Spooky Tales of the Goyt Valley

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 city 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.

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the eerily still water of Errwood Reservoir

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.

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old postcard of The Shrine

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?

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I wanna be in your film

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?

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Goytsclough Quarry; believed to have paved Oxford Street and Regent Street in London

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.

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panorama of Errwood Hall

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!

Carl's Goyt
Photo by Carl Bothamley

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.

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Grimshawe family plot above Errwood Hall

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 cities like 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.

 

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Lair of the Beast?

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.

Happy Halloween.

D.W.

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The Real Life Haunting of the Devonshire Dome

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.

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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:

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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!

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the old surgical ward is often cited as “a chilly spot”

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?

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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.

haunted-corridor

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.

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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.

D.W.

with special thanks to Carl Bothamley