Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP, traces of ghostly speech picked up by tape recorders, make the perfect plot device for paranormal radio drama, and Monday's Afternoon Play The Ditch used the idea to chilling effect.
It centred on Tom, a wildlife sound recordist. He'd been taping the autumn gatherings of the shore birds at Slaughton Ditch, a littoral wilderness, "a spot on the rounded cheek of Britain's shoreline which bends into the North Sea like a backside into a bath", when he disappeared. Paul Evans, naturalist, broadcaster and author of the piece, played Tom's producer who tries to piece together the evidence a year later, having received a package of CDs from Tom's solicitors.
Tom had been obsessed with the EVP he'd recorded, which seemed to herald a coming disaster. The area has been periodically hit by catastrophic floods – in 1178, 1467, 1571, 1810, 1953 – and, guided by voices, Tom was convinced there was another on the way. The "recordings" were seriously spooky – disembodied voices, muffled water sounds and electronic buzzes on one; crashing waves, whipping wind and an eerie chorus on another – soundtracks to a nightmare.
Tom thought it had something to do with tidal harmonics generated by the oscillations of moon, sun and earth. They have a particular frequency, apparently, and when that frequency goes haywire, "lost sounds spill out into the world" (I can't vouch for the science, but it seemed reasonable at the time). You can still catch the play on iPlayer, so I won't reveal the ending, though the climax didn't quite live up to the scariness of Tom's tapes.
The soundtrack, by the way, was by Chris Watson, nature sound-recording's Mr Ubiquity – remember how on TV if there was a rostrum camera credit it was always Ken Morse? Watson is radio's nature equivalent. Without him, Radio 4, would be a much less interesting place.
Though the Yorkshire Dales can rival the east coast for windswept wildness, there was a marked absence of spooky noise in yesterday's returning Ramblings, in which the versatile and rather wonderful Clare Balding links up with different fellow-travellers each week for a yomp through the countryside. She's devoting her new series to walking groups, the first of which was started by parents of lads in the Bradford Grammar School rugby team, who'd got to know each other pitchside and didn't want to lose touch when their sons left school.
For 25 years they've been meeting once a month; yesterday, they were circumnavigating Middleham, whose castle was "the Windsor of the North" when Richard III lived in it. It's also a horseracing area, so Balding was at home, lightly imparting expert knowledge (I now know more about all-weather gallops than I ever expected to). The group's motto is simple – "fresh air and friendship", and the show, thanks to Balding's common touch, had a simple feel to it, relaxed and low-key. Warm-glow radio, which, done as well as this, is no bad thing.Reuse content