England has lots of haunted places — whenever you're getting a tour of an old building, just ask if there have been any ghost sightings. You'll almost always get to hear about some spooky tale. When I asked that of Parks Development Officer Linda Hardy the beautifully crumbling Rufford Abbey, a Cistercian monastery turned country house in Nottinghamshire, I learned that it's one of the most haunted places in England — especially inside the still-intact abbey chapel — and that many of the stories involve children!
There is one from Edwardian times, first told by the mother of Vita Sackville West (the famous authoress) who stayed at the Abbey as a guest of the Savile family. She was woken in the middle of the night by a clammy sensation, like cold skin brushing against hers. When she told this to other house guests it transpired that other lady visitors to the house had also been bothered by a "clammy baby" — the ghost of a dead child trying to snuggle up to them in bed! How scary would that be? The infant phantom is thought to relate to the old legend of a child being murdered in the house. Of course, the bedrooms and salons of the great house were demolished years ago, but stories of a ghostly child keep cropping up.
One things that has been several times told by modern visitors to staff of the park is that they have heard a child crying in a particular area of the grounds near a ditch close to "Broad Ride". I was in costume one night helping out with a "ghost evening" when I told this story to the guests. Immediately I was accosted by by two ladies who regularly walked their dogs in the park. They said that they had heard that crying noise one evening whilst out walking their dogs. It sent a chill down my spine to hear what I had thought was just a story to suddenly come to life!
A psychic who visited the park a couple of years back said he was "drawn" to the ditch. We had not told him that according to local stories a housemaid at the Abbey drowned herself and her child there after an unwanted pregnancy.
There is supposed to be the ghost of a little old lady in black wheeling an old fashioned pram around the grounds, and of course we also have the White Lady. Some say she is the spirit of the unhappy Arbella Stuart, a lady who due to her royal connections might have been Queen of England after the death of Elizabeth the First, but who eventually died a prisoner in the Tower of London.
Her mother Elizabeth Cavendish and father Charles Lennox met and secretly married at Rufford Abbey, which infuriated the English queen when she found out. I once spoke to a local woman who said her husband had seen this ghost — in the form of a misty grey figure — one snowy day whilst delivering mail to the Abbey buildings.
We have a local ghost hunting group (NGRIT) who hold regular "vigils" locked in the Abbey undercroft overnight with infra red cameras and other equipment. They have written reports of voices, strange balls of light drifting in the air, footsteps, chanting, and smells of horses. They occasionally hold ghost search walks, when the public can join in and find out what they do, try out some of the equipment and ask questions.
Last time we held one of these, a gentleman said he had felt small stones apparently being thrown at the group. Another lady told me about seeing strange balls of red light. I wouldn't recommend them to anyone if a nervous disposition!
Comped but never compromised: I went on a complimentary press trip with Visit Britain, but I am free to write whatever I like.