Another episode. If sceptical you could put the first section down to unfamiliarity with a place and possible illness (she feels very cold on a hot day). But the second, with four witnesses, seems harder to dismiss. You can read a blog post from one of the experients himself on And Sometimes He's So Nameless. He makes the interesting point that after a while you are merely telling the story of your story, rather than truly remembering the incident itself. But he and his friends made the sensible point of writing down their experiences independently immediately after they happened.
Ripples in Time.
Chris Jensen-Romer: I’d always laughed at people who saw ghosts as being insane. I’d made jokes about our friends who said they had psychic powers. And this was the thing which suddenly shocked me into completely reordering my own mental universe.
Axel Johnston: It’s still the most real psychical experience I’ve ever had.
Narrator: Is it possible to travel in time? To step through the curtain of our daily life and find ourselves in a completely different time and place – different scenes, different people, different landscape? It is of course the very stuff of science fiction. But could it ever happen in real life? It’s a question that’s fuelled scientific controversy for decades, and indeed it still does. But there are people who would claim to know the answer: it is possible, it has happened to them. One of them is no less a person than the famous psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Jung. In the 1930s he was travelling in Italy and he went to visit the tomb of a Roman Empress in Ravenna. In his account of the episode he describes how he became aware of a strange atmosphere in the place – an unexplained mild blue light everywhere. But what caught his attention was the remarkable beauty of a series of mosaics depicting maritime scenes. He stood in front of them and discussed them with his companion for twenty or thirty minutes. On leaving the mausoleum they tried to buy postcards of them. But surprisingly there were none. Later on he asked a friend visiting Ravenna to obtain pictures for him. It was then that he learnt the truth. The mosaics simply did not exist. These are the mosaics that were in the mausoleum at the time of Jung’s visit: nothing like the ones he described. The mosaics of Jung and his companion discussed, infused with that strange pale blue light, had existed once, but then been destroyed by fire several hundred years earlier. Jung came to believe that he had indeed travelled in time and witnessed the building as it was in the time of the empress herself, fully 1400 years earlier.
Mary Rose Barrington is a paranormal investigator who has become deeply involved in these ripples in time, where people seem to walk out of one world into another time and place. She has studied the Jung case in detail and believes there are extraordinary similarities with another case that occurred in this country. It involves the Bartons. They were a couple who ran a famous, much talked-out bookshop in the ‘50s, who often spent their leisure time walking in the Surrey hills. On one of these walks they believe they travelled back in time to another landscape.
Irina Barton: Before we left the flat in the morning, I had been extremely depressed and didn’t want to go for the walk. And unknown to me, he’d felt the same but we neither mentioned it, we thought it would just spoil the day.
Narrator: By some strange compulsion they still don’t understand, they travelled on beyond the spot they had intended, and eventually stopped in the village of Wotton Hatch. Once there they decided to visit the tomb of John Evelyn, the famous 17th Century diarist.
IB: We were rather surprised to find the gate of the tomb open, which we’d never found before. And so we looked round that, spent a lot of time investigating the memorials and the inscriptions and all the other bits that make up a very beautiful tomb. And then we left the church, walked down to the gate, and as we came out of the gate almost immediately we turned onto a path that was totally overgrown with vegetation. And then we began to climb this path – it was a very narrow path, we had to go single file to go up it. And we climbed up, up, up, up. And then we came out at the t… at a point, at a clearing, with the straight path, and a clearing behind it, and wooded trees behind that. And then on the path, along the path, was a seat, a backless seat. And Eric said “Why don’t we sit on this seat, as we spent so much time in the church, let’s sit on the seat and have our lunch now.” It was about ten to twelve, twelve o’clock. I could only say that the depression was by now very, very overwhelming. I just couldn’t eat the sandwiches. The only comfort came from the sound of a woodman and a dog howling. What it sounded like, down in the valley. And as I was crumbling the bread and throwing it to the birds, there was suddenly a total silence. Not one bird was singing. I could still hear the wood chopper and the dog, but that was all. Everything went absolutely still.
Eric Barton: Then Irene, my wife, turned to me and said, “Is it cold?” Cold? - it was a very hot day. I said “No, certainly not.” And she said, “Feel my arm.” And it was icy cold.
IB: And I saw, standing in the clearing behind, three men. And I went to turn round to look at them, and I realised I’d seen them through the back of my head. I’d say they were wearing a sort of cape, a black… they were all three of them entirely in black. The centre one was most definitely a clergyman, because he had a clerical collar on. And he had a smaller rimmed hat. The outer two men had a larger black rimmed hat. And I would have said that they were, as I say, late 18th, early 19th century. Looking back on it, at the time of course you don’t think like that. You just see the figures, or whatever, and accept them. You don’t say to yourself, “Oh I’m seeing three figures from the 18th or 19th century” you just don’t. I have no idea why one would have a visitation of figures from any period, at any time like that and in a place like that, because it was out of place, apart from out of time.
Narrator: Very disturbed by this forbidding apparition, they hurried on for a while along the lonely path, and then laid down and fell asleep on the edge of a field. They have only a faint recollection how they eventually made their way back to Dorking station to get back to London. Eric was so disturbed by the experience that on the following Sunday he decided to return to Wotton, and retrace the path of their walk, to unravel exactly what had happened. But it seemed that the landscape they’d walked through no longer existed.
EB: Reaching the church, Evelyn’s church, the doors were opening and people were coming out.
IB: So he stopped a man who was coming out of the church and said to him, “Are you familiar with this area?” He said “Yes indeed, I am.” And Eric said, ”Well can you tell me where..” and he described the landscape that we had been in. And this man said, “No, there’s nothing like that round here.” And Eric said, “Well, alright then, forget the landscape, where is there a backless seat on the edge of a path?”
EB: When I asked him about the bench, he said there were no benches as far… he KNEW there was no bench in the whole of this area, at all. No bench.
Narrator: So what can have happened to the landscape they’d walked through? The path and the park bench and the valley. Mary Rose Barrington was convinced that the key to this experience lay in the connection with John Evelyn’s tomb.
Mary Rose Barrington, Paranormal Investigator: Well John Evelyn is the gentleman lying in that tomb, and he is famous for having written a diary in the 17th century, commenting on political and social situation. And among his diary entries is a reference to three gentlemen, one of whom was a priest and they were all to be executed for treason against the king, and he was very upset about this, and he happens to mention it in a diary entry. In the same time as he’s talking about having been to the church in Wotton.
Narrator: The diary entry was for the 15th of march, 1696. And Evelyn wrote of his concern, and I quote, for three unhappy wretches, of which one is a priest, executed with a squeak, for attempting to assassinate the king.
MRB: So I wondered whether Irina might not have been in effect seeing some landscape initiated through the eyes of Evelyn, in much the same way as the famous psychiatrist CJ Jung seems once to have got into the mind of a Roman empress, when he saw some mosaics.
Narrator: But nothing in the paranormal is simple and straightforward. Both Irina and Mary Rose Barrington have come up with a second theory. It still involves time travel, but to a different time and place. It seems that on the 19th of July, 1873, Bishop Wilberforce was riding through this very countryside, on his way to Wotton House indeed, to make up a quarrel with the Evelyn of the time. He was slightly ahead of his two companions when he was thrown from his horse and died. Strangely enough it has many resemblances with the shape of the landscape through which the Bartons remember walking. So what did Irina witness? Was it the men about to hang, that worried Evelyn so much on that March day in 1696, or was it the sudden dramatic death of the clergyman Wilberforce in 1873?
But there is a vital clue, a railway track. The Bartons distinctly remember crossing a single track railway. In 1954, at the time of their experience, this was a double track railway, as now. Of course at the time of Evelyn’s diary there was no railway at all. But in 1873, the time of Wilberforce’s death, it would have been a single track railway. And as we’ve said, nothing in the paranormal is simple. By visiting Evelyn’s tomb, could the Bartons have linked the two events in some extraordinary way?
MRB: What these two events have in common is the priest. Therefore I think they switched from the priest in the Evelyn story to the priest Wilberforce, erm, raking through the centuries so there was a fusion of landscapes.
Narrator: So, in their walk through the woods on that still midsummer day, did the Bartons skate through time, experiencing Evelyn’s concern for the three men, and Bishop Wilberforce’s sudden death, before returning, in a way they still can’t explain, back to the present time?
Narrator: Now we go back nearly 900 years, to 1103, that was when the monks of Cluny founded the priory here at Thetford in Norfolk. For hundreds of years this was a place of refuge and pilgrimage. During the Middle Ages, people flocked here because of its reputation for healing and miracle cures. Just nine years ago, four young students, who came here quite by chance, believe they witnessed the priory as it was hundreds of years ago.
David Aukhett: The whole thing was emotional, it’s more threatening being the entire place, than the figure, as you said before, the apparition was not that important. It was the emotion, the entire place was scary, the entire place over in that part of the priory anyway. That was the scary thing, I just had to leave the area. And even that night, I was scared, and then for a few nights afterwards I had trouble to sleep.
Narrator: Those four students have returned to Thetford to describe their extraordinary time travel experience, an event which has had a profound effect on all of them. Three of them now pursue scientific careers concerned with the understanding of consciousness and the workings of the mind. Their experience happened late one summer’s evening, as the four were passing through Thetford on their way home.
Chris Jensen-Romer, Parapsychologist: So we pulled into the car park, and wandered through, and it was a very pleasant mild August night. As we walked through we joked and made silly comments, but we were also fairly serious keeping an eye open for the history of the place, and wondering why we’d never come across it. Something else struck us, which was there was no-one here, we would have expected, it was in the middle of a built up area in the middle of a town, we would have expected children, people walking their dogs, people sitting drinking out of bottles.. no one. Very lonely place. Eventually we wandered, splitting up on the way, and gathered again at about this point. And while we were standing here, we were looking at the façade of the building in front of us, and through the small window, well three small windows, just up here, one of us drew attention to someone watching us. And then a few moments later, the person we saw pass across and come down through a staircase. Now I wish to stress this, I know it’s hard to believe, there was a staircase leading up through that archway, to a doorway that you can’t see but which is in the room behind. And so we saw someone coming down the stairs. And somebody remarked, it’s somebody wearing a black sheet – it’s a joker trying to scare us, they’re trying to pretend they’re a ghost. And one of us began to walk forwards on the left, and in fact slowly increased his speed as he got closer and closer, and the figure began to retreat back up the stairs. At which point I shouted “Let’s get him!” and began to run like this.., I came running in. As I ran in, I tried to run up the staircase. I had the impression that I actually went a couple of stairs up the staircase towards a door above us. The figure had by that time retreated back across. Darren came in on my left, and as he came in, he also ran at the stairs. I fell forward and pitched, struck my head, probably about here on the flint wall. Darren also struck himself, though he ran through almost to the back wall. We both ended up on the ground, and I was bleeding. It took us a few seconds to get back up and to look at one another, and to realise that there was no staircase. That not only was the figure not real, but neither was the actual staircase which we had physically attempted to run up. At that moment, everything just went cold for me. I got up, Darren was already out running back towards the car. I staggered back out, joined up with Axel, and we ran. We just ran in sheer fear. And I was questioning my sanity and everybody else’s around me at that point. I really did not understand at all what was going on.
Narrator: None of them had had any previous paranormal experiences. But being scientifically inclined, they all agreed to go off and write down what they’d seen independently of one another. Much of what follows is taken from those accounts.
Axel Johnston, Computer Scientist: Right, this is my account of the vision. It appeared to be a man about five and a half foot tall, judging from how high he appeared to be relative to the archway. And he was wearing a black monk’s habit, in the sort of Dominican style, with the cowl pulled up and his hands clasped within his sleeves in this kind of position, which meant that none of his skin or anything was visible in the light at all, it just was black, with possibly darker face. You know, that’s what I saw.
Darren Lorking, Scientific Researcher: We advanced towards the steps, that we could see that the [Christian?,] the figure was standing on. I felt nervous, um, but I was so curious that I had to continue. We walked towards the steps and as we approached the archway I was still convinced the steps were there. The figure had gone, disappeared, presumably up the stairs. Um, I tried to walk up the stairs, but they weren’t there. I just fell over. That’s when I got up and ran.
CJ-R: It’s odd actually, because, er, my drawing doesn’t look much like a cowled monk. What I drew and wrote at the time was “It looks like a person wearing a black sheet or a woman in 18th century dress. And the reason I had the impression of the 18th century dress was that it seemed to be flowing towards the bottom. I do agree that the arms were folded across. And also I noticed there were some dark points almost glittering, like coal, black coal broken in the central area here, which I recorded on my drawing as you can see.
David Aukhett, Clinical Psychologist: The doorway seemed much darker than it should be, and then there was a cloud, smoke or something, which sort of grew and became bright. I didn’t actually see a figure, I just saw a column of smoke, glowing and slowly becoming bigger. And basically that’s when I panicked and fled.
Narrator: From these accounts it’s clear that all four witnessed a strange and inexplicable event, and it triggered off in all four a profound interest in the science of the paranormal, in an effort to come to terms with their experience.
DA: The environment has triggered something in us, and we all see it in our own minds. I mean I don’t think that invalidates it just because...
(another interrupts) …no just because it’s an individual’s perception of it…
DA: Just because I saw a column of smoke, you saw an individual, you saw someone in a habit, that’s all the… maybe the emotions that have been taken at that time.
CJ-R: Well I suppose when you think about it, there are various explanations you could offer beyond the ones we’ve talked about. The idea it’s a recording of the dead abbot or prior, sorry, prior wasn’t it, this recording of him re-enacting. Or, possibly, because we had the thing of the priory being more real as we left it, as if it was becoming, coming into existence around us or somehow very close. Timeslip, I don’t know.
DL: But the physical thing to me was the staircase. I mean I can’t think of any reasonable explanation for that. It’s not a ghost. It’s an inanimate object.
CJ-R: But if you have the ghost of a man on a horse, you have to have the horse. And if you have a ghost of a horse and carriage, you have to have the carriage. The carriage doesn’t have to have a soul or a spirit, but it still appears. And therefore the ghost on the stairs wouldn’t have made sense unless we’d seen the stairs. And so that the stairs might even be added by our own minds to explain how the figure was coming down.
DL: Possibly, yes.
CJ-R: We actually did the window dressing for the experience we were having. Axel what did you think about the place becoming more real as we left?
AJ: I wouldn’t have said it would just be caused by the fear, because it was a lot more.. .this is not an imposing place, it’s not something I’d find imposing
(someone interrupts): But it seemed it at the time
AJ: And I think that was possibly due to, I think the time slip theory does account for that a lot more effectively. Just the fact that we were being -
CJ-R: …as if we were partially slipping back, that we were closer than -
AJ: That’s right, yeah. As though we were much closer to this time period when it happened, when it was a functioning abbey, or a priory rather.
CJ-R: […] there were famous cases. But in many of those, people experience a dreamlike state, an altered state of consciousness, and often felt depressed…
Narrator: has had a powerful effect on the shape of Chris’s life. He is now involved in research into the nature of consciousness. He has also spent some time digging into the history of Thetford, and has come up with a murder story.
CJ-R: What actually happened was in the late 14th Century a prior, who was actually - those are the prior’s quarters where we saw it, and there was historically a staircase going up at that location. And the prior was murdered by one of his monks, who was from France, who he had refused permission to return to his home territory, so to speak. And the monk repeatedly stabbed the prior in the stomach and chest, and after the death of the prior, within the prior’s quarters, the monk was taken to Norwich castle, where he was branded, his eyes were put out and he was incarcerated for the rest of his life in the dungeon under Norwich castle. This is a matter of historical record, we actually found this out after you’d left. When we actually went to the library and conducted research. But we didn’t know that at the time. And that information was only available, as far as we’d been able to find out, in a late 19th Century book on the history of Thetford, which has a small reference to it. So it’s not a popularly known fact. So there’s no way we could have heard that information and forgotten about it, and then later on, interpreted it because we suddenly realised we were in the right location for the story.
Narrator: Is it possible to travel in time? That was the question we started with. Noone would claim that these events provide a complete answer to that question. But they do suggest that time is by no means as simple as the relentless onward ticking of the clock would have us believe. There are, it seems, ripples and discontinuities in time, parallel existences running alongside our own. It would seem possible for any one of us to turn a corner or pass through a door and suddenly find ourselves in a strange and alien world.