REPORTERS Ollie McAteer and Bill Gardner took to Clapham Woods to meet Ian Anderson - a fearless ghost hunter who specialises in antagonising spirits.
SCARED. Scared is an understatement. I am absolutely petrified.
There’s no excuse yet, the night hasn’t begun, and it’s not even dark. But the sun is sinking fast over Arundel, and is now a menacing orange smear, loitering on the skyline.
I want to go home.
The dense Clapham Woods looms ahead of us. A slim, dusty path gives way to hulking canopy which spills over the entrance in a sinister bid to cage its notorious mystery.
For years it’s rumoured to be the scene of unusual events, including ghost and UFO encounters, animal disappearances, satanic cult activity, and several human deaths.
Paranormal entities are said to dominate this ancient land, and that’s exactly what we’re here to find.
Now it’s dark. The setting an evil fantasy. It’s time. The night will begin in a graveyard, of course, where else?
“They smell fear, don’t let them know you’re scared,” said Ian, a paranormalist from the Horsham-based group White Mist. Great. That certainly didn’t help. “You remembered not to wear perfume as well, didn’t you? Because they’ll latch onto you if you have,” he continued.
It’s 8.00pm, five of us huddle outside St Mary the Virgin Church, supposedly the home of Reverend Red – a ghost cat with the face of a human – but that’s another story.
“We’ll be looking for a bit of everything tonight; witches, orbs, spirits, good and bad ones...” He reels them off as if reading aloud his weekly shopping list, “and I want to antagonise them, to get a reaction.”
“I take photos throughout the night to capture mist and orbs. Now, when it comes to orbs, different colours have different meanings, but the important ones are orange – which means warning, and red – evil.”
The cemetery soon becomes a scene of photographic lightening as the three investigators attempt to contact the dead.
FLASH. Ian snaps at the stain-glass window hidden in the back of the church. “Yep,” he nods convincingly at the photo, “look, there’s a face in that window, and he’s staring straight at you, Ollie.”
Is he having me on? Apparently not, because the psychic Carlene later tells me I’m being followed by a cloaked figure as I make my way over the stiles and into the woods.
But she’s been seeing things for a while now, spirits which are hidden in the bushes, watching us as we pass. An elderly woman wearing a long white dress and a veil is said to be with us as well.
“Doesn’t seeing the dead scare you?” asked Bill, the reporter who’s putting me to shame with his composure. “No,” she replied, “I’m used to it by now.”
We trudge deeper into the unknown. I’ve seen this a thousand times before in the movies: kids lark about with a video camera when – out of the blue – they are slowly picked off, one by one. And very suddenly another swell of fear consumes me.
“Come on witches, where are you, where are you?” Ian chants as he leads the group with confident strides, “please do something to one of us men spirits, if you want to be known please let us know, push us, let your photo be taken.”
We walk out of a heavy cold patch and into a small opening – my car is worryingly distant now – when Ian’s eyes bulge wide. Snapping is heard from the undergrowth around us.
“They’re here,” whispered Michael, the other paranormalist.
Ian hurls a torrent of abuse into the night: “You’re here now aren’t you. Come out! Or are you too soft?” Noises fall silent and he pauses, before bawling: “Are you scared? Because I’m not!”
The ghost hunt has just become very real.
When we left I couldn’t go home to an empty house. I sat in a pub and thought about how long it would take me to get over the experience. Longer than I thought, because I couldn’t begin to write this without drawing the curtains first, just to make sure I wasn’t being watched.