The Gazette got its share of ghostly goings-on when Rachel Locke and James Willoughby attended a paranormal investigation at The Dirty Bottles Taproom and Smokehouse, in Alnwick, on Saturday night.
Rachel shares her experiences of the investigation, which was carried out by the group Spiritual Paranormal Investigations.
The Dirty Bottles, so called for its legendary cursed bottles – said to be encased in the window for two centuries since the landlord died trying to remove them – has been doing a roaring trade since owner Mark Jones oversaw its transformation from floundering free house to high-flying smokehouse.
But a macabre past still lurks in the shadows. Saturday nights make for a lively affair in the Bottles, but this particular Saturday night was more about the dead than the living.
The witching hour was nigh when the ghost hunters arrived. We left the bustle of the bar and headed up to the first floor.
After a recce of the upper floors, picking our way past creaking boards and cobwebbed walls, we were introduced to the ghost-busting equipment – infra-red cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and trigger objects, a crucifix and a plastic ball, perhaps for the less secular, more playful spirits. Trigger objects, we were told, allowed for safe interaction with the spirit world, while the K-II meter and Ovilus – both electromagnetic field detectors – are a staple of any ghost-respecting investigator’s kit.
Two investigators expressed a desire to spend time alone in the attic room. What was the cause of this inexplicable gravitation towards the attic? Would I be attuned to the same allure?
As we ascended the stairs, we were penetrated by an icy blast. Surely the scene of some historic, untimely demise? Alas, our supernatural sensitivity had been swindled by an open window. We laughed it off, feeling foolish for our schoolboy error.
Entering the attic, my eyes were drawn to a handprint on the floor. I didn’t feel a desire to leave the room, nor did I long to stay. But I shivered as I entered the adjoining room – and not from the cold.
There was a unanimous decision to hold the séance in this room. The crucifix and ball were placed in the adjoining attic, with the door firmly shut to ensure that any funny business was strictly from otherworldly beings. The tricks of the trade, the K-II meters and the Ovilus, along with a torch, were placed centrally, and we formed a circle and joined hands – all but me, my disconnection concealed in darkness – listening as our medium makes a connection.
Nothing seems to be happening. Then suddenly my temperature rises and my heart races.
My arms and legs ache. It’s at this very moment our medium cries: “It’s here. I can feel it”. Jesus! So can I. Or can I? Perturbed, I’m compelled to leave the room but our medium adopts a strict tone and soon reassures us the presence has left.
Apparently the heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. I’m a stoic at heart; the metaphysical has no reality outside consciousness. But really? I did feel something, didn’t I? And it wasn’t pleasant. Had my reluctance to join the circle made me more susceptible to a mischievous spirit?
We are told we are being watched by two men, one in a long coat, open and pinched at the waist. Like a highwayman. Hang on a minute. ‘Highwayman’ was one of the words from the Ovilus! One is dark and sinister and won’t emerge from the shadows; neither are fond of females.
We listen intently as synthesized words are spat out, sometimes in response to questions, sometimes sporadically, watching and waiting, desperate for a message from the other side.
The most arbitrary of words making a resounding connection with someone, anyone. It’s like word association with someone who won’t play by the rules.
But when an apple is placed next to the device, we collectively recoil in shock as it vocalises recognition of the fruit: ‘Apple’. Then the words ‘Run’, ‘Jim’ ‘short’, ‘worm’ and ‘swim’. They resonate with James, who runs often, is small in stature, detests worms and has just started swimming regularly at the Alnwick pool. Creepy coincidence or attuned apparition?
Discovering later that the words, which are activated at certain frequencies, are pre-programmed came as a bit of a blow. But the suspense before each word is tangible. We wait patiently for a rolling apple or a flashing torch.
The night unfolds in much the same way, searching for signs and symbols. A TV by the bar apparently switches itself on and off. We are called upstairs to witness some ‘major contact’- a torch has been flashing, conveying messages from another realm.
At this point, various members of the group are dispersed across rooms. A few of us gather in the passage and, unnerved by the feeling I had at the séance, I ask the medium directly: “Was the presence malicious?” No sooner do I utter the words than the same sensation that gripped me in the upper room spreads over me.
My heart pounds and a black tide of fear grips me. She clutches her head telling me: “Yes, yes it was and it’s back and it’s here with us now because it didn’t want me to tell you.” Her torch starts flashing uncontrollably on the wall.
After this episode, we head back to the attic and James is invited – through the ether and at the behest of the spirit world – to witness the light show. Moments later he emerges, pale and drawn. He’s a bit skittish about what he’s seen but wants to keep an open mind, he tells me when he leaves. He’s clearly unnerved. And reports of an earring and a screw flying across the room and hitting someone in the face only compound the uneasiness.
Looking out from the séance room, was that a figure above the stairs, right where staff have felt something pushing them from behind, right outside the room where people won’t sleep for fear of a looming figure?
As early morning grew, I felt my eyes begin to close. I’d experienced something and it left me on edge.
But tiredness can lead to delusions and hallucinations and if there was any malicious presence, I sure as hell didn’t want to be part of it. We were well into the hours of peak activity -2am and 4am – when the veil between the spiritual and physical world is said to be at its thinnest. Scientifically, this is the time when most deaths occur; the body’s resistance is at its lowest, respiration and heartbeat at their slowest but the brain is at its most active.
Did our state of tiredness contribute to what we saw? Or are the beguiled bottles warning us not to meddle with their infamous hex?
STAFF BEING PUSHED AND A DARK FIGURE ON THE STAIRS
Dirty Bottles owner Mark Jones is no stranger to the supernatural. His female staff have reported sensations of being pushed when coming back from the stock room while others have commented on the presence of a dark figure lurking at the top of the stairs.
Since buying the pub, Mark has been subject to bouts of sleep paralysis, something he had never before experienced.
And staff at two of his other properties, Alnwick nightclub I Won’t Tell, and Amble restaurant Zecca, have reported unexplained sightings and strange noises during shifts.
But the investigation in the Bottles was a first. Mark admits it’s a strange building and when North East-based group Spiritual Paranormal Investigations (SPI) contacted him to ask if they could visit after seeing a ghoulish picture on the pub’s Facebook page, he jumped at the chance.
He said: “I was contacted by a member of the group on Facebook asking if they could come along. It’s always been something that intrigued me and I was keen to see it done in practice.
“I went in with an open mind. I’m not a believer but I’m not a cynic either. I definitely felt something.”
In fact, one SPI group member was quite overwhelmed by what they experienced in the Bottles. “In 12 years of investigating, this definitely makes the top five places for the most paranormal activity”, said Allyson Timm, from SPI.
At one point, Mark was beckoned to the attic to witness an interaction between a group member and one of the spirits, as a torch turned itself on and off. He is convinced what he saw was real.
He said: “You’ve got to remember these people aren’t putting on a show. They’re here out of curiosity and a lot of them take a scientific approach. They are as much about debunking myths as proving them. I’m definitely a step closer to believing. There is no logical reason behind that torch turning itself off and on.”
Leading on from Saturday’s experience, Mark is considering a ticketed paranormal event for members of the public. There has already been an interest from another medium keen to get involved.
“It would be good to get something up and running for Hallowe’en.”
Mark is also looking to renovate the upper rooms for guests to stay in and hopes to retain many of the period features. Whether or not the fear will still be there when the rooms are brightened up remains to be seen.