Trail of The Unexpected: Ghosts in Newport

'A hooded figure whisks down an alley'

The evening began in the cosy Wheatsheaf Inn on St Thomas's Square in the island's capital, Newport. Here, on Wednesdays at 8pm, you find a gentleman clad in a Victorian cloak and clutching a lantern. He is Marc Tuckey, guide and raconteur for a stroll around town that may well haunt you for days (and possibly nights) to come.

The evening began in the cosy Wheatsheaf Inn on St Thomas's Square in the island's capital, Newport. Here, on Wednesdays at 8pm, you find a gentleman clad in a Victorian cloak and clutching a lantern. He is Marc Tuckey, guide and raconteur for a stroll around town that may well haunt you for days (and possibly nights) to come.

With a no-nonsense command of "Follow me" he ushers you off on the trail that condemned men trod about 300 years ago as they took their last steps en route to the gallows. They were sentenced in what is now the tourist information office off the High Street. This, Marc tells you, was the courthouse. You realise as you stand and gape at the exterior that it is a rather lovely building, too. But then you're jolted from your reverie by the fleeting sight of a robed and hooded figure, who whisks down an alleyway to the left.

Meanwhile, Marc, apparently unaware of this, rounds off his brief history of the courthouse with the tale of a strange grey figure recently seen scurrying past the building and disappearing into thin air. Quite beyond the content of his story, his delivery is impeccably chilling - and thrilling. He is evidently well versed in drama techniques.

As you follow him down Watchbell Lane you soon realise that he's not the only actor involved in the evening's entertainment. The hooded figure abruptly reappears, jumping out from a dark doorway and causing you an embarrassing squawk of surprise and, it has to be said, a frisson of fear. As he runs off, he is chased by another ghoulish creature, wearing a cape and a gruesome mask. A clichéd piece of play acting? Possibly. But on a misty evening it sets your imagination racing.

Marc leads you on, stopping outside a beauty salon to explain that the timber-frame building used to be the Sun Inn and that is still haunted by a young French girl who once worked there. You move on slowly, pausing for more stories on the way to the electricity shop. This was the site of the gallows where the condemned men met their end. And, according to Marc, they are buried underneath your very feet. You half-expect more spectral apparitions and twitch uneasily at the mundane sound of bottles being smashed into a bottle bank around the corner. As Marc guides you on, you're suddenly confronted by the hooded figure again, and you laugh uneasily at the encounter.

So the walk continues. Over the next 45 minutes you meander around town being fed tales of murder, misery and revenge by Marc. Along the way you also glean a great deal about the history of Newport and are led to appreciate the finer points of its architecture. But most of all you're spooked. How convincingly depends, of course, on your predisposition for such matters.

Back at the Wheatsheaf Inn at the end of walk, Marc and his fellow actors stopped for a pint and a chat. Had he ever encountered a ghost himself? "The Isle of Wight is one of the most haunted places in the world," was his elusive reply. "But some explain this by pointing out that large numbers of pirates, smugglers and wreckers operated from the island, and that they made up stories to frighten people into staying at home while they went about their business. So who knows..." And does he believe all the tales he tells? An enigmatic smile was the only answer on offer.

Marc Tuckey's 90-minute ghost walks of Newport take place on Wednesdays from 8pm, price £5. He also offers ghost walks at the Botanic Gardens, Ventnor, on Mondays; Appuldurcombe House, Wroxall, on Tuesdays; and Yarmouth on Thursdays. For more information call 01983 520695 or visit www.ghost-tours.co.uk

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