GILSLAND Bits & Pieces
Knock, Knock, “Who’s there.”? No Body!
Gilsland Spa Hotel
by Joe Wright
This story is based on the true events that happened to me during my visit to the Gilsland Spa Hotel and subsequent occurrences. Some of the names have been changed as after nearly 40yrs I can’t remember them all anyway! Having done considerable research into the local area and its history I have tried to incorporate these into the story. I have elaborated on some of the minor points of the story and added to them to make it more readable but the main events really did happen. This story has haunted me ever since it happened all those years ago. Nothing like that experience has ever happened to me since (I’m pleased to say!) It’s only since I retired that I have found the time to take up writing about my lifetime experiences. I suppose that it’s better late than never.
In the summer of 1969 I was sent to do a contract at the Gilsland Spa Hotel. My occupation as a ceramic wall and floor tiler often meant that I worked away from home.
I was picked up at my home in Whitley Bay by Ron the firm’s driver and general dogsbody. It was a pleasant drive out into the countryside once we were away from the hustle and bustle of Tyneside. The road system in those days wasn’t like our modern roads. No long dual carriage ways that gets you there in half the time! We drove along the Military road, then on to Chollerford. Taking the road to Greenhead, and then on to Gilsland (If I remember correctly!) Passing through the village we drove up a winding country lane. About half way up the hill was the mineral water spa that gave the hotel its name. The hotel was situated at the top of the hill about a mile from the village. The hotel had been built during the Victorian era when it was popular to take the spa waters which are supposedly very good for your health. I had enjoyed the drive there. Not much had been said on the journey as Ron and I didn’t really get on very well (more about that later!). I just sat back and relaxed, and took in the wonderful countryside views as they went by. Too often I spent my time driving around Tyneside in the hectic rush hour traffic. Even then it was a nightmare at times.
We arrived late in the morning in one of our company’s vans with all the materials needed for the contract. Ron was to stay with me to do the labouring (which didn’t please him or me!) At the reception desk were two pretty young girls. I told them who we were and that we’d come to do some work on the hotel. They’d been informed of our expected arrival and had a key ready for us. I chatted to them for a while until Ron interrupted saying we needed to get a move on. I looked at him and thought to myself “what a miserable old git he was.” I ignored him and carried on chatting for a while longer (just to annoy him). After all I was the one in charge not him. Then one of the young girls handed me the key. They started to giggle as one gave us directions to find the room and then said: “it’s the haunted one.” Everyone laughed (except Ron) as we set off to leave our cases there. Maybe I was laughing then, but all too soon I wouldn’t find it such a laughing matter!
Upstairs were four long corridors set out in a square, with rooms on both sides of each corridor. The hotel was old and the floors creaked as you walked along the corridors. The place was huge, 100 bedrooms the young receptionist had told me. Our room was on the 2nd floor and was quite large with two single beds in it. A large window overlooked the roof of the ground floor function rooms. Above that were the inner walls of the hotel. Not much of a view I thought to myself. I took the bed near the window and Ron took the one on the far side of the room. Looking out of the window I wished we had been given a room on the outside of the building. Being so high on the hill the views over the moors and hills would
be spectacular. I supposed the paying guests would be in the best rooms. After all we were only the hired help.
After unpacking we went to the hotel manager’s office as we had been instructed to do. He seemed a very amiable sort of person. As we entered his office he stood up from his desk, came over to us and shook our hands vigorously as if we were long lost friends. He asked if we had a pleasant journey, chatted for a while and then told us to go and have lunch in the staff canteen before starting work. I had to ask him for directions as the hotel was like a maze. He laughed and said “Sorry I forgot you didn’t know your way around the place,” After giving us directions he arranged to meet us there in one hour’s time and take us to see the work to be done. Then we made our way to the canteen. We had our lunch in the canteen which doubled as a staff room and met some of the staff. They seemed to be a really friendly bunch of people. The food was delicious; the chefs really knew there their onions! I made a point of complimenting them when we had finished our meal, as the kitchen was right next door to the canteen. It pays to be nice to the people who are feeding you!
After lunch the manager took us to see the area to be tiled. I was to tile the front of the new counter in the lounge bar. Very expensive gold tiles in high relief to the front and a four foot wide mosaic band along the floor in front of the counter. The bar was to stay open during the work: half the bar had been cordoned off so that while I worked people could be served in the other half.
I sent Ron out to the van to start bringing in the tools and materials. As I started to measure and mark out the counter front, the bar manager asked me if we would like a drink. “What a great job”, I thought, “do a bit of work then reach up and have a swig of beer. Not often did you get perks at work as good as this (a tiler’s dream job!) Free beer as you worked, can’t be bad. Later, quite a few of the staff called in for a drink as they finished their various shifts. Tom the bar manager told me that they were just being nosey and liked to check out anyone new at the hotel. He told me he had worked there for years and knew how the staff thought. They liked to know everything that was going on in the hotel.
After work we went up to our room to get washed and changed for dinner. Before going to eat I went out to the car park on my own for some fresh air (and to get away from Ron for a while). Walking down the side of the hotel I crossed the road and sat on the grass bank that looked down towards the village. It was a lovely summer’s evening. I lay down on the grass and enjoyed the wonderful view that spread out before me. It was so peaceful and tranquil just lying there taking in the countryside sights and sounds. “Its sods law”, I thought, “during the sunny summer weather you get stuck inside, but in the depths of winter you get a shop front to tile, or some other outside job!” The previous winter I had been in Newcastle city centre fixing marble slabs to the front of a bank, my fingers had been so cold that I could hardly feel them. But this job did have its good points; one of them was the free beer while you worked! Not that I normally drank while I worked, but a couple of pints was pleasant. Also the food was exceptionally good. And then of course there was what I was doing at that moment, sitting in the tranquil evening sunshine and enjoying the beautiful panoramic view over the countryside. I love the countryside but I don’t think I could live there, nor could I live in the city.
The seaside town I was born in was what I was used to and suited me fine, I suppose it’s what each individual is used too that makes them what they are. There was nothing I liked better than to walk along the beach with my family and Sultan our Boxer dog on a Sunday morning. It would clear any cobwebs from the previous evenings drinks.
Ron was having his dinner when I arrived at the canteen. There were some different members of the staff on duty. The early shift had gone home and now and the late shift had taken over. They seemed just as friendly as the ones we had met earlier. Most of them lived at the bottom of the hill in Gilsland village. The hotel was probably one of the main sources of employment for the village. Being quite tired after a long day, we decided to go to the lounge bar for a few of drinks. Quite a few of the day staff were already in there and six of them came over to sit with us: two men and four young women, some quite attractive. (There seemed to be twice as many women as men worked at the hotel.) It was a pleasant evening having a bit of banter back and forth. One of the young women, Sue, had sat close to me on the back seat. She made sure I knew she was there by holding her leg against mine (which was nice!) One of the others called Carol said: “You’ll have to watch Sue; she saw you this afternoon and said she fancied you!” I turned to Sue and told her that I was married, but she just shrugged her shoulders with a gesture of indifference. I felt quite flattered that she fancied me. Under different circumstances had I not been married I wouldn’t have hesitated to take her out. She was an attractive young lady. My marriage meant a lot to me and I wouldn’t jeopardise it for a silly fling.
At one point during the evening I asked about the room we were in being haunted, but they all laughed and one of them said it was just a joke they played on most newcomers that came to the hotel. I did notice that they exchanged glances with each other after that statement, but made little of it at that time. Making polite conversation I asked about the village history. It’s always a good ploy to ask people about themselves, or what they know about. This helps to break the ice and gain their confidence. Most people can’t resist talking about themselves or their experiences. One of the chefs called Stan knew all about it. He told us that the Roman Wall ran through the village and some of the roads were built across the course it had taken. He went on to say that some of the stones from the wall were very probably incorporated in some of the buildings in the village. He was very knowledgeable about the local history. The site of the hotel was some 700 feet above sea level and would possibly have been used by the Romans to send semaphore messages up and down the length of the wall. They could pass messages very quickly from hilltop to hilltop. This meant they could send troops wherever they needed them very quickly. Stan went on to say that the border between Northumberland and Cumberland ran through the village. Some of the inhabitants of the village living in one county and some in the other. This had caused a rift in the community which had gone on since the previous century, when the village was formed out of three separate hamlets. A village of two conflicting identities! It seemed to me that the whole area had been divided ever since the wall had been built? They asked me about my life as a tiler travelling around the country. I told them of various places that I had worked, and some of my experiences there. As the evening wore on our group slowly dwindled as by ones and twos they made there way back home to the village. The last to leave was Stan and Carol as he was giving her a lift down to the village. It had been a pleasant evening, very informative. By about 10.30pm there was only Ron and I left and I was feeling quite tired. I suggested that we make our way to bed and he agreed. We finished our drinks and went back to our bedroom. After a long day and a few pints, I was asleep as my head hit the pillow.
I was awakened in the middle of the night by loud knocking on the bedroom door. Sitting up startled I called out: “Who’s there?” No answer came back. Then I noticed the room had become icy cold with a hideous presence about it. My blood ran cold with fear. The atmosphere felt heavy with a malevolent evil feeling seemingly directed at me. I was sat bolt upright in bed absolutely petrified. A horrible feeling of dread filled my whole body. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck where standing up. I was transfixed to the spot and couldn’t have moved a muscle, even if I’d wanted to! My mind was racing and I thought “what on earth was happening to me?” I’d never had an experience like this before in my life! It was totally alien to me!
Then there came a second knocking, but this time it sounded as if it was further down the corridor. This was impossible as the hotel was old and the floorboards creaked with every step, but there hadn’t been a sound between the knocks! There was a faint light shining through the bedroom window, which only made things worse as I fully expected some horrible sceptre or demon to manifest itself out of the dark corners. My eyes were darting back and forth, but I couldn’t move my head so I couldn’t see all round the room. My whole body was uncontrollably shaking with fright.
After what seemed like an eternity a faint noise cut through my terror. It came from somewhere just beyond my field of vision, from the darkness on the other side of the room. Was some unknown tormented spirit lurking in the darkness? By this time, my heart was pounding so hard I could literally feel it in my chest. I thought it was going to explode. However, slowly the noise began to sound vaguely familiar, then suddenly it dawned on me with a wave of relief that it was my room mate Ron gently snoring on the other side of the room. However, my relief was short-lived as Ron was clearly sound asleep and completely oblivious to what was going on. They say ignorance is bliss and Ron certainly fitted the bill. It was hard to get much more than a grunt out of him let alone a conversation. I was alone with this evil presence – unable to move and rooted in my terror – time and space merged into an indeterminate point of existence that was quite literally Hell. I was trapped in a matrix of my own Fear.
After what seemed like an eternity, I felt the warmth slowly seep back into the room: the icy coldness simply left and the terror I had felt a few seconds before went with it. What a relief! Whatever had been present in the room was now gone and the room felt quite normal again. I was absolutely exhausted and collapsed back onto the pillow falling straight into a deep unconscious sleep.
In the morning I asked Ron if he had noticed anything during the previous night. He replied that he hadn’t. So I told him of my experience during the night, but he just laughed and said I’d imagined it. It was pointless expecting him to understand, so I let it rest. I wish I hadn’t told him anything, he’d probably use it to make me look foolish with our workmates when we got back home. We got ready for work and went down for our breakfast. Some of the staff were already there having their break. They looked up as we entered and it was obvious by the look of expectation on their faces that they knew or suspected something had happened during the night. Sue, who was a chamber maid, was there. She asked if we had slept well, but there was an edge in her voice which belied her seeming innocence. I replied saying I’d had a bad night and hadn’t slept very well and left it at that for the time being. I was too tired and confused for an inquest at that time.
Stan brought our breakfast of bacon, egg, sausage and mushrooms over and said “enjoy it, I cooked it myself,” It was delicious, cooked to perfection. This was followed by toast and marmalade. We finished our breakfasts and went to work. The bar was closed in the mornings so we were able to get on with our work without any interruption. During the morning tea break I went to the reception desk to see if I could change our room. The young receptionist said it wasn’t possible, as there were no other rooms available that were cleaned and prepared. It was the same receptionist as the previous day so I asked her what she had meant when she had said “the haunted one.” She laughed nervously and said it was only a joke. But I certainly wasn’t laughing! The thought of having to sleep in that room again filled me with complete and utter dread! I considered going to see the manager but thought better of it.
Later, during lunch I made small talk with the people there, as I’d decided I would question Tom the bar manager in the afternoon. Tom as already there when we arrived back from our lunch and had opened the bar. He smiled at us and pulled two pints as we entered and put them on the bar. He was very pleased with the progress we’d made in the morning. It was quiet in the bar so I thought this was a good time to ask him some questions. I told him of my ghastly experience during the night. He looked quite serious when I had finished. At least he didn’t laugh at the story as Ron had. He was reluctant to say anything at first, but eventually he told me that the management didn’t like the staff saying anything to upset the guests. However, since I was more like staff than a guest he would confide in me. He admitted that there where some strange things about the hotel and the surrounding countryside. Rumour had it, that some time in the distant past, a woman was said to have been murdered in that room. No one seemed to know who she was or why she had been murdered or when it had happened? Then he went on to say there was a church with a graveyard not too far away from the hotel and began to tell me a story about one of the young trainee chefs from the hotel.
Apparently the young chef in question had been passing that church early one dark morning last winter on his way to work and had seen a strange eerie figure standing by a headstone in the graveyard of the church. He’d run into the kitchen absolutely terrified. Soon after that he left the hotel to work elsewhere. Tom then went on to say that there had been various similar sightings over the years. He told me that none of the staff would walk down the hill late at night. If they had no transport, someone would always come up for them. This made me recall the previous evening. Two of the girls had been picked up by there boyfriends, Sue had her own car and had given a lift to Ralph the other man that was there, and Stan had given a lift to Carol. He went on to tell me that the village supposedly had quite a few ghosts; one was called The Blue Boy. On cold nights he would pluck on peoples coat sleeves and say “cold, aye cold, and ye’ll be cold forever more!” He sounded more like a harbinger of doom to me! Or maybe the son of The Grim Reaper!
Then he went on to tell me of his own personal ghostly experience. As a young man he had worked in one of the villages pubs called The Station Hotel. On several occasions he had seen a man in an old fashioned black suit appear from out of the wall then walk along the bar and disappear at the same spot every time. Many of the customers and staff had also witnessed it, but others didn’t see anything! (They must have been like Ron?) Seemingly this was believed to be the ghost of the village’s first station master who had lived at the hotel well over a hundred years previously. Our conversation ended here abruptly as customers came to the bar for drinks.
I resumed my work and worked hard all afternoon. I reckoned that the sooner this job was finished the better! It seemed to me that the whole of the Gilsland area was filled with paranormal happenings. What Tom had told me had really given me food for thought? After work I went out of the back door of the hotel into the car park on my own. It was a warm sunny evening. I was quite exhausted so I lay on the grass verge and tried to relax. My mind was running riot. Maybe tonight would be uneventful and I was worrying myself over nothing! Deep down I knew it would come again! Normally I’m a rational level headed type of person, but this was really getting to me. Eventually I decided that if I got drunk that night I’d probably sleep through anything, as I’m normally quite a deep sleeper. With that plan in mind I went up to my room and quickly got washed and changed for dinner before they stopped serving.
Ron was already there eating his dinner when I arrived at the canteen. There were only a few of the late shift staff members there, as most had finished their break by that time. But I could still feel that they were being evasive about any questions I asked about the hotels past ghostly history. Nevertheless, I did discover quite a few facts, but nothing to do with that awful room. There had been a thatched building on the site in Elizabethan times called “The Shaws” (meaning thicket). Sometime in the 1700s a small hotel was built there. It was called “Shaws Hotel”. This hotel was burnt down in 1859 and the present one built on the site. This was later sold and then became a convalescent home. During the 1st world war, 1914-1918 wounded soldiers were sent to recuperate before being sent back to the front line. After the war it became a convalescent home again until the 2nd world war when it became a maternity home for women from bomb target areas, mainly Tyneside and Teesside. Since then it had reverted back to a hotel. Regarding ghosts I was told that according to local folk law there was a Black Dwarf at Thirwell Castle a few miles away. Also there was a legend that a shepherd had found a cave with King Arthur and his knights sleeping there! These two stories seemed a bit too far fetched for me to believe. Paranormal happenings were one thing but fairy tales were another!
After dinner we once again headed for the bar. My intention was to get drunk, but not too drunk that it would affect my work the next day. As on the previous night some of the staff came over and sat with us. Later Sue came in with a young man and sat at a table close by. One of the girls at our table told me it was her boyfriend but she wanted to dump him. He was a farm labourer. She kept looking over and eventually came over and sat with us when he went to the bar for more drinks. He joined us when he returned. He didn’t have much to say; more the strong, silent type. Sue kept looking over and winking at me. I just ignored her. Her boyfriend must have known that something was going on as I was being given some black menacing looks by him. As the evening wore on I noticed that some of the staff would come in for a drink while waiting for a husband or boyfriend to come and pick them up. I asked our group why none of them would walk down the hill. It would only have been ten to fifteen minutes walk at the most. One of the girls in our company replied that it was too spooky and there weren’t any lights. But this explanation made no logical sense as it was a still light outside being a summer night!
Ron retired to bed about 10pm, but I stayed on for a few more to help me sleep through whatever the night had in store for me! Being a hotel the bar stayed open quite late. At 11.30pm feeling that I’d had more than enough I headed for bed quite tipsy? I could feel myself swaying as I headed along the creaky corridor flooring towards that dreadful room! A feeling of impending doom filled my being as I turned the doorknob and entered the bedroom. Ron was asleep when I went entered the room, so I quietly got undressed (I think) and climbed into bed and fell straight into a drunken stupor.
However my unconsciousness was seemingly short-lived, as once again I was awakened in the dead of night. This time there was no knocking, I just woke up terrified; as that icy feeling descended like a blanket all around me once again. The atmosphere was full of evil intent that seemed to be directed at me. It made my flesh crawl and what’s more I felt completely sober! The dark shadowy corners once again seemed to conceal all sorts of hidden horrors and I wanted to jump out of bed and run out of the room. However, I was rooted to the spot and couldn’t move a muscle my whole body seemed paralysed. Panicking, my eyes darted around the room peering into the gloom, desperately hoping that nothing would manifest itself from the dark corners. As before, I lost all concept of time and was rooted firmly in a timeless and space-less matrix of Fear. Following the same sequence, after what seemed like an eternity the chill slowly lifted and warmth crept back into the room. My feeling of terror slowly ebbed away and I became normal once more. I felt absolutely drained! What’s more, having consumed several pints of beer (at least!), my bladder was ready to burst! Jolted out of my inertia, I literally ran to the toilet across the corridor. Ron was still sleeping like a baby when I returned. Confused, I thought, “why me and not him too?” He wouldn’t be so sceptical if he had experienced what I just had. Exhausted I got into bed and immediately fell into a deep asleep.
The following morning I was late getting up. I felt like a zombie. My head was throbbing and I just wanted to crawl back into bed and die. However, that wouldn’t get the job done, so I took a couple of pain killers, got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. I was only able to pick at my breakfast, as I felt quite queasy. One of young trainee chefs said he’d heard I’d had a “skin full” last night. Nothing got past this lot; the “grapevine” was certainly efficient! Maybe someone had seen me weaving my way back to my room. Needless to say, I was late getting to work. Ron was already there grouting the counter front. He looked up at me disapprovingly but said nothing. Just as well because the way I was feeling I’d have given him a right mouthful of abuse! I had to force myself to get working because all I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep.
By lunch time I’d made reasonable progress and was feeling a bit better and after a quick lunch I went out the back door of the hotel and into the car park and lay on the grass verge for a rest. I must have dozed off, as the next thing I knew Sue was waking me up. “You look a bit rough. Too much beer last night?” she said. It took me a second or two to come round and realize where I was. I sat up and looked at my watch: I’d been asleep for over an hour! Sue was obviously just starting a late shift and was wearing her chambermaid’s uniform (I like a girl in uniform!). “I was parking my car when I saw you lying there”, she continued. She pointed to her car which was a white Sunbeam Talbot sports car with an open top. “Nice car I thought to myself.” I wondered how she could afford it on what I assumed would be a low wage. She asked if I fancied going for a run after work. I declined her offer saying I didn’t feel very well. A truer word I’d never spoken. I exchanged a few more words with her then made my way back to work.
Once again Ron wasn’t too pleased when I arrived back late again for work, but I was in charge, not him. We didn’t have much in common, Ron and me. I was 27 and he was either 49 or 50. He was a right old crawler; always sucking up to the boss and telling tales. He’d even managed to get his gormless son an apprenticeship as a tiler. I often had him working with me. It was hard work trying to teach him anything as he was just as thick as his father! Don’t get me wrong, normally I enjoy teaching apprentices but they have to want to be taught or it’s pointless. All young Freddy would do was look out the window and ask when was the next break time was or was it time to go home yet? Whenever I showed or told him something I could see that he wasn’t taking it in. Needless to say Ron would make sure that the boss would hear I’d been late twice in one day. However, I did feel much better after that sleep.
Ron had always resented the fact that I was the foreman for the whole company. The company had only been in existence for just over two years. The previous company I had worked for had gone into liquidation and the company director had asked me if I would work for him as he was taking over their contracts and starting a new company. There was only Ron and I on the staff at first. Over the last two years I had helped the boss to handpick the best tilers for the firm. At that present time the firm had grown to about a dozen. At the previous company Ron had been a terrazzo polisher and labourer to the terrazzo layers. He had told our present boss he could also lay terrazzo insitu. One of our first contracts was to tile some toilets for one of the universities in Durham city. I was to do the tiling and Ron the terrazzo floor in the large ground floor lobby. He had made a right pig’s ear of it. He just couldn’t set the levels properly. The boss wasn’t very pleased with him. He got me to set the levels and screed the floor level with sand and cement. Ron had to do all the labouring. Even when that was done he couldn’t set out the ebonite strips that divided the room into equal panels. Once again I was the one that had to do it. The following day I went upstairs to tile one of the toilets and Ron started to mix the terrazzo and fill in the panels. At the end of the day I came down to go home. Ron had filled in some of the panels. Having often worked on contracts with terrazzo layers and had seen terrazzo laid properly I knew that he had filled the panels to high above the ebonite. When I said this to him he told me it was to allow for the floor to be ground down. He told me not to interfere and stick to my tiling as he knew what he was doing. I said no more, why should I try to help him and get abused for it? Needless to say I was right and it took him days to grind the floor down to the correct level (well almost!) The boss was absolutely furious with him and nearly sacked him on the spot. After that Ron was just used as a driver and labourer. For some reason he held me responsible for the whole incident and he had resented me ever since. Any chance he got he would try to drop me in it! He was disliked by everyone on the company payroll because he would report any small misdemeanours back to the boss.
Tom the bar manager offered me a pint when I returned from my afternoon siesta, but I refused. He laughed and said, “Too much last night”? He hadn’t been working the previous evening, but the grapevine must have informed him of my condition. I smiled, but didn’t reply and got on with my work. The end was in sight, but I knew that even if I finished laying the mosaic, I still couldn’t grout it until the adhesive was set the following morning. This meant one more night in that room, but I carried on working until I’d laid the last sheet of mosaic. Ron had left at our normal finishing time. It was much later than normal when I got finished, but I didn’t mind, as it made up for some of the time I’d lost during the day.
When the mosaic was finally all laid, I went straight to the staff room to get my dinner before they finished serving. Ron had been washed and changed and was just finishing his dinner. I was famished and ate greedily. Mince and dumplings one of my favourites, I’m sure the dumplings would have floated off the plate if they hadn’t been weighed down with mince and gravy, it was delicious. Afterwards I went to our room and lay on the bed exhausted and dozed off. The stress of the last two days had taken its toll on me and I felt completely drained of energy. The room didn’t bother me, not even the fact I was on my own. Whatever was haunting the room only seemed to come in the dead of night. The rest of the time it just felt quite normal. I woke up at 8.15pm, got washed and changed and headed for the bar. Ron was there with a few of the usual crowd. I bought a drink and sat down with them. I kept the chat light and avoided talking about my haunting experiences. Sue and her boyfriend arrived and sat with us. Once again she was flirting with me but I just ignored it, as I didn’t fancy getting into a fight over her. I had a few drinks, but not as many as the previous night. I was resigned to the fact that no matter what I did it wouldn’t make any difference.
Unfortunately, I had assumed correctly. Even though I felt exhausted I couldn’t sleep. My mind was full of dread of what was about happen and it took me over an hour of tossing and turning before I eventually dropped off. Just as on the two previous nights I was awakened by the same icy chill descending into the room. Goose pimples seemed to cover my whole body. Whether this was the cold or the horror I felt I don’t know which. It felt exactly the same as the two previous nights. The same evil intent directed at me, making me feel absolute terror. There was nothing I could do; I was paralysed with uncontrollable fear. There was no reasonable explanation why I should feel this way. Moonlight was faintly shining through the window making the dark gloomy corners seem so sinister once again. Strangely enough I was getting used to it in a strange sort of way! Ron was gently snoring but this time I recognised it for what it was, not a lost soul wailing in the dark. Time seemed to stand still as the terror I felt continued to torment me. When it eventually went and I could feel the warmth slowly returning to the room I felt hugely relieved, as I knew that it was the last time I would have to go through that terrifying experience. Turning over in bed I fell into a deep sleep.
Although I felt very tired in the morning, I felt reassured that my ordeal was now over. Never again would I have to spend a night in this terrible room. After getting washed and ready for work I packed my case. I didn’t want to come back for it later when we had finished work because I never wanted to see that dreadful room again! As I shut the bedroom door behind me I heaved a huge sigh of relief, I took my case down to the van and went for my breakfast. Nothing mattered now that I was free! I ate my meal and chatted to one of the chefs. Life began to feel good once more. Even though I felt so exhausted, my ordeal was now behind me.
Within a few hours I’d be home with my wife and my three lovely young daughters. All this would just be bad memory. Reflecting on this, I felt another wave of relief pass through my body. Ron and I finished off the grouting, tidied up and loaded the tools into the van by lunch time. I went to the manager’s office to say we had finished our work and could he come and approve it before I left. He was very pleased with the high standard of work, thanked us and said goodbye. After a quick lunch we said goodbye to the staff and drove off with Ron at the wheel. As we went down the hill I looked back at the hotel and thought, “Thank God that’s over and I’ll never have to see that place again!” Or so I thought!
Ron dropped me off at my house in Whitley Bay.
Being back home was great, as I’d missed my wife and daughters. My wife Pat had arranged for a baby sitter for the following night and we went for a drink with my older brother Ray and his wife Judy. I told them of my strange experiences, but could sense they were sceptical. I suppose that if I’d heard a tale like that a week ago, I’d have been the same: probably even more so. By a strange coincidence Judy said that she’d been born at that hotel when it was a maternity hospital during the war. She was the same age as me. Well, I thought to myself that’s the end of it. I can just put it all behind me and forget about it. But fate had something else planned for me!
Maybe it was fate or coincidence that happened next. The following week I was sent to do a job in Darras Hall, Ponteland (a very posh estate). The job was in a private house tiling a kitchen. The owner of the house started to chat as I was working. When I mentioned that I had been working at the Gilsland Spa Hotel, he immediately looked serious and said “strange place that is”. Unprompted, he went on to recount the following story.
During the war his wife had given birth to their son at the maternity hospital then operating out of the hotel. He got leave from the army to go and see them and booked into a lodging house in the village. After visiting them in the hospital he set off to walk back down the hill. It was a pleasant summer evening and as he walked down he noticed a man walking up towards him. There were no other people on the road. As they got closer he realised the man was walking straight at him so he moved to one side to let the man pass. This happened three times but each time he moved to one side the man did the same. By this time the man was right in front of him and barged into his shoulder. He turned to shout something at him but there was no one in sight! The road was completely empty! There was no where he could have gone to as there was open ground on both sides of the road. I hadn’t mentioned my experience to him up to this point! Then I told him of my three nights in the haunted room. After I had finished my story he said “That whole area seemed sinister to me. I was pleased to get away from there even the pub in the village seemed spooky to me.” I thought that surely was the end of it all. But no such luck, there was still more to come!
A couple of months later I was asked to go back to that infamous hotel and tile three bathrooms. I tried to get out of going there by saying that my wife was pregnant and needed me at home. Ken my boss said the manager had specifically asked for me. The hotel was having some areas updated and he’d been impressed with the previous work and insisted that I do the work. However, as all the materials were on site close to the work areas, a labourer wasn’t needed this time: I was to go alone. At least I wouldn’t have Ron’s miserable face to put up with this time. So once again I set off for Gilsland to that hotel that held such bad memories for me. I was in my own car this time. It was autumn by this time and a wet and windy morning. Not such a pleasant drive as on my previous visit here. Overcast and raining hard it took me longer than I’d expected to reach my destination. The road was wet and covered with newly fallen leaves which made it very dangerous. At last I reached Gilsland and turned right on to the road up to the hotel. Driving up the hill I felt a feeling of dread as that sinister hotel loomed out of the gloom and into sight. It put me in mind of the horror films I had seen of the haunted castles perched on the top of the hill in a thunder storm. The only thing missing was the lightning. As I pulled up in the car park I saw amongst others, Sue’s car and a few contractors vans. Parking my car beside Sue’s I wish I had a car like hers but it wasn’t practical with a family. My car was a black Morris 100 traveller (the same as Dot Cotton has on Eastenders only hers is a green one.) Being my first car I even remember the registration, it was LKS 71. Putting my tools and suitcase in the staff room I saw that Stan was in there and I said hallo to him. I chatted to him for a couple of minutes about the awful weather. Then I asked him to keep an eye on my things and I headed for the reception desk with a feeling of anticipation. I knew one thing for sure: I wasn’t going into that same room again. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me in there! If they even suggested that I was to be put in that room I would refuse point blank.
At the reception desk I was given a key for a room on a different corridor. “Thank God!” I thought. It was the same young receptionist that had previously served me so I said to her “I hope this one isn’t haunted like the last one you put me in?” She just laughed a little nervously and said “no this one isn’t” and then said “that room is already taken” even though I hadn’t mentioned the room number? She knew exactly which room I was talking about! With great relief I set off to get my case from the staff room and find my room. Upstairs I walked along the creaky corridor to my room. This time the room was on the outside of the building so at least I would have a decent view from the window. As I opened the door to my room I saw Sue, she was turning down the sheets on the bed. This was no coincidence; it was a set up. She pretended to look surprised and said “oh it’s you Joe I’ve just finished cleaning the room” Sitting on the bed she started to chat. She told me she had finished with her boyfriend and was pleased to see me back again. She was wearing her uniform, a little black dress with a white apron and black stockings, which were a turn on for me. Patting the bed beside her for me to sit down, temptation nearly got the better of me, but I resisted. After all I was still a red blooded young man! I sat down next to her and told her that I liked her but I wouldn’t be unfaithful to my wife. I told her that I had recently found that out my wife was expecting our fourth child. She said she understood and then left the room. That was the last time she bothered me. After I had unpacked I went to the manager’s office as I had done on the previous visit. Once again he was very friendly and told me that the previous work I had done had been much admired. He went on to say that this was the time of year when the hotel was quiet and was the best time to get any work done before the winter sets in. He laughed as he looked out of the window at the driving rain and said “looks like it’s here already”. Then as on my previous visit he told me that he would show me the work to be done after I had eaten my lunch.
At lunch I was reacquainted with some of the staff I knew from my previous visit, there was also some new people there including two joiners, a plumber, a plasterer and two painters, all from the Newcastle area. After eating I went with the manager to see the bathrooms that were to be tiled. I had agreed with my boss to do it on piece work, which meant I got paid by production not by the hour. This suited me fine as I could make a lot of money on a job like this: the sooner the job was finished the more money I made! I usually worked on piece work. Having a family and a mortgage to pay meant that there was never enough money and any extra was always welcome. My wife Pat and I had talked about moving as we only had a two bed roomed house and needed more room with a new baby on the way. Also I didn’t want to spend any more time working here than I had to. There was also the fact that as my wife was pregnant I wanted to get back home as soon as possible to be with her.
The previous work I had done at the hotel had been too intricate to take on piece work but I did get a good bonus for it, Ron didn’t get any bonus as he was only the labourer. This didn’t please Ron because as the firm’s driver he usually saw all the pay packets as he was the one that usually delivered them to the various sites on pay day. He had seen mine when he delivered it to me the following week. He had grumbled to me saying it wasn’t fair that I should get a bonus and he got nothing. This didn’t bother me in the least. I knew he would just as soon stab me in the back so why should I be bothered about his bonus. After all it was my expertise that had made the job what it was not his. Even his grouting wasn’t very good. I had to check it over when he had finished and put it right.
I worked hard all that afternoon and made good progress by the end of the day. I didn’t finish work until 6pm and went straight to the canteen for my dinner as I was quite famished by that time. It was quiet in there as all of the others had finished there meal. After eating I went to my room and lay on the bed feeling tired and stuffed with food. After dozing for about an hour I felt refreshed got up and went to the bathroom to get washed and shaved. On returning to my room I got changed out of my working clothes and into my suit. Looking out of my window I could see that it was still raining heavily. The view was of the car park with tall trees behind that. It was getting dark so I couldn’t see much more than that.
I was feeling thirsty so I headed towards the bar for a drink. Tom was serving at the bar when I arrived and was pleased to see me. “Hallo Joe nice to see you back again. I heard it was you that had come to do the tiling.” That grapevine was still working well? He even gave me a drink on the house. Then he went on too say that there had been a lot of comments on how impressive the bar looked now. One of the joiners and the plumber were sitting with some of the staff I had drunk with on my previous visit to the hotel. I went over and joined them. Sue was there playing up to the joiner (at least she wouldn’t be after me any more, I hoped?) It was quite a pleasant evening. The joiner and plumber were good company, as I had a lot in common with them as we were all in the building trade. The joiner was called Alan and lived in North Shields only a few miles from where I lived. As we talked I found out that we had worked on the same contracts a few times but although he looked familiar I didn’t really know him. Leaving quite early about 10pm I headed for my room. I wanted a clear head in the morning so I could get a good days work done. Getting ready for bed I felt a little bit anxious, wondering what the night had in store for me. I got into bed and lay awake for a while feeling quite apprehensive. This whole place gave me the creeps. Eventually I fell asleep. On awakening the next morning I was relieved that nothing had happened during the night.
At breakfast I talked to Alan the joiner, along with some of the other workers. I noticed that the two painters who were sitting on another table looked particularly rough and hung over. I mentioned this to Alan and he told me that they’d been down in the village the night before getting drunk. He laughed as he told me that they had got drunk every night since they had arrived about a week previously because they thought there was a ghost in their room. I laughed with him, not wanting to bring up my experiences and make myself look foolish. After breakfast I went out to the car park for a breath of fresh air before starting work and noticed the painters putting their suitcases in their van and leaving, they had left with their work unfinished. Two new painters arrived the next day. Luckily for them they were put in a different room. That room remained unoccupied for the rest of my time there.
There’s nothing much to say after that. I finished the contract without further incident and went home. When I left Sue and Alan the joiner were going out together as a couple. Well that’s the end of my experiences at The Gilsland Spa Hotel. Believe it or not I assure you that my haunted room was no dream, more like a terrible nightmare! Something that will stay with me for the rest of my life! Pity I never found out who that lost soul was that haunted that room.
Copyright Joe Wright, 2008
You can contact Joe by email at: joe.f.wright "at" hotmail.com>