Brian Viner: Country Life

'If your house has to be haunted by someone who's 400 years old, it might as well be a serving wench'
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The Independent Online

As befits a town which accommodated Edward IV's ill-fated sons, known to posterity as the princes in the tower, and Catherine of Aragon, and where the Civil War raged, Ludlow is not short of ghosts. Unless you don't believe in them, of course, but I talked the other day to a man called Steve, who recently went as a confirmed sceptic on a Haunting Breaks weekend to the Feathers Hotel, the old coaching inn with the famous Jacobean façade, and emerged a grudging believer, having had some unexpected dialogue with his late grandmother.

The Feathers Hotel, let me add, has been described by The New York Times as "the most handsome inn in the world". It is certainly a striking place, notwithstanding the strange unworldliness of the New York Times travel pages. In a recent feature about London, the writer actually declared herself surprised not to arrive "in a pea-souper".

But you don't have to be a New York Times travel writer to look at the Feathers and imagine ghosts galore, hence its inclusion on the Haunting Breaks list. Steve went because his wife Liz looks after public relations for Haunting Breaks, and what better PR than an encounter between a sceptic and his dead granny, so maybe the story should be taken with a pinch, this being Ludlow, of Maldon Sea Salt. But Steve didn't seem the sort of bloke to make it up.

Apparently, it happened during the glass divination session. The glass shot towards him to indicate that one of his deceased relatives was in the room, then spelt out her name, Winifred. When he was invited by the medium to ask her a question to which only he and she would know the answer, he asked her what her house number had been. The glass shot towards him when the counting reached 15, and sure enough, old Winnie lived at No 15.

Even as a cheerful non-believer myself, I love this sort of stuff. But just to check on Ludlow's paranormal status I called the experts' expert, Ariel Warner. My contacts book, incidentally, has become a good deal more interesting since we moved to the country. In London, under W, I had Winton, Dale and Windsor, Barbara, but now I have Warner, Ariel (ghostbuster), above Whiplash, Miss (dominatrix). Much more useful, even though the latter is not a service-provider but one of our neighbours, just a hop, skip and a thrash across a few fields.

Anyway, Ariel, who prefers to call herself a space-clearer, comes from the United States but lives in Ludlow. She confirmed to me that "the joint is jumping" with ghosts. "If you think of the huge number of battles and skirmishes here, it's no surprise," she said. "There have been a lot of people who died very suddenly, so that their ghost has no idea it's dead." In her own 16th-century house she had found only one ghost, she added. "It was a serving wench, who'd been wafting about the ethers for centuries. I helped clear her, which was an incredibly joyful moment for her. Can you imagine what it must be like to spend 400 years on your own?"

I tried, but couldn't. Afterwards, I reported our conversation to my wife. "If your house has to be haunted by anyone 400 years old it might as well be a serving wench," she said, dishing up the mushroom risotto. "Did you tell her yours is only 45?"

Jane is even more sceptical than me about ghosts, so perhaps the time has come to take her on a Haunting Breaks weekend. I called the number on the website, but there was only a recorded message. "This is Haunting Breaks, the paranormal experience specialists," said a disappointingly mundane voice. "I'm sorry there is no one here to take your call..." I was sorry, too. It seems that even paranormal experience specialists can't be in two places at once.

I looked at the website instead. The ghostly weekend at the Feathers promises insights into "the use of crystal protection, dowsing techniques, and seances with a psychic in the most active locations," which includes room 232, haunted by a Victorian gentleman with a dog, who habitually walks through the wall into room 233. The first evening ends with a full discussion and what is charmingly described as a "debrief before bed". There might be a role for Miss Whiplash after all.

Brian Viner's latest book, 'The Pheasants' Revolt: More Tales of the Country', is now out in paperback, priced £7.99

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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