I grew up in a rural area in the County of Somerset, England. The small village I hail from had one shop, a primary school, a Church of England Church, a village hall and a pub. It was a, not so, sprawling metropolis, situated on a hill that was the first in the range of hills known as the Mendips. The hill was steeped in history, both factual and fantastical, with stories of the not so holy church, a witch's coven, pagans and druids. Of which street names reflect this interesting past today.
I think that the overactive imaginations of children feed on stories of old, whether they are based in fact, or urban legend. So my peers and I had quite a bit to go on in fuelling our childhood fears. One day, I would like to go back to see how it's changed today and to see whether I still get the same vibe from the place, as I did in my youth.
My first ever personal experience of the paranormal (at least myself and others could not explain it) happened in the churchyard. The tower of the church is most impressive, featuring gothic spires, it was built in 1482. It is visible from the severn estuary and was said to have been used as a beacon for ships to find their way to the port in Bristol. This is the only original part of the church, as the body of the church was completely refurbished in 1861. The first burial took place in 1559. It is a quaint, picture postcard church to look at, but physically being there was not so quaint! The events I witnessed, was what first made me question the religion I had been raised to follow and the belief that the church was a safe haven from evil.
My friends and I used to hang around the church quite a lot. It was at the centre of our village, where most of the day to day activity took place and where most people met up. We would often spend our days sitting on the vast stone wall that encircled the church and we would sometimes venture into the churchyard, as we found the old graves fascinating (sounds a bit morbid I know!) You made your own fun in the country.
Now, I always felt a little bit on edge when we ventured into the oldest part of the graveyard. That may well have been due to the fact that it was rumoured that there were witches buried there, as there were graves that had had their plinths partially removed and you could see the thick layer of sea shells, that (as the story goes) were there because they trapped the evil spirits. I have never researched this story, but as an adult, I am sceptical!
Anyway, when in the old part of the graveyard one summer's day, I was with one friend and we were sitting down taking a cold drink, looking at some very old gravestones. I was imagining what it would have been like to have been that person (something I'm prone to). I felt the atmosphere around us change, it suddenly felt very cold and then from the periphery of my vision, I saw a translucent white mist. I kept very still, as did my friend. As I became aware of the mist, I placed my hand on her arm and whispered "shush" to her. I did not raise my head, simply followed the mist with my head still lowered and as we sat there, it moved across the gravestone we were sat in front of. It happened in seconds and once it left my periphery, I finally moved my head to the direction it was moving and it had gone. The temperature went back to normal and all felt right again. We weren't scared, just baffled. My friend had felt the cold, but had looked up on my shushing her and she only saw the mist for a split second.
As the years passed by, many of us encountered the white mists, but I never saw one in the day time again. At night was when most activity took place and the night would bring the black shadows also. As I said, the church wall was a regular hang out and night time was no exception.
Many people laid claim to witnessing these mists and shadows, but one particular night was unsettling to say the least. Me and several of my brother's friends, plus two of my own, were sat chatting on the wall, when one of my brother's friends noticed movement. We were all so used to seeing things in the graveyard, that it had become the norm. We all looked up and could all see a number of black shadows. All were moving, human shaped and blacker than the night. What was different this time was one of the shadows seemed to be growing in size. We all stood transfixed, as the shadow started spinning and began to move through the graveyard. We could not believe what we were seeing. It was like a black vortex, gaining velocity and size as it travelled towards the main gate of the churchyard. As it reached the gate, it flew open with such force that it snapped back on its hinges and slammed shut again. We had all started to back away from the wall, but this got us running. We did not go back to take a second look.
I was also a member of the church choir in my early teens and also a campanologist. I rang the smallest of the bells and it was something I thoroughly enjoyed. The tower was, to me, the spookiest part of the church. It was very dark and the old stone spiral stairway was narrow and had a funny old smell to it. The first time I went up, I was with the other bell ringers, but the second time, I was alone. Back in those days, it was still standard practice to leave the church open to all around the clock. Only in later years, when valuables started to go missing, did it become common practice to keep the doors locked at all times, with entry by appointment, outside of worshipping hours.
When I entered the stairway this second time, the first thing that hit me was a blast of cold air. Not so odd, as it's an old stone building, but I was slightly wary, as it hadn't happened the first time, but I was with other people then, so perhaps just didn't notice. As I was climbing, I felt something touch my back, very gently, like when someone ushers you forward. I looked back thinking someone had crept up behind me to give me a scare, but there was no one there. I scooted up the rest of the stairs like a rocket. When I reached the bell tower, I could hear someone climbing behind me. I waited and waited, but no one appeared. Five to ten minutes later, two more people arrived. I asked if anyone else was here and had gone back down for some reason. There was no one else in the church. After that, I always waited outside for more people to arrive.
Yes, at the time, all of these experiences frightened me to some degree. The second group experience was by far the worse. Now that could be passed off as a mass hysteria event, the first and third, merely imagination.
As a child, I was aware of the rumours surrounding the church, about the graves harbouring evil spirits, gargoyles missing from the tower, allowing evil in, the north door blocked up, so not letting evil out (apparently, the door should be open during Christenings, to get rid of any evil spirit attached to a newborn) and the pathway in the graveyard being in the shape of the devil's trident. This could have very well fuelled my fears, but also, it was a time of awakening for me, as not long after the last event, I encountered the Ouija (my first story posted), the experience of which further tweaked my interest in all things paranormal.
I think any experience can be scary if you don't understand it and my experiences prompted me to learn as much as I could about all things spiritual. Nothing happens by mistake!