Halloween 2014: Can professional ghost hunters convert a non-believer?

A night-time trip around the most haunted train station in Britain

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The Independent Travel

"I don't believe in ghosts," I announce boldly to a table of horrified ghost hunters. I’ve agreed to join them on a midnight ghost hunt so their surprise isn’t entirely unfounded. But under the bright, artificial lights of Euston station it’s easy to be skeptical.

Our exploration of Carlisle Railway Station, recently voted the most haunted train station by spooked Virgin Trains staff, is led by chief ghost hunter Barri Ghai from the Ghostfinder Paranormal Society. He and his two assistants, Phil and Beth, welcome me into the fold despite my obvious disbelief.

The journey to Carlisle takes around three and a half hours. On the way, we share supernatural stories like girl guides around a camp fire. Barri tells us about the time at university he was shaken awake by a little girl ghost, and Beth says she was so unnerved by the spirits that haunted her mother’s house in Florida she moved out. The team tell me there are a number of different explanations for creepy goings-on. Some ghost hunters believe spirits are people who died with unfinished business, while others - like Beth - are convinced otherworldly energies are caused by parallel universes overlapping. A stalwart of empiricism, I bite my tongue.

As the evening goes on, however, it’s hard not to be sucked into the drama of it all. By the time we’re spat out onto a chilly platform at Carlisle Railway Station, my earlier bravado is trembling in a corner.

At midnight, we descend into The Undercroft - beneath the platforms - with our tour guide Sue Howarth, who works at Carlisle station. As we make our way down a bleached, white corridor to our first room, Sue tells us more about the stories that have haunted the station for decades: the headless man who patrols platform 8; a murderous butcher, and the women he slaughtered; and the little messenger boy who was killed on his bike.

We pay a visit to the butcher first. Torches at the ready, we creep through rubble. It's pitch black and my heart is thudding against my ribcage. The air is close and clammy and I suddenly feel faint. Mustering up an scrap of courage, I scan the room with my torch. One decrepit brick wall is decorated with meat hooks and below it is a stone gully that would have drained away the blood of the butchered. The hunters spread out around the room, holding up machines that monitor temperature and air pressure to determine whether or not we've been joined by any supernatural friends. The equipment starts beeping. Barri asks us all to be quiet and begins speaking to the spirit he believes has joined us, asking it to make its presence known by touching someone, banging on a wall, or opening a closed door. The door we shoved shut upon entering the room swings open. At this point, I'm unashamedly clinging to other members of the group like a child in a crowd, and the hairs on the back of my neck are prickling uncomfortably.

In another room, the cold store, where the bodies of soldiers were stored during the war, we find even more activity. Using a machine called an Ovilus, which converts environmental readings into real words, we open up a dialogue with a spirit who tells us his name is Paul. His first word, "disaster", sends bile rising to the back of my throat, but he soon supplies "friendly", "wave" and even "hug".  In fact, as the Ovilus churns out ever more incoherent words ("pants", "zoo", "fifteen"") my skepticism begins to creep back. Suddenly, we all seem to be in competition, each one of us determined to prove we’ve made contact with the other side. One member of the team is convinced a ghostly hand stroked his hair, while another tells me a spirit tugged on his jean leg. When the Ovilus spews out the word "Murphy" and Sue tells us in hushed, solemn tones that Murphy is the name of her pet cat, I can't help but feel the whole thing has taken a turn for the ridiculous.

After snooping around the rest of the rooms with not much success, save for the rattling of a few pipes, we ascend and convene in the hotel bar where we toast our survival with a much friendlier band of spirits.

In the cold light of day, the previous night's antics seem even more absurd. I shuffle down to breakfast and exchange sheepish looks with the people I clung to the night before. After a few of hours of relatively undisturbed sleep, the imminent threat of the butcher has faded and our conversation with Paul seems farfetched to say the least. I was unnerved by Carlisle Railway Station, as anyone with an overactive imagination would be. But sorry folks, I still don't believe in ghosts.

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