It's time to lock your doors, draw the curtains and settle back. The clocks have gone back here, and it's dark by 5.00pm. Tomorrow, it's the 31st of October where dark forces hold sway. Some folks will dust off those ouija boards and attempt to communicate with those who have long passed on. Some will attempt to spend the night in haunted houses, while others will indulge in The Black Arts. If your Halloween kicks are inspired by less radical activities, a night in front of the TV watching your own all-night movie choices seems a whole lot safer. Whatever you decide to do, spare a moment to consider your own locale and and any buildings that may come to life on this particular night of the year. I'm sure most of you live near to places that supposedly play host to supernatural phenomena. Here are a few of the myths and legends that surround the area where I live, and boy do we have a lot going on!
(The haunted Gaol in Derby)
(The churchyard where the ghost of a young girl is seen)
Halloween. Samhain. A time of the year when the worlds of the living and the dead are closest. Many years ago, bonfires were lit the length and breadth of England in the belief they would help guide spirits to their final resting place. Candles were put in windows with the same intention, and pumpkins could be found on many a windowsill, with the aim of warding off evil spirits. It's a good time to remind ourselves that England is full of supernatural lore, and the city of Derby, just 14 miles from my hometown, is officially the ghost capital of England.
With a population of approximately 235,000, Derby has just unveiled a £340 million shopping centre, with dynamic new stores and a 12 screen 3,000 seater cinema due to open Spring 2008. With well over 1,000 paranormal incidents recorded, it's the older part of Derby we need to focus on, with historical occurrences from as early as 1556 casting the darkest of shadows over modern day beliefs. Witches burnt at the stake, men hanged and then beheaded for crimes ranging from burglary to murder, legends of a vampire stalking the city by night, a ghostly choir who disappear into thin air, the spirit of a policeman murdered in 1879, ghostly figures in World War II regalia, a man in black who wishes people a merry xmas before fading from view... just a few of the reported sightings down the years.
The increasingly popular Derby Ghost Walk takes in many locations, from haunted pubs to the site of the old Derby Gaol which lies under the city streets. Prisoners who were executed are said to haunt the catacombs under the city, with the condemned cell being the centre of psychic activity. For a price, people are invited to spend the night in this cursed place, and as an extremely interested party, it's only the cost involved that scares me off taking part. One of my favourite cinemas - the old Metro Cinema - is reputed to be haunted, as is the old Bell Hotel where I enjoyed many a pint before stepping out to the Kings Hall to see the likes of The Clash play. Here, room 29 is said to be haunted by the ghost of a serving girl who died there many years earlier. The dead come back to life all over Derby if all those stories are to be believed, but a few miles outside the city, things are just as scary. On the borders of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, legend tells of a family who were executed for murdering and then eating poor unfortunates who had got lost on the moors, and there are multiple tales of ghostly sightings in church's, hotels and schools in the Derbyshire area. My hometown - population 10,000 - also boasts spooks in abundance. There was a local family of aristocrats who once had acres of land which is now covered by houses. The daughter of this family had a lover who quickly became disliked by her parents. When she was ordered never to see him again, she chained herself to the railings at the local pond and drowned. On winter evenings, a lady in white can sometimes be seen walking across the cold waters, and I know two level headed people who claim to have seen her ghost. There's also a story concerning a young girl who was buried alive in our local churchyard. Her unquiet spirit has often been seen amongst the tombstones, perhaps looking for her unborn child. There's no escape at local inns, either. One former coach house has guests reporting the sound of a horse-drawn carriage in the street outside, and ghost armies of Roman centurions have also been seen nearby, marching some 4 feet above ground level. One story which sticks in my mind concerns a stately home some two miles way. Here, a murder occurred many years ago, and the bloodstains in the bathroom are regularly scrubbed away, but always return. Another place on my to-visit list is an old airfield, 20 miles away. Local residents tell of lights on the airfield, accompanied by sounds of aircraft taking off and voices singing old war songs. Perhaps a psychic echo of aircrew about to embark on a mission from which some of them would not return? My wife and I recently took a walk down an old railway tunnel. The network shut down around 40 years ago, and there are tales of spectral figures who can be seen in the tunnel. Speakers positioned at various points replay the sounds of trains rolling along the tracks, which only adds to the atmosphere of unease. I used to go there in my childhood years, and a friend of mine swore he saw the figure of a man holding a lamp near the end of the tunnel. I wish I could say that I've seen something, anything, to substantiate these tales but I never did. However, for me, the most chilling location is a wood some half a mile from where we live. During my childhood, my friends and I heard tell that a witch lived in a cottage deep in the wood. The trees were so dense in this particular area that near-dusk conditions prevailed, even on the brightest summer's day. Sure enough, there were remains of what appeared to be a dwelling place for someone, something. Although we returned many times - usually for a dare - we never saw anything, but on a couple of occasions we did hear strange gutteral laughs that saw us take flight as fast as we could go.
If you're interested in the supernatural, then the county of Derbyshire has more to offer than anywhere else in England but, wherever you are, I wish you a Happy Halloween.