Hop-tu-Naa is the spookiest time of the year with the 31st day marking All Hallows Eve – a date which honours the deceased and those who have passed onto the next world. It’s a period tinged with mystery and eeriness where ghost stories like to take centre stage. Whether it’s tales you’ve heard from your local pub, or the bedtime fables handed down from your grandmother, these are the types of stories that keep you awake.
Yet, where do they come from? Islandlife’s Tia Welsh spoke to the Director of Isle of Man Ghost Tours Alan Shaw to learn more.
The Island’s rich heritage and ancient history makes it an ideal location for telling supernatural encounters and tales, the ghost tour founder told us. Indeed, it comes as no surprise how the art of telling ghost stories existed long before Isle of Man Ghost tours was launched back in 2000.
“Each area on the Island is different and gains a unique theme,” Shaw says. “Castletown is purely ghost story telling because of its heritage as the ancient capital, and its landscape helps to form the basis for our classic ghost stories. Peel is more myth and legend as you can imagine with the Moddey Dhoo tale being popular. In Douglas, we focus on the older buildings such as the old Noble’s Hospital and the Gaiety Theatre that are known to have personal sightings of ghosts. But, in Ramsey it’s more of a mish mash of ghost stories before anything else.”
The switch from English to Manx ghost stories certainly surprised the performer and fellow ghost hunter with tales of unusual apparitions more than often slipped through the cheeks and lips of local butchers, bakers and candlestick makers before being passed onto each generation. In his eyes “The Island offers a lot more personal ghost stories associated with people’s family and houses which tend to stay in your mind for many years. In comparison, English ghost stories lack that personal aspect because as people move away, the tales become more diluted and forgotten about.”
Shaw’s love for storytelling stems from the age of eight, following a school trip to Lancaster Castle. “I used to live in Morecambe [Lancashire],” he explains. “During our visit we got to learn about the Pendell Witch trials and even got to visit the places where they were imprisoned and executed. The tour guide told us about a young girl whose spirit was said to haunt the castle, after she was taken to the gallows in a wooden chair because she was too weak. The wooden chair was built small enough that it could fall the trapdoor. Since then I’ve been hooked.’
Shaw also revealed how, during his research, he discovered ghost stories originated from the Victorian era. “Parents would take their children to bed and recount an eerie tale in the evening, before blowing out the candle. Everyone thinks that the 31st October is the prime time for telling ghost stories, when in fact the traditional night is Christmas Eve.” And Charles Dickens’ classic novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ is no exception, which is continually honoured in the 21st century.
The business director has continued to pursue his passion for the supernatural, recounting story classics such as ‘The Woman in Black’ or ‘The Lady in White’ to local audiences. Yet, it was a short trip to York that encouraged Shaw to set up ‘Isle of Man Ghost Tours’. The tours cover all areas of the Island from Castle Rushen and the Gaiety Theatre, to Milntown House – a place where Shaw himself encountered a first-hand experience with a ghost called ‘The Man in Black’ who is said to haunt the servants staircase.
“It was rather exciting!” he admits, unfazed by the recollection. “I wasn’t scared at all - as a ghost hunter it’s what you’re there to do.” Alongside the family business, Shaw also dabbles ghost hunting and runs a group session designed to unearth supernatural activity.
Whilst the majority of the ghost stories have been retained from the archives of Manx National Heritage, some do originate from first-hand personal experiences. “You can tell whether the person is being genuine or not just by speaking and listening to them,” Shaw explains, “Their facial expressions and body language says it all.”
And the art of telling a good ghost story? “It’s got to come from the heart. You’ve got to keep people’s attention and keep them listening, especially when you’re walking around the street for 2 hrs and it might be cold. You’ve got to research the story properly and only tell what you need.”
Whilst the traditional method of sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories remains buried in many childhood memories, it seems that walking ghost tours could help us confront our own fears!