I first became aware of the existence of ghosts when I was five years old and, had I not witnessed what I did, I could not say for sure whether I would believe in such things now or if I would have gone on to experience the many strange things that I have. What I can say is that all these things, whatever they may be, have made me constantly challenge my perception of the world and all that may lie beyond it.
There are so many interpretations and explanations of what ghosts are, why they occur, and why only some people seem to see them. I shall, however, leave that up to the experts and theorists to debate, for I can only tell my story of how I first came to realise that I wasn’t as alone in the night as I thought I was.
When I was three years old my Father took my Mother to look at an old farmhouse that was for sale in a small village, not far from the town where we lived. Believing he was just viewing it out of curiosity, my mother didn’t take much notice as they wandered around the large house and numerous outbuildings set in three acres of land. When my Father later declared he just had to have it, my Mother said, “In that case, you had better arrange a second viewing!”.
The farm was located in one of those linear villages that stretch out along a single road. In what could be described as the centre was a pub, a play area and a small village store, where the owner also taught piano lessons. Our new home was at the far end of this long road with only one other farmhouse directly opposite for company.
I have never fully understood why my parents bought a farm as although my Father had agricultural connections in his childhood, he was actually a trained engineer who worked alongside my Mother in their draftsmen recruitment company. When they bought it, it was no longer a going concern, but with the neighbours’ cattle using one of the fields to graze and the chickens my parents raised in the yard, it nonetheless had a proper farm feel.
The land surrounding the house comprised a long garden complete with a fairytale well, an orchard of apple and pear trees, two large grazing fields and numerous ponds, one of which was overshadowed by an enormous willow tree. I was often left to roam the grounds, spending my time constructing crude little bridges over ditches and building dens amongst trees. Back then I must have appeared somewhat of a feral child, for I rarely wore shoes and my wild blonde curls refused to be tamed. My reputation was such that I earned the childhood nickname of Grub, as I also loved digging in the garden for buried treasure and pottery remnants discarded by those that had gone before.
Although I was more than content to play alone, there was a particular point at the end of the yard which I never dared go past by myself. There was no reason, that I can recall, for me to feel so fearful and I would quite happily walk to the top fields beyond when accompanied by my sister or parents. But, when alone, I would go no further, remaining rooted to the spot and filled with an inexplicable fear.
The house itself was several hundred years old and painted a pale pink colour which, traditionally, would have been created by adding pigs’ blood to limewash. It had a linear layout, made up of three distinct sections which got progressively smaller like a Russian doll. Every room was full of beams and the entire house slopped down from one end to another. The upper floors were accessed by a narrow spiral staircase off a small lobby and, on the landing, an enormous trap door allowed furniture to be hauled up and down.
My bedroom was next to my parent’s, off the corridor which led down to the bathroom and my sister’s room, and it was in mine that I first heard the presence that I would go onto hear every night that I lived in that house.
It was a sound that I almost struggle to describe as I felt it as much as I heard it. It was a low, rhythmic thud, that sounded like slow and deliberate footsteps. They would start a little way beyond my parent’s bedroom and would resonate in my head, like a throbbing heartbeat as it progressed down the corridor. When it reached my sister’s room it would stop. But just as suddenly as it ended it would begin again, back at the top of the corridor, making its way once more as if on a constant loop.
In addition to the footsteps, there was one room in the house which, like the point beyond the yard, I had an inexplicable fear of. That room was my parents’ room. In the daytime it never bothered me, but at night a feeling of terror would manifest and I would dread passing by the open door on the way to bed. Again, there was no obvious reason for this fear but something told me not to look into the room. And so, every night I would rush past the doorway with my head down, shielding my eyes.
There was, however, one night that I didn’t turn away and instead looked into the dark room beyond. There I was greeted by a sight that I shall never forget, for sitting in a chair was an old lady wearing a long dress with a frilly collar about her neck. She was completely grey and sat staring across the room, seemingly unaware of me in the doorway. I paused for a moment before running downstairs to my parents where, through tears, I told them what I had seen. They tried to reassure me there was nothing to be fearful of, even showing me there was no one in their room before putting me to bed. But I was so afraid of what I had seen, that I made sure to never look again into that room at night.
But the story didn’t end there …
The final part of this tale was recounted to me by my Father many years later, long after we had moved away from the farm.
Apparently, a few months after I had seen the apparition, a couple stopped by at our house saying that they had once lived there and wondered if they might take a look around the grounds. My parents said they were more than welcome to look around both the outside and inside of the house and duly invited them in.
As they chatted, the couple told them what the house had been like when they had lived there and all the things that had changed. But as they were departing they paused, and the wife asked my parents if they had seen or experienced anything strange in the house. When my parents asked her to clarify exactly what she was referring to she replied by asking if they had seen the grey lady. Unsurprisingly my parents were quite taken aback, especially when the woman described the old lady I had seen, complete with a frilly collar about her neck.
The woman then went on to say that she had found the room at the end (which was my sister’s and to where I had heard the footsteps go) to be the most haunted in the house. At this point, my parents unfortunately cut her off as my sister and I were within earshot and they were fearful we might hear.
To this day I wish my parents had found out more from this couple but, nonetheless, it was enough to confirm in my mind that what I had seen and experienced had been real and wasn’t just the product of an overactive childhood imagination.
I often reflect back on my time at our farm and think of it very fondly, despite all the things that scared me at the time. There is such a curiosity in me that I would love to go back as an adult and experience one more night there. Who knows, maybe one day I will be that stranger who stops by and says they once lived there and politely asks if they have ever seen the lady in grey?
Next time…Photographing the Beauty of Death
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