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.
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.
It’s been just over a year since I wrote a blog about my strange encounters in Grinlow Woods in Buxton in the UK. During that time, a few people have contacted me with more information. It’s slightly more comforting to know that the procession of cloaked figures that I saw in the woods were witnessed by other people and not just a figment of my imagination. Infact, someone got in touch to say that their parents even knew the group. Apparently, witches’ covens and satanic cults were all the rage back in the 1990s. I guess folks had to invent their own entertainment, pre-internet.
Just as one incident gets explained away, another one crops up that isn’t so easy to rationalise. My next post features another queer tale from the supernatural hotspot that is Grinlow Woods! I hope you can join me.
One of the creepiest spots in my hometown of Buxton, Derbyshire is also one of the most mysterious. Overlooking the northern edge of the town is a damaged Bronze Age burial mound called Fairfield Low. You could be forgiven for missing it; despite occupying one of the highest points in Buxton, it is encircled by a thick crown of trees on private farm land. Some locals are aware of its existence but know it as Skeleton Wood or Skellybob Wood (whatever a skellybob is!)
Local antiquarian Micah Salt excavated Fairfield Low in 1895 on the night before Halloween. He discovered human remains, noting that the sight had been previously disturbed, probably by lime burners. The skull now sits on the desk in the town museum’s Boyd Dawkins study. It belonged to a man who died in middle age. It seems likely that Micah Salt’s morbid discovery is the culprit for the location’s eerie nickname.
Intrigued, I set off to investigate the sinister place for myself. The summer of 2015 has been generally cold and wet in these parts, hardly like a summer at all. As you can see by my companion’s photographs, it was my good fortune to enjoy an uncommonly warm and sunny day.
Most of modern-day Fairfield is a vast labyrinth-like housing estate and it is easy to get lost unless you know your way around. Quizzing several residents as to the whereabouts of Fairfield Low did not help. As I’ve already mentioned, they call it Skellybob Wood. I focused my attention on the trees on the highest hill, rising above the multitude of rooftops. Finding it was not impossible. Getting to it was a different matter!
Stumbling onto the right path was sheer luck. There are no sign posts and the first part winds its way round the back of a large industrial estate and through a maze of allotments. Here we encountered an elderly lady who had heard of Fairfield Low but by this point we were in its shadow. The lady was perturbed by the gun I was carrying. I explained that it was actually an umbrella.
There is no public access to Skeleton Wood and by climbing a couple of walls, we were technically trespassing (apologies to the owner). The cows that know the wood as home did not seem particularly impressed that we were there. One bovine occupant in particular had the most intimidating stare I’ve ever seen on an animal; so much so that we felt compelled to circumvent it. Even when we reached the tree line, we discovered further resentment from a group of tracksuited teenagers who were loitering around in the wood.
Despite the opposition, I was pleased to find myself in the footsteps of Micah Salt, on top of what was clearly a burial mound. The ancient tomb is so well hidden by the trees, it is impossible to see it until the final ten metres of the climb. There is a deep gouge into the hillock. Whether this is the product of Salt’s excavation, the work of lime burners or a more supernatural disturbance is unclear. Skeleton Wood certainly has a very tangible and peculiar atmosphere. The warmth of the sun is replaced by a chilly breeze that gently rustles the leaves. The trees are old and twisted and command a solemn reverence, like graves in a churchyard.
We felt no need to linger but before departing, I noted the unfamiliar view out towards Dove Holes. Dotted around the landscape are several other mounds that looked suspiciously man-made. The Neolithic henge called The Bull Ring is in that direction too. It strikes me that there was a lot of activity in this area thousands of years ago. The hills and dales evidently resonated with significance for our ancient ancestors. Standing here, I can’t help but wonder who they were and what they would think now, looking upon the sprawl of Fairfield estate. In Skeleton Wood, their ghosts linger, whispering forgotten secrets amongst the trees.
So what were the problems with getting this cinematic masterpiece from a piece of paper on to a screen?
My ambition to make films has always exceeded my ability and there are several scripts gathering dust on my shelf that will probably never get made in to films, which is a good or bad thing, your point-of-view pending.
Perhaps the saddest of my failures is Massive Seagull. Conceived by my friend Matt Ryan, the story concerns an oversized avian killer. One of the funniest people I know, Matt comes up with stuff that still makes me laugh ages after he has said it. I couldn’t shake off the concept of Massive Seagull and we resolved to turn it in to a film production. We assembled a writing team that included ourselves and a few other pals; Rik Kirk, Emlyn Vaughn and Anthony Rothwell (see my last blog on the latter).
I have never been in a writing team before or since. I’m not sure why because it worked really well. The five of us got together for a few drinks and played around with the story. We concluded that Massive Seagull takes place on the set of an adult film called Lost Valley of the Cave Sluts. An aging porn star named Karl Gunt who can no longer rise to the challenge is replaced by a more capable younger actor named Stud Caruthers. In a jealous rage, Karl uses his occult knowledge to summon a demonic creature but instead of saying “eagle” he mumbles and says “seagull” instead. The gigantic murderous bird goes on a killing spree, polishing off the crew and cast, one by one.
Other characters have names such as Lolly La Mone, Chastity Vowbroken, Rudy Majors, Johan Knight, Ral King, Dick Challenger and Lady Fanny Hare. They have quality dialogue:
Johan: It seems Massive Seagull isn’t playing games anymore.
Ral: The Seagull? You think he did this?
Stud: Seagulls live at the seaside don’t they?
Johan: This is no natural creature! It is a monster from hell!
Ral: A monster from hell?
Johan: A creature that has been summoned in to our world to harm us.
Ral: But who would do such a diabolical thing?
(Suddenly, Karl Gunt emerges from the jungle and looks at them. They all turn and glare back).
So what were the problems with getting this cinematic masterpiece from scribbles on a beer mat and onto a screen?
1) Actually making a giant seagull is hard although you can see by the photographs accompanying this blog that we did try. A pair of massive seagull legs were a feature of my kitchen for about two years which at least made for an interesting conversation piece at parties.
2) We couldn’t persuade girls to be in it. There are several female characters in the film and even though it isn’t actually a porno, the fact that it takes place on the set of a porno film was enough to put them off. An important lesson in boys think differently to girls.
3) We needed money. Even the simplest of productions need investment and I was having trouble finding sponsors for a film that features a giant seagull tearing off a man’s penis. If you’re out there, please make yourself known!
I’ve been working on a short film called Matriarch: Low Life in High Heels. A fictional tale of small town gangsters, the story focusses on a conversation between the crime lords of Buxton in Derbyshire: Danny, charming playboy of Burbage, Mick, provincial ruler of Harpur Hill, Stan, weary boss of the town centre and Dwayne, the nutcase from Fairfield meet up to discuss the mysterious disappearance of their overlord. Together, they face the difficult decision of who will succeed him. Needless to say, established rivalries bubble to the surface and the meeting gets a little edgy.
Working with the local abundance of talent in Buxton, I have written the screenplay and left others the opportunity to produce, direct, act, although I do play a minor character called Touchy; a creepy toilet cleaner with a secret agenda (every film needs one). Matriarch features what could be supernatural forces, although they nibble at the edge of the story rather than stomp all over it. Blending the two genres of crime and horror, I have attempted to write a gutsy gangster story that’s also a bit eerie, a cross between Reservoir Dogs and The Wicker Man if you will.
The project has no budget so if you would like to help out, get in touch. You can tweet me or leave a comment on my Facebook page, using the links at the bottom. If you would just like to see Matriarch when it’s finished, watch this space for further announcements, as well as more exciting projects and some real-life investigations into the strange World of Wolfson.