A month-long monument hunt, and what I learned along the way.
6 July 2015
It has been called the most haunted house in Britain… though how exactly one might measure, rank or quantify such a thing is beyond me. Nevertheless, there are countless stories of ghostly sightings at The Ancient Ram Inn; and worse still are the tales of forceful interference, physical assault and even demonic rape at this little old Gloucestershire pub.
Paranormal researchers have described a history of murders on the premises – the burning of a resident witch, a former innkeeper’s daughter hanged in the attic, the bones of ritually murdered children buried under the floor – while the Rt Rev John Yates, former Bishop of Gloucester, is said to have called the Ancient Ram, “the most evil place I have ever had the misfortune to visit,” following a failed attempt at exorcism.
Even amongst supernatural investigators, the place has an unprecedented reputation. It lies on the crossing point of two ley lines, one of which runs direct from Stonehenge; other researchers have claimed the inn sits upon an ancient pagan burial ground. Locals will cross over the street, we’re told, rather than walk past the Ancient Ram at night.
The cast of supernatural entities sighted at the property is extensive. Now standing for almost 1,000 years, the building has seen its share of residents come and go – and some have left more abruptly than others. Orbs have been photographed around the stairs and the attic; a variety of lights and apparitions have appeared to terrified visitors; a plumber working on the building once claimed to have seen a Roman Centurion on horseback emerging from a wall; and the most aggressive manifestations have typically been reported around the notorious ‘Bishop’s Room.’
Some of the most alarming stories about the Ancient Ram, however, have focussed on the proprietor himself. John Humphries, the building’s owner since 1968, tells of being dragged from his bed by violent entities – and raped, routinely, by the building’s resident succubus.
It was with such stories in mind, that I resolved to visit the Ancient Ram Inn for myself.
I had hoped, at first, to spend a night alone in the building; though I soon found the game had changed somewhat since a 2013 Daily Mail article that quoted rooms for £25 per person, per night. A handful of companies now offer ghost hunting tours to the Ancient Ram Inn, priced at anywhere from £50-100 for a four-hour session.
The group experience didn’t appeal though, and instead I managed to track down a phone number for the inn. It was John’s daughter, Caroline, who answered.
In an interview for the Daily Mail, I had read her brief account of growing up in the shadow of the Ancient Ram; of sleeping in a caravan outside, afraid to enter the property at night. “It was normal for us to see people running out of the house, screaming in terror,” she’d said.
The voice on the phone was muffled, distant, but we arranged a time for a private, afternoon tour of the inn. That first attempt was not to be, however. It took two buses to get from Bristol to the Ancient Ram – the first ran late, and by the time I disembarked at the halfway point, a village somewhere on the edge of the Cotswold Hills, I’d already missed my connection.
A heavy fog had risen off the land, broken here and there by the arms of trees, punctuated with the yellow-grey lights of the occasional passing car. The next bus didn’t come through this way for another few hours. I telephoned the Ancient Ram again, just a few towns over, close but out of reach, lost somewhere in this same consuming mist.
“Perhaps we’ll be seeing you another time then.” The voice was distant as before, with an almost dreamlike quality.
Months later, I’d try again. This time there was no answer when I called, just a crackling message – Caroline again – that invited callers between the hours of 12 and 2. I decided to give it another go, and set out unannounced in the hope of getting inside the Ancient Ram Inn.
The Haunted House of Wotton-under-Edge
Passing over the rolling hills and combes of the Cotswolds, the landscape eventually parted to reveal a small town sat in the shadow of a ridge – the Edge itself – and shrouded almost completely by a dense, localised fog. Soon I was inside it, passing beneath the bank of low-lying cloud to find myself on the pleasant, manicured streets of Wotton-under-Edge; or as the locals pronounce it, Wut’n.
This little corner of Gloucestershire has been inhabited at least since the Bronze Age – carvings, tools and standing stones give evidence of that. In the Middle Ages its settlements thrived on the wool trade, weaving their way into the 13th century which saw the arrival of a church, a school, almshouses and the Wotton house of friars.
Finding the Ancient Ram Inn was easy enough. It lies on a low trough of land, where the roads spill down from the High Street towards the course of a former waterway. I found it without thinking, a warped, ancient thing, bulging with centuries of damp while the modern tarmac road curves round the inn as if to bind it.
There were no doors facing onto the roadside – only crooked windows with curtains drawn, and hand-painted signs that boasted appearances on popular ghost hunting shows. I walked around the side of the building, to the back, where the inn folded into an L-shape around a grassy yard. Of the two doors that faced the yard, the first was firmly sealed; long since disused, from the look of it. The time was 12:15. I knocked on the other door and waited.
No answer came. I thought I saw a curtain twitch, a movement in the heavy red velvet that hung behind cracked glass on the first floor – but it could as easily have been my imagination. I decided to wait, to come back later.
In the town I walked around the old almshouses, entered the quaint chapel that stood in their midst, raised up from pale Cotswold stone. I stopped by the pub nearby for a coffee. The barman knew John Humphries well enough; “he’s a good old boy,” he told me, “so long as you catch him on the right day.”
I tried the Ancient Ram again… and this time there were four more supplicants in waiting, two boys, two girls, locals youths queueing for a peek inside the ghost house. We knocked, we waited. We pressed a doorbell, no clue to as to whether it still made a noise inside. Again, nothing. Eventually I decided to leave, and had made it back round to the street before one of the locals came running after me; “He’s here,” he said, “we’re going in.”
And so I tentatively followed, preparing myself to meet the owner of the haunted house. I wondered which kind of day this would be.
In all the reports I had read about the Ancient Ram, its present owner, John Humphries, had featured as prominently as any phantasm.
Stories about this eccentric 86-year-old vary from person to person – some make him out to be an unfortunate victim of the building’s curse, a hero battling against demonic forces as he struggles to maintain an important relic of Wotten’s early history. Others paint him rather as something of a con artist.
One prominent review on TripAdvisor warned, “don’t waste your time or money.” It detailed a visit to the Ram Inn by a group of eight (including, they note, one psychic) during which time John performed a series of theatrical routines and regaled them with stories, “too fanciful to be believable.” This much I was expecting; but along with a number of similar reviews, it suggested that the proprietor was doing it all for the money. The group had paid £160 up front, the review said, then stepped out to get a bite to eat… on returning, John claimed not to recognise them. He kept their money.
Theatricality I could deal with, expected, even. The talk of con-artistry worried me though. The Ancient Ram no longer takes bookings, as it once did when serving as a pub and inn; instead a donation is encouraged in return for a tour. Based on what I had seen and read about the place and the ghost-hunting tours operated by the various groups who frequented it, I was concerned that I might end up paying a small fortune for a private tour.
To better understand what I was walking into, I did a little reading up on John Humphries before my visit.
John has lived in the building since 1968, and since then reports having been attacked on almost countless occasions by the evil forces with which he shares his home. Aside from the usual slew of poltergeist reports – things going bump in the night – most notable is his claim of a succubus that lives in the Ancient Ram, and which often torments visitors during their sleep.
The ‘succubus’ (along with its male counterpart, the ‘incubus’) is sometimes described as a sex demon; though such simplification is technically incorrect, as the origins of this supernatural entity are far removed from the biblical science of demonology. Rather, the succubi were first described in a Hebrew myth that placed them as the offspring of Adam’s original wife, Lilith. Preying on the sexual energies of humans, the succubi would later be linked to the sirens of other folklores. In the 15th century, a volume called the Malleus Maleficarum posited a reproductive cycle whereby succubi stole seed from sleeping human males, somehow subverted it, and then that same seed would be used by incubi to impregnate human females; these women would subsequently give birth to deformed, supernatural children.
During the Middle Ages, incubi and succubi were often blamed as the cause of erotic dreams – some even welcomed them – and on his death bed, Pope Sylvester II confessed to having had relations with a succubus that had used her influence in helping him to achieve rank and power within the church.
A more contemporary explanation offers the succubus myth as a primitive system for making sense of the distressing phenomena of sleep paralysis. Nevertheless, here in a little old house somewhere in rural Gloucestershire the story has appeared once again, in the form of a succubus accused of routinely raping a frightened 86-year-old man.
I knew that meeting John Humphries for myself was going to be an interesting experience; and I wasn’t disappointed. He opened the door for us, retreating immediately back into his warren.
John was animated, with wild eyes that worked their way relentlessly back and forth across the group. He was smaller than I’d expected; he was greyer too, more sagely, and moved with the hunched yet quirky eagerness of a gnome or sprite. Dressed in a rugged tracksuit that had faded with time to nondescript greys and navy blues, and with long white hair, a full beard and those bright, eager eyes that never stopped moving about the room, John himself looked to be part of this world, and part outside it.
As for the Ancient Ram itself, the first thing I was aware of was the incredible clutter; every conceivable space had been used, stacked high with books and magazines or hung with stuffed toys, barometers, flags and other ornaments.
This part of the building – now featuring the kitchen, and a sofa adapted for use as a downstairs bed – had once been a tack room, for the former stables occupying the far end of the ground floor. We’d later hear that diviners had located an old well beneath the floorboards; a deep pit in which the bodies of murder victims had once been dumped.
The area around the well had been subject to nightly disturbances when the Humphries family first moved in, though this had reportedly come to an end after John had placed a makeshift cross over the top of the well mouth.
“Are there any Germans in the group?” he was asking now, in a dusty voice flavoured with rural Gloucestershire accent. It felt like the lead-in to a joke, though our host wasn’t smiling. “Good,” he said, after a few moments of silence. “Twice in thirty years, they tried to come over here and kill us all. Never forget that. Those bastards murdered my dad, you know.”
John was sat on the edge of his bed, his stories jumping from the world wars to highwaymen, and through the various phenomena reported by latter day visitors to the inn. Often he’d repeat himself, or double back through the same questions without hearing the answers that came intermittently from his nervous audience.
I was raped here four times by a spirit,” he said, patting the blanket, “right here on this bed.” One of the girls, who had perched herself on the corner of John’s blanket, immediately stood up.
Since suffering these supernatural sexual assaults, John explained that he always carried a bible with him about the house. Quite suddenly he hopped to his feet, and beckoned us enthusiastically through to the next room; eager to begin the tour proper.
It was clear already that there was to be no easy introduction, no time to acclimatise to the bloody mythology of the Ancient Ram; our guide was thoroughly immersed in the lore of the place, and his tour of the building took us straight in at the deep end. Before getting into the various ghost stories that would come however, it’s probably worth sharing a little of the confirmed history of the Ancient Ram Inn.
A History of The Ancient Ram
The inn was built in the year 1145, when William FitzRobert, heir to the Lord Berkeley, had served as the first recorded Rector of Wotton. Connected with the church, the original building was larger than its present form and had been a home to the local priest.
According to John however, the history of the site stretches back way before 1145 AD… but rather to sometime in the region of 3000 BC, when a Pagan burial ground had existed here. There’s even a wooden post in the building that John claims has been dated back 7,000 years, to a time when this location hosted regular rituals involving human sacrifice. I couldn’t find any concrete evidence for this story though, only John’s anecdotes which came to him by way of dowsers visiting the Ancient Ram in recent years.
Much of the town of Wotton was destroyed by fire in the reign of King John, but the Ram survived; it would later house the craftsmen and slave labourers involved in the construction of the 13th century Church of St Mary the Virgin in the rebuilt centre of Wotton. Situated on the marshy Potter’s Pond, streams that crossed the inn’s land had to be diverted in order to lay the foundations for the church. Some have theorised that this redirection of water was instrumental in ‘opening a portal for dark energy.’ As is often claimed of Christian architecture in the Middle Ages, the church was supposedly built on a ley line by intention. John points out that any line drawn on a map from Stonehenge to the church would necessarily pass directly through the Ancient Ram Inn.
The site stands today as the oldest building in Wotton-under-Edge, including among its various historical artefacts the oldest wooden window frame in Britain; as well as the earliest surviving board for the game Nine Men’s Morris, which appears carved into a stone inglenook dated to 1540.
Later, the building would be converted to serve as an inn. In 1930 it was sold to one Maurice de Bathe, and has changed hands several more times since. However, the building was slipping into decline – supposedly it had already earned a reputation for hauntings, though few accounts seem to survive from before the time John Humphries took over. By 1965 it was losing custom; the wooden beams had fallen prey to an infestation of death watch beetle while the dry stone walling was crumbling fast. The building was listed for demolition as part of a council plan to widen the road… but it was saved when John Humphries, a former train driver, purchased the property from Whitbread Brewery in 1968 for a sum of £2,600.
John moved straight into the inn, bringing his wife and three daughters with him. The place was semi-derelict however, had no running water – it still doesn’t, to this day – and these factors, combined with the ghostly encounters that John reports experiencing from day one, soon put pressure on the family. John Humphries lost his wife, his money, and for a while, his relationship with his children, as he stubbornly refused to move out of the Ancient Ram.
Meanwhile, however, the growing body of ghost stories attached to the building had begun to reap its own reward. Off the back of a series of sensationalist newspaper articles and ‘ghost hunting’ programs on both UK and US television, the Ancient Ram has become a favourite haunt amongst those with an interest in the paranormal… and as we embarked on our own small tour of the site, I was hoping to get a glimpse of the reason it’s become known in the press as ‘England’s most haunted house.’
A Tour of the Ancient Ram Inn: The Men’s Kitchen
The first room we entered on the tour was introduced as the ‘Men’s Kitchen.’ Much like John’s makeshift bedroom, the space was crammed to the rafters with an ominous selection of bric-a-brac: old horse brasses, Toby jugs, ceramic cats and willow pattern vases; there was a stuffed ram’s head hanging from a wooden beam above the fireplace, a dartboard, a collection of clay flagons and a ship’s life-ring branded with the words, Wotton-under-Edge.
John was a hoarder; that much was plain to see. For all the harmless junk however, the English pub ephemera and local souvenirs, I began to notice a darker theme that spread through the collection. Tucked behind the red velvet seats that sat about the fireplace, a ouija stood propped against the stone wall; replica human skulls lay dotted here and there amongst the refuse; an impressive collection of dead and taxidermied things lay all about. The clutter was not random, but rather, the more I looked the more I found a preoccupation with the macabre, the occult.
Our energetic tour guide launched immediately into tales of the various phantasmagoria reported in this space. We were stood, he explained, on the former burial ground, and it was here that many visitors had heard the sound of a baby crying. A woman was murdered here by highwaymen, and she continues to haunt the building. Electronics have been known to fail in this room, with camera batteries mysteriously draining themselves.
In July 2003, the Ghost Club (a paranormal investigation team founded in 1862) paid a visit to the Ram and photographed a number of orbs here in the Men’s Kitchen, floating above John’s head. They also reported a moving electro-magnetic frequency hotspot.
The main attraction of the Men’s Kitchen, however, was the ancient grave – a fact made abundantly clear by a helpful sign planted into the exposed soil (along with a cross and a shovel) in the back corner of the room. Around the grave, barrels, keyboards, and Egyptian-styled ceramic ornaments had been piled into a kind of chaotic amphitheatre. Overhead a stuffed crow hung from a wooden ceiling beam by fishing wire; it turned slowly as if in flight, moved by an invisible breeze.
“That’s where they found the little children’s bones,” John told us. He was referring to a group of ghost-hunters from nearby Swindon, who in June 1997 were given permission to tear up parts of the concrete floor while searching for the entrance to a sealed cellar. Instead, they found a grave – containing the remains of a woman and child, buried along with broken iron shards. The pieces were analysed by Bristol Museum, who conceded that the signs may point to ritual sacrifice using an iron dagger. The ghost hunters, meanwhile, suffered a car crash on their way back home. Coincidence? John thinks not.
The discovery of the grave had come as little surprise though, he explained to us. It was here that John had slept, directly above the grave, on his very first night in the Ancient Ram. The way he tells it, an invisible force grabbed him by the ankle and yanked him violently clear of his bed. Ever since then he’d known that something lay hidden beneath the spot.
Meanwhile, diviners have claimed the existence of a secret tunnel leading from the fireplace of the Men’s Kitchen, connecting to the crypts of the nearby church. Again, John believes the story – but he said he’d chosen not to investigate further, for fear of waking up further dormant spirits.
The Mayflower Barn
On the ground floor, close by the roadside, a large and largely undeveloped space of the Ancient Ram is formed of the former stables of the property: the Mayflower Barn. Some accounts have described this as a makeshift living room or seating area… though at the time of my visit it was so crammed full of junk and debris that one would be hard pressed to find a place to sit.
When the television program Most Haunted came to the Ancient Ram, the team’s resident spirit medium – Derek Acorah – was possessed by an entity that told the team to visit the barn; and in this space, beneath these same ancient beams, one presenter was set upon by an invisible force that threw him to the floor before beating and kicking him. In the program’s conclusion they offered the attack as proof of physical manifestation – though without showing bruises, or any other kind of actual evidence, I feel the verbal testimony remains a little way short of ‘proof.’
Nevertheless, this wasn’t the first time visitors to the barn had experienced such attacks. One 18-year-old ghost hunter had previously claimed to be thrown to the floor by an unseen force; while John himself has seen strange lights here, and been pinned against the wall while the diving curtains were torn apart. A father and son team once fled the space after witnessing ‘a ghost rising from the floor,’ while a tall, seven-foot shadow has been sighted rushing through the barn and out the door.
There wasn’t much to see here this time – even less space to stand and congregate – and though I would have been fascinated to root through the dusty relics piled high in the former stables (an electric organ, magazines, pub signs, all manner of curious bric-a-brac) John led us swiftly back, through the door, and into a reception area that led up to the first floor of the building.
By the foot of the staircase, he pointed out his old motorbike.
“Can you believe I used to ride that?” he said. He asked if any of us rode bikes – and, as if oblivious to the answer, he’d ask again periodically throughout the tour. This was just one of the recurring signs of John’s age, and it reminded me of my conversations with an elderly relative in the final days of his battle with Alzheimer’s. I thought back to the bad review on TripAdvisor, which had suggested this feigned forgetfulness was all a part of the con act. The criticism didn’t feel fair though, looking at the little man before me. Now well on his way to 90 years old, John Humphries is legitimately loosing his memory.
We passed upstairs next: a narrow set of stairs that run up to the first floor, overlooked by a stuffed ram’s head pinned to the stone wall at the top. Some visitors, John informed us, had been thrown down the stairs by unseen hands. In 1999, an image captured by paranormal investigator Julie Hunt appears to show a pillar of white mist ascending the staircase. Meanwhile Mike Driscoll, from the group UK Paranormal, reports having been shoved down this staircase by invisible forces on no less than three separate occasions.
Thankfully we made it to the top step without incident, and emerged into a landing area sometimes referred to as the ‘Clock Room.’
“See that grandfather clock?” John was explaining, “well, that’s haunted too.”
There seemed to be very little in the house, furniture included, that didn’t come with its own curse attached. The story here was that a human face had been known to appear on the clockface; I looked closely, but only saw glimpses of my own features reflected back in the polished, warped wood.
On the wall opposite a veritable scrapbook of newspaper clippings had been pinned, stories about the Ancient Ram and its various ghostly inhabitants. Above that, cobwebs trailed from a crooked light shade and a fox’s head gazed out over the room, its formaldehyde snarl preserved for all eternity.
The Witch’s Room
We entered a first bedroom, all chintz and velvet and stuffed animals, and John introduced this as the ‘Witch’s Room.’
Here’s the story: in the 16th century, the was a woman in the town of Wotton believed to be a witch. Fleeing trial, she briefly took refuge inside the Ancient Ram… before being recaptured and burnt at the stake (in some tellings, along with her black cat familiar). Today she still haunts that room where she had hid, appearing at the bedside to anyone foolhardy enough to spend the night.
John stood back beside the door, and when he’d finished his story he invited us to walk about and explore. There was something uncanny about the place – not supernatural, per se, but rather the room was filled to the brim with soft toys, tapestries, mismatched furniture and cushions that seemed at odds with their setting, with one another. The effect was a simulacrum of comfort, an insult to taste, a human space decorated as if by a non-human mind.
As the locals played with stuffed toys on the bed – the boys trying to scare the girls at every opportunity – I tried to clear my mind and ignore the décor; in the Ghost Club report, investigators claimed that the Witch’s Room had struck them as the most supernaturally charged space in the Ancient Ram Inn. Other ghost hunters have captured photographs of inexplicable lights, orbs and shadows.
My fellow guests chatted away, John kept telling his stories; we brought so much human noise with us, that for a spirit to be heard – witch or not – it would have had to work hard in overcoming our own voices. While not particularly unsettling, the place was at least uncomfortable for some reason I could not quite place… but I’d sense no more than vague displacement, before John ferried us out of the room, back across the landing and on towards the legendary dark heart of the Ancient Ram.
The Bishop’s Room
The stories surrounding this particular room are many. It is supposed to be the most haunted part of the building, and during the Ram’s time as a functioning inn many guests would refuse to stay in the room – others unwittingly checked into the Bishop’s Room, only to run out screaming in the middle of the night. There were reports of furniture flying about the room on its own; and one time a medium was thrown down the corridor on attempting to open the door.
Other sightings in the room include spectral monks, as well as the plumber who came face-to-face with the ghost of a mounted centurion. A cavalier has been seen, appearing by the dressing table before walking across the room. There are reports of a young woman hanging from the ceiling beams, a shepherd with his dog, and the disembodied screams of a man who at some point, supposedly, was killed by having his head thrust into the fireplace. Those who spent the night here would sometimes tell of a presence that climbed into bed alongside them, before pinning them down and interfering with them – John’s legendary succubus.
As he pushed open the wooden door – with a suitably drawn-out creak – John greeted the room and its occupants. “Is anyone there?” he asked, before switching on the light and making the sign of a cross. There was no response on this occasion, though sometimes, he told us, the question would be met by violent bangs and tremors around the room.
The Bishop’s Room was framed in monochrome wattle and daub, highlighted by the striking red of curtains, sheets and shades. The midday sun pushed its way in through closed drapes, feebly lighting a series of items lifted straight from fairytales; a spinning wheel, Chinese dragons, a pharaoh’s sarcophagus, the stuffed and mounted head of a fox. A bible sat beside the Egyptian casket, while a wooden plaque hung on one wall offered the quoted wisdom of Jesus Christ.
The dresser where visitors had sighted appearances of a spectral cavalier was filled with ornaments; fake flowers and porcelain figurines, snuff boxes, candle holders and vintage picture lockets. Every wall was adorned with framed paintings, a ramshackle assortment of unrelated scenes and faces.
Aside from the disconcerting clutter however, I sensed nothing particularly untoward about the place. Other photographers have appeared to capture strange mists and floating orbs… but I had no such luck.
Back in 1999, Mark and Julie Hunt – the same ghost hunters who photographed a pillar of mist on the staircase – reported extreme cold spots inside the room, watching dancing lights that resembled fireflies, and even catching an image of a hooded figure behind the dressing table. John claims that tame dogs have suddenly attacked their owners in the room, and that two investigators who spent a night here later had to visit a vicar in order to be exorcised.
A hand-written sign lay on the far bed, alongside a tear in the sheets, explaining that these were stab marks caused by ‘evil devil worshipers.’
John illustrated the point, showing us artefacts that he said had been removed from the chimney space. There was a round block of wood with wedge cut out, and a small iron horseshoe – both of which, we were told, had been sealed inside the brickwork for more than 200 years. Our guide explained that they were fetishes used in rituals of devil worship; the small horseshoe having been crafted to fit a goat’s cloven hoof.
As we left the room behind, I briefly locked eyes with the portrait of an elderly gentleman, Dutch beard and a vaguely worried expression pinned to the wall behind a colourful cast of Christ with fingers pointing to his flaming ruby heart.
The Weavers’ Attic
The last stop on the tour took us up to the attic – an area formerly used by weavers, which is now divided between a bedroom and an adjacent open space formed between wooden boards and beams. John’s daughter lived up here at one stage, he told us, along with her partner; and they would often hear the sounds of something heavy being dragged across the floor. Visitors to the building have echoed the same story, particularly those sleeping in the Bishop’s Room directly beneath the open attic.
According to some, the Weavers’ Attic is haunted by the ghost of an innkeeper’s daughter: murdered here in the loft sometime in the 1500s, and named by one visiting medium as ‘Elizabeth.’
The Ghost Club claim to have photographed mysterious mists on their visit to the attic, as well as registering abnormalities in electro-magnetic frequencies; another team of ghost hunters reported the sound of a dog panting; the Most Haunted team meanwhile, on entering the attic space, broke into hysterics when their camera gear malfunctioned and spirit medium Derek Acorah became possessed by a vengeful presence.
I myself experienced no such phenomena. The boards creaked underfoot, cobwebs dangled from the rafters. A cold breeze came in through cracks around the window jamb. There was a movement in the building, some tiny tectonic shift in the ancient framework, and a distant moan resonated through the wood around us. Just like every other space in the Ancient Ram, this place had all the trappings, the distilled essence of the stereotypical haunted house – what the Ghost Club called, “a feeling of intense melancholy” – but for all that ripe atmosphere, I experienced nothing that I wouldn’t expect from any thousand-year-old dwelling.
In the bedroom, beneath the low, sharp-angled eaves of the Ancient Ram Inn, another ouija board sat ready for use on a coffee table. If its addition to the décor was intended to help build a sense of foreboding, then it worked; but at the same time this consistent leaning toward the occult defeated any argument John might make of innocent victimhood.
The tour came to an end right there, on the top floor of the inn. John led us back downstairs to the door at the rear of the building and the local youths – my fellow ghost hunters – passed him a handful of coins. I watched; after reading reports that described him as a money-driven trickster, I was curious to see how the proprietor would respond to a gesture of such low financial value. But he thanked them, courteously, and they left.
I gave him a little more. At the sight of a crisp twenty-pound note, John looked as though he was ready to burst into tears. He tried refusing, passing it back, but I insisted.
“That’s the most anyone’s ever given me,” he said.
I wasn’t finished with the Ancient Ram though, as I felt the fast-paced guided tour had allowed me little chance to really interact with the place. If this building was haunted – by ghosts, witches, hell hounds or succubi – I suspected they’d be more inclined to appear to a single visitor. I asked John if I could explore again, alone this time. He agreed it and so, camera in hand, I made my way back up the stairs… and headed straight for the Bishop’s Room.
Alone in the Ancient Ram
I sat quietly on the bed, in the most haunted room of the most haunted building in the country, and waited. I was, essentially, offering myself as human bait, in my pursuit of evidence for the haunting of the Ancient Ram.
But I heard nothing. No dragging noises from above, no growling dogs. I saw no phantom cavalier; no shimmering centurion emerged from the walls of the Bishop’s Room. I wasn’t raped nor beaten nor thrown along a corridor. To the best of my knowledge, I was not possessed. Perhaps it would be a strange thing, in light of all that, to say that I was disappointed by the experience… but still, it would have been nice to see something.
I closed my eyes, and lay back against the pillow – under the watchful gaze of anonymous portrait figures, faded faces that lent an austere tone to the space while, I suspect, having been picked completely at random from antique shops and yard sales. I lay there for some time, listening to the building creak and sigh.
The Ancient Ram Inn is alive, in a sense. It is filled with life, with beetles, flies and woodworm, but more than that its own timbers form an ancient organism; one that is not static, but rather warps and twists, shrinks and expands, rots from inside out with a thousand years of slow death. That was enough for me – the stories, the history of the building, made this place exceptional. It didn’t need ghosts to sell it.
Making my way back downstairs, I rejoined John in his makeshift bedroom. He was eager to talk about his home – I got the impression that most people visited for the thrills, and that he rarely got a chance to discuss the building’s architecture or the many renovations he had conducted over the years. We chatted for a while, drank tea, and he even donated me a copy of the Ancient Ram’s original deeds of purchase.
Before I left, I considered asking John to let me take his photograph. It would have made for good journalism, I felt, this man being so much part and fibre of the Ram Inn, and the custodian of its many terrible stories; but I left my camera where it was. There was a kindness about him, an amiable transparency that made me warm to him, and I couldn’t help but feel that placing a camera between us would have somehow devalued that. John may have been a part of the story, growing old here amongst the dead, but so long as he was alive I felt it premature to catalogue him alongside the Ancient Ram Inn’s other, less corporeal inhabitants.
According to Richard Jones at Haunted Britain, an author and paranormal expert, “There is little doubt that the spirits and demons that reside within the walls of The Ancient Ram Inn are extremely active.” He goes on to describe the Ancient Ram as, “a place where nightmares abound,” and suggests that the experience of visiting is, “certainly not for those of a nervous disposition.”
I never set out to debunk the Ancient Ram, and should I have experienced anything unusual, anything that could not be explained, then I would have had no problem in relaying the incident in full right here; but as it happened, I saw, felt nor heard nothing that made me even slightly uncomfortable during my tour of England’s ‘most haunted house.’
When it comes to the supernatural, I tend to remain largely agnostic; I believe in what I’ve seen, but I enjoy surprises. If there were such a thing as a ‘haunted house’ however, then the Ancient Ram Inn must be the most perfect candidate for that title. Weird, rotten, and with a thousand years of life and death inside its walls… add to that an obsessive cast of ghost hunters and spiritualists, seances, ouija boards, dowsers, mediums and clairvoyants, all of them struggling to lift the veil, open portals, make contact, and you’d have the perfect storm for a supernatural infestation.
In considering the stories though – and in the absence of anything but anecdotal ‘evidence’ and damaged photographs – I wonder if age and reputation alone might be enough to make sense of it all.
The building itself is uncommonly atmospheric. The old timbers creak and groan, chill drafts permeate every room. Meanwhile the dense clutter of religious artefacts, animal taxidermy, odd antiques and creepy children’s toys seem to have been purposefully collected and placed, a lifetime’s work of curation that only heightens the uncanny landscape of the place. For anyone prone to flights of imagination, the stage has been immaculately prepared.
Of course, I can’t tell you that the Ancient Ram Inn isn’t haunted; only that I saw no proof, that no hard evidence is forthcoming, and moreover that this building wouldn’t need supernatural help in cultivating scares amongst those with a predisposition to believe.
I asked John why he didn’t leave the place.
“This is my home,” he answered. “I won’t let them scare me out of my home.” Far from avoiding spiritual interference though, it appears the Humphries family have done everything they can to welcome it into their lives. It seems to pay pretty well, too. Look at the records, and you’ll struggle to find accounts of haunting at the Ancient Ram before John Humphries bought it. John himself is the protagonist of the most shocking tales about the house, he is its keeper, its archivist and its prisoner. His daughter Caroline, meanwhile, seems adept at managing bookings as well as building publicity through sensational interviews with tabloid newspapers.
I’m sure bad things have happened here and I suspect that John believes his own stories; even if he may be somewhat prone to exaggeration. Who knows, maybe it’s all true – I couldn’t say otherwise and I’d love to go back there, spend the night and see something extraordinary. But for now at least, I’m inclined to believe that whatever demons lurk inside the Ancient Ram Inn are those belonging chiefly to the Humphries family themselves.