Stranger in the Night

Words by Michelle Stiles

Unseen gropers, heavy breathing and strange flashing lights... No, it’s not Saturday night at your local discotheque, it’s Ghost Night at Pengersick Castle.

When it comes to the supernatural, I’m a sceptic. To me, life as we know it is hard enough to understand – I can’t see the point of complicating things further by adding ‘the paranormal’ into the equation. That said, I’m still feeling slightly nervous about the ‘Ghost Night’ I’m about to attend at Pengersick Castle, on the Southwest coast of Cornwall. As my friend Sophie and I enter the grounds, with the castle tower looming over us, bats fluttering around our heads and rooks flapping about in the treetops, I have to admit it all feels a bit Scooby Doo.

We’re met by Ian, the organiser. With his long auburn beard and black leather trench coat, he looks every inch the paranormal expert. He has written several books, and appeared on countless TV programmes including Living TV’s Most Haunted. I wonder whether tonight will be like Most Haunted, with mediums being possessed by malevolent spirits and ghost-detecting gizmos going haywire.

Ian takes us to a room where we sit down with around 25 other people. He introduces us to an older man, Ron, a professional medium and dowser from Yorkshire. We are shown a video about the castle and its ghosts, and then split into two groups. Our group will explore the grounds with Ian; the others will be dowsing for spirits in the castle with Ron.

Laden with torches, cameras and camcorders, we set off into the woods with Ian. He stops at ‘significant’ spots, asking us to pause for a moment to see whether we can sense anything unusual. As might be expected on a dark night in the woods of a haunted house, people are jumpy – every so often someone is startled by a noise and we all wave our torches around frantically to see what caused it. In one area, which Ian explains was once a burial ground for plague victims, a woman suddenly jumps sideways and announces (somewhat over-enthusiastically) that she’s just felt someone breathe heavily in her ear. Ian seems relatively unimpressed by this. I decide that I quite like him. He’s affable, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and is clearly fascinated by Pengersick and its history. I also think he makes a genuine effort not to influence people’s opinions of the place too much. I’m not converted yet, but tonight is turning out to be far more interesting than your average Saturday night in town.

After a break, our group meets up with Ron in the castle. We start off in the living room. “This room can get quite active at times,” says Ron. He tells us about an incident involving a female visitor in 2003. “Something came up behind her, grabbed her breast and squeezed it, and also...down below as well.” He opens a briefcase, and takes out three photos of the woman in question. What appear to be white handprints are clearly visible on her blue anorak. “Look at those fingers,” says Ron as we crowd around the photos. “See the claws? What she’d had,” he continues matter-of-factly, “was a psychic attack from a lower entity.” The ghostly culprit, he says, was an entity that had come in with the woman, and left with her. Nevertheless, Ron believes that Pengersick does have its own ghostly ‘pervert’, who according to him has fondled several women. “We think it’s Lord Pengersick,” he says. Personally, I’m not so sure.

Next, Ron hands us each a pair of metal dowsing rods. He shows us how to use them to get ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers to questions, and to detect ghostly presences in the room. My rods remain pointed stubbornly inwards. I mention this to Ron, who explains it’s because I’m standing on the edge of an energy vortex. I’m pondering the significance of this when a woman in the corner gasps loudly, saying her breast has been fondled. Ron asks her to stand facing the wall, eyes closed and arms held up “as if in an embrace”. He stands behind her with his hands on her shoulders, and asks her to talk to Lord Pengersick.

Later, he employs the same technique to get people to commune with the ghost of Lady Pengersick in the bedroom. “She might push you,” he warns each volunteer (myself included), “but don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.” Some people do indeed report that they’ve been pushed or pulled by an unseen force. I feel only embarrassment at being persuaded to talk to a brick wall in front of a dozen strangers.

For the last hour of the evening, Ron conducts a ‘darkness vigil’ in the bedroom. We can either join him, or scare ourselves witless exploring the grounds on our own. Myself, Sophie, and around ten others decide to sit in the dark with Ron. Before long, several people notice flashing lights in different parts of the room. Sophie and I suggest that these might be caused by people’s cameras flashing outside. This possibility is quickly dismissed by the others, who insist there is no rational explanation.

Next, someone announces that his camera battery has mysteriously gone flat. Again, this apparently defies rational explanation. During the rest of the vigil there are further reports of paranormal occurrences including “strange dark patches hovering over people’s heads,” and ghostly hands creeping up people’s backs. In the final ten minutes people seem to be almost falling over each other to report some supernatural experience or another. And in the end, I have to conclude, that’s what this evening’s all about. If you really want supernatural stuff to happen to you, it probably will. As for me, I ain’t afraid of no ghost. +

To find out more about Pengersick Ghost Nights, go to: www.ghosthunting.org.uk

Illustrator Chris Odgers’ new book Mule is out late October, and will be available from most good bookshops including www.stranger-mag.com