Thursday, 30 October 2014

A Little Ghost Story by Wendy J Dunn

This is an extract from an article first published at my long retired Suite101 Tudor England column, many years ago. My little ghost story has since been included in Karina Machado’s lyrical, sensitive,  beautifully written Spirit Sisters: “a collection of true-life encounters with the supernatural based on the first-hand experiences of everyday Australian women from all walks of life”.

On the English freeway up to Scotland there's very likely still a sign all history-seeking tourists should be aware of: Hadrian Wall, it proclaims, that way. Years ago, on a driving tour of England and Scotland, my family went that way, and continued to go that way for a long, long, long time.

Every since reading Rosemary Sutcliff's
The Eagle of the Ninth as a twelve year old, I had daydreamed about visiting Hadrian's Wall. Now visiting England for the first time, I was determined to live that dream. My long-suffering husband, driving off the freeway onto English winding roads, suffered even more when I yelled, every time I saw a crop of stones suggestive of a wall, “Stop!  That’s it!”

One of these stops proved well worth a visit. We discovered a tiny temple of Mithras right in the middle of a farm pasture full of nonchalant sheep, all of them far too used to seeing tourists trespassing over their home to even lift their heads from grazing. The farmer - who kindly showed us the temple – also gave us the right directions to Hadrian's Wall. By then the patience of two of our children had run bone dry. Finally reaching our destination, they opted to stay in the car and listen to music, while our second son, Tim, my husband and I climbed the hill to the remains of a long-ago Roman fortress.

At those Roman ruins, I looked down from the crest of that hill and took in a deep breath. I imagined Roman soldiers, exiled so far from home, also gazing at the view all around, fearing another uprising of the British tribes. It gave me goose bumps. But that wasn't the only thing to give me goose bumps on this trip.

We continued on our way to Scotland where we stopped first at Edinburgh. On our second day in Scotland we went up to 'the Castle.' Perched like a protective eagle over the nest of the city, Edinburgh Castle calls out to all its majestic grandness and invincibility. The castle is so ancient that it appears almost a natural outgrowth of the very rocks forming its foundations.

There's a great deal to see and hear at the Castle, from the various exhibitions, the cannon blast fired at 1:00 p.m.  every day, except for Sunday ( another one of my travel frights) and the tiny but beautiful Saint Margaret's Chapel. Every moment, I was there, I found myself swept away by its history. So maybe that explains what happened to me while on the Castle's organised tour, passing under the portcullis and through the gateway of the Castle.

Have you ever felt like you've stepped into another dimension, as if a veil has been lifted, and you experience something beyond your day-to-day existence? That's how I felt when a woman’s voice began singing, right next to me.

I spent the first moments in great disbelief. Someone must be very brave, I thought, singing their heart out in a group of least twenty people. And rather rude too - because the guide, apparently choosing to ignore this woman’s rudeness – was telling us his spiel about the Castle. But the voice was lovely, the words foreign. French, it suddenly came to me, the song a haunting ballad. Tears came to my eyes, and I turned to the person who had moved me so. As I turned my head to look at the blonde, oblivious woman beside me, the voice just petered away. Pulled back to the time it belonged. Yes, I really believe this to be a ghostly experience. Straight after the event, my first thought was it must somehow be connected to Mary, Queen of Scots - though not her - more likely one of her French female attendants. And I still believe that. Whether you believe me or not is up to you, but - I swear faithfully - it did happen, exactly as I've told you here.

About the author:

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel. Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter – named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne. She gained her Doctorate of Philosophy (Writing) from Swinburne University in 2014. Wendy also tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. 

Visit Wendy's website here:

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