderly gentleman who lived on a farm in the valley for many years before the reservoirs. He told me that he saw “the beast” on several locations. It never came near the farm or bothered anyone but he would see the four-legged black thing prowling the moors at a distance and sometimes hear its fierce and lonely cry at night, as Matt and his comrades had done on that fateful evening.
Given the ruins of a forgotten community, wild woods, endless moors and deep water, the valley is one of those places that stimulates the senses and it’s easy to dismiss such anecdotes as products of the imagination. I recommend that you take a walk down “The Goyt” yourself and I hope you find some peace in the tranquility, rather than the beasts or phantoms that seem to linger there.
If by any chance you have your own paranormal experience of the Goyt Valley or anywhere else, please get in touch.
Those of you who have been following my blog will be familiar with my reports on occult activity in Buxton in the 1990s. If you haven’t read these troubling tales, then I recommend starting with my encounter here and the update here.
It’s easy to blame the dodgy stuff that was going on in the woods around Buxton 25 years ago on groups of bored hippies exploring alternative religions. However, accounts of mutilated animals and a sighting of a goatman suggest there was something more substantial going on and you can read about that here.
Up to date? Good. We can get on with The Mystery of Brown Edge Woods or a more apt title might be The Mystery of Brown Trouser Woods.
A man called Graeme Howarth has an addition to the whole saga. Like myself and Kenny Robertson, he innocently explored the hills, woods and fields that fringe Buxton as a young man in the 90s and ended up getting a lot more than he bargained for.
Brown Edge Woods occupy a lofty and lonely corner of the Peak District town, punctuated by a communications mast and overlooking what was Lightwood Reservoir. When Graeme and his childhood friends decided to go there, they were already aware of the rumours that the place was used for devil worship. Imagine their shock when they found that the woods were occupied by a large group of peculiar and aggressive people who dropped out of the trees and promptly chased them away. The tree dwellers came to a halt at the edge of the woods but continued to stare at Graeme and his friends until they had vanished from view. Graeme remembers the confrontation in his own words:
It was quite bizarre. Though we had heard rumours, we didn’t expect to find anything but these people appeared almost immediately when we entered the woods; each one coming down from a different tree. We didn’t dare hang around and just ran.
There definitely was some strange things going on back then, it is an interesting subject and something I’ve not thought about for a long time. Though I’ve lived in Buxton all my life, I don’t know anyone who was involved in it.
What’s intriguing about Graeme’s encounter is that it doesn’t involve any ghosts or UFOs or any paranormal activity; just a bunch of people involved in a very strange activity. Why were they all sitting around in trees in a secluded wood? Why mount a quick and coordinated assault on a group of curious young men? What were they trying to hide? If somebody somewhere knows the answer to these questions, please get in touch. Otherwise, the mystery of Brown Edge Woods will become just another chapter in a perplexing parade of odd behaviour.
Visiting for myself, I found Brown Edge Woods to be a very quiet place that’s difficult to access. The ascent from Lightwood is wild and steep and the woods are fenced off. There was not a soul to be seen and I found it easy to imagine that if you were up to no good, this would be an ideal spot. There’s some sort of farm or station to accompany the communications mast on the far side of the trees but I don’t know if this was inhabited 25 years ago at the time of the incident.
I’ve been told by older Peak District residents that “there was a lot of this sort of monkey business going on at one time”. Nowadays, with most people carrying a camera phone and instant access to the World Wide Web, running a group that performs secret rites and rituals would be virtually impossible. The likelihood is that most of this so-called Satanism amounted to harmless nonsense but such outlandish stunts still haunt the memories of people who were witness to it.
Keep following World of Wolfson for terrifying tales of The Goyt Valley and get in touch if you would like to comment or contribute.
My favourite book when I was a kid was The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, a fantasy adventure about two children who befriend a wizard and help him fight forces of evil. It was sort of like the Harry Potter of its day (except it was good). Like J.K. Rowling, the author, Alan Garner, chose to set his fictional tale firmly within the real world; specifically Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The wizards, witches, goblins, elves, dwarfs and other magical beings etch out an existence alongside society, albeit a secret one.
For a children’s story, it’s surprisingly bleak. The most memorable sequence is a prolonged chase underground where the children are pursued by monsters through the network of mines and caves underneath Alderley Edge. It scared me when I was a kid and haunts me as an adult. I decided to revisit The Edge and some of the other places where Garner set his stories to find out if the magic still lingers.
The mystical old man who chaperones the heroic youngsters in Weirdstone is based on the legend of Alderley Edge which goes something like this: A farmer from Mobberley is on his way to sell a white horse at Macclesfield market when he meets the fabled wizard who offers to buy the magnificent beast. He doesn’t offer enough and the farmer refuses. The wizard tells him that he will not sell the horse at the market and lo and behold, the farmer gets a peculiar lack of interest. He encounters the wizard again on the way home and gives in. The wily old sorcerer then opens a pair of iron gates that appear in the rock, revealing an entrance into a cave with a pile of jewels, inviting the farmer to help himself. It turns out the wizard cares for 140 knights who slumber deep within The Edge, waiting for the day when England needs them, and they are a short of a horse.
The legend is given more credibility by the existence of a carving of the wizard above an old well, just below Castle Rock; The Edge’s most notable landmark. Sadly, the carving has almost vanished, along with the rest of Garner’s Alderley Edge. Nowadays, the village is more famous for being the abode of millionaires although you can still find several commercial establishments named after The Wizard so the association is not completely lost. The Edge when I was young was a quiet and eerie place. Thirty years on, like most other well-known countryside walks, it is overcrowded and the elves and goblins have nowhere left to hide.
Mow Cop Castle
I was brought up in the shadow of Mow Cop Castle on the border of Cheshire and Staffordshire. It now seems to be called Mow Cop Folly, which doesn’t sound quite as impressive. I remember its foreboding outline on the horizon and the frequent visits to play there with my friends. Garner utilised the structure as the central location for his novel Red Shift. Unlike Weirdstone, I struggled to read this one when I was a kid; its multi-faceted and ambiguous themes were too much of a challenge. I tackled it as an adult instead. The castle seems smaller and less imposing to me now but it still cuts an impressive silhouette. It is cared for by the National Trust, ensuring that future generations will enjoy it, and probably breathe new life into Garner’s story.
The equally awesome sequel to Weirdstone exploits a gloomy ruin called Errwood Hall in Derbyshire for its climactic scene. Once the heart of a flourishing community, Errwood Hall was demolished in 1934 By Stockport Water Corporation to make way for nearby Fernilee Reservoir, along with almost everything else in The Goyt Valley. Quite why the company felt the need to knock down an impressive Victorian mansion that was nowhere near the water is a matter of dispute. The most likely explanation is that they did not have the funds for its maintenance. Now little more than a ruin in a sea of rhododendron, the Hall still gets thousands of visitors every year, drawn to the mystique of the mansion in the woods.
In Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath, Errwood Hall is returned to its former glory by sinister magic; a fanciful concept that becomes easier to believe in the presence of such a spooky place. Slowly but surely, the house is being reclaimed by the wilderness and may one day vanish completely. If I was a billionaire, I would buy it back and return it to its original splendour; probably using builders rather than sorcery.
Read my next post for some strange experiences in The Goyt Valley. You could like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. Just a suggestion!
If you like Alan Garner’s stuff as much as I do and you have visited a place that he has written about, I would love to hear from you but feel free to get in touch about any weird and creepy bobbins.
When I was a kid in the late 1970s/early 80s, the paranormal was all the rage. Magazines such as The Unexplained and television programmes like Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of developed my fascination with UFOs and things that go bump in the night. Many happy hours walking in the countryside with my granddad also contributed to my love of spooky mysteries.
My favourite phenomenon was Bigfoot. The concept of a huge hairy monster hiding in the woods was entirely plausible to the imagination of a child. Even though I’ve grown up and realised that it’s probably a load of bullshit, I can’t shake off the tiny possibility that Bigfoot is real or at least concede that the myth has some grounding in reality. Join me on a journey.
Wolfson on Location
A few years ago, I went on holiday to the west coast of Canada and the north-western corner of the USA. I had several reasons to visit this magnificent part of the world but one of them was to see Bigfoot country for myself. My trip included 3 nights sleeping in a trailer in the backyard of my friend Paula’s home on Vancouver Island. This gave me an opportunity to get up at the crack of dawn and explore the woods where the enigmatic beast has been sighted. This was a dream come true. Imagining the dark forested realm of Bigfoot was a childhood preoccupation and now I wandered there alone.
A characteristically large species hiding away from mankind in the wilderness is a hard concept to swallow, especially in this enlightened age of technology and communication. However, it gets a little easier to believe when you’re there. The woods aren’t like the cultivated versions in the UK. They are wild and thick and stretch for hundreds of miles. You can barely see ten feet in any direction and they are the domain of big predators that are seldom glimpsed, such as bears and cougars. I explored the shadowy forest trails with a lump in my throat. What would happen if I suddenly came face-to-face with an actual Bigfoot? Would anyone believe me if I did? At one point, I heard a twig snap from nearby and the realistic possibility of bumping into something big and hairy with fangs and claws overwhelmed me with bowel-loosening realisation. Needless to say, I initiated a hasty retreat, looking back over my shoulder; half in fear, half in hope.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t spot the big guy but I found it easier to believe people that had. In Canada, they call him Sasquatch because that’s what the Native American people have always called him. To the Canadians I spoke to, Sasquatch was real. Some of them had seen him and accepted his existence. English people tend to be cynical and they take the piss out of everything. It was a sobering change to be among folk who talk about monsters with a straight face.
It seems too much of a coincidence to me that no one has ever found an actual Bigfoot or the corpse of one, or even just a body part. I accept that the creature has a vast territory in which to hide but even so, surely a specimen would have turned up by now? Consider that he has cousins all over the world; the Yeti in Nepal, the Almasty in Russia and the Yowie in Australia to name but a few of the most famous. No physical evidence anywhere? Hmm.
It is also significant that in most places where a man-beast dwells, there’s also a bear population. A few bears have been recently caught on camera walking on their hind legs. In the dark of the woods, could a glimpse of a bear moving a bit like a man appear to be something more sinister and ape like?
Saying that, people still see Bigfoot and I’m sure that dismissing their encounters as misidentified bears would do little to comfort them. Perhaps it’s better if the puzzle is never solved. After all, life would be dull without a little bit of mystery.
Wolfson does Bigfoot
I once made my own ropey horror film about a hairy creature that lives in the wilds of the Peak District entitled … wait for it … The Horror of the Legend of the Night of the Beast. This cinematic masterpiece featured some amazing actors including Anthony Rothwell, Matt Ryan Rick Rushe and Ben Jones.
My collection of horror tales Hidden Places on Earth (available from Amazon) features a more serious take on the Bigfoot enigma called The Steve McQueen Story and I shall finish by treating you to an excerpt. By way of explanation, Steve McQueen is an American sheriff on the trail of a missing girl in Oregon. Betsy is his beloved rifle. Tammy is his naive deputy. Leoty is his extraordinary Native American tracker.
A scream awoke me. My eyes snapped open. I must have dropped off. I looked to my left and Tammy was gone. I turned to the right and Leoty was gone too. I shook the slumber from my head, grabbed Betsy and staggered to my feet. There was another scream but I couldn’t tell who it was. My heart was hammering.
‘Tammy!? Leoty!?’ I hollered and peered out into the darkness. I could see jack shit except for the fire and the tethered horses nearby and they too were in a state of panic. I called out again but there was just silence now. For the first time in my life I genuinely didn’t know what to do. I have always enjoyed sharp instincts and like my daddy before me, and his daddy before him, my decisiveness in an emergency got me my Sheriff’s badge. I stomped around for a while and shouted into the night. Before I could summon the sense to do anything useful, the ladies came out of the gloom, holding onto each other like goddam lesbians.
‘What the hell!?’ I yelled. ‘You nearly gave me a heart attack!’
‘Oh, Steve!’ sobbed Tammy. She ran over and threw her arms around me. She was shocked and I was shocked too but I held her lithe body close to me while she soaked my shoulder. I peered over at Leoty for an explanation but her perfect Indian features yielded nothing. I had to wait for my deputy to calm down.
‘I had to go pee,’ Tammy finally said.
‘Jesus, Tammy!’ I growled. ‘You should know better than to go wandering off into the woods by yourself at this hour.’
‘I’m sorry.’ She wiped the tears from her eyes. ‘A girl’s gotta have her privacy.’
‘Did you get a fright?’ I queried.
She nodded and all she could manage to say was ‘eyes …’
‘Eyes?’ I urged.
‘There were eyes watching me,’ she clarified.
Tammy shook her head.
Tammy shook her head again.
‘Not an animal? Not a man? Then what in the holy kingdom?’
‘I don’t know … just eyes … horrible …’ Tammy started crying and wrapped her arms around me again.
‘This isn’t right, Tammy,’ I said firmly and sat her down by the fire. I grabbed a flask of bourbon from my coat and offered this as an alternative means of comfort. She took it and sipped, then screwed up her face and handed it back to me. I took an almighty swig myself and allowed the firewater to dull me down. I turned to Leoty.
‘I found her,’ stated the tracker.
‘Did you see anything?’ I asked.
‘I saw nothing,’ she replied.
Tammy glared at her, resentfully.
I crouched down and put my hand on her shoulder. ‘The imagination can do funny things out here, deputy.’
‘I saw nothing tonight,’ added Leoty; ‘but we are being watched.’
‘What?’ I scowled at her.
‘We’ve been watched ever since we started.’
I stood up and looked into the tracker’s strange yellow eyes. She was a tall woman and we were at equal height. ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘I wasn’t sure,’ she explained. ‘I’ve caught glances of something through the trees; a stench on the wind, footprints here and there. I think your deputy has confirmed what I feared.’
‘Then what in the shit and shinola is it?’
Leoty shook her head. ‘I wish I knew, McQueen.’
That was pretty much the end of the discussion. Both women were spooked and, I have to admit, I was too. We stuck close to the fire till dawn and said little more. Twasimotokai’s warning bounced around my mind: ‘Some things are not meant to be found, McQueen.’
If you have any comments or experiences you would like to share, big-footed or otherwise, please get in touch. If you are a film company seeking original ideas, I’m your man!
Buxton in the High Peak in the UK has some grand architecture for a small northern town. Arguably the most spectacular building is The Devonshire Dome. Seen from almost any high point in Buxton, the largest freestanding dome in Europe looks impressive and the interior is even more breath-taking.
For a while, I’ve been aware of the rumours that the ex-hospital is haunted, perpetuated in recent times by the students who currently attend the place as a university. It is no surprise when you consider that most buildings of this size and age in England usually have at least one resident spook. It wasn’t until a man called Carl Bothamley got in touch with some stories about working the night shift as a security guard that I really began to take notice.
I present Carl’s reports for you in his own words but it is perhaps necessary to give you a brief history of the building first. Ghosts need context, if you subscribe to the belief that they are the restless spirits of the deceased (I’m not sure that I do but more about that later). Long before there was an actual dome, the place was a stable for horses, built by the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1779 (who is based in Derbyshire, not Devon, confusing I know!) In 1859, the seventh Duke donated the first floor to trustees to turn it into a hospital although, bizarrely, the ground floor remained occupied by our four-legged friends! Twenty years later, he was persuaded to relinquish the rest of the building to the hospital and the horses moved out. 1880 saw the construction of the massive dome. The hospital closed in 2000, one of the few remaining hydropathic hospitals left in the country. As I’ve already mentioned, it now belongs to the University of Derby and the interior has a very contemporary feel. However, it seems that something lingers in the shadows … over to you, Carl:
The magnificent dome in Buxton is a fantastic and beautiful building. I was lucky enough to work there for a few years. Just after it closed as a hospital, through its change into the Uni and whilst it was open as the Uni. Many a strange thing happened over the years and these were witnessed by myself or myself and others. This first one was witnessed by myself only. I had just done a full patrol of the entire site. It was a warm summer night without any breeze. I was the early hours and the only occasional sound was the odd owl. I stood outside the old original doors (as I often did) having a smoke, when I heard the sound of children’s laughter. It couldn’t have been clearer. I realised it was coming from behind the main door, where only a minute or two earlier, I was stood. I thought that a group of teens had sneaked in and hidden from me. I quietly slid the key into the lock and burst into the hallway to confront them, only to find myself standing alone. No kids, no laughing and no sign of anyone inside! The same thing happened on another occasion too, the only difference was, I was already stood in the hallway and children’s laughter seemed to be surrounding me!
Another tale from the dome: I was stood inside the main entrance as I had done hundreds of times before. Now when it was the Devonshire Hospital, the upstairs floor was tiled and outside each room was a carpet runner. It was a quiet still night and from the far left end side I heard ladies footsteps walking towards where I was standing. The sound tip tapped over the tiled floor and made a muffled sound as it crossed that carpet. Then again the tip tap of the tiles and then the carpet. It kept walking until it stopped right above where I was standing, turned around and walked back to where it started then simply just went silent again. In went to investigate but there was no sign of anybody. That’s weird but the weirdest thing is that at least three weeks before the incident, the builders had ripped up all the carpets AND tiles, leaving just a concrete floor! So how did this ‘woman’s footsteps’ still make the sounds as if walking on tiles and carpet?
Another time whilst on patrol, when Chiswick house (to the rear of the dome) was linked directly by an underground passage, myself and another officer witnessed the tunnel filled with smoke. We both thought that kids had broken into Chiswick house and set it on fire. We ran through the smoke to see if we could do anything but as we entered through the glass porchway, the smoke disappeared. There was no sign of intruders and certainly no sign of any fire! Another time I was showing some friends the former chapel when a large block of wood was thrown towards us. It bounced several times, the whole length of the dome floor (which is quite a feat in itself) and impacted the wall next to us. Again there was no sign of anybody other than us. I felt like a person or spirit had passed through me as i stood on the stairs, one time as I was locking up the former John Duncan school. A place I had been tens of times without any event. A friend turned up and without telling him anything, I asked him to stand on the same stairs with me. He did so and immediately said he also felt as if someone or something had passed through him. Moments later he claimed to see a face looking at us through the door by the staircase. We soon left ad you could imagine. To this day (as far as I am aware) one of the cleaners refuses to be in there alone as she heard laughing coming from a stall in the toilets, when she was alone cleaning!
Carl’s disturbing accounts are not the first that I’ve heard about the place. Back in the early 1990s when the hospital had its own radio station, DJ Tony Francis, aka Big T, told me about an equally frightening encounter. The corridor that led to the station studio had an unfortunate feature; the light switch was at the other end so the first person in or the last person out had to walk through darkness. It was while one of Big T’s colleagues was performing this minor act of courage that he felt someone brush past him, going the other way. The young man switched on the light and was horrified to discover that he was alone. Apparently, he refused to be the first or the last person to the studio ever again. The creepy corridor is no longer used but I’m sure you will agree that it retains an eerie aspect.
Generally speaking, Buxton is not a very haunted town. I was once asked to provide information for a ghost-themed guided tour and struggled to suggest more than three stops. This has something to do with the people; Buxtonians tend to be very down-to-earth and pragmatic and they are not prone to fuss or flights of fancy. That’s why when one of them turns to me and says they have experienced paranormal phenomena, I tend to raise an eyebrow and take notice. Personally, I love a good ghost story (I’m from Staffordshire which is a different kettle of fish) but I struggle with the notion of an afterlife and therefore struggle with the concept of “spirits who are unable to pass over to the other side”. That said, I’ve spoken to many people who have seen, heard or felt something weird inside an old building and I have no reason to doubt any of them so I think there must be something going on; lingering souls being only one possible theory, albeit the most popular. I’m also fascinated by why some individuals experience by what appears to be supernatural whilst others do not. Veteran ghost hunter Wesley H. Downes once told me about a situation where two people were in the presence of an apparition but only one of them could see it. You can read more about my afternoon with Wesley here.
Hauntings aside, the university is a great place to visit; seeing the Dome itself is worth anyone’s time and I recommend the café, the restaurant and the spa. It just seems that it is not the right place to be alone at night, unless you relish the company of the otherworldly. If you have a story about the Dome you would like to share, or indeed any other place, please get in touch.