The unnatural history of my country retreat
IT would appear that readers are enjoying tales of ‘the old days’ and my time (28 years man and boy) at Woodhead; almost a local before we moved to the veritable metropolis, which is Padfield, nine years ago next month.
Before taking you off down memory lane again, it may be prudent to make a list of subject matter from my very rich Bleak House seam: a veritable library of every single and intrinsic element of the Irish folk song I know so well after singing them in public for 40 years.
Love and loss, ‘Ride On’; dying, ‘Danny Boy; drinking, ‘Seven Drunken Nights’; wildlife, ‘The Creggan White Hare’; and maybe even ghosts, with the wonderfully evocative ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, when a prospective bride passes away before the wedding.
The picture seen here was taken in the early 80s at the side of the house at Woodhead, a time when the A628 was almost a quiet country road.
To a large degree I have kept quiet - for obvious reasons - about my many experiences with the supernatural, and although I have been quoted worldwide in print and on screen about the infamous Longdendale Lights, my daily encounters with past residents of the Valley were always a blessing, and only once frightening.
It all began on February 15, 1980... we’d only been in the house a few days and I was tidying the courtyard. I remember downing tools several times because of the very unusual garden birds which kept appearing, including common sandpiper, wheatear, ring ouzel and red-legged partridge, not to mention the noisy peregrine falcon high above the house.
What came next, however, was the beginning of the ‘unnatural-history’ of the place.
The house sits in the quarry it was probably built from, and you look upwards towards a small cliff face and the Old Salt Road and St James Chapel.
Out of nowhere came the call of a child’s voice, “Hey Mister, hey Mister”, but when I looked up there was no-one to be seen.
As I carried on sweeping, “Hey Mister, hey Mister!” rang out again, only this time accompanied by giggling.
I assumed it was young children who were shouting over the wall for a game, and then ducking down out of sight, so decided to surprise them.
The next time I ran up the hill, jumped over the wall, and was just about to go ‘Boo!’ when I realised that there was nobody in sight.
There was no car driving off, the fields and church yard were empty, and no sign of the kids along the track which leads up to the quarry.
At the time I do recall getting a chill up the back of my neck, but not as much as when I noticed for the first time that the graveyard was full of children; including a brother and sister who died either side of Christmas Day in the 19th Century.
I will hopefully get the chance to share many more of these memories with you in the coming months, but in the meantime I can at least solve the mystery of 30 dead dung beetles in a crisp packet.
The guilty party was a common shrew which had upcycled the litter as a handy reservoir-side larder.
Your columnist pictured at Woodhead reservoir in the 1980s
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop