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Monday, 20 March, 2000, 19:14 GMT
Britain's favourite haunts

As well as being shopkeepers and animal lovers, it seems the British are also a nation scared of things that go bump in the night.

Almost half of people in the UK believe in ghosts, according to a new survey.

Some 42% of Britons think ghosts, phantoms and other supernatural apparitions really exist.

The study by NOP found marked regional differences, with almost two-thirds of those in Scotland and northern England admitting to having seen or felt the presence of a ghoul.

York: The UK's most haunted city?
Those in the south and older people were found to be more sceptical.

Read BBC News Online users' ghostly tales.

Mark Graham, whose company Original Ghost Walks takes visitors on a supernatural tour of York, says it may just be that southerners are more reluctant to admit their ghostly experiences.

"All people are scared of ridicule, but perhaps those in the North are more willing to admit their brushes with apparitions."

Mr Graham says sceptics often open up to him once they learn of his interest in ghost stories.

"If I go to any public place, a cafe or a pub, people will tell me the supernatural is all rubbish, but within 10 minutes they'll be telling me about their own meetings with ghosts."

Britain's most haunted

York is one of the places vying for the title of Britain's most haunted city, boasting at least 140 resident spectres.

"This is such an ancient place that people who come here tend to be more receptive and prepared to look further into the supernatural," says Mr Graham, who claims never to have seen a ghost, "only voices and shadows".

York Castle Museum
Even York's Castle Museum boasts a ghost
Sherri Steel from the York Castle Museum has tried to get to the bottom of many of the city's ghostly goings-on.

"It's very difficult to find someone who has actually seen an apparition. It's mostly 'friends of friends' stories, and as with all great stories, they tend to get elaborated in the telling."

York's reported ghouls range from Roman legionnaires spotted marching through a cellar, to the moans of murdered children buried under the local "ragged school" in the 1850s.

Ms Steel says the Castle Museum, housed in a former prisoner where executions were carried out, is also supposedly haunted.

"One attendant said they heard a woman and a child singing one night, but there was no one there. It's probably just the history of the building, which can be quite spooky after dark.

Spooky sounds

"People tend to be far more willing to give odd noises a supernatural explanation in a place like this."

Not all the city's ghosts have a grisly past. Mr Graham says York boasts one of Britain's most amorous spirits.

"The Duke of Buckingham II haunts the Cock and Bottle Inn. While alive he had quite an eye for the ladies and in death he often appears in the toilets," says Mr Graham.

Public inconvenience: Ghost lurks in toilets
"The caress of a hand, that breath of hot air. You'd be surprised how many people are glad to have met him."

The British willingness to believe in spirits goes against a wealth of scientific evidence.

Parapsychologist Simon Sherwood says many people's experiences of ghosts can be explained quite rationally.

"Many ghost or apparition experiences happen around the time of sleep, when we are part asleep, part awake."

In this state, the scientist from University College Northampton says people can see faces or figures near their bed, often taking the form of people they know.

Facing facts

"Sometimes they don't even see anything, but have a sense of presence, a presence of something in their room."

Unlike dreams, which have been studied in depth, these near-sleep visions have received little attention.

"The general public don't know very much about these quite normal visual experiences, so are more willing to accept a supernatural or paranormal explanation for them," says Mr Sherwood.

The Ram Inn
Fuzz or phantom? A picture from Gloucestershire's "haunted" Ram Inn
Sleep paralysis could also result in the kinds of experiences people often convince themselves are genuine ghost sightings.

"When a person wakes to find they are paralysed, have difficulty breathing, feel pressure on their chest and are confronted with visions of faces or figures, they often jump to a supernatural conclusion."

Like the gulf between Manchester United and Manchester City fans, paranormal believers and sceptics are notoriously reluctant to see any merit in each others conviction.

However, no matter what side of the argument you stand, you'd better not stand around too long in the toilets at the Cock and Bottle.

Your spooky experiences

My sister and I as children always hated our grandparent's house, thinking that it was haunted. They always told us not to be silly. A few months ago though, a family friend awoke in the morning and said that he'd felt someone sit on the end of the bed, to which my grandmother replied, "Oh they always do that!"
Hannah, UK

What a shocking waste of time, and what an insult to the intelligence of your readers, that one the world's great public service broadcasters should run this sort of juvenile forum for the gullible and feeble-minded. Get back to reporting the news, this instant.
Oliver Kamm, UK

I don't think I've ever screamed that loud before. I was terrified.

Sandra, France
I believe in ghosts. I have seen one and had a lot of ghostly encounters. I'll never forget the day I saw one...
I was with a mate and we were looking at this really old castle (in ruins) in our village when we saw a light going on and off in one of the windows. The window went black white black white... and all of a sudden we could see a man standing in the window. He was all white and dressed like a French soldier in the war - a uniform, hat and a big gun over his shoulder. He then turned his head and stared at us.
I don't think I've ever screamed that loud before. I was terrified. We grabbed our bikes and rode away as fast as our shaky legs would take us. We definitely didn't imagine it.
Sandra, France

What a load of junk! There's a foundation in the states which one million dollars for anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal. Needless to say, the prize money rests safe and sound in its bank vault.
Alfie Conn, UK

Once you've experienced the drop in room temperature, the "feel" of them as they walk past you ... you'll be convinced.

Steve Morton, UK
There are at least two ghosts inhabiting a major IT company's training centre in Berkshire. I have personally experienced the presence of one, a lady, who came in to listen to a musical recital featuring 200-year-old instruments.
The other is reputed to be a man who hung himself, years ago ... people can feel him "standing on their shoulders and feel him fall" when using a desk in the very same room.
I can understand that people will be sceptical, but once you've experienced the presence of a ghost ... the drop in room temperature, the 'feel' of them as they walk past you ... you'll be convinced.
Steve Morton, UK

She looked over her shoulder at me, and vanished.

Sandra, UK
I am a believer in ghosts and strange apparitions. Science can explain a lot of things, but not everything. There are too many strange happenings and odd experiences that cannot be explained.
I, myself have seen a ghost. It was several years ago when I was still living with my parents. It was around 8pm and I had been in my room. I heard a noise outside and opened the door. There, about three feet in front of me was clearly a young girl dressed in rags with her back to me. She looked over her shoulder at me, and vanished.
At the same house, we also often saw the ghost cats that sat at the top of the stairs. A lot of people don't like to admit ghostly encounters for fear of being ridiculed or fear of having to admit it to themselves.
Sandra, UK

They would change character from one second to the other and become quite aggressive.

EP, Italy
I have, on a number of occasions, believed that I have witnessed "ghosts" but remained sceptical. On such occasions I felt that my own emotions were the cause and subsequently read nothing into the matter.
However, whilst living a few years ago in a small fishing village in the far south of Italy I was disturbed by the behaviour of my dogs while out walking. They would change character from one second to the other and become quite aggressive, barking and circling although there seemed no reason and certainly no obvious person.
These occurrences were during the day and evening. The village in question was decimated in 1907 by a huge tidal wave that took many houses and people into the sea. Unlike my own feelings I really am unable to explain my dogs' behaviour which has quite worried me on certain occasions.
EP, Italy

If spirits are conscious of their actions, as many believe, why would they bother trying to communicate with sceptics and scientists? Surely the sceptic would persist in finding a 'rational' explanation and probably miss the point of the contact all together.
If you were given a limited window to contact someone, would you bother contacting a person who does not believe you exist?
Dan, UK

I don't believe in ghosts etc., but I would love to be proved wrong.
Simon, UK

I do believe in ghosts as I have had ghostly experiences. On occasions I have felt another presence in the room and our cat also feels that presence too by suddenly awakening from her sleep and staring at a corner of the room. That feeling I get is a cold sensation and very "creepy" though not intimidating.
Matthew, Australia

Generally the 'Spirits' were harmless, but on some occasions you could sense a bad presence.

Peter Sutton, New Zealand
I have no doubt ghosts exist, I was brought up in a council house in Hull built in the early to mid 1950s and would think every one us (there were 11 of us including my parents) in the family, either heard or saw something you could only describe as "paranormal" not once but many times, throughout the 18 years we lived in that house.
Some of these happenings were also experienced by friends but to a lesser degree. Generally the 'Spirits' were harmless, but on some occasions you could sense a bad presence. But having said that if I had the money I would gladly pay a million dollars to buy that house.
Peter Sutton, New Zealand

Large planks of wood would be moved during the night.

Pat van der Veer, Nova Scotia
In 1996 my Dutch born husband and I returned to live in Cornwall. We did not know it at the time, but the house, that we had arranged to buy, had a curse on it. The house was rather unwelcoming and several bumps and noises were heard.
During our period of renovation, large planks of wood would be moved during the night. We both attempted to reassure whoever it was that we would take good care of the house and restore it to its former glory. The events slowed then stopped. The atmosphere within the house improved and the chill disappeared.
Occasionally we were aware of a friendly spirit in the house. (An artist who had lived and died there) If I did not believe in spirits before, our three years in Cornwall, convinced us both of their existence.
Pat van der Veer, Nova Scotia, Canada

Scared of ghosts huh? Hmm if this news ever got out this would contradict the stereotype about the sensible Brit.
Helen Adeosun, USA

I get angry when people say "Ghosts Rubbish". My dad had a house supplied with the job in London and a lady visited every August and December. I could write a book on what happened during those 14 years. Even the cat would not come in the house those two months.
Peter Milton, Australia

I have experienced two spirit sightings which were a total shock to me as they were in places where I was not expecting or even thinking about them. I think that spirits are actually memories that have been imprinted in time and if we are in a certain place at a certain time we happen to see them being re-enacted.
Julie Hatt, England

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