Ley Lines and The Highate ‘Vampire’? by David Farrant
Ghostly happenings around Highgate are not only confined to Highgate Cemetery and The Flask. Ye Olde Gatehouse public house which stands proudly at the edge of Highgate Village, has long been associated with stories of a ‘ghost’, a tall black-cloaked figure with ghastly features that is supposed to wander the darkened corridors of the pub by night.
This spacious public house, in fact, is one of the earliest public houses – or inns – recorded in Highgate and almost overcrowds a narrow junction at the summit of Highgate Hill where several roads converge. Once the pub housed a tollgate that checked traffic approaching London from the Great North Road, although this was demolished before the turn of the century along with many others that fell into decline with the advancement of the railways. In its original form, however, (and records show that a licensed inn stood on the site as far back as 1337), Ye Olde Gatehouse was probably just a rural wayside inn that served the needs of a small community several miles from the Old City of London. What is known is that in medieval times this earlier inn stood at one of the entrances to a large hunting Park under the ecclesiastical ownership of the Bishop of London. This ‘Park’, in fact, then consisted of a large area of dense forest and probably had none of the landmarks that can now be identified with modern Highgate.
But aside from its historical heritage, Ye Olde Gatehouse has brought persistent rumours of a ‘sinister figure’, one of its favourite haunts being the Old Gallery – a large area overlooking a modern ballroom that has itself escaped much of the modernisation of the past two decades. Over the years, especially during the latter part of the sixties, (by coincidence, perhaps, the period that saw the emergence of the potent spate of psychic at Highgate Cemetery), the ‘Gatehouse ghost’ has been the subject of much controversy, much of which has also brought accusations of publicity-seeking against some previous landlords for using the ghost legend to attract clientele to the pub.
On the other hand, however, there is the possibility that the ghost itself is anxious to discourage this kind of activity for its appearances have been the cause for the resignation of several staff, including one former barmaid who swore that some overbearing ‘evil presence’ tried to strangle her when she was alone one night clearing up, and a previous landlord who was given hospital treatment for shock (his hair apparently turned white overnight) after he was confronted by something of ‘horrendous appearance’ in an upstairs room. He quickly gave up the tenancy but to this day mystery still surrounds the episode; speculation not exactly discouraged by Finch’s at the time (the then proprietors of the Gatehouse) who obstinately refused to discuss the incident.
One landlord, however, (who the author spoke personally to at the time) could certainly not be accused of promoting publicity for the pub. Ex-policeman Robert Melton took over the tenancy in 1968 – right at the peak of the ghostly manifestations – but he vehemently denied the existence of a ghost on the premises, although to some extent he lessened the validity of this statement by adamantly declaring that in his opinion ‘no such things existed’. Such a view, of course, must be respected (especially when dealing in the somewhat nebulous field of the unknown which, by its very nature, is likely to invite fantasy and exaggeration), but it should perhaps be remembered that blatant disbelief about ghosts might easily obscure otherwise relevant facts.
Certainly, it is the case that in attempting to uncover facts about ghostly phenomena a major difficulty often lies in locating reliable witnesses who have had first hand experiences, for it is often the case that much information turns out to be hearsay or personal opinions and beliefs not based on fact; either this, or mere repetition of facts that have already been well documented.
The Gatehouse phenomenon proved no exception to this rule, although in 1968 during the course of a BPOS investigation into the case, a unique account was forthcoming from a person claiming to have had a direct – if not what a somewhat unpleasant – with the ghost.
Mr. Tony Abbott of Highgate, had gone to the pub one evening in October 1966 with some friends to listen to the regular jazz band that played upstairs in the ballroom which contained a small bar. Around 10 p.m. he wandered into some adjacent rooms looking for the public telephone (which he was told was outside) systematically switching the lights on and off in each room.
All of a sudden, just along the passageway, Mr. Abbott saw a tall figure wearing a long cloak and a Guy Fawks-type hat. This seemed to appear from nowhere and was walking slowly forward with its back to him.
He followed, prompted mainly at this stage by curiosity and an intention to ask directions for the telephone, when the figure abruptly turned and disappeared noiselessly through a closed door. Believing this was due to some trick of the light, (the passageway was poorly lit and some doorways mingled into dark shadows), Mr. Abbott cautiously opened the door and switched on the light. Inside, was an unusual bell-tower-shaped room, but there was no sign of the figure or any exit through which it could have left.
Now, more than a little perturbed at having not noticed anybody dressed in this fashion in the pub, he decided to return to the bar but, at this moment, the light in the room suddenly went out and a low ‘rushing sound’ brought a surge of icy coldness that engulfed him at the door. For several seconds, he was unable to move, transfixed by some tremendous force that appeared to be trying to suffocate him.
Realising now that the ‘person’ he had seen was definitely not human, in a state of near-panic Mr. Abbott struggled desperately against his invisible ‘attacker’ when the malevolent force – or whatever it was – suddenly dispersed and he managed to return to the bar. He said nothing to his friends for fear of being disbelieved and it was not until some years later that he saw reports in the local Press about a ‘ghost’ at the Gatehouse, some of which described a figure which fitted the description of the figure he had seen.
Whatever the explanation for Mr. Abbott’s experience, it does at least go some way in confirming other reports about a ghost at Ye Olde Gatehouse. The exact origin of this phantom figure is, as yet, unclear but it is an interesting observation that Ye Olde Gatehouse is situated on a ‘ley line’. In fact, these lines run across many parts of the earth’s surface in direct alignment connecting many ancient sites and monuments, including stone circles and prehistoric burial mounds, as well as many churches that, it may be remembered, were invariably built upon earlier pagan sites of worship the intention probably being (concerning the latter) to convince the local populace that their beliefs were not being taken over, merely ‘updated’.
Lines were also marked by wells and ‘crossings’ over rivers and streams, but most frequently, stones were place along them at intervals to show the course or direction of a given line.
To digress from the phenomenon at Ye Olde Gatehouse (although perhaps not without some relevance), it is an interesting point that, in recent years, many cases of hauntings and other unexplained occurrences of a psychic nature have come to associated with ley lines. Indeed, it has come to be appreciated by some psychic investigators – if only a few – that these lines themselves may well be instrumental in explaining many preternatural occurrences; or rather, that many ‘hauntings can be directly attributed to their location on a ley line.
In their excellent work, Alien Animals, Janet and Colin Bord cite numerous cases of reputed hauntings many of which – they point out – seem to occur on ley lines; although they do not expound this possibility much further, inviting readers to conduct further research themselves.
Perhaps, however, it is not surprising that any connection between ghosts and ley lines has never really passed the stage of guarded theory when the possible existence of either is not even acknowledged by any known scientific theory, and when Science, itself, is slow to take account of any phenomena that cannot first be tested and proved by those laws that are seen to relate to everyday understanding.
But it may be, on the other hand, that there exists a form of energy (connected with ley lines, but not necessarily inseparable from them) previously unrecognised which under certain conditions – such as planetary alignments, lunar cycles, atmospheric conditions and the receptivity of given witnesses, for example – can be ‘replayed’ resulting in the appearance of what are termed ‘ghosts’ or ghostly images, when in reality, such phenomena may be as natural in their formation or appearance as those laws governing the existence of magnetic fields, radio waves, laser-beams and electricity.
If this is the case, and ley lines are responsible for harbouring an unknown form of energy that can sometimes be witnessed in the form of replayed reflections or ‘pictures’ of some past event – an event or occurrence itself perhaps long since forgotten and potentially of a ‘highly emotional’ nature – it is also a reasonable assumption that a line would be capable of ‘transmitting’ such energy along its course (perhaps in a similar way to the reproduction of a television picture which is not ‘really there’, except as a transmitted recording) or that of any other lines it crosses, allowing a given manifestation to ‘replay’ itself at various locations along the line.
This in turn, would probably result in many aligned sites to be assumed ‘haunted’ by several different ‘ghosts’ when in fact, these various apparitions may be no more than the transmitted reflection of one phenomenon, albeit this being subject to varying interpretations and descriptions by different witnesses.
But to extend still further the possibility that psychic energy (termed ‘ghosts’, or whatever) can be – or is – transmitted along ley lines to manifest under certain conditions, we need perhaps look no further than the Gatehouse phenomenon itself to see how it matches almost identically other phenomena reported in the immediate area; phenomena that could prove to be one and the same – or at least, directly related.
The line on which Ye Olde Gatehouse is situated, in fact, runs from a mound in Highgate Cemetery marked by an ancient yew tree (interestingly enough this mound was chosen to accommodate a sunken circle of tombs known as the Columbarium when the cemetery was open in 1839, but could have been an ancient burial mound long before that), passes through St Michael’s church which backs-on to the cemetery, and skirts the Flask which is in the close vicinity. It then continues on through Ye Olde Gatehouse, and passes through a small Council estate called Hillcrest (itself constructed upon the site of an old nunnery) in North Hill. Further on, the line passes through the site of an ancient Roman Settlement in Highgate Wood, but after this, it is difficult to trace the further progress of the line as it becomes obscured by modern development (a frequent obstacle encountered when trying to pinpoint landmarks on ley lines in urban areas).
The interesting point here, however, is that what can be traced of the Highgate ley line, can be directly linked to places where psychic disturbances have been reported; or put another way, by huge coincidence, a majority of the reports relating to ghostly sightings or experiences in the Highgate area, just happened to have occurred at sites along this ley line.
Perhaps the best known of these ghostly figures, is the black-clad apparition – or ‘vampire‘ – that was reported at Highgate Cemetery, perhaps by no coincidence at virtually the same time of the reported Gatehouse sightings.
Of course, because of the considerable publicity that the Highgate ghost attracted at the time (much of it having already been dealt with at the beginning of the book), reports about all the claims and speculation about its reputed appearances would be far too lengthy to detail here, but it is worthy to note that the Highgate phenomenon (‘vampire‘) and the Gatehouse ghost seem to share remarkably similar characteristics, in particular, their malevolent disposition and tendency to ‘attack’ people psychically.
There is also the fact that the Highgate cemetery ghost was sighted frequently around the Columnbarium – the same circle of tombs that marks the apparent beginning of the ley line.
Yet to continue with the proposition that psychic energy can be transmitted along ley lines, it is fascinating to note that another ghostly figure draped in black has for several years been reported in the grounds of Hillcrest – the small complex of council flats that now stand upon the site of the old convent in Highgate. In fact, the residents of one particular flat on the estate have experienced drastic falls of temperature, lights that mysteriously turn themselves on and off, and on more than one occasion glimpsed a tall dark figure in one of the rooms.
Other events of a psychic nature occurred with unrelenting persistency at this flat, although details of this case are so profound that they are beyond the scope of this present enquiry.
A little further on where the line traverses the site of the old Roman Settlement in Highgate Wood, there have again been reports of a tall dark figure that has been seen gilding silently amongst the trees. This is supposedly the ghost of an ‘earthbound nun’ who searches in vain for a long-lost lover – although the figure probably acquired this label by an assumption that it was connected with another convent, now demolished, that stood near Highgate Woods.
It is of course tempting to be led to the assumption that the ‘ghostly nun’ seen in Highgate Woods, is of different origin to the figure reported at Highgate Cemetery and Ye Olde Gatehouse, but then it should perhaps be recalled that descriptions of ghosts will frequently vary according to individual interpretation and belief, and it may well be that many reported cases are, in fact, variations of one and the same phenomenon.
Certainly, in the case of Highgate (and for that matter in that of many other reported sightings across the country), this would not necessarily invalidate the possibility that the phenomena reported there might be caused by one entity that manifests along the ley line at given intervals; even that, the energy causing this and other ‘supernatural’ manifestations (albeit not properly understood) may turn out to be so natural in its origin that it would be unsafe to even categorise such occurrences under the heading ‘ghost’.
For if it is the case that ‘ghosts’ themselves are not supernatural entities at all but merely non-intelligent images or reflections from the past somehow ‘caught’ in energy fields along ley lines (‘energy’ that is not only capable of transmitting ghostly pictures and images but which can, subject to certain conditions, actually reproduce sound, affect or move material objects, change humidity or temperature and interfere with electrical systems), then it may be necessary to completely rethink the whole notion of ghosts existing as independent ‘intelligent’ entities or as having returned to earth in the form of departed spirits – a belief that has accompanied the explanation for the existence of ghostly phenomena since the dawn of recorded history.
Having presented the possibility that ley lines could be connected with, or even responsible for, many cases of psychic phenomena, it should perhaps be pointed out in retrospect, that not all incidents of unexplained phenomena can be simply ‘explained away’ by reference to ley lines. This would be a far too over-simplistic approach and there would be a danger of generalising cases, some of which may not even fit into the ley line category. It is self-evident that a vast amount of further exploration is necessary into the existence and function of ley lines to establish any definite connection with the ghostly happenings that apparently occur along their course.
For there may be other causes for some supernatural occurrences which are not connected with ley lines …
As an example, there is the possibility that many ‘ghostly visitations’ and psychic disturbances – but by no means all – are caused or created by powers active within the human mind itself and, although frequently termed ghosts or ‘spirits, these may have nothing to do with the intervention of any outside agency.
This is not to imply that many cases of ghostly activity can be dismissed out of hand as being projections of the imagination (although even figments of the imagination ‘exist’, if only as varying ‘thought forms’), but it does mean that certain categories of psychic phenomena – or what are seen as psychic phenomena – may be due to forces originating in the human mind (albeit forces operating beyond the comprehension of the everyday thinking mind) that can sometimes have an effect on material conditions.
This idea may not be as far-fetched as it might first appear. It has already come to be widely accepted, or at any rate suspected, that many reported cases of poltergeist activity are caused or activated by adolescent children, and many other reported disturbances only seem to occur when selected people are in the close proximity.
If mind power can thus affect the movement of material objects, it is but a short step to assume that many other cases of ghostly manifestations – including the ‘table-lifting’, rapping’s and ‘spirit voices’ induced by mediums – owe their existence to the same source of origin.
But the suggestion that unconscious forces in the human mind are responsible for many cases of inexplicable phenomena which are otherwise termed ‘ghosts’, or the previously expounded observation that many supernatural phenomena are connected with ley lines, is not intended to be a neatly tied-up explanation for the existence of psychic phenomena.
There are too many factors to be taken into account when dealing with cases of unexplained phenomena; not least, that a number of reported cases (and the author has concluded that it is a very small percentage) that cannot be explained by any rational means, and seem to have as their basis the existence of some form of independent outside ‘intelligence’s’.
To speculate about the possible existence of such ‘intelligence’s’, however, or to ascribe to ‘them’ characteristics usually reserved for the living. would be to enter a meaningless realm where unexplained fact becomes overshadowed by unprovable theories and fantasy leaving no room for serious psychic investigation.
It is no easy task, after all, to sift fact through the lurid pictures of red-eyed monsters and other such demons that so often beguile the human imagination.
But regarding ley lines themselves and any relevance these might have to the phenomena reported at Highgate, or for that matter, their relation to many other cases of reputed paranormal phenomena all over the country, we can only rest on the hypothesis that if such lines are responsible for the appearances of many supernatural phenomena, and the energy connected with them can be understood, then, fearsome entities such as the one at Highgate – ‘vampire-type’ apparition or otherwise – will no longer be a mystery.