I grew up in Bedfordshire and have pretty much lived in the county all my life. During this time, one place has captured my imagination more than any other – Clophill. So much so that this village is the setting for the young adult novel I am currently writing.
Clophill is just off the A6, the Flying Horse pub on the corner marking the entrance to the village. The village is adjacent to a site called Dead Man’s Hill on the A6, and in a layby not far from the village was the spot of the notorious Hanratty murder.
This isn’t the only sinister connotation for Clophill though. Teenagers love to share ghost stories and go to supposedly haunted placed and I was no different. But one place was always mentioned in these tales, the old church at Clophill. There are so many rumours about this place, most are untrue and some are still unexplained.
The old church is completely hidden. It is at the top of a narrow path, just wide enough for one car, at the top of a hill on the Greensand Ridge. It’s easy to miss the entrance when you are either walking or driving – so you’re unlikely to find it unless someone shows you. It is rumoured that the village settlement was once at the top of the hill but after the Black Death the village settled downhill and eventually a new church was built. The old church was maintained for some time and was used as a mortuary chapel. But when it became too costly it was left to ruin gracefully.
The site has a long history dating back to at least 850AD when there was a leper colony. The first church appeared around 1100AD but it is likely there were places of worship at this site earlier than this and that sacrifices would have been carried out there.
There are a whole host of rumours – the church is the wrong way wrong and faces West not East and is therefore a satanic church. It is commonly said that the church is on Dead Man’s Hill but this is wrong – Dead Man’s Hill is further West. There is a gravestone that can predict the date of your death. The site is supposed to be haunted with people saying they have seen spirits at the top of the tower – where there is no floor.
These rumours must have gone into overdrive in the 60’s when graves were disturbed – bones were unearthed, and signs were left that indicated people had tried to carry out black magic rituals. As a result all the headstones were moved to the edge of the site which looks odd in itself. The site has since attracted gangs of teenagers, ghost hunters and on Halloween police used to have to visit to keep gangs away.
I have visited the site a couple of times and the atmosphere is creepy. It feels cold and there is a sense of evil. Of course, that is probably my overactive imagination and a result of me listening to the rumours over the years. Still most people think it has an unusual feeling. It doesn’t help that the site feels so isolated and cut off from the village. The old church is set to be redeveloped into a lodge for hikers and walkers of the Greensand Ridge. This is a very normal end to a site with such a macabre history. I wouldn’t want to spend the night there…
Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors. And around 2002, I was lucky enough to meet him. I was editing the newsletter for the British Fantasy Society at the time and the opportunity arose to interview him on his UK tour to promote Coraline. It was his first venture into children’s fiction, and I still have the signed hard copy of my bookshelf at home dedicated to my daughter who at that time was only 2.
Gaiman was already well established by this time and had done much to bring dark fantasy fiction to the masses through the Sandman graphic novel series, Neverwhere, and the New York Times bestseller American Gods.
Coraline in typical Gaiman style has a dark macabre streak running through it, no less diluted for being aimed at children. The story follows Coraline who stumbles into another world just like her own but slightly different. The black cat can speak, her parents aren’t too busy to spend time with her, and they look just like her parents except they have buttons for eyes.
This story is a perfect spooky read for older children but the ‘Other Mother’ works on a deeper level too – staying at the edge of your memory along with those other nightmares you’ve pushed aside.
Black Scrying Mirrors, also known as ‘magic mirrors’ are made of black obsidian. Obsidian is a natural form of volcanic glass and can be polished to a very high standard. Its perfect deep blank and flawless consistency makes it is perfect for ‘scrying’, a type of divination that involves gazing into a blank surface. Black mirrors are supposedly much more effective for scrying than a normal mirror.
Scrying comes from the English word ‘descry’ which means ‘to succeed in discerning’ or ‘to make out dimly’. Ink, blood and other dark liquids were used by Egyptian scryers.
Nostradamus scryed with a bowl of water set upon a brass tripod. The inside of the bowl was painted black. He would dip a wand into the water and anoint himself with a few drops, then gaze into the bowl until he saw visions.