In my life I have had three potentially ghostly encounters; the first of which I was present for but didn't experience directly, the second may have been nothing sinister, but the third I am certain was a spectral encounter. I shall relate all three instances and leave it to the reader to decide the nature of each.
In 2002 I was visiting North Wales for the first time. joining me was my girlfriend at the time and, being a committed medievalist, the first place I made sure we checked out was Conwy in North Wales with its impressive fortress. I had booked us into the Castle Inn in Conwy, a few minutes walk from the castle. It's a nice little 19th century pub which, at the time, boasted of being haunted. I remember seeing brochures on the bar which featured a cartoon ghost and a caption which stated something along the lines of 'Conwy's most haunted pub' (or maybe it was North Wales' most haunted pub, I don't quite recall). I had paid little attention to the casper-esque picture and didn't bother reading the brochure; we ate a decent meal, probably had a drink or two and turned in for the night. Sometime in the wee hours I was awoken by my girlfriend gasping in shock. She sat bolt upright in bed in apparent fright.
'Did you just touch my head?' she asked, in a near panic.
'No,' I replied, fully awakened at her apparent alarm but confused as to why touching her head might have been a big deal. 'I was fast asleep until you just woke me,' I said, defensively, noting to myself that I couldn't have even accidentally touched her head in my sleep as I was facing away from her.
'I just felt a hand on my forehead,' she said, and was quite adamant that it wasn't something she had dreamed.
I was directed to put on the light and we slept with the light on for the remainder of the night - even in the morning she was adamant that someone had put their hand on her head. I didn't think much of the incident, not having experienced it myself, and gave it little thought until weeks later when I was at home sat in my little library. I remembered I had a book from the early 90's entitled 'The Encyclopaedia of Ghosts and Spirits' by John Spencer ( a cracking book, by the way). The tome catalogues scores, if not hundreds, of supposed haunted places throughout the British Isles and had kept me awake one night in my early teens. I pulled the book off my shelf and flicked through it to see if it included The Castle Inn, Conwy (I didn't have the internet yet, so Asking Jeeves - the old version of google - wasn't yet an option for my research purposes). Sure enough, I found the Castle Inn and read that one of the rooms is haunted by the spirit of an old man who stands beside the bed watching women sleep. The book didn't state which room was haunted by this ghost, but I wasted little time in sending a text message to my girlfriend to inform her of my findings. I think I supposed she would praise my quick research and find the results as interesting as I did, but the response was an angry one along the lines of: 'If you had told me the place was haunted beforehand I never would have agreed to stay there!'
A quick look on the internet indicates that The Castle Inn's rooms have been thoroughly refurbished since I stayed there, so I doubt I could now identify the room we stayed in. They also don't seem to be so vocal about their ghostly resident anymore.
The second, and perhaps more dubious, spirit was in 2004 at the famously haunted Berry Pomeroy Castle in my home county of Devon. I was in my first year of membership with Plymouth Medieval Society and on the May bank holiday weekends we used to hold a medieval combat tournament in the castle grounds. We were allowed to camp inside the castle in our period tents and it was a great weekend for the two or three years that we did it before English Heritage decided to cut back on living history displays. We put on a good display in front of a few hundred people each day and enjoyed sitting around a campfire and eating burgers in the evening when the public had gone home and the castle gate was locked. Unfortunately, due to the castle having featured on 'Most Haunted' it was a popular spot for ghost hunters. Each year we stayed there would-be ghost hunters would come down the narrow track to the castle and bang on the gates, demanding entry. This would continue almost until sunrise, and was quite annoying to say the least. A security guard was employed to come by periodically: he was a jovial chap, and he placed a tealight candle in the supposedly haunted tower to prank us into thinking there was a ghost light.
The potential ghostly happening occurred when we were sitting around the campfire in the early evening. Cliff, the group leader, told me that the year before they thought someone had gotten inside the castle as they heard footsteps along the flagstones on the wall beside the gatehouse, so one person went each way around the catch the intruder, but they met up finding nobody there. It was then that Cliff said he realised there were no flagstones there anymore and the path was just gravel. He had no sooner related this little story to me when we could clearly hear what sounded like three steps along flagstones in the exact place he had just indicated hearing footsteps the year before. We laughed at the coincidence and carried on with the evening, but whether it was ghostly footsteps or just the sounds of stones reacting to changes in air temperature, I don't know. What I do know is that when we went back the next year we were told the security guard had quit after being seriously assaulted by a group of so-called 'ghost hunters' not long after we had stayed at the castle. Having spoken to one of the custodians recently I was told they are still frequently plagued by drunken youths trying to break into the castle overnight - and so perhaps there lies the real spirit problem at Berry Pomeroy.
My third, and best, ghostly experience was at the Queens Head Inn, Monmouth, in 2022. I was on a two or three day trip with my daughter and as we spent much of the first day in Bristol we stayed our first night in Monmouth before heading a bit deeper into Wales thereafter. I pre-booked the Queens Head Inn via the internet, having been drawn in by the Tudor charm it displayed in the photographs. On arrival we were greeted by a very chatty young lady who informed us that she didn't know anyone was staying as the pub was supposed to be closed - the owner had gone on holiday to South Africa and the pub was supposed the be shut for the week. It was only because she had stopped into to do some chores the day before when a group of women turned up having pre-booked a room that it was realised that the owner hadn't disabled online booking. Luckily for us, the lady decided to open up each day anyway just in case anyone else turned up, otherwise we'd have been looking for somewhere else to stay at very short notice.
Anyway, we were staying in a small room at the very top of the inn. The way up was a winding labyrinth of narrow passages and low beams to duck under which all added to the charm. The room was very basic, but it was cheap. We ate out elsewhere as the was no chef since they weren't expecting customers. We returned and I had a drink in the bar and a good conversation with the very chatty barmaid (she did almost all the talking) where I asked about the supposed hauntings - the inn advertises itself as Wales 3rd most haunted pub (I don't know how it's measured, but I shall trust whatever the methodology is). The barmaid hadn't experienced anything herself despite working there for I think she said two years, but she said the cleaner had seen 'loads of things'. I didn't stay in the bar for long as the place was quite empty, so after one drink I went up to bed.
I was awoken in early hours of the morning by someone knocking one of the doors downstairs. I don't recall the time now, but it was somewhere between 3 and 5am. My first thought was that one of the group of ladies staying in the inn (the only other residents at the time) had gone out for a cigarette or something and locked herself out so was trying to get one of her friends to let her in. There was no reply to the knocking and so I found myself fully awake - realising that until someone let whoever it was in, the knocking probably wasn't going to stop. About a minute went by and I heard knocking again, but this time it sounded like it was on another door. I sighed to myself, thinking that they must be drunk and forgotten which room they stayed in. I was a bit annoyed that one of the other girls hadn't woken to the knocking and answered the door and found myself anticipating the next round of door knocking. Again, about a minute later I heard knocking - on yet another door. It sounded like it was on the door of the room on the floor below me. I wondered what state the girl must be in to be this unsure of which room she was staying in and knew my door would be next. Sure enough, about a minute passed and I heard three quite firm raps on my door - the same as I'd heard on all the other three doors. It was at the moment I realised two things: the floorboards outside, particularly on the stairs, were very creaky, and I hadn't heard a single floorboard creak between any of the door knockings. Secondly, I could see the light from the hall through the gap at the bottom of the door and there was no shadow from any feet standing beyond the door. I decided not to answer the door and concentrated on going back to sleep. I wasn't bothered any further, but the story doesn't end here.
In the morning we went down for breakfast and I said with a laugh to the chatty barmaid that I thought their ghost had visited last night and quickly related my experience. My chatty barmaid then went on to tell me that we were the only ones to stay in the inn that night: one of the group of women had come back the previous evening and checked her group out early, saying that one of them had broken their ankle in the Forest of Dean so they were cutting their stay short. The barmaid herself was saying on-site but was in an adjoining building, and so my daughter and I had been alone in the pub. I can only say that what I heard was very clearly someone knocking on the doors, three raps each time, and there was either someone in the pub doing it or it was some restless spirit: I can't think of what else it might have been. The barmaid did relate to us that one of the group of women had also had a ghostly encounter the previous night, having woken to hearing what was described as 'old world music' and moaning coming from inside their room which eventually faded away. It was a fascinating stay but I never did get my cup of tea and toast in the morning as the chatty barmaid was so talkative she kept forgetting to go and get it! She did however do a cracking job since she was running the place on her own at that time.
These three experiences to some extent influenced my writing the thirteen short stories which make up 'Darkest Dartmoor'. I have, however, yet to experience anything ghostly on Dartmoor - but I do hope to spend a night at the very haunted Oxenham Arms at some point so there may be more to tell yet.