The phantoms of Arlington Court and Widecombe on the Moor!

12 03 2010

In the Summer of 2008, torrential rain all day sent hundreds of holidaymakers scuttling into the National Trust House of Arlington Court (between Lynton and Barnstaple in Devon) – including my husband and myself – and despite its grandness we were delighted to feel the House has a homely and happy feel to it.   Knowing nothing of its history works best for me, so we bypassed any Guide Books and just found our own ground.  The first room we came to was the opulent Morning Room and as I stood gazing out of the front-facing window and  into the stately grounds I took myself back to another time.  Strangely, I felt myself inhabiting the body of a heavyweight gent with double chins, who suffered from gout!  To my left (and his!) a young woman, elegant in a long crinoline gown, offered up a very pale wrist to me and I/He greeted her warmly….”Caroline!  Lady Caroline!”   In the next instance I was me again, feeling privileged to have shared a moment in another time, and whispered my experience to Michael…

He couldn’t resist asking the next National Trust volunteer we saw whether anyone of that name resided there.  She said this woman would have been the first owner of the House (and I went all weak at the knees!) and pointed out one portrait among many, who was the woman whose hand I had held in ‘my own’!  I scuttled off to find a quiet place to dowse, checking to check this lady was resting in peace – and found that she had stayed behind after her death and was in need of a ‘gentle hand’ upwards!  Following closely behind was Arthur (smoking a cigar in a vestibule off the main hall), Edward (a well dressed boy who ran in and out of the rooms and up and down the stairs in excitement!) plus a person who flung open a bedroom window and shouted ‘Mama!…We’re going to Paris Mama!’   Suddenly, the newly rested Caroline prostrated herself at my feet and begged me to help Sebastian (there was no need, I reassured her, as I willingly help trapped spirits)  As Sebastian took advantage of the portal of light and passed over I glimpsed a tall boy; the one who flung open the window -and Caroline said he was ‘a visitor, who came with Lupin in a carriage and that Rosemary was his mother’ – so if anyone knows the history of the House perhaps they could do some detective work!  I also came across a Dotty with a feather duster in the same bedroom.  After checking with Lady Caroline whether she knew of any others who needed a lift homewards she led me to Reginald (an under stairs butler) who said politely ‘thank you ma’am! – and as she waved her white handkerchief in gratitude,  another forty-two lost souls were swept from the surrounding area.  A satisfying day of Spirit Rescue, even if I was supposed to be having a holiday!

We stayed in a cottage at Widecombe on the Moor (also Devon) and, exhausted after a day of sight-seeing (and dodging the rainstorms!), we fell gratefully into freshly made beds with crisp white sheets.  Before I could sleep, however,  the phantom of an old woman with a pointed and crotchety face and wearing a ‘sleeping bonnet’ lay where I lay and wouldn’t goShe seemed to think I was in her bed! (the building dated to about 1600!) I gave up and groped for my dowser to persuade her to move over.  No words were exchanged between us, but thankfully a male relative called from the other side and she was off, leaving me the bed to myself!  Over the next few minutes others started to gather, so I suggested that they all assemble ‘so I can do you in one batch, Please!’  (I was so tired)  There was a Dusty Miller character in overalls and covered in flour, and a thin woman who stood back, understandably a little unsure at the ‘spectre’ of a 21st century stranger offering to help her!  I got interesting visuals; snippets of medeival domesticity; someone on a handsome horse, picking his wayalong a muddy lane.  He had a square insignia on his jacket filled in with horizontal and vertical lines to form a grid pattern, with small roundels on each corner.  He spoke one word: sounded like a French accent – ‘choose’.  Was he a General?  I heard ‘du pont’ and Waterloo and ‘scavengers; peasants; starving people begging’ around this horseman’s feet.  ‘ Invasion.  Foggy; weak sun.  Sunrise?  Birds like fieldfare; cowering villagers’….But all moved over safely – and peace at last as I fell into a deep sleep (11.30 pm). 

At 4.47, however,  I awoke suddenly, having been ‘clearing or healing the Landlady’s son’!  I was shown an oven glove with barbed wire across the centre of it, as if to say ‘too hot…don’t go there’ (meaning don’t mention anything to the Landlady?)…I awoke at 6.30 feeling as though I’d worked very very hard all night! 

Of course, I passed all this on to Michael who said ‘did you notice there are quite a few things to do with France in the house?’ (no, I hadn’t)  Michael told me ‘du pont’ means ‘of the bridge’ and it is also a surname.  He said two farmhouses were key locations throughout the Battle of Waterloo.  (Were they occupants of these farmhouses or locals who I had seen begging for provisions/mercy/food?)

I asked Michael about the French connection to this cottage and he said he saw a document on the wall of one of the rooms he peeped into on our way up to the room! At breakfast we noted a French/German dictionery and Michael felt they were well educated people.  (The Battle of Waterloo was Sunday 18th June 1815 in Belgium)  As we waved our goodbyes to the Landlady I couldn’t help but bring the conversation round to her family – and she said he had two sons, one of whom runs a restaurant! (the oven glove)  Of course, I said nothing of the shenanigans of the night!

Judith Kusel

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