Chapter 1: In Which Our Hero Makes A Gruesome Discovery

TO quote that great scholar of the paranormal, Scooby Doo: “Yoikes!”

Like Mr Doo throughout most of his illustrious ghost-hunting career, I find myself in a spot of bother at present. The night is dark and dismal. I’m standing on the outskirts of nowhere. On my own.

No, not quite alone.

I have the howling wind and crooked trees for company. And the wind gossips its terrible secrets to those trees, and the trees reply by shaking their palsied, arthritic branches in merriment. In front of me looms Provan Hall. The 15th century building in Easterhouse’s Auchinlea Park has a reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in Scotland.

I’ve arranged to meet a gang of ghost hunters here, though not a ghost hunter do I see. Rattling the tall gates that block my entrance to the driveway, I shout in a voice I wish sounded bolder: “Hello? Anybody there?”

The wind answers with an exalted whoop. Nobody else does. With quivering fingers I tap out a message on my mobile phone to Julia Girdwood, my principal contact in the ghost hunter community.

“Hi Julia. I’m at Provan Hall. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around…”

A few moments later I receive a text back. “Lorne. The event’s tomorrow night.”


Chapter 2: In Which More Discoveries Are Made, Hideous And Otherwise


It’s a few minutes to midnight, the following evening. I’m crouching in the dark on the top floor of Provan Hall, when David, the professional medium standing next to me, says in a matter-of-fact voice: “There’s a crawler coming up the stairs.”

A w-w-what?!

I glance over at the stairs. With only the dim glow from David’s torch, I make out shadows and nothing more. But David, being a medium, claims to be in possession of special powers. Ghosts are visible to him, he says, and they often tell him their tragic stories. He sometimes glimpses demons, too. They’re less sympathetic entities, as you’d imagine. The thing climbing the stairs towards us would appear to be of their ilk.

Since I can’t see it, I’m understandably curious to know what this crawler looks like. Does it slither on flailing tentacles, or scuttle on a multitude of twitching legs?

“It looks sort of like Gollum,” clarifies David, referring to the malicious creature from Lord of the Rings.

David works with a group called Scottish Ghost Nights which organises a variety of spooky events throughout the country. They hold seances and late-night vigils in castles, derelict goals and stately homes.

For tonight’s proceedings, the creepy quotient should be high, for it’s only a few days before Halloween, and Provan Hall has a distinctive ambience. Imagine you’re Hansel or Gretel, trudging through the tangled forest of your worst nightmares, when you stumble upon a sturdy, ancient house where a sweet old pensioner lives. And – oh joy! – her cooking pot’s on the boil. Must be something yummy for dinner…

Provan Hall has a similar occult energy to that old pensioner’s gaff, though it’s built of sullen stone, not candy.

It’s a squatting toad of a house. Bathed in the clear autumn moonlight, its walls are bone-bland, pockmarked and bled of lustre, like the powdered face of a diseased French aristocrat awaiting Madame Guillotine.

And I’m hunkered down inside that house, along with my new chum, David, another medium called Natasha, plus an assortment of ghost hunters and ghoul groupies, who paid to be here tonight, desperate to be scared witless.

There’s twenty of us in total. Mostly women, with the occasional fear-loving fellow thrown into the mix.

As the night progresses, Natasha also glimpses a demon, which she describes as looking like a “barbequed monkey with not very nice eyes”.

David chimes in, too. “It’s a shape-shifter,” he says. “And it can climb the walls.”

Regrettably, once again I fail to glimpse this demon. Though being partial to anything barbequed, I do start to feel rather peckish.

Luckily the ghost hunters have brought along scrummy cakes in Tupperware boxes, and we all have a hearty munch during a well-earned break. To be honest, I’m not really feeling the creeping sense of unease I experienced the night before, when I arrived early and alone.

It’s hard to get a satisfying shiver snaking down your spine when you’re in the company of a bunch of good-natured, cheerful ghost hunters. We’re all having a grand old time of it, you see, and that’s a bit of a problem.

A gaggle of giggling girls are on one side of me. Hen-night happy, hen-night hysterical. Also, many paying guests are wearing woolly hats topped with pom-poms. I mean, come on, guys! Would Jack Nicholson have been half as terrifying in The Shining if he’d swapped his axe and manic grin for a pom-pom hat?

Yvonne, one of the ghost hunters, explains that there’s nothing wrong with boisterous energy when searching for otherworldly entities. High spirits can persuade other types of spirits to make contact.

Like most of the professionals here tonight, Yvonne declines to allow me to use her surname in print. She doesn’t want daylight acquaintances knowing her night time occupation.

For all that, she’s an earthy sort, with nothing remotely mysterious or ethereal about her personality.

“Shout out to the spirits if you want,” she tells me. “Don’t worry about sounding like a bit of a tool.”

Another ghost hunter, Eva, agrees. “Think of tonight like a party,” she says. “You’ve got to be single and ready to mingle. If you just stand in a corner, quiet and shy, the spirits won’t be energised enough to make contact.”

Chapter 3: Of Witches, Maidens And Dastardly Monks

So our group does its best to encourage ghosts, ghoulies and other ghastlies to get in touch. We’re asked to briskly rub our hands together, to build up energy in the room. We also shout out questions to the invisible spirits surrounding us.

“We are your friends,” says David. “We have as much to learn from you, as you do from us.”

Little rubber balls are placed on the floor. They’re called kitten balls, rather incongruously, and when they are moved, they strobe flashing lights, like 1970s disco balls.

Shouting out questions, we encourage the spirits to answer us by shifting these little balls.

Occasionally a flash of light does spark through the darkness, indicating the balls are on the go. Conclusive evidence ghosts exist? I’m not convinced. Most likely it’s evidence we’re standing in a drafty old house with rickety floorboards, where rubber balls are apt to wobble.

We try a variety of other gizmos and gadgets to get in touch with the other side.

An Ouija board. No luck.

Then a contraption that emits strange screeches and crackles. Voices from the other side or radio interference?

Once again, I’m not persuaded.

A red light is used to illuminate the faces of various members of our group. If those faces morph into something different, it means a spirit is standing in front of that person. And, yes, faces do change. Sort of. Though only because the light teases shadows from the contours of noses, foreheads and mouths.

The two spiritualists in our group spot more uncanny happenings. Ghosts of small children brush past, telling tales of a drowning in a pond. A hanged man swings from a banister. A pentagram on the kitchen flagstones marks the spot where a witch once worshipped. Nearby a wretched maiden was groped by a gang of dastardly monks.

I glimpse none of this, however. Only the mediums see all.

Julia Girdwood, who’s in charge of the evening, tells me events aren’t always dramatic, scary or opinion-shifting when it comes to believing (or not) in ghosts.

“We don’t fake anything,” she says. “Which means the nights vary. People sometimes come away a bit disappointed when things are quiet. Or they have a genuine uncanny experience.”

Speaking of which, did I come to believe, at night’s end, that Provan Hall is haunted?

I’m afraid that, although I enjoyed the evening (and cake), I left forming a conclusion familiar to many a courthouse jury. Spooks in the house? Verdict: Not Provan.