Friday, 31 October 2014

A Halloween ghost walk in Bridport

The mist swirls down from Dorset's highest point as I drive along dark country lanes into town.

It is appropriate weather for the Bridport Ghost Walk just two days before Halloween.

Clouds dip and dive around a slip of a crescent moon in a black sky. And there they all are, waiting in Bucky Doo Square for the walk to begin.
We'd hoped our guide would be dressed, Ripper-style, in a top hat and cloak. But he makes up for this lack of drama by his detailed knowledge of Bridport and its history. It's a town I know well, really well, but tonight I'm seeing it from a totally different perspective.

Who would think, when sitting on a bench in the square enjoying a sandwich in the daytime and listening to the town band, that executions and disembowelling took place here centuries ago? And that women were made to wear terrible scold's bridles and pelted with rotten food and human waste.

The town has a dark past. Playing a starring role in our ghost walk are tales of the Black Death, when eighty percent of the townsfolk died, the grisly killings in and after the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 - a dark time in the Westcountry's history and a subject close to my heart with ancestors on both sides of my family having been part of the rebel army - and the hangman's noose, or the Bridport Dagger.

On our ghost walk, we weave in and out of the streets, following Adrian, our guide, down lanes and alleyways, the ghosts of the past ever-present.
We stop outside the museum, with its pair of ghosts...
 ...we gather on a street corner to hear the sad story of Silvester Wilkins. We move on, around the town to the boutique Bull Hotel, which is rich in ghost stories...
...up the dark, creepy alleyway where the rotting corpses from the Black Death were left to be picked up by the plague cart and where a grisly spectre is said to haunt this cold, narrow lane.
And then suddenly, a figure, dressed all in white, emerges from a doorway halfway up the lane and then promptly disappears. An angel of death perhaps?

Hearts beating faster, the smell of freshly-baked bread in our nostrils, closer inspection reveals it to be the baker from Leakers, wondering what the hell's going on.

So we move hurriedly on, tales of the plague pits nestling under the iconic Colmer's Hill ringing in our ears, and head south, towards the churchyard where Silvester Wilkins is buried in the corner in an unmarked grave.
And in possibly the most eerie part of the trip, our guide regales us with tales of the big black dog, a Grim, a Shuck or whatever you like to call it.
The clock strikes eight as we hope and pray not to see the beast, which is a portent of certain death.
So we edge out past the west and south doors of St Mary's Church to reach the sanctuary of a street lamp and the pavement. And then the whole party collectively jolts as the clear sound of a dog barking right next to us chills us to our bones.

'Don't worry,' Adrian says. 'It's a golden retriever.'

He should know, it's in his car, which is parked outside the church.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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