The beautiful, warm sunny day today has drawn scores of visitors to Ashdown House and Park. The woods are at their best with rich autumn colours and although the house is open for a final time on Saturday October 31st, the park and estate will remain open all through the winter.
Saturday is, of course, Halloween, and if you are planning to visit I recommend the 4.15pm tour. By then the light will be starting to fade and as you walk through the woods at dusk and see the shadow of the house creeping across the lawns it will be all to easy to believe the stories of hauntings at Ashdown. The wind in the trees and the birds calling in the twilight can sound like the plaintive cries of the child who is said to haunt the woods. The long shadows of the stable hide the beams where a groom is said to have hanged himself in Victorian times.
I've had a number of paranormal experiences in my life but two of the nicest (in the sense that they weren't frightening!) happened to me at Ashdown. They were also two of the most convincing since they were witnessed by other people too, amongst them my ever-sceptical husband!
The first occasion was when we were taking the photograph that appears at the top of this blog, the partial eclipse of the moon one night over the roof of Ashdown House. We were standing on Alfred's Castle, in itself a compellingly atmospheric site. There was no one in the house and no lights were on. All the windows were shuttered. And yet as we stood there watching the full moon rise and the eclipse take a bite out of it, we both thought that we saw the figure of a woman standing in an upstairs window watching us.
The second time that the ghosts of Ashdown past sent a shiver down my spine, we were on a bat walk in the woods at night. About ten of us had gone out to look for bats and listen to their high-pitched calls as they hunted through the woods. We had seen the barn owls as well, hunting their prey along the rides, and as we walked back down the North Avenue the house was ahead of us. Again, there was no one there, no lights on and it was locked up for the night. Yet as we walked towards it we saw a soft golden light like candle or lamplight shining behind the windows of the first floor, and as we all watched, the light moved up the stairs to the next landing and we saw the shadow of a woman. As we drew near the house the light faded away and we were all taken aback to see that again the windows were all closed with the shutters, so how could it have been possible for us to see a light inside?