While researching his latest novel Ben Aaronovitch was forced to brave some spine-tingling encounters. Here he warns of some spooky places to avoid as the winter nights close in.
Aldgate Underground Station
This tube station is built next to a plague pit – St Botolph’s graveyard where over a thousand victims of the plague were buried in the space of two weeks.
It’s no wonder that Aldgate is one of the most haunted stations in London.
There’s the ghost of the old woman, thought to have been killed in the Blitz, who reportedly saved the life of a track worker when he inadvertently touched the electrified third rail.
There are reports of the mysterious sound of footsteps on the platform and in the concourses and a of a low mournful whistling that can be heard late at night when the trains are few and far between.
The most tantalising story I heard about Aldgate was from a man who had been a slightly merry traveller waiting alone on the platform for the last train.
He swore to me that an old fashioned train had pulled into the station but when he went to alight he found the doors had not opened.
Wondering what was going on he tried to see in through the windows but they were too grimy for him to make out much more than that there were definitely passengers aboard.
He believed that he had witnessed the famous black train which reputedly carries the souls of dead commuters to the afterlife.
Mortimer Trail is a public right of way which runs from Ludlow in Shropshire to Kington in Herefordshire.
Midway along its route the trail drops down from the heights of Croft Ambrey towards the River Lugg at Aymestrey and there enters the notorious Pokehouse Wood.
According to the folklorist Ella Mary Leather Poke derives from Puck, one of the many synonyms for fairy, and thus meant the abode of the same.
So notorious was Pokehouse Wood, for the spirits and will’-o’-the wisps that led travellers astray, that a local man donated a parcel of land to finance a stipend to pay a man to ring the bell at Aymestrey Church for an hour at sunset.
The purpose of the ringing was to guide any travellers safely down the hill and across the river to safety.
If you visit Aymestrey you can still see the hole in the bell tower fashioned especially to allow the bell ropes to be pulled from the church’s porch.
Karl Marx is there, as is Max Wall and Douglas Adams, dreaming away eternity amongst the trees and the scattered marble chips.
This is the East Cemetery, which is as scary and as dangerous as a theme park.
The West Cemetery is something else entirely.
The gothic finery of the funerary chapel is locked away behind tall iron gates.
When you think of the clichéd ghost ridden cemetery complete with mausoleums with decaying marble facades and Egyptian trimmings then one is thinking of the West Cemetery.
The Streels of Shropshire
Of all the places mentioned here the Streels, also known as the Stryls or the Strels, of Shropshire are the most elusive.
In fact I have very little evidence that they actually exist. The most comprehensive source of information on the Streels is Adam Richards’ famous The Folklore of Shropshire.
Richards claimed that the Streels were located south of Shrewsbury midway between the villages of Church Pulverbatch and Dorrington and described them as three parallel gorges cut into the landscape as if by a gigantic cat.
Despite being heavily overgrown each gorge has a visible trail from one end to the other.
The legends state that if one were to traverse the streels, one after another, in the correct order and going in the correct directions one would acquire all the wisdom of the ancients.
The first streel gives visions of the past, the middle shows the present and the third a prophetic glimpse of the future.
However – you have to know which order to walk the Streels. And secondly – the visions were said to be so powerful that only the most strong willed and cunning individuals could complete the task.
The rest either emerged with their sanity snatched away or they never emerged at all.
The Black Dog of Newgate Prison
The legend of the Black Dog is thought to date back to the reign of Henry III when a poor scholar accused of sorcery was imprisoned there.
This was a time of famine and the other prisoners, kept hungry at the best of times, saw the young man and “deemed him passing good meate”.
Having devoured the scholar they were soon troubled by an apparition of a great black dog and by a tearing pain in their bowels – as if an animal was raked there.
The fear grew so strong in the prisoners that they killed a guard and escaped the prison but, reputedly, they were all haunted by visions of the dog until their, premature, dying days.
Amen Court, close to St Paul’s, has a wall that once belonged to Newgate Prison, a wall that shielded the passageway known as Deadman’s walk through which those condemned to death walked during their final journey to the hanging tree.
It’s said that, on occasion, a hideous black shadow crawls the length of the wall and vanishes at its far end – the true manifestation of the Black Dog.
The Haunted Battlefield of Edge Hill
On the 23rd of October 1642 about 30,000 men met on the plain below Edge Hill in Warwickshire and did their level best to murder each other.
This was the first major engagement of the English Civil War and by nightfall over a thousand men were dead and at least three thousand wounded.
Around Christmas that year local shepherds reported hearing the sounds of cannon, musketry and fighting; as they walked the battlefield some even reported seeing the ghostly figures of the combatants in the sky above.
Other locals confirmed the reports and by January the phenomenon was important enough for Charles I, still in the middle of a Civil War, to send a Royal Commission to investigate.
Amazingly they also reported seeing the phantom battle in the sky and went as far as to say that they recognised some of their fallen comrades amongst the ghosts.
To lay the spirits it was decided to give a decent Christian burial to all the fallen and this done, the reports of ghostly fighting subsided.
However some claim that if you walk the battlefield even now you can still hear the crash of cannons and the screams of the wounded.
The Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bullbuilt a splendid mansion on the site of a ruined monastery near Sudbury in Essex in the Gothic style.
The house quickly gained the reputation of being haunted, starting with a gliding nun and escalating up through a ghostly carriage and becoming so frequent that the next rector, Reverend Smith, called in Harry Price, a famous psychic investigator.
Two years and some serious poltergeist activity later the Reverend Smith had had enough and departed leaving the rectory to the Reverend Lionel Foyster. The new rector, alarmed that the ghosts seemed to have taken a liking to his wife, had the rectory exorcized.
This worked for a while but soon the ghosts were back and the Reverend Foyster packed up his family and left.
He was not the last: the house saw a series of tenants who stayed just long enough to be scared out of their wits before leaving.
This parade ended only in 1939 when the house burnt down although the site.
Mary King’s Close
This alleyway in Edinburgh is said to be the most haunted place in Europe.
Named after the daughter of a local landowner in the 17th Century it has reputedly been haunted since back then and most famously now by “Annie” who started her career scaring Japanese tourists.
Some say that the ghost of Major Thomas Weir, the famous religious figure and dog fancier, who was burnt at the stake for witchcraft haunts, the close and some see the spirits of the victims of the plague.