Monday, February 23, 2009

Haunted

Guy's Cliffe HouseMy usual Friday blog post last week was dropped as, quite rightly, I was busy elsewhere ensuring that my wife, Karen, had as lovely a birthday as possible...

Part of this extravaganza of generosity and celebration entailed lunch at one of Warwick’s finest eating establishments – The Saxon Mill. If ever you’re around these parts I can recommend it. I won’t wax lyrical about the menu as, really, with the best will in the world, mere adjectives and metaphor can hardly replace the reality of eating food. Suffice it to say, you had to be there. And, no offence intended, I’m rather glad that you weren’t as it would have cramped my style and ruined the atmos somewhat...

But talking of atmos...

The Saxon Mill – being (surprise, surprise) a converted mill – is built over the River Leam. On the opposite bank stands what at one time would have been a very grand old house indeed: Guy’s Cliffe House.

The legends surrounding this building are numerous. And as varied and embellished as Chinese whispers. The one strand that runs through them all, however, is that the place is haunted. Haunted by a woman who – through being jilted / abandoned / widowed / whatever – threw herself into the River Leam far below and drowned. Quite when this occurred nobody really seems to know. 500 years ago... maybe more... medieval period some even say.

Then layered on top of this legend is another one. A newer one. The building was purportedly used at one time – again in some unspecified period of history – as the HQ for a local coven of witches and Satanists. They are supposed to have used the cellars and caves that the house is built upon to carry out their perverse rites – orgies, blood sacrifices, the lot. The Butlins of their day.

Nowadays the Mason’s own the property. Nothing unusual in this except why buy a building that nobody does anything with? About 20 years ago a major fire further gutted what was already a ruin and thus the building has (barely) stood... closed off to the public, free access granted only to the crows and pigeons that roost in it’s shambolic gables. Nobody “straight and true” has been seen there for years. Certainly not by daylight anyway. All very strange.

Anyway, after our meal Karen and I took a slow saunter along the river and viewed the house from the safety of the opposite bank. I say safety because Guy’s Cliffe House gives me the freaking willies.

Partly because of the legends and the hearsay and partly because of personal experience.

When I was 18 me and my good friend, Tris, being full of youthful bravado and foolhardiness decided to put the legends to the test. Mostly though I think we just wanted to cock a snook at the Masons and so climbed over the boundary wall and took a wonder through the grounds. As it was, even then (before the fire), the house was visibly unsafe and so we wisely steered clear of venturing within the crumbling walls but we did skirt the perimeter and work our way round to the cellars / caves at the back. To do this we followed what I assume hundred of years ago would have been the old river bed.

I recall it being jungled with massive leaves and vegetation which seemed to have grown elephantine in the August weather. It felt almost prehistoric and I remember feeling quite disconcerted and dwarfed by my surroundings. Maybe this merely added to the burgeoning sense of atmosphere – who knows? All I do know is that as we turned round to the back of the house the air itself seemed to grow black in a split second. We both experienced it and stopped dead in our tracks. I have never felt such an oppressive, furious, outraged atmosphere as I did that evening. The air seemed to increase in mass and waves of anger bore down on us like a nuclear wind. That and the distinct feeling that we were not at all welcome and should get the hell out of there immediately. We both flinched under a snarl of “get out!” mentally screamed at us from a source that appeared to have no shape or form. Neither of us had to discuss it. We turned tail and ran like something out of Scooby-doo, me bringing up the rear praying that nothing was pursuing me... because, let me tell you, at the time it felt like a real possibility.

We laughed about it afterwards and shrugged it off. It was an August evening, the sun was setting; it had merely dropped down behind the house and plunged the ground level into shadow. What jolly japes. Ho ho ho.

I’ve never been back but have often wondered about that evening many times over the intervening years.

I didn’t see anything coalescing out of the air but do remember the impression of something trying to. Maybe if we’d found more courage and stood our ground we would have seen something... an apparition, an orb of light, Derek Acorah in his cheap imitation gold jewellery... who knows.

All I know is the atmosphere was unquestionably real and it produced a very real reaction in us both.

Was it a ghost? Was it our minds playing tricks on us – using the rich food of local legend to fuel a waking dream?

Or is it as someone whose name I can’t remember once wrote: human memory exists in two places – in the hearts and minds of people; and in the buildings, stones and earth that house them?

Maybe a distraught young woman hundreds of years ago, dashing out her unendurable sorrow into a treacherous river, unwittingly impressed herself onto the stones of Guy’s Cliffe House and every now and then treats foolish young visitors to a sensory cinema show where the only tickets required are gullibility?

You’re guess is as good as mine.

Sleep well, people. Sleep well.

24 comments:

Deirdre said...

When at school many many years ago we very often used to do just the same as you at exactly the same place .....tread carefully about and 'investigate'....and I always kept well at the back as the place really spooked me....never had an experience like you though ...and I do believe that energy or soul or somesuch lives in stone/wood...Nowadays we often take visitors to Saxon mill and I prefer sitting outside with a drink looking across the water!!

Steve said...

Ah I know that particular view well, Deirdre, but despite my experiences I cannot deny that I still feel a lure... a pull to Guy's Cliffe. Maybe to disprove what happened or maybe to tempt fate once more... one day maybe I will return and be a little better prepared for whatever may happen. Until then, a drink sitting beside the weir is just the job!

Suburbia said...

Wow, that story made all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck!!! Scary stuff.

Steve said...

Job done! ;-) Thanks, Suburbia.

missbehaving said...

What a beautiful place and what a scary experience, I love stuff like that.
Now what does 'cock a snook' mean.
Is that some strange Leamington expression for 'fool around' as in behind the bike sheds?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

It was also the set for a Sherlock Holmes TV episode starring Jeremy Brett, but my geek brain is currently letting me down on the naming which one front.

It looked like it had plenty of atmosphere in the series though.

Yes I looked up Saxon Mill as an eaterie once but did not see a single thing on the menu for veggies as I recall so gave it a miss. Looks nice though. Happy Birthday Mrs Bloggertropolis by the way!

Reluctant Blogger said...

Oooh I couldn't have done that - far too chicken. The slightest snapping twig would have had me running. Very spooky. I never know what to think about supernatural happenings or haunted places. Because I have never witnessed anything I am inclined to logically think it is not true BUT clearly I do have a suspicion it may be as I could never have done what you did.

Glad you had a good meal too.

Steve said...

Hi Missbehaving, Cock a snook! Just follow the link. Nothing to do with naughties behind the bikeshed at all! Perish the thought!

Hi Laura, being a meat eater I'm afraid I've rather overlooked their lack of catering for the vegetable eaters of the world... but that is rather remiss of them and not very good for business either...

Thanks Gina, I think part of the reason I secretly want to go back is to eradicate that feeling of cowardice in me... to stand my ground and possibly witness something truly supernatural. Yvette Fielding eat your heart out (though not at The Saxon Mill if you can help it - too many meat dishes there already)!

Tristan said...

As the other participant in this spooky incident, I can confirm it was very freaky indeed. My only experience of the paranormal. I think we should go back for old time's sake - go on, I dare ya!

Steve said...

You first, matey!

However, thinking about it, now that you're a ripened 40 year old and I will be the same this coming August... maybe we should plan some kind of anniversary visit? The first time we went as mere boys... now we will go as MEN!

Fancy dress is optional but I was thinking of something along the lines of the Spartans in Frank Miller's "300". We may even get to scare the ghostie if we do that...

Deirdre said...

300? blimey...watched that not long ago sort of by accident...flicking from channel to channel and suddenly seeing such a curious thing....lots of flesh and leather in a vague cartoony way....liked it though...
the film i mean....and if you do an anniversary run i'll be across the way with a camera and a gin and tonic!!

Steve said...

Deirdre, if you plan on being a witness to Tris and I exposing our feeble six-packs you'll need it... (the G & T that is)!

Annie said...

Cool.... we're only 20 minutes away from the Saxon Mill and had a meal there last December. It was busy and we were packed in like sardines but it was a great place! Didn't know anything about the history though..haunted eh? You've made me want to go again. It's my birthday in August too...get a round of G+Ts in - I'll join Deirdre!

Steve said...

Look you guys, I don't want a poorly lit video of our exploits appearing on YouTube...!

The Sagittarian said...

Big Bwave Steve! I think if it were me, I would still be running.
I felt like that when I visited the Tower in London, took days to get what I termed the 'death smell' outta my nostrils. To this day, it makes me shudder.
I think a spooky reunion would be great fodder for this blog and from the safety of my own living room couch, yes with a wee cider in hand I urge you.....go on....I DIRTY DOUBLE DOG DARE YA!!

Steve said...

Wow! Looks like Tris and I will have a troop of cheerleaders to shout us on our way! If you guys could hawk up some ectoplasm as we race by that would be much appreciated... ;-)

Rol said...

Having had my own supernatural experiences (which I've blogged about in the past) I don't doubt what happened to you at all.

There's definitely "something" out there.

Steve said...

Rol, there is indeed. And as long as it stays "out there" I'm more than happy for it to be there... it's when it starts knocking at the backdoor that I really start to worry.

-eve- said...

This was a well-written post. Exciting, and a very nice ending - I like the tone of the last few paragraphs... a little bit like 'twilight zone' ;-)

Steve said...

Thank you, Eve... thankfully we didn't see an evil imp on the side of the building trying to chew its way in while we were there...! ;-)

KayDee said...

Ooh I love a good spooky story. I have had a few encounters myself which I must blog about one of these days. The trouble is I have always thought no-one would believe me.


I would tell people in my real life and their reactions ranged from mild doubt to outraged scepticism....until they visited my house and experienced it for themselves. Can I tell you how fantastic it feels to see the fear on a Doubting Thomas's face? Very satisfying.....especially when they have practically called you a liar. Ha.

Steve said...

KayDee: hope you do blog about them - I'd love to read them.

And it's always immensely satisfying to prove know-it-alls wrong!

Heather said...

that gave me the creep did that story. how very odd. i don't think I'd want to go back there even from the safety of the other side of the river.

Steve said...

Heather: I'm unreliably informed that ghosts can't cross water. Or is that P&O Ferries...?!