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It would be a toss-up as to which attracts the greater collection of phantoms, the mountains or the sea. Tale upon tale is told of ghostly galleons sailing with or without their skeleton crews, and persistent if insubstantial sailors and fishermen walk the wharfs, jump out of holds or bob around on life rafts, vanishing at the moment of rescue. Seamen are notoriously superstitious. "You want to know what a ghost sounds like?" asked a grizzled old captain of Nova Scotia's folklorist, Helen Creighton. "It sounds like somethin' knockin' on nawthin'."
At the Jamaica Inn in Cornwall, made famous by Daphne du Maurier in the novel of the same name, the lone figure of a sailor dressed in old-fashioned seamen's clothes has been reported by puzzled tourists. The sailor sits on the low wall outside the inn, never speaking or moving. The ghost's historian has tracked him back to a sailor who, at the end of the 18th century, got off one of the mail packet boats putting in at Falmouth and stopped at Mary's Bar for a drink. Called out of the bar, he put his half-finished pot of ale on the table and went out into the cobbled yard. In the morning he was found dead on the moor, his money gone.
"Many times," writes Jack Hallam in a book called The Haunted Inns of England , "the lonely sailor has been back to finish that drink, his ghostly footsteps stomping along the passage that leads to the bar, or moving about upstairs." What, then, is he waiting for on the wall outside the inn? One can only speculate that, with England's peculiar licensing hours, the thirsty sailor waits patiently, like most Englishmen, for the bar to open.
At The Belper Arms in Leicestershire, which will give you bed and breakfast, if you dare, resides one of the liveliest ghosts on record. For years the locals have called him Five-to-Four Fred, for that is when he arrives, unseen but indubitably there.
Fred is quite a sport, always out to "cop a feel," as the saying goes, and he gives ladies' faces a soft, affectionate caress as he passes. It ought to make up, but doesn't, for the sudden drop in temperature that occurs in spite of a room made warm by a blazing fire. As time goes on, Fred gets fresher, and at least one cleaning lady quit when an invisible hand slapped her across the fanny. Though Fred obviously loves the ladies, men are anathema. Minding their own business over a pint, they suddenly feel cold, clammy hands pressed over nose and mouth in an apparent effort to suffocate them.
For ghost-conscious tourists, Jack Hallam, the level-headed picture editor of London's respected Sunday Times when he is not tracking down phantoms, has published an official Ghost Tour—with a map and explicit directions on how to get to any haunted site the length and breadth of England. Bone for bone, Britain probably rattles in with more documented ghosts than any other country. With good reason: the English have been documenting spirits back to Shakespeare and beyond. Other countries have ghosts of song and legend but, as with so many tales, they lose a bit in translation. The Jews have the dybbuk, really more demon than ghost—and surely Swedish or Slavic spooks abound. It's just that language barriers make these ghost stories harder to come by.
The Cheltenham racecourse at Prestbury is said to be haunted by a former Cheltenham trainer named Old Moses, and the ghost of the once-celebrated jockey Fred Archer has been reported a number of times at Newmarket, scene of his many triumphs, mounted on his favorite gray. Archer, in a moment of despair, took his own life. Since then his ghost is said to be responsible for unexplained mishaps during races when horses swerve or stumble for no apparent reason. Two ladies leaving the track some years ago said they saw a strange-looking jockey riding toward them and later identified him as Archer from a portrait hanging in the clubhouse.
At Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, a motorcycle racer named Percy Lambert was thrown to his death when a tire burst in the course of a competition. An earlier cyclist named Herman had crashed fatally on the same track about 1907, and now when night-shift workers in the area report seeing a misty figure in racing cap and goggles, they assume it is Lambert—unaware that it might be Herman, who, after all, has seniority.
Ghostlore is literally crammed with stories of animals, with and without heads, who have returned to stalk us. There are dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and one talking mongoose on the Isle of Man. The working horse pulls coaches, often with spectral hounds in its wake, and steeplechasers still frolic and jump on moonlit nights, as does Kruger, it is said, a horse killed going over a jump in 1909 at the Hawthorn Hill course.
Football players, baseball players and tennis stars, once achieving the quiet of the grave, seem to stay there. No spirit of the links has been seen out there still trying to make that putt, but a lady ghost is said to be spotted from time to time gliding around the Upminster Golf Club in Essex. When the clubhouse was torn apart for reconstruction some years back, the skeleton of a lady, who for all anyone knows may have been the first golf widow, was found walled up in the building. Lane 17 of the Ambassador Bowling Club, also in Essex, was closed for a while when customers complained that an unseen hand was throwing balls down the lane, and at Chichester, a poltergeist who haunts the castle once threw a cricket bat into the pub.