The Most Haunted Village in Britain

Andy Marshall

Andy Marshall is an award winning architectural photographer who deeply engages with his subject matter. You can discover more of Andy’s work here.

Published

Date (28/10/2016)

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness brings out the explorer in me, and there’s no time better than Halloween to head out and explore the beauty and mystery of the United Kingdom. 

I’d been told that the village of Prestbury in Gloucestershire was the most haunted in the country and so I set about planning a trip to capture the tangible beauty and intangible mystery of such a place. The village is rumoured to have lots of ghostly happenings, but the most intriguing apparition is that of the Black Abbot appearing in numerous locations around the village.

Misty dawn over a copse on the hills beyond the village of Prestbury

LIKE THE LARK

I got up early with the lark, after a fitful night, happy to get into the warmth of the car with a clear road ahead and the anticipation of an adventure to come. I headed towards my destination as a faint glimmer outlined the sublime countryside of Gloucestershire. A wonderful feeling of anticipation as I drove into the suburbs, onto country lanes and then into the ancient village before me. The clues as to its origin within the name itself: Prestbury – Prest deriving from ‘Priest’ and bury from burgh – meaning a fortification. A fortified place where priests resided in medieval times.

The marks were cut into the metalwork and are known as ‘apotropaic marks’ – there to ward off spirits.

After finding the free car park my first destination was the churchyard of St. Mary, which was a hotspot for the sightings of the Black Abbot. Before I arrived at the church I noticed a door with a marked hinge in a gnarled, limestone garden wall nearby. The marks were cut into the metalwork and are known as ‘apotropaic marks’ – there to ward off spirits. ‘A warning of things to come?’ – I thought.

St. Mary’s Church – dawn over the graveyard

THE LIGHT SWELLS

Around the corner the church was silhouetted against the dawn. The morning was still, with dew on the grass. A copse of trees on the hills beyond: diaphanous with the mist and the morning light. Into the graveyard, underneath the orange glow of a tungsten lamp, I’m feeling unusually nervous. Gargoyles are reaching out to a button moon, and a knotted face peers out from a horse chestnut. Next to the church is the Plough Inn where the sound of invisible horses hooves have frozen passers by. I stand and wait and watch. As the light swells into the graveyard gurning carved faces appear in the church walls. I can hear movement and see shadows heading out into the darkness of the ginnels.

an unusual place for the Black Abbot to visit, until you realise that it was built within the grounds of a graveyard for monks.

I decide to follow them and  walk out to another place where the Black Abbot has been seen. On the way I pass the King’s Arms pub where a jockey has been witnessed walking across the road and disappearing half way across. Further down the road my destination: Reform Cottage, an unusual place for the Black Abbot to visit, until you realise that it was built within the grounds of a graveyard for monks. A pumpkin in the window reminds me that the Black Abbot is normally seen around this time of year – especially on All Saint’s Day.

The King’s Arms pub

THE VILLAGE AWAKES

The village is waking up now – the raucous ‘caw’ of the ravens are now replaced by the gentle ‘clip’ clop’ of a horse heading up the lane. The warmth of the rising sun draws me in to exploring the rest of the streets which arc around the church at its centre. I head out to the Burgage which has a delightful array of Georgian brick cottages and timber framed houses. A few hundred years of architectural history in one grand sweep. Heading back up Mill lane, beyond an apple tree swollen with fruit, I see the church tower once again and head up to take a closer look. It’s ancient walls bearing witness to the activities of the village for centuries – the beautiful traceried windows picked out in the raking light against a delightful backdrop of a Cotswold stone roof.

It’s been a wonderful day with the car helping me get into the thick of it and visit such places and the mysteries they embrace.

The village is bustling now – and the spookiness of the church graveyard seems like a distant memory. People are criss crossing God’s acre with intent – but still seem to have time to stop and say hello. It’s been a wonderful day with the car helping me get into the thick of it and visit such places and the mysteries they embrace. Beyond such folklore, full of ghosts and apparitions, the sheer beauty and warmth of this charming English village and its occupants has shone through.

*****

Start planning your next journey into the unknown and explore our range here.

 

WORDS AND PICTURES BY ANDY MARSHALL