I walked slowly along the muddy path, clutching a simple metal case in one hand and tripod in the other. A chill wind whipped across the flat Lincolnshire fields, making the scene bleak and forbidding. A hundred yards in front of me stood the abandoned church of St. Botolphs.
I pondered on the location of the building as I approached. Set amongst a small copse of trees and surrounded by ploughed fields, the walled churchyard is unusually isolated, being a mile or so from the tiny hamlet of Skidbrooke in an area of flat marshland.
As with many other paranormal investigators, I have a deep-seated interest in history and appreciation of historical buildings. Before arriving, I had made some simple notes about the location:
‘13th Century church. Declared redundant 1973. Limestone – stone tape? Large nave. Buttressed tower. Ghost of monk reported. Lights reported. Audible phenomena.’
Nothing too detailed. I don’t search for names of priests long-past or other similar information pertinent to a location. The reason is simple. If I was to capture any EVP’s using voice recorders, I don’t want to misinterpret natural atmospheric noises such as the scraping of my own feet in an echoey building as the voice or name of someone I had previous knowledge of and half-expected to hear. Psychology, and not the paranormal, is much to blame for a lot of reported activity and misinterpreted as ‘evidence’.
Going through the wooden gate that marks the entrance to the churchyard, I couldn’t help but look around at the treetops around me. I recalled a fellow investigator a few months previous telling me about the church:
“People have reported seeing red eyes. Watching you from the trees as you enter. The eyes of demons.”
Demons! Bloody demons. Confined to paranormal shows in the US is my opinion on them. Nope. No demons here, I thought with a smile, looking for those elusive red eyes.
Following the stone path that led into the church itself, I noticed someone had recently daubed graffiti to the left of the entrance to the church. ‘Come in’, it read. I shook my head. I hate graffiti. Abandoned or not, the church deserved more respect than that. Being under the care of Churches Conservation Trust, and officially classed as redundant, the building is open to the public with no doors at any entrance and only the vaguest traces of stained glass in a few of the windows.
Sadly, due to its easy access and isolated position, the once beautiful village church of St. Botolphs has suffered greatly from vandalism over the years. I noticed that somebody had tried in vain to tear up the beautiful medieval floor tiles inside the church itself, smashed the remains of stone tomb slabs on the floor and walls and, dotted around the floor too, the remains of small fires. Thankfully, the beautiful wooden interior roof was largely intact and in good condition.
Vandalism was unfortunately only some of what this church had suffered over the years. After it was deemed as redundant by the Church, it was widely reported in the 1970’s and 1980’s, that satanic groups had begun using the confines of the church to carry out their practices. Sacrificial rituals were carried out with remains of animals found inside the building and paint was found daubed across the stone pillars. With the regular use by satanic groups, St. Botolphs began to build a reputation for itself as somewhere haunted. A location where the satanic rituals had opened a portal to allow demonic entities to dwell inside the building itself. Or so people would have you believe. St. Botolphs Church has now gained labels such as ‘The Demon Church’ and ‘The most haunted site in Lincolnshire’.
I have never given much stock to such tales, preferring instead to investigate such claims for myself, searching for evidence of the paranormal without any sensationalism. With such a reputation, St. Botolphs church is regularly visited by paranormal groups and curious members of the public alike. I looked around for the so-called evidence of satanism. I found a large number of scratch marks in the stone pillars. Medieval graffiti or evidence of satanic worship I couldn’t be sure.
I quickly set up my equipment; a video camcorder, two Tascam voice recorders at opposite ends of the church and my trusty notebook. I work light. I long got rid of pseudo-scientific equipment, much beloved of many an investigator, such as the K2 EMF meter and SB7 spirit box. This is because I don’t hold much stock in anything which is open to elements such as radio interference or natural EMF levels. To filter these out, thereby proving that the evidence collected is paranormal, in nigh-on impossible in my opinion.
Less than 10 minutes in, I was interrupted by local dog-walkers. Grabbing the opportunity to speak to witnesses, I asked about the stories linked to the church. No, they had never seen or heard anything paranormal. Having said that however, they don’t walk the dogs here at night “due to the people that turn up.”
“People like me you mean?” I enquired with a smile.
“No. Not ghost hunters. We get guys like you all the time. The other lot in the cloaks. They show up, light fires and kill birds and chickens. We find their remains the next day.”
“You mean satanic groups? I thought they stopped rituals here years ago?” I was genuinely shocked.
“No. They still come here.”
Well that answers that question I thought. Satanic groups were still active in St. Botolphs. That would certainly account for the reports of lights emanating from the building late at night. Then again, torchlight from interested locals, dog-walkers, paranormal investigators etc could also be to blame. With such easy access to the building, I made a mental note to dismiss the accounts of reported lights from the church.
Over the next few hours, other than the occasional bat, little stirred within the church. Investigating the paranormal properly, in truth, would make for terrible TV. Hour upon hour of nothing at all. That is the reality. I tried to keep my movements to a minimum so as not to cause undue noise.
Suddenly, I saw torchlight and movement coming along the path towards the church. I looked outside and saw a number of cars had parked up. Shit. A satanic group? Surely not. That would definitely be a first. I had images of hooded figures, offering me up to Beelzebub himself. At that moment, a large group of teenagers burst into the church, laughing and joking, frightening their girlfriends with tales of ghosts. A few yelped as they saw me standing in the shadows. They were obviously not expecting anyone to be there.
Other than slight annoyance at being interrupted, my first thought when investigating alone is for my equipment. They could quite easily have taken a fancy to my camcorder and driven off. As it turned out, the teenagers were lovely; chatting enthusiastically about their interest in the paranormal and how they would drive to different locations during the night. Old RAF bases, abandoned mansions and such like. The group began to wander the site, occasionally throwing a few stones from the graveyard to scare those inside. After a further twenty minutes or so, the group began to make their way back to their cars, wishing me well for the investigation and headed off into the night.
Suddenly, a series of loud, sharp bangs rang out. Two sharp retorts of stone being struck and then a third bang, harder and with much greater force. Bloody kids, I thought. They must still be about. Grabbing my torch, I searched for the jokers who were still trying to frighten me. Nothing. The cars had gone. The air now still. No sounds of laughter, footsteps or shrieking girlfriends. That must have been kids, I thought. Something was thrown at the building. Something with weight and force. The questions started going round my head. I was in full debunk mode. I was puzzled. There was no sign of anyone other than myself. Okay, no other people around. Was it the building itself? I searched the grounds. No signs of broken brickwork or loose masonry. On the inside, no signs either of loose or falling building materials. I searched again, shining my torch on the main tower. As solid as before.
In my head, I could virtually hear the voice of Zak Bagans. He was talking about three knocks, ‘an insult to the Holy Trinity’. Demons? Come off it I thought, with a wry smile. The questions were still going round in my head. Was it paranormal? Was it natural? Much more likely to be natural, I thought. So what caused it? The air was now still. No high winds to dislodge any loose brickwork. Had the teenagers loosened anything while wandering about? Possibly. But three distinct bangs? One maybe. But three? Had something fallen and was banging along the roof as it fell? I played my voice recorder back. There it was. Stone on stone. And that last bang? If something HAD fallen, surely the first bang would be the loudest, becoming quieter as it slowed. Not louder. Not with that much force.
There was something else that crept into my head. Something doesn’t want you here. Bugger off, I thought. That’s why I’m here. I stayed for a further 3 hours. Nothing. The still night air filled the church once more. With no further activity, I called it a night and made my way home, my head still trying to make sense of the sounds that I had heard.
Had I witnessed something paranormal that night? Who can say? It is worth remembering that just because you cannot account for a noise, however unusual, does not mean it is paranormal. It is simply unexplained. However, it is nights like that that keep me going back for more. When you are filled with more questions than answers. When, after all the debunking, you are still left unsure about what it is you witnessed. As any investigator will tell you, for the vast majority of time, nothing happens. When you rely on capturing evidence, whether that’s audible or visual evidence, without any other flashy gadgets or gizmos so often used on television reality shows, quite often you will be left disappointed. But….every so often, even a skeptic like myself can be left puzzled by evidence that might be witnessed or collected. That is when things get really interesting. That is why the paranormal continues to fascinate and why I shall continue to seek its existence.