Haunted Buxton, Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 20:58 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 20:46 23 October 2015
If possible, this article should be read during Hallowe'en, when most of us are prepared to temporarily suspend our scepticism about the existence of ghosts, ghouls and spirits, for what follows is an account of a tour of Buxton.
If possible, this article should be read during Hallowe'en, when most of us are prepared to temporarily suspend our scepticism about the existence of ghosts, ghouls and spirits, for what follows is an account of a tour of Buxton in the company of Norman Tinsel, a man who regularly guides parties to the most haunted parts of the ancient spa town.
On a damp, dark evening, I joined a group of brave souls who had booked to meet Norman on the stroke of eight o'clock on the forecourt of Buxton's Edwardian opera house. As we shivered in the cold of the evening, an immensely tall figure in a long black cloak suddenly appeared before us. In a booming voice, he welcomed us to a one-hour ghost tour that promised to increase our shivering yet further.
'Anyone of a nervous disposition should leave now,' he said, before adding a second warning, followed by a grisly request: 'On this tour we shall be crossing a number of roads, so please cross safely. However, if you do get run over, could you make it a particularly bloody accident so that I can include you as subject matter on my next tour?'
Our guide pointed to the Opera House and spoke of various strange happenings that have occurred in the building over the years. We were told that theatre staff have witnessed lights going on and off without warning and a kettle boiling of its own accord. However, when Norman reported that the boiling of the kettle had been attributed to a ghost called Polly, we knew that a sense of humour, as well as good nerves, would be a prerequisite for anyone following his tour.
Norman now marched off in a series of great strides. We scurried after him and only managed to catch him up when he reached a bridge over the River Wye in the Pavilion Gardens, where he stopped to tell us various ghostly tales from around the High Peak, including the story of a headless animal at Tideswell and an outlaw who haunts the depths of Poole's Cavern. We all jumped at one point during Norman's presentation, when a magician's wand suddenly came out of nowhere and appeared in his hand - a trick that he repeats at numerous children's parties and corporate functions.
Our next pause was on Fountain Street, where Norman told us the story of a farmer who once lived in these parts. One stormy night, the farmer asked his servant to ride into town to buy ale, but the servant refused to obey his master's instruction because lightning was crashing all around. Desperate for a drink, the farmer set off on the journey himself, declaring 'I would ride the devil himself for a flagon of ale.' When the farmer's horse duly sprouted a pair of devil's horns and issued an ungodly sound, the blood drained from his face and he vowed there and then that he would henceforth lead a sober life. Although some believe that the farmer really had ridden the devil that night, others contend that he had been so drunk that he had saddled up his cow rather than his horse.
In order not to spoil the enjoyment of readers who decide to join a Buxton ghost tour, I'll refrain from betraying the detail of Norman's other tales. Suffice it to say that almost all of them are a similar combination of horror and humour.
Moving on from Fountain Street, we stopped to hear another batch of haunting stories outside two of Buxton's oldest public houses, which, as our guide pointed out, are well known for their spirits! In the street outside the second inn, Norman followed up his story-telling by producing a pack of playing cards, each of which was inscribed on its reverse with the name of a well known Peak District hostelry. A member of his audience was asked to name a playing card of her choice. When her randomly chosen card was picked out of the pack and turned over, hey presto, it displayed the name of the very pub that we could see before us. After watching this sleight of hand, we were not surprised to learn that Norman is a member of the Magic Circle.
Leaving behind a crowd that had gathered in the street to watch the card trick, we followed our leader as he strode off in the direction of another prominent Buxton building, where we paused to hear the story of a ghostly canine. This tale prompted our guide, who was once introduced on TV's Granada Reports as 'Britain's fastest balloon modeller', to produce a balloon from his pocket and instantly convert it into the shape of a dog - a performance that always goes down well when Norman entertains at children's parties.
The final stop on our tour was the Old Hall Hotel, where Mary Queen of Scots stayed while taking the Buxton waters for her rheumatism. Although reports that her ghost haunts the building are unconfirmed, Mary's presence is still felt in the hotel because, as Norman explained, the building carries a very special and indelible mark of her visit.
After reminding us that Mary was under house arrest during her stay in Buxton, Norman assumed his loudest, most terrifying voice in order to tell the story of the days leading up to her beheading. This was a cue for his final flourish. As a man who has made television appearances in which he has sawn in half a television presenter, a Coronation Street actor and a Premiership footballer, he could not resist giving us a vivid practical demonstration of the severing of a body part.
Although we had not actually encountered any ghosts during our tour of Buxton, Norman's booming voice had startled us on more than one occasion and we had certainly been spirited away to a world of magic.
Norman Tinsel leads Buxton Ghost Tours every Thursday during July and August - meet at 8pm outside the Opera House
(Telephone: 0161 491 0548).