It was the geography of where we lived that drove us to the curious world of ghost hunting. We were always so bored of where we lived that we decided to seek out new thrills. Devon is a county rich in folklore and tales of the supernatural, and so this seemed the perfect course of action for us.
I should elaborate slightly at this point. My friends and I lived in a quiet, rural country village called Kentisbeare, at the foot of the Blackdown hills. As pretty and picturesque as this place was, it was no place for a group of five eighteen year old men to find themselves. One shop, one pub (from which we were all barred) and miles and miles of beautiful green nothingness. It was little wonder that our thirst for adventure and new experiences (something very novel in this tired corner of England) drove us to dabble in things that should probably remain un-dabbled.
We had recently decided never to return to a previous spot called Ashclyst Forest. Not for any reasons of the supernatural, oh no. The forest had been visited by us many more times than I care to count and nothing had ever, ever seemed even slightly out of place. Countless stories of murder, betrayal and ancient evil shrouded the woods but this apparently had no effect on the locations spectral relevance. We visited several more spots in the immediate area, old graveyards hidden deep in the Blackdown forest, abandoned cottages and a couple of places supposedly once used to some degree for the black arts. Sacrifices of Animals and even people, witch hunts and occult services etc. all of these proved very disappointing.
The months of never getting so much as an orb took their toll, and eventually we stopped looking all together. That was until we heard about Sandhill.
This place was an asylum, a mental institute. At least, it used to be. It now stood abandoned at the mercy of the elements and the youngsters who had torn the place limb from limb (photos and other information can be found on the internet, just type 'Sandhill Park' into any search engine).
We did a little research before making our way there. I had found out about the place from my brother who had heard about it through his friends in the town closest to Sandhill called Taunton. Apparently it started life as a country retreat for some rich aristocrat, a proud and massive estate. It was then used as a Prisoner of war camp during WW1 and then was turned into an asylum. It was put out of service in the 80's to be used as a museum. The directors of said museum upped sticks and left just one year after their arrival. Several companies have taken over since then but none have stayed there very long at all.
We set off at about 11 o'clock one evening. We were all a little nervous due to human factors i.e., security and local trouble-makers who often prowled around the estate, but all-in-all we were just excited at the prospect of visiting a place recognized as being actually haunted.
It took us three hours to find the place. Sandhill Park wasn't recognized on any map we had, so basically it was a case of constantly stopping for directions and this was our first clue that something wasn't right. Many of the people we asked warned us about the place. Some said it was evil and we were suicidal for stepping foot there. That if we were looking for the devil then Sandhill Park was the place to look. Others simply turned around and walked away, appearing friendly and eager to help at first but then becoming rigid at the mention of our destination. We thought this weird, but not so weird we would abandon our adventure.
We had to ditch the car in a housing estate and walked about a mile up a steep, muddy track through very dense woods to get to the house. This made us all feel very uneasy. For the first time on our long journey, we all fell silent. I had a feeling that I was not the only one who felt as though we were being watched by something up ahead, mainly because one of the guys kept stopping every hundred yards or so and staring into the pitch black nothingness.
After ten minutes or so, my torch light caught something reflective and I suddenly became aware of a row of very old looking street lanterns stretching up the left side of the path. The reflection was a sign reading "Welcome to Sandhill Park, home of The Blazers" (the Blazers were the people who ran the museum. it was a museum commemorating the fire service). We had arrived.
As we walked past the sign and caught our first glimpse of the mansion, we all stopped dead. A cold chill ran through me as I saw the towering silhouette of the main building before us. It was a three story monster.
We walked forward very slowly, all watching our feet step through the undergrowth and across the uneven stone path toward the front entrance, and it was heavily boarded up. Every window was barred; a remnant from its prison days, and CCTV littered the whole building.
After taking a photo of us all on the front porch between the two looming pillars, we scouted round the house. Graffiti sprawled the whole way round reading unnerving promises like 'YOU ARE BEING WATCHED!' and 'LEAVE WHILE YOU CAN! THIS PLACE IS EVIL!' We should have listened really.
There are six buildings in the estate, each one more dilapidated than the last. After quickly doing the rounds and checking them all out, we decided the second building (after the main house, to which entry was impossible) would be where we explored for fear that the other four would collapse in on us. The house looked like an old mid-western train station. An annex in the middle with two wings stretching to either side and the whole thing was made of white-washed wood, although to be fair there was very little white left. Years of rain and neglect had turned the whole structure a horrible greenish-brown.
Everyone commented on how creepy it looked and in particular, how odd it was that there was a very old looking bicycle hanging from a first floor window. We tried not to let the universal feeling of unease get the better of us and made our way inside.
We found ourselves standing in a massive room. It looked like an old hospital ward, pediatrics probably judging by the murals of Mickey Mouse and other cartoons around the walls. This didn't sit right with me, something about the ghosts of children just seem all the more horrific you know? Anyway I digress. We searched around the room, rooting through debris for interesting artifacts and taking a few pictures when we decided to move on. We stepped through the large double doors that took us into a corridor that spanned the entire length of the building. There were about six sets of doors throughout, each one lying wide open and a couple pulled off there hinges. The windows along the length created streams of blue, dusty light at intervals along the hallway. I remember feeling trapped in there. I didn't feel the normal rush of a hyped-up man child tiptoeing round some forest or an old barn house, I felt imprisoned. I was really starting to believe the rumours surrounding this place and I knew that we were not the only souls creeping through the shadows.
We decided at this point that in order to conduct a thorough search, we would need to split up. Me and my friend took the left wing, and the other three took the right, we would meet up outside in half an hour. As we walked, very slowly down the old corridor, we flashed our torches in every single room we passed. Most were empty apart from a few smashed up cabinets or radiators pulled off the walls. One particular room however caught my attention. This room was still recognizable as a hospital room. My thoughts turned to the previous owner of the shabby, half-burned bed in the middle of the room. I envisioned a person tied and bound in a straitjacket, screaming and wailing for their freedom. Trying to throw themselves off the bed but thwarted by the belts across there chest. I felt sick and had to leave. We turned round and walked out of the room with the intention of continuing up the corridor but something had other plans for us.
As we left the room, my friend shone his torch down the direction we had come from. The other half of our group had made their way upstairs by now as we could hear them thumping and talking above us. Something was there though. Through the dust kicked up by our own heels and the darkness, we both saw a person walking towards us.
The figure was nothing more than a hazy silhouette. It was about two doors away (about 50 feet maybe) and walking in a way that scared me the most, other than its sheer size, it stood about seven feet tall and almost touched the ceiling. It didn't really walk in any way we would know of. It jerked and twitched its way down the hallway, flailing its arms and legs, as if it were a grotesque puppet. We both stood, petrified to the spot as we tried to make sense of what was happening. After a few seconds I noticed it wasn't silent any more. It was moving very slowly and was making a jabbering sort of noise. It sounded like the insane babbling of a mentally-anguished man, the sound of this thing was horrific, unearthly by all measures. As it walked passed a window frame it kicked it out of the way in an all too realistic manner, that's when we decided to run.
Seeing as how the only exit from the building from where we were was past the puppet man, we took the obvious recourse and ran upstairs, hoping to find the others. We got to the top and didn't stop running until we realized we were lost. We were in a pitch black room that seemed to be infinitely large. Our torch lights didn't span from one side to the other due to a thick haze of dust in the air, and everything was freezing cold. My friend was starting to really panic. He was on the verge of tears and kept begging me to leave. I wanted to more than anything, but I couldn't. We seemed to have come to a dead-end, and on top of that I realized I could no longer hear the other three.
We walked back the way we came, quietly whispering the names of our lost companions when we heard an awful creaking and snapping noise. It sounded like wood splintering as the house buckled under our feet. It culminated in a huge crash that sent dust billowing down the corridor towards us. We went blind.
At this point there was no consoling us. We had seen the most terrifying entity of our lives, were lost, and were now certain our friends (including the driver) had been crushed to death. The only option, it seemed, was to make a leap of faith from the first floor window. The drop was only a few meters high but we didn't know that at the time, it was too dark. I smashed the window with my torch, and dived out. My friend did not follow until he had my assurances that it was safe. A dull thud as he hit the ground next to me.
We walked around the building in search of our friends, noting that the whole estate seemed to be under a thin cloud of dust. Our worst feelings were realized when we reached the right wing.
The entire roof was lying upside down in front of the building, and the front-facing wall had caved in. with, we thought, our friends still inside. My accomplice started crying and shouting about how we should never have come when we both heard the same thing. A woman crying...it was coming from the house. From one of the rooms exposed by the collapsed wall we saw something plummet and land in the rubble with a crash. It looked like a person. I ran over to see who it was only to find a jacket where there should have been a body. My mind was going a million miles an hour. I was terrified for my life and that of my friends but I couldn't leave. Not without them.
We edged our way back into the large room and into the hallway. The figure from before was gone so we walked through the right wing. We realized that the only damage was really to the roof and the front wall. Unless they were in the attic, they should have been fine. That was when we heard it again. The sickening babble of that thing from before, this time though it was in one of the rooms. We decided to start calling out for them. Why we didn't do that in the first place escapes me but we had to make more noise than the puppet man for our own sanity. After a couple of times shouting their names we heard someone shouting back. The voice told us to come outside. We ran down the corridor, through the large room and out the building to find our three friends sitting on a wall staring back at us. My heart rose and I felt like hugging them all but celebration was short lived.
Just as we met and started talking and laughing, we all heard the same noise. A fast, rhythmic clicking sound. It was coming from an alley behind the house. Then a bell. Ringing over and over again. I looked up at the first floor and swallowed hard. 'Guys?' I said timidly, 'where did that old bike go?' my question was immediately answered.
The very same old rusted bike that was hanging from the building was now being pushed by an unseen force round the corner, and up the path towards us. None of us could speak or even move. The bike got within about ten feet when it was thrown violently at us at head-level. It seemed to collide with at least two of the guys but to be honest, we didn't stay to find out. We ran faster than we had ever run before up the courtyard, past the main building and towards the path leading to the car. Shattered glass, heavy undergrowth and uneven stone paths made a quick exit from Sandhill pretty much impossible but we did manage. None of us stopped or spoke a word until we were locked in the car under the street lights of the estate we parked in. a quick head count and we were off. One of the guys had a black eye and another a deep cut in his eyebrow where the bike made contact. We decided it best to blame these injuries on falling over when the house collapsed, telling people what happened would mean re-living it, and none of us wanted that...
Sooner or later we all got over what happened that night. We didn't really speak much about it; a couple of us tried to piece together what might have happened. What had we seen in the corridor? Who was the woman crying? Was that her jacket? How did half the house collapse?
It turns out that the other three had heard the same noise we heard when they were upstairs and they decided to leave. They ran out the back when they heard the creaking right above them and escaped unscathed. They had tried to find us but didn't want to go back in the building. Good to know the caring was mutual...
Anyway this is the first time I've told anyone the full story. I've run it over with my brother and such but I had to omit the bike part, and the puppet man...it sounds pretty crazy I think we can agree... many, many questions were created that night. Questions that will forever stay unanswered by us guys anyway. Two questions were however answered quite spectacularly. Do ghosts exist? Without a doubt. And will we ever return to Sandhill Park? Not on your life.