My first ever experience of ghost hunting was at Provanhall in Glasgow and it was most certainly a baptism of fire! I did not really anticipate it being as active as it actually was, but things were very lively! A journalist from The Herald came along with us and published his take on things which you can read here, but I think he toned things down a lot! I do want to write up each of my ghost hunting experiences in future Freaky Fridays and it seems right to start with the first one! I actually wrote this piece as my final project for creative writing while at University so it isn’t exactly a full report since I had to make it a bit more literary, but I hope that it conveys some of the atmosphere of the night. Aside from the events described below we also had various other occurrences including plaster and pebbles being thrown, hair pulling and touches and various other phenomena. Lots of my photographs have shadow figures in them and overall the entire group had some really strong experiences and I gotten bitten by the bug – big time!
Chasing Shadows In The Dark
Even in broad daylight there was something not quite right about the building. Standing there listening to the caretaker discuss its gruesome past I could feel every hair on the back of my neck standing on end. My skin prickled as the hair behind my ear was gently ruffled as though someone had whispered in my ear, their breath catching the loose strands. At that exact moment, Linda suddenly stepped forward and spun around to face me before grabbing her husband’s hand.
‘Did you just touch my head?’
‘No, but … I had to move!’
Her voice trembled a little as she answered. I could see that something had rattled her, but we didn’t have a chance to discuss it as our guide was leading us back down into the courtyard and inviting us to wander around the gardens before we left.
Sitting in the sunshine with a picnic lunch a few minutes later she explained that she just had an overwhelming urge to move away from the entrance to the tower where both of us had been standing. I explained that I had been uncomfortable too and that I was sure someone had touched my hair. We agreed that it was strange because our research had never mentioned anything about paranormal activity in that spot. In fact, we had both felt a little disappointed by the lack of atmosphere in the bedroom where most of the hauntings were reported. The bedroom had been the scene of a brutal murder where a drunken soldier had murder his wife after returning from the war to find that she had given birth to another man’s child. The little boy had also been slaughtered and all three spirits had frequently been encountered in the room, not only by the staff but also be the various paranormal groups that regularly come to visit. As we finished our food we began to chat about the various stories we had heard about the house and its ghostly residents. Andy was growing restless and was ready to head home. He clearly though that we were being hysterical women and was eager to go home!
‘You’re both nuts, you know that right? You want to charge people 30 quid to sit in the cold and the dark for 6 hours. Absolute madness!’
‘It’s all in how you market it!’ I replied.
Even as I spoke I knew that on some level he was right. Would people really be willing to pay that much for so little? I began to wonder if we were barking up the wrong tree with this idea. I hadn’t even been serious when I suggested it. It was one of those moments when my smart-ass mouth spat out a flippant remark before my brain had a chance to intervene. I should really have known better. It had all happened a week ago when Linda had called me to discuss a few ideas for fundraising for the local autism charity we are both involved with. I was supposed to be working, but I was glad of the distraction despite the fact that the article I was working on had a looming deadline. Linda was complaining about always using the same old ideas to raise funds.
‘Honestly, I just can’t deal with it any more! If I have to do another coffee morning or a tombola I might actually have to kill myself!’ Linda complained. ‘It’s so boring. Everyone does it and I want to do something different. Something exciting!’
I had gotten used to her hair-brained schemes over the years. She was the creative one in the family and was always coming up with games and adventures for us younger siblings. It came as no surprise to me that having been named fundraising officer she could not be content with hosting a bake sale!
‘Just promise not to come back and haunt me or I’m telling mum!’
I glanced over at the television, which was only really on for background noise while I worked. An American ghost hunting show was on and before I could stop myself I was blurting out a suggestion that would quite literally come back to haunt me.
‘Let’s go ghost hunting.’
I should have known that my sister would jump on it. Within an hour she was back on the phone armed with not only approval from head office, but also a team of professional investigators willing to donate their time and a short-list of possible venues. We ended up settling on Provan Hall, a 15th century building with a gruesome history hiding behind its picturesque façade. Aside from the tale of the murderous soldier we had already heard about there were countless other restless souls rumoured to be lurking in the shadowy corners.
Selling tickets turned out to be easier than we had expected. It turns out we weren’t the only ones crazy enough to pay for the privilege of sitting in a freezing cold building with no guarantee that we would even encounter anything supernatural.
As the event drew nearer, slowly people began to drop out and I could totally understand why. Like me they probably quite liked the idea of going ghost hunting, but when it became a reality they were afraid that they might actually come face to face with something that they couldn’t explain. Linda has always been a strong believer in the supernatural, but I guess you could say that I have always been sat on the fence. It’s not that I didn’t believe in ghosts. I’m a logical person and pretty scientifically minded so I’ve always been aware that human beings are composed largely of energy and of course energy can’t just disappear. In my mind that made it perfectly reasonable to assume that once that energy was no longer needed to power the body, it could go elsewhere. As the date of our ghost hunt drew closer I tried to be excited, but I was quickly realising that as much as I wanted to believe in ghosts, that didn’t necessarily mean that I was ready to confront one.
Now here I was I sitting alone on a creaky old staircase staring down into the darkness below. We had been split into teams so that we could tackle different parts of the two buildings simultaneously and then compare notes at the end of the night. The rest of my team were in the attic rooms behind me and I could hear them chatting about changes in the temperature and some of the feelings that they were picking up on. One of our team had some psychic tendencies and she was asking the investigators whether or not children had been abused in the house because she was picking up on some uncomfortable feelings in the room. Everyone was already a little on edge as we had heard over the walkie talkie that someone from the other team had to be removed from this room earlier in the night although we didn’t know why.
I was only half listening to the chatter because I could seem to tear my eyes away from the doorway on the landing below. I sat near the top of the stairs randomly snapping pictures of the doorway. Occasionally I would pause to review them on the screen of my digital camera. In a couple of pictures I noticed that it seemed to be a little bit too dark at the bottom of the stairs. It looked like darker shadows within the shadows. In some of the pictures it was almost impossible to make out anything below the halfway point on the staircase despite the fact that the landing should have been slightly illuminated by the light from the full moon outside the window.
I kept my eyes on that open door, unable to look away and barely even daring to blink. I was almost expecting someone to walk out of that room, even although I knew that no-one was there. That was when it suddenly hit me. I’m still not entirely sure what it was, but I had never felt anything like it. It was as though a wave of energy was rushing towards me up the stairs. I didn’t understand what it was, only that I didn’t want to be on that staircase for a second longer. I jumped to my feet and ran down to the landing where I stood with my back pressed against the wall. I don’t usually spook easily but I was starting to feel very uncomfortable and my stomach was heaving with a writhing sense of foreboding as I realised that I had just placed myself right in that dark spot that I had noticed in my photographs.
The lead investigator, Jan, noticed that I had moved downstairs and followed me with a reminder that we weren’t to wander off from the group. My sister was following close behind and came to stand beside me.
‘I don’t like it in that attic. It just feels wrong,’ she whispered.
Just then there was a commotion upstairs as one of the girls began to feel unwell. Her temperature was beginning to climb and she started to choke. She started to cry and had to be helped downstairs to sit down and loosen some of the layers of clothing she was wearing to keep warm. As soon as she reached the landing she started to calm down and explained that she had felt like her throat was burning. Jan later told us that it was a common occurrence during investigations in this part of the building and they believed that it was people picking up on residual energy from a fire that killed several children in the house. This caused excitement among those who believed it was a paranormal event while the sceptics in the bunch weren’t convinced. My brother-in-law appeared downstairs proclaiming that he was about as psychic as a brick because he felt nothing!
In the midst of the confusion I began to feel a strange sensation. It happened suddenly and it first it was a slight tingle in my fingertips like a static shock. Then there was pressure and a distinct squeezing. I recognised the sensation, but my brain was struggling to make sense of it. My eyes were telling me nothing was there, but I my sense of touch was telling me that a small child had slipped her hand into mine. My palm felt warm and slightly sticky, just like when a toddler holds onto your hand with grubby, sweaty little hands. My heart began to beat a little bit faster, but I can honestly say that it was not through fear. The mother in me kicked in and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to curl my fingers around the hand and give it a reassuring squeeze. This seemed to be taken as a sign of acceptance because I soon began to feel an insistent tugging on my arm, like a bored child trying to get their Mother’s attention when she has spent to long gossiping with a friend in the supermarket.
I didn’t say anything mainly out of an irrational fear that no one would believe me and that perhaps I was just getting caught up in mass hysteria. I just kept looking down at my hand and its fingers curled around an invisible hand. I wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding my confusion and those closest to me started to notice that something was happening.
‘Are you okay?’
One of the investigators was staring at me intently.
‘Don’t freak out but it almost looked as though there was the shadow of a shotgun behind your head!’ said Mark. ‘Do you feel anything?’
I was finding it difficult to speak. All I could manage was a whisper.
‘I’m not sure. I think. It sounds odd, but maybe there is a little girl tugging on my arm.’
The pulling sensation was getting stronger now and more insistent. My arm was raised in front of me and I was being pulled away from the wall.
‘Maybe you should go with her?’ suggested someone from the back of the group.
I walked slowly across the landing feeling more uncomfortable with every step. It wasn’t the fact that I was holding hand with a ghost, but rather the fact that I had suddenly become the centre of attention. Once again I wondered if I was just getting carried away with the group, but deep down I knew that this was real. I squeezed past my sister on the narrow landing and she suddenly gasped.
‘That was weird. It was like ice passing through my legs.’
The pulling got more and more intense, guiding me towards a locked door at the top of the next flight of stairs. Even as I stopped in front of the door the pulling continued and I stumbled forward, perilously close to the staircase. Another member of the group grabbed my arm to pull me back and suggested that it would be wise to sit on the floor. Mark squeezed past and sat on the stairs. He did so as much to act as a safety net for me as he did to document the interaction. He placed an electronic device in front of me along with a digital recorder and explained that the device was an EMF detector which would measure electro-magnetic fields and that any spirits close to us would be able to use this to communicate. I tried to concentrate on what Mark was saying but in my mind all I could hear was someone calling out a name over and over again.
‘I think her name might be Maggie.’
In my mind I was picturing a girl no more than 5 years old dressed in an old fashioned white dress. Mark remained kneeling on the stairs and started talking to the little girl while stroking the air like he was petting her hair. He was kind and reassuring, telling her that she was safe and that we just wanted to hear whatever story she wanted to tell us all.
Without warning the atmosphere on the landing began to change. I could have sworn it suddenly got darker and the lights on Mark’s EMF device began flickering erratically, lighting all the way up to red. I hadn’t once felt afraid, just confused, but now I was quickly becoming uneasy.
‘Ahh sweetheart. You don’t need to be afraid of the bad man. I’m not going to let him hurt you darling,’ said Mark.
The pulling sensation on my arm began getting stronger to the point that my shoulder was beginning to hurt. I could hear my heart thudding behind my ears. As soon as Mark mentioned the ‘bad man’ I instantly thought back to his earlier comment about a shotgun behind my head. I connected it to the horrible feeling that there had been a shadow man in a hat watching me from the doorway while I say on the stairs. For the first time I wasn’t just uneasy. I was truly scared.
The rest of the group who had been avidly watching me suddenly those closest to me all began talking at once.
‘Did you hear that?’
‘I heard someone shouting.’
‘It sounds like a man and a woman fighting. They are really going at it!’
‘Is someone outside?’
Nobody could pinpoint anything in particular and it seemed as though each person was getting small fragments of a bigger picture. Mark radioed down to the caretaker who confirmed that there was nobody in the grounds and that the other team were in the older building across the courtyard.
It was then that I first noticed the sound of somebody sobbing. I looked up for the first time and saw that Linda had followed me across the landing. She standing next to me with tears rolling down her face. I was shocked because I don’t recall another time that I have ever seen my big sister cry. No matter what life throws her way she simply takes a deep breath and deals with it. Yet here she was, not only crying, but sobbing hysterically. She was so distraught that she was doubled over. Her whole body shaking from the effort. Looking at her was like seeing a perfect visual representation of absolute despair and it was heartbreaking to watch. I was frozen there sitting at her feet with my arm still outstretched towards the locked door. I couldn’t even move to comfort her the way she had so often comforted me as a child when she had been forced to play mother while my dad was in hospital and my mum was out at work trying to scrape together enough money to pay the bills.
‘It’s her sister,’ she cried. ‘She’s looking for her little sister.’
Her words were followed by a fresh round of sobs. She was now almost prone on the floor. Her distressed whines made her sound like a wounded animal. Jan was desperately trying to calm her down, but her attempts to offer comfort went completely unnoticed until she attempted to remove Linda from the area.
‘I think it’s probably best if we go outside and get some air. Let’s go downstairs’
Suddenly Linda’s head snapped up and she snarled at Jan. Her words dripping with rage. She was practically screaming in her face.
‘I’m not leaving her! Don’t be so stupid.’
It became apparent that we probably shouldn’t hang around up hear and Mark whispered to me to ask ‘Maggie’ to let go of my hand before leading me downstairs and out into the courtyard. Linda emerged behind me, her face pale and her hands shaking.
‘I don’t even know what happened. I felt so sad. It hit me like a ton of bricks.’
‘You wouldn’t leave. They kept telling you to leave and you said you wouldn’t leave me alone up there.’
‘I didn’t mean you! I meant the little girl. I feel like I just left a real child in distress. I feel terrible.’
Both groups were mingling in the common area and the courtyard drinking coffee and excitedly swapping notes with one another. I noticed my brother-in-law Andy fighting through the crowd and waved him over.
‘What the hell happened to you two? I was way in the back and I didn’t even know it was you guys! I should have known though!’
We didn’t get a chance to explain when the newspaper reporter that had accompanied us cornered us and tried to conduct an interview for his feature. He seemed oblivious to the fact that we were both emotionally drained and not in any mood to talk. We agreed to meet him in the caretaker’s office in 5 minutes and headed off to the bathroom to repair Linda’s tear stained face.
‘Oh. My. God. What the hell? I feel like the world just ended.’
‘You look like it too!’
Even in the face of emotional trauma I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get in a dig at big sis! She glanced at herself in the mirror taking in her streaked mascara and snot stained cheek and let out a shriek.
‘Now that’s scary! I was really crying wasn’t I.’
‘Uh-huh’ I nodded. ‘It wasn’t even pretty crying either, it was proper bawling!’
She pushed me, pretending she was mad and I could see the spark of excitement in her eyes that told me even though she had been upset she was definitely as excited as I was to have had something happen. We gave our brief interview to the reporter and rejoined the group to head to our final area where we were to take part in a séance around an old table in the infamous bedroom.
It was almost 4am by the time we got back to Linda’s house after the event. My husband was already tucked up in the spare bedroom having been delegated to babysit our collective children while the three of us chased down spooks. Andy wandered off to go to sleep, but Linda and I couldn’t sleep. We sat up for hours dissecting everything while eating bowls of leftover mashed potato with cheese. It reminded me of childhood nights when my dad would be rushed into hospital and I was too young to understand what was happening and was scared by the ambulance and the paramedics. My oldest sister had long since left home for the bright lights of London, so Linda would sit up with me and my other sister telling us stories and making French toast. The only difference was that now we were adults and the 11 year age gap didn’t matter as much. Our relationship had evolved into friendship as well as sisterhood. Our shared experience had strengthen our bond even further.
From that night on, ghosts became our thing. Within a week we had already booked a second fundraising event for the following year, this time in an abandoned swimming pool. Every time we talked we would end up picking apart things that had happened or pointing out details in the thousands of photographs that we had taken. When we got the call to return to Provan Hall for a photo shoot to accompany our feature in The Herald we were both a little anxious to return, but we knew that together we would be safe. It took some time to get over our experience. I know that for days afterwards Linda hugged her daughter that little bit tighter as she was of a similar age and she struggled with the feeling that she had left the little girl there all alone searching for her little sister. We gradually managed to piece together her story from talking to the caretaker and the investigators who had been to the building several times. They were used to picking up on children and their nanny. It was also common for people to feel the presence of a darker spirit believed to be the tobacco lord who built the house. The investigators said that things had never been quite so intense and they believed that it was our connection as sisters which made us attractive to this little child. She offered us some comfort by explaining that all we could do for spirits was let them tell their stories and that she really felt like ‘Maggie’ had been able to share something that she hadn’t managed to before. Linda was able to make peace with that and she still has an interest in the paranormal, but I think she is more cautious about what she opens herself up to and regularly cleanses her self and her home against negative energies.
Something changed for me that night. I accepted that paranormal energy was not only very real but also very potent. I started to take more notice of the places that gave me goosebumps and learned that the more open I am to the paranormal, the more likely I am to encounter it. It spurred me to investigate further and ever since that night I have read every bit of information that I could lay my hands on regarding ghosts and paranormal investigation. Whenever time and money allows I book a spot on investigations with various groups. This summer I will be embarking on a course in parapsychology and it is my hope that some day soon I will be able to join the group of investigators that guided us through our first ghostly encounter.