Sunday, 26 October 2014

Halloween story

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It was back in '71 or 72 on Halloween when this story took place. We were enjoying the hospitality of the
Turf public house in Winlaton, when the conversation turned to ghosts and things that go bump in the night.
It was perhaps inevitable as it was indeed the night when according to legend graves yawn and spew forth
their grisly contents. My companions, Grahame Gillings and Bob Batey were up for an adventure.

It was decided that after closing time, which was in those days 10.30pm, that we would make our way
to Gibside Hall and seek out the Legendary 'White Lady'. It was therefore around 10.40 on that fateful night
that we left the cosy comfort and warmth of our hostelry and set out to seek our phantom.

It was a moonlit night. Appropriately a full moon. Hidden occasionally by scudding clouds passing like pale wraiths across its face. I do not remember much of the journey to our destination, which route we took etc.
But we must have entered the estate by the main gateway at the bottom of Burnopfield Bank. I remember arriving at the start of the 'Racecourse', in front of the Palladian mausoleum chapel. We made our way stealthily between the trees which lined each side of the avenue, as stealthily as three tipsy 18 year olds could be, keeping a watchful eye out for gamekeepers.

As we approached our destination the ruined hall with its empty windows stared sightlessly across the overgrown lawn at the front of the building. We made our way to the south west wing of the hall, where a tangled mass of rhododendrons lay seige to the walls. Ivy clung in masses to the crumbling gables. I checked my trusty Smiths railway timekeeper, by the welcome moonlight it was four minutes to twelve.

Stationing ourselves adjacent to the rhododendrons, we had a full uninterrupted view of the front of the house and the ivy tangled chaos that had been the western end wall. We chatted nervously as the witching hour approached. Should we go down into the cellars? No we wouldn't see the apparition there, besides we didn't have a torch.

A large cloud obscured the moon briefly, plunging us and our surroundings into pitch blackness. The streetlights of Rowlands Gill beckoned comfortingly in the distance. The cloud passed the moon, silvery light bathed the scene in a ghostly glow and in the distance a far off church bell tolled the dread hour.

Silence, no one spoke. Something rustled high up in the ivy, a glimpse of something white moving or crawling
behind the intertwining vines. My trusty companions ran, I stood wondering whether I should follow, but something made me pause. I looked nervously up at the source of the noise and movement. To my astonishment and relief a barn owl flapped out from the vegetation, pure white and quite beautiful in the moonlight. No doubt wondering  to itself who these interlopers were disturbing its nocturnal hunt.