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Just over forty-five years ago when I was about fifteen I bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.
The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.” There were actual photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.
I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christ like wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed. There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue flames in the faces of young women.
I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls. You can’t dispute evidence like that. There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors.
I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right of course because I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!
I mention all of this because just last week I was on the island of Malta and came across a mystery of my own which would be worthy of inclusion in the ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.
Have you ever noticed that wherever there is freshly laid concrete someone manages to walk in it? I have always considered that to be rather stupid, dogs do it but they are extremely stupid of course (when they are not being dangerous) in fact the combined brain cells of all the dogs in the World would still not equal that of the dumbest cat, but returning to the wet concrete, I have always wondered why people do it?
Anyway, I was rather perplexed by this bizarre example that I came across in Malta just recently. Here is a slab of concrete measuring roughly six foot by three and right in the middle of it is a single footprint. Nothing before and nothing after and nothing to either side and almost impossible to leap into the middle and back out again without losing balance unless you are a World Champion Hopper, surely a curious mystery equally as mystifying as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!
Is this perhaps the mystery of the Night the Devil walked in Malta but only managed one single footprint? Who or what I wonder passed this way?
We picked up a hire car at the Sol-Mar desk and after completing the formalities found the vehicle and headed west on the Autovia to the tourist town of Santillana de Mar and the nearby village of Ubiarco where our accommodation was booked.
It was an odd thing about the accommodation but when I checked the web site a few days before I couldn’t find the hotel again and I had worried that perhaps my booking had been cancelled or the place might be closed for the winter.
Eventually I found it through my booking reference number and everything seemed to be in order so I stopped worrying. I was perplexed however that when I entered alternative dates just to check, there was never any availability and there were no more rooms available for this weekend either. I convinced myself that the place must surely be full of people all enjoying £10 flights just like us, but there was another odd thing because there were no customer reviews posted to the site, which has to be a little bit strange.
It took only about thirty minutes to get to the village and most unusually for me, we found the place almost immediately and drew into the car park. There was only one other car there and the place was in almost complete darkness except for a creepy light seeping through the cracks in the curtains at a downstairs window. It was locked but when we knocked on the door a kindly elderly couple opened a heavy creaking door and invited us in.
They explained that they had been waiting all day for us to arrive and I was surprised by this because I was certain that I had advised my late arrival time when I had booked.
Now, here was a peculiar thing because it was immediately obvious that there were no other guests and the man took us to our room on the first floor. We asked about restaurants and bars but he told us there were none close by and as it was about half past nine we weren’t in the mood for driving any more so we decided to settle in, have a bottle of wine and play cards in the lounge.
The lady melted into the shadows in the room and we didn’t see her again but the man was downstairs and most attentive, he seemed to know instinctively when we needed something from his small bar. First we ordered beer and later a bottle of wine and he was always available when we needed him but at this stage I didn’t find that especially strange even though he seemed to appear from the same dark shadows.
The wine said 1974 and I hoped it wouldn’t be expensive, on the coffee table were a pile of very old magazines and the television programme was an episode of something like Dallas dubbed in Spanish and the place began to feel more and more unusual and curious the later it became.
We finished the wine and went to bed and I went to say goodnight but the place was deserted except for us so we went straight to our room via the creaky staircase and settled down.
After a minute or two we heard soft footsteps in the corridor and whoever it was stopped outside our door for a second or two and then moved on. I felt a shiver dart down by spine but I told myself that it was just the owner making sure we were all right and I thought that was a nice touch and that I should be sure to mention it in my hotel review.
I had a restless night full of wild dreams, nightmares almost and at some point I heard the footsteps for a second time but I had no idea what time it was. The room was pitch black and although we were on the village main road there wasn’t a single sound to punctuate the total silence that lay on us like a thick blanket. Wild thoughts raced through my brain, I thought about the web site, why were there no guest reviews? Why was no one else staying here? Why did the room go cold and the lights dim when the man bought us the wine?
And then I heard the footsteps again and Kim stirred and heard them too, we were too scared to investigate so we pulled the sheets over our heads and prepared to meet an apparition..
I struggled top get back to sleep for straining to listen for strange noises but eventually it was morning and when we looked outside there was a promising clear sky and an unexpected view of the sea. We made a cup of tea and then went downstairs for breakfast but were surprised to find the place deserted and all of the furniture draped in dust covers.
It was cold and eerie and no one responded to our holas! I didn’t like it at all so we went outside and down the street there was a lively little café that was full of customers so we went inside. I asked for the breakfast menu and told the owner that we were staying at the Posada San Telmo next door.
He turned pale and gave me an odd stare and when I looked surprised he said ‘Senor, you must be mistaken, no one has stayed at the San Telmo for thirty years, the house has been abandoned since 1976’.
My blood turned to ice and froze and the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention and I suddenly understood about the empty web site and the ghostly footsteps and we were anxious to get away so we drank our tea and left rather quickly…
On the night of the 8th of February 1855 heavy snow fell on the countryside of south west England and small villages in the remote county of Devon. The last is thought to have fallen around midnight, and between this time and around six o’clock the following morning, something (or some things) left a trail of tracks in the snow, stretching for a hundred miles or more, from the River Exe, to Totnes on the River Dart.
The mysterious footprints have never been adequately explained. According to contemporary reports, they went through solid walls and haystacks, appearing on the other side as though there was no barrier. The extent of the footprints may have been exaggerated at the time, or they may have been the result of freak atmospheric conditions but in truth the ‘footprints’, if that is what they were, still remain a complete mystery.
Some clergymen suggested that the footprints belonged to the Devil, who was roaming the countryside in search of sinners (a great advertising stunt to fill the churches I imagine), while others rejected the idea as reckless superstition. It is true that a feeling of unease had spread through some of the population, who watched carefully to see if the strange footprints would return. They didn’t and after a couple of days the news spread out of Devon and made the national press and sparked correspondence in some of the leading papers including the Times.
I mention this piece of nonsense because just over forty years ago when I was about fifteen I was bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’ and the story of the Devil’s Footprints was included and quickly became one of my favourite articles.
The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.” There were photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.
I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christlike wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed. There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue flames in the faces of young women.
I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls. You can’t dispute evidence like that. There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors
I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!
A couple of years ago I went to Wales for a holiday with my daughter and grandchildren. We stayed in a remote cottage, a mile from the road and without any public lighting.
On the first night I was rather tired and went to bed early but sometime about one o’clock Kim woke me to say she could hear something – something fluttering. I told her she was imagining things and that she should go back to sleep but then I heard it too. A gentle quivering high in the beams, probably a moth I reassured myself but then Kim demanded man action so I got out of bed and turned on the light. Oh My God it was a bat. A bat. A bloody bat!
It was quite happy flying about in the blacked out room but the light send it into a delirious panic and it began to swoop about the room and jump from beam to beam and Kim started to shriek.
From under the shelter of the duvet Kim kept shouting ‘get rid of it, get rid of it!’and I was doing my best but as anyone who has ever had a bat in their bedroom in the middle of the night will know this is much easier said than done. I was still half asleep and although I am in peak physical condition the creature was a whole lot faster than me. There were various suggestions ranging from catching it in a fishing net to throwing a towel over it but it was moving so quickly that all of these suggestions were completely useless.
My one and only idea was to open the window and hope that it would find its own way out and in a huge slice of good fortune that is exactly what happened and it suddenly disappeared into the ink black sky.
There is a lot of folklore and old wives’ tales about bats such as:
- It’s lucky to keep a bat bone in your clothes.
- Keeping the right eye of a bat in your waistcoat will make you invisible
- Carrying powdered bat heart will stop a man bleeding to death
- Washing your face in the blood of a bat enables you to see in the dark.
I have to say that I like the idea of being invisible!
It is also said that a bat in the house means that it is haunted and the ghost has let it in…
The following night I stayed up a little later but shortly after Kim had gone to bed I said goodnight to Sally and walked along the corridor to the bedrooms. Part way along someone called out “Granddad, Granddad, Granddad” three times and assuming it was one of the three children I went to their bedrooms and asked who was calling me – all three were fast asleep, very fast asleep. I went back to Sally and asked if she was trying to trick me but she denied it. I went back to the children and in the corridor passed a cold spot that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand out like porcupine quills.
This was a “Blair Witch Project” moment. Let me remind you that this cottage was very, very remote, a mile from the nearest road and the night was as black as tar. It was a ghost, believe me it was a ghost. Do you remember my story about the bat and how if they fly into a house it is because they are haunted and the ghost lets them in?
I was scared, Sally was scared but Kim wasn’t scared and told us not to be silly and just go to bed.
All was fine until about one o’clock in the morning when I had a tapping noise that woke me up. I heard footsteps downstairs and thought one of the children must be walking about so I went to investigate. In the corridor I heard soft and measured footsteps in front of me, the voice said “Granddad” and as I followed into the black treacle darkness I said, “who’s there, who’s there?” but when I checked the bedrooms Sally and all of the children were all still fast asleep, very fast asleep. As I turned to leave something cold brushed past me like a floating whisper and touched me on the cheek.
I was scared, very scared! I put all of the downstairs lights on and fled back to bed, closed the children’s bedroom door, closed our bedroom door (as though that would make a difference) and pulled the duvet up under my chin and listened while the footsteps and the bumping noises continued.
This has happened to me before. Once in a remote Posada in Santillana del Mar in Spain we were left alone for the night, there was no one else there and we both heard something walk along the corridor outside our room and stop for a moment outside of our door. Even Kim agrees with that ghost story.
You may not believe me either but in the morning there was another spooky thing when I discovered fish heads and crab claws in a neat pile on the roof of my car and I have absolutely no explanation for that unless it was some form of Druid exorcism.
Let me tell you as well that on every one of the next few nights I woke in the early hours and never once did I hear another noise in that house and I never felt the cold spot again.
Also in the morning the owner of the cottage came to see us and we asked the question about the haunting. Very quickly she denied it and said that we were being silly but we all thought that she was just a little too quick to make the denial.
Have you ever stayed in a haunted house or seen a ghost?