Ghost Hunters: Spectres of the Severn

Another transcript from the series.

The Spectres of the Severn

Narrator: The Severn Valley in the West of England is renowned for its beauty. Although it’s close to the cradle of the industrial revolution, it escaped the worst ravages. So you still have great stretches of rolling farmland and woods, and unspoilt river valleys. The market towns and villages like Dursley and Wootton Under Edge remain unscarred by industrial development. They have whole streets that go back hundreds of years. But the unspoilt beauty is not the reason we came here. We came to put a major paranormal theory to the test. Is there a link between geology – the rocks under our feet – and psychic events? Particularly where those rocks are under great stress, as they are where they’ve been cracked and folded and faulted. This is one of the most actively researched ideas among paranormal investigators. And it’s given rise to a whole range of controversial theories.

Chris Romer, Parapsychologist: One of the things that’s always intrigued researchers into the paranormal is why some areas appear to be more haunted than others. Why some buildings have many legends attached to them. Could it be that the answer lies in the rock strata beneath our feet? In recent years, parapsychologists have paid more and more attention to fault lines. There is a growing belief among certain schools of parapsychology that these fault lines in some way are generating an energy which is allowing the haunting to happen. There are various schools of thought on the matter. The more orthodox or conservative parapsychologist or sceptic might say that minor earth tremors, minor seismic activity, could cause many of the poltergeist type effects which we see in this part of the country. Another school has argued that radon gas, an inert gas, is released immediately prior to earth tremors, and that this can take on a luminous glowing form which can appear as an apparition to some people. But perhaps the most intriguing possibility is that a form of energy, possibly a sub-microwave level radiation, is released by the fault, and that this in some way interacts with the human neural system, with the human brain. Does it make us more psychic?  Does it make us more likely to hallucinate? We don’t know at this stage.

Narrator: It was this latter theory in particular that interested us. The possibility of a link between stresses in the rocks, the earth’s magnetic fields, and the electrochemical activity in the brain. And to put these theories to the test, we chose a small stretch of the Severn valley, only 10 miles or so square. It’s an area that’s criss-crossed with stress and fault lines, like cracks and wrinkles in a well-worn face. It’s also an area that has a long association with unexplained and unusual events, that stretches back over many hundreds of years.

Dr Roney-Dougal, Parapsychologist: This area has got an incredibly diverse range of paranormal activity. So you’re saying really that it’s a hotspot of paranormal activity. And what I have noticed in my research is that if we look at the ancient megalithic sites, the stone circles, the tumuli, the barrows, the standing stones, that they are all to be found in areas where there are geological faults. Most of them, I think 80% of them are in Cornwall, up through the west part of Somerset, through Wales, the Lake District and in Scotland, and these are the parts of Britain that are intensely geologically faulted.

The Bell Hotel, Dursley. Photo by Philip Halling.

Narrator: But all that was far too general for our purpose. We needed a much more specific linkage. We were looking for places where two things came together. One, pronounced paranormal activity over many years – not just the odd event but repeated unexplained occurrences witnessed by two or three or more people. And second, proximity to well-established fault lines. We started at the Bell Inn at Dursley, an old coaching inn. It’s hemmed in by no less than three well-marked fault lines.

Sonia, Publican: We had two builders at one stage staying – they were burley “men’s men” builders – typical builders. And they were coming down to breakfast, it was about 7:30 and they came running down the stairs, white as a sheet, and they were really scared. They’d just met an old man in the corridor, they’d said good morning to him, and he’d disappeared in front of them. And they were really frightened.

Chambi, Publican: I had a long-distance driver stopped here. He parked his cab in the carpark, went to bed as normal. We’d arranged for an early breakfast. I came down, got it all ready, waited and waited, there was no sign of him. I assumed he’d decided to move on without paying. I checked the carpark, only to find he was sleeping in his cab. I tapped on his window, enquiring what was going on. And basically he said, “I can’t come back in” – he’d actually seen a figure of a gentleman, an old gentleman, he said he was very well dressed. He just walked in, and walked straight out through the door without opening it! With that he panicked, got dressed, and spent his night in the cab.

Marie, Waitress: I went up the stairs, and as I was starting to do the tables – I was in the middle of the room doing one of them – when I thought I heard somebody call. And I looked in the mirror which was down at the bottom of the room, and nobody was there. So I continued to set the table. But as I was setting the table again I had this awful feeling of somebody staring at you, and you just had to turn around. So when I turned around there was a woman in the doorway. And she just put her finger up and said ‘come here’ like that [beckoning]. But she didn’t mention a word, it was just as if she was saying ‘come on’. So I looked and I said ‘just a minute, please’. And I put the dishes down and started doing it, and I turned around again to see had she gone, and she was like this and I thought I’d seen a guest I hadn’t seen and she wants something. So I went and as I got out there’s two steps there. I thought ‘Did she jump those steps or am I imagining it?” And I stood. And then she went round the corner and she was half way. And instead of walking she was just gliding up those stairs. So I came down and I told Mr Lloyd, and he started to laugh at me. I thought he was going to give me the usual Irish jokes about it but he didn’t. He said ‘Oh you haven’t seen her now!’ I said ‘Seen who?’ He says ‘She’s out again is she!’

Narrator: There were many other stories of apparitions. But also accounts of repeated poltergeist activity. Sudden unexplained bursts of energy that cause strange noises or move things around, or just simply surprising events.

Tim, Builder: When… a Thursday or a Friday I came here, I can’t remember when it was, in the afternoon, a hot summer’s day. Came in to quickly check about what was going on the weekend, and all of a sudden we spotted above us in the corridor downstairs, that the central heating pipes were all frozen over. Completely crusted over, white ice. Same as inside your refridgerator cooler box, that sort of white stuff. So anyway, me and Ben were saying that was quite strange, so we followed it down into the cellar, where the system is. And we got down there and [laughs] we couldn’t believe it – it was even switched off – how can anything be going wrong when it’s even switched off? And you know, bearing in mind it was a blimmin hot day. We had no explanation for it so we came back upstairs, carried on talking the conversation just sort of – couldn’t really work out what it was and trying to forget about it. And within a couple of minutes it all started dripping on our shoulders, thawing out. It just cleared slowly, you could watch it clearing all the way back down.

Narrator: Old ladies floating up and downstairs, severely frightened lorry drivers – it would seem like a positive strike. The Bell Inn met both our conditions. But it didn’t end there. The fault line of the Bell happens to run along the main street. If our theory has any validity, shouldn’t we expect to find at least some activity in one or more of the neighbouring houses. As soon as we began our enquiries, we did.

Chris Romer: One of the faults, one of the three faults runs directly under the street, or just behind the street, within 30m of the length of the street, according to my calculations. The other two faults actually run at 90 degrees and frame the Bell on either side. Down the road from the Bell are the sites of two other pubic houses which again have their own hauntings associated with them. Even further down the street we have another house where I was once informed a monk has been seen. I’m always sceptical of monks because of course they can be any kind of shadow, but if we move  further up to the other end of the street we have a shop where yet another apparition has been encountered.

Narrator: We spoke to one of the people who lives above the shop in the house at the top of the road. She didn’t wish to be identified, but she and her partner had experienced such an overwhelming number of strange and other-worldly events over the past two years that they were no longer frightened by them – they’d become a familiar part of their lives.

Anonymous woman: It’s just weird little things… like you can’t believe, like the room’ll be absolutely immaculate. You’ll come… you’ll go out, you’d come back – everything would be all over the place, you know – all over the place as if someone has come in, trashed it, and gone back out, you know. It’s weird. And sometimes when we’re watching telly you hear funny noises and you see like shadows. One, I think yesterday morning, my boyfriend woke up and he seen something stood there, at the side of him, and he just went cold and he couldn’t get to sleep again, he put his head under the covers, like, and he told me next day, this morning – and I said ‘Oh it’s probably because you don’t talk to it.’ And Steve, my boyfriend, says to me – ‘Oh you shouldn’t talk to it, you know, something might happen.’ When you talk to it, you just feel like a cold sort of, the room goes a bit cold. But then it’s never actually physically hurt me. It’s touched me on the arm, and down the side of me, but it’s never actually gone to push me or physically hurt me in any way.

Owlpen Manor. Photo by Derek Harper.
Narrator: In our quest for paranormal events possibly linked to geological faults, we moved east from Dursley to the village of Uley, where we called upon Owlpen manor. It lies close to the centre of the village, and the geological map shows that it lies very close indeed to a clearly established fault line. What about paranormal activity? Well it seems there was indeed a long history of unexplained incidents in the house. One of them had occurred only a few weeks earlier.

Karin, Restaurant owner: Now the little girl who has suddenly appeared in the house – I’m sure she’s been here for a long time, it’s just we haven’t been aware of her. But suddenly now after the last six months, she’s definitely much in evidence.

Hugo: I had to put some towels out up here, and I was coming through the corridor over there, and I came along and I saw this figure standing on the stairs. It was a couple of weeks ago. She was standing here but I couldn’t see the whole of her because the door frame was blocking the rest of her view. But I could see legs and some socks and black shoes and I think she had a short dress on. And I was utterly petrified, I couldn’t move, I was kind of rooted to the spot. And it couldn’t have been any light or anything, because it was about 11:30, there are no lights on, there was no moon and no sun. She was just standing there, unmoving, completely unmoving, and I couldn’t quite believe that I’d seen a ghost. Then suddenly I just thought ‘I’ve got to move’ and I like, dropped the towels and ran back. And I was completely shocked that I’d seen something bizarre and not of this world.

Karin: His whole face was sort of drawn, and he said ‘Oh I’ve seen the little girl, I’ve seen the little girl!’ and I then went  through – I mean I wasn’t particularly happy about seeing this little girl either – and I went through and all I could see was a light in the staircase. And I asked her to go to bed. And that was, so far the end of it, I don’t know.

The Ancient Ram Inn. Photo by Brian Robert Marshall.

Narrator: By now, word had got around about what we were doing. We were asked to call in on the Ram Inn, the Ancient Ram Inn, to give it its full name, in the village of Wootton Under Edge. But did it lie close to a fault? We checked, and indeed it did. A fault runs down the valley under the house. Again at short notice we called in to talk to some of its customers.

Simon, Printer: Myself and a friend come down one night, and we both sat in the dining room over there, I think it was then, and John the owner said to me, and to my friend, ‘There’s something very strange about that corner over there.’ He pointed, and from then I was launched off the sofa – literally picked up, physically thrown off the sofa onto the floor- coughing, spluttering – it took all the wind out of me. And thereafter, I mean I heard John say ‘Quick, look at me, look at me’, and we both looked up, and he was literally pinned up against – there was an old oak dresser, he was pinned up against it, there were both his legs off the floor. Just ‘Look at me look at me’. It’s something I don’t think I’ll forget in a long time. I mean even ten years ago. Those sorts of things will stay in your mind, something very frightening, very real, something really intense, yes.

Dave, Labourer: I’d recently lost a relative, and I mentioned this name, Tom, and we was just talking about it. John was talking about ghosts. When all of a sudden, as soon as I’d said that name, Tom, this heavy presence come down, and that’s all it was at the start, like a presence, like you could feel it. And that weren’t really a lot, I didn’t really go with it then. But all of a sudden, I went to move but I couldn’t move. It was like I couldn’t move, like being shocked by electric. John’s hair was stood up on end. My hair was stood up on end. The radio in this room was going up and down, up and down for about ten minutes, and then stop. We just couldn’t stop it. It was really getting out of control.

Caroline, Secretary: I was sitting one end of the attic, which was our front room, and the attic’s an L shape. And the other end of the attic was our bedroom. Me and Stuart were sat in the front room, and it was about nine o’clock one evening and we could hear all this crashing and banging around. And we’ve got a big dog, he’s a Rottweiler, and I thought perhaps he was trying to get in behind some furniture, because it sounded like furniture moving. Anyway the noise stopped, and we just sat and looked at one another, and then the noise started again so we decided to investigate. We got to the bedroom doorway and looked in the bedroom and we couldn’t see the dog. We did notice however that a cupboard next to the double bed was missing. The usual bedside cupboard with a drawer at the top and a few books in it and a door in the bottom. And it had gone! And we decided to look for the dog then, and we looked down the stairs to our right then, and we noticed there was no dog but the actual cupboard was stuck sideways in the doorway at the bottom of the stairs. Well that was a bit of a shock really. We had to move the cupboard in order to get out of the attic stairway. I carried on down to the bottom floor to see where the dog had got to, and I found the dog all cuddled up in a ball against the door of my father’s front room, shivering.

Rob, BT Supervisor: It was about two o’clock in the morning. I’d turned all the lights off and got into bed. And a few minutes later I was actually starting to fall asleep. And then suddenly all the lamps started flickering, just very briefly like that all around the room. Which unnerved me a bit, it was a bit scary but it wasn’t too bad, you know, I thought it was a bit of joke to be honest, that someone was playing a joke. So I unplugged all the lights apart from the one by the bed, for obvious reasons. Then they kept on doing it after that, so I figured you know, that’s something a bit weird, something a bit weird was happening. So I actually still stayed in the room, because flickering lights aren’t that scary, but suddenly I felt this thing jump on the bed, there was kind of a weight and I felt pawprints walking up my body. And I turned the lamp on by my bed because I hadn’t unplugged that one, and I couldn’t see anything, except these four indentations, two on my chest, two at the top of my legs. And I just got up and left the room and slept downstairs for the rest of the night.

Narrator: We actually visited seven or eight locations, all of which were very close to fault lines, for all of which there seemed to be a clear record of paranormal activity. Most of them were older houses going back for 100 years or more. But there is a predominance of that kind of house in the area. But one of them was modern: a filling station on the M5. Where during the building of the motorway, there had been many reports of sightings that seemed to be related in some way to the Civil War – a mounted cavalier, for example.

Chris Romer: Another case which we’d looked at very briefly, recently, is a petrol station, a very modern hi-tech service station on the M5 motorway. And there we found that there were throughout the late 70s and early 80s rumours of a phantom cavalier. More recently, a chap who was driving home one night down the road behind the service station saw a figure appear in front of him, and then pass through his car and vanish. And if you were to draw the connecting line, the geological line down from the service station towards Dursley, you would find the actual point at which the encounter occurred, it’s actually on the fold.

Narrator: So, at least seven sites all very close to established faults, all with repeated reports of paranormal activity. Of course that does not mean there is a causal link between the two, it doesn’t amount to scientific proof. But it undoubtedly is a remarkable coincidence, that in this small area, we should find this close correlation between faults on the one hand, and long continued psychic activity on the other. Of course, this is not the only part of the country where this relationship has been observed. So what’s going on? What is the nature of the theories about the linkage between the stresses in the rocks and the psychic events? As you might expect, there is no shortage of controversy.

Chris Romer: Some parapsychologists believe that all that’s happening, is that underground earth tremors or underground seismic activity generates movement or the release of gases such as radon which are seen as apparitions or objects, and that people are mistaking underground movement, or even underground water under their house or subsidence, those conditions are causing people to believe that their home is haunted. Other parapsychologists would go much further and say that the underground seismic activity in these faults can generate sub-microwave level radiation which can affect the brain and can affect our consciousness. Some parapsychologists go as far as suggesting these may affect our neural transmitters and possibly open up new realms of insight that make us in some sense, more psychically susceptible, more able to see things we normally can’t.

Dr Roney-Dougal: The theory as I understand it at the moment is that the human body is exquisitely sensitive to chan1ges in the earth’s magnetic field. The pineal gland that is within the centre of our brain is sensitive to the most minute change in the earth’s magnetic field. And in response it makes chemicals that take us into an altered state of consciousness. Whereby we shift into a mode of thinking that is more dreamlike, connecting with archetypal, mythic type reality. When we’re in an area like this, which has got multiple fault lines, the energy of the earth is such that the fault line tremors, or just the presence of a fault line is going to affect the earth’s magnetic field.

Dr Richard Wiseman, Parapsychologist: Some scientists have argued that there could be a physical explanation for these phenomena;  that geomagnetic activity either caused by fault lines or power lines somehow interfaces with the brain and causes anomalous experiences. And they’ve presented various types of evidence to support that. For example if you map where the fault lines are in this country, and then map where the poltergeists and haunting sightings are, you get something like a correlation, that the two things appear to be matched. These things are very controversial theories, it’s early days yet with them and there are lots of different measures of geomagnetic activity, and if you search around hard enough in the data perhaps you’ll find one that matches up with the ghost sightings. So it’s not a hard and fast theory. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. It’s certainly one that needs to be taken into account.

Narrator: One of the most interesting developments is that this issue is now being researched scientifically at the faculty of parapsychology in Edinburgh. And it’s coming up with all kinds of fascinating insights.

Paul Stevens, Psychologist: [unclear]…we have a lot more than five senses. Five are all we tend to admit to in ordinary life. But on top of that we have heat receptors, movement receptors, we have tactile receptors in our skin, lots of different types, pressure sensors and so on. So we’re already picking up a lot more information than we’re normally aware of. And some paranormal phenomena could be due to this, it’s just things we’re not normally aware of, that’s being brought into our awareness. As well as that there’s this whole range of electromagnetic and other phenomena that we’re starting to see do have an effect on our brain. Part of the problem has been that most of the scientific models of the human brain have been computer simulations, they’re digital models  - brain cells can be on or off, whereas our brains are actually analogue, there can be a whole range of frequencies in between these on off states. We’re starting to see we’re a lot more responsive in ways we hadn’t realised before.

Narrator: All over these islands, indeed all over the world, there are specific sites that seem to have a long association with spiritual or paranormal activity. And many of them are linked to geological stress points, or formations of rocks and stones.  The nature of the linkage has always puzzled and intrigued scientists, and it’s long been a cause of controversial debate. And there’s no doubt that controversy will rattle on for many years to come. But could it be that we are on the verge of a whole new series of insights into the mysterious relationship between us, our human senses, and the rock strata under our feet?


Well, this didn't seem like a totally stupid theory - after all even scientists have begun (I believe) to acknowledge earthquake lights. Things do go on that we don't understand when rocks are squeezed together. And then of course there's Mr Persinger's experiments into electromagnetic fields and weird brain experiences. You can see how the Ghosthunters producers might come up with such a programme idea.

However, the fact that Chris Romer more than once says 'rayon gas' (I have kindly glossed it as radon gas, as I imagine that's what he means, though even then...) doesn't fill one with confidence as to the fact checking behind the filming.

I felt inspired to look up maps of fault lines. The British Geological Survey has one online (you might need to tick the box that adds the fault lines. Hours of entertainment adding layers). 

This turns up the fact that Dursley is devoid of fault lines. Well according to that map it is anyway. Maybe there are tinier ones there the BGS has ignored.

And - Lo - it also turned up the fact that my house is right, slap-bang, on top of one. So I should now tell you about all the weird things that happen there. But I'm afraid I can't. It's noticeably unspooky and I have never yet noticed anything weird. And you know I'd like to.

Minor coincidence I know, but I felt ever so slightly weirded out.