Friday was Halloween (in case you were living under a rock). I’m not a big celebrator of Halloween. I don’t like trick or treating (we had our first knock on the door in five years, which we ignored), and I don’t like dressing up. But what I do like is visiting secret places in Bristol and I love visiting unusual cemeteries, so on Halloween a trip to Bristol’s Arnos Vale cemetery was perfect.
In the south of Bristol, surrounded by shops, houses, offices and industrial areas, lies a massive cemetery, overgrown with trees, holly and brambles and home to an abundance of wildlife and the dead, spanning back to the Victorian era.
Parking is limited but we found somewhere to leave the car and went on a walk, uphill, through the trees. As you walk up, you can catch glimpses of the beautiful, grade listed monuments and chapel through the trees. Gravestones and tombs are scattered throughout, in some places giving the impression of a forgotten grave in woodland straight out of a horror movie.
The cemetery is hauntingly beautiful and it is, supposedly, haunted. Three of the famous ghosts are a woman in black, crying over the grave of her husband fallen in World War I, another woman who was accidentally buried alive and a nun who killed herself after becoming pregnant and was bricked up in the wall.
My new novel, which I finally started writing last week after spending months trying to sort out a plot knot, centres around two women who start their own paranormal investigation company. So I, of course, have been doing a lot of research into how such investigations are done, the equipment used and what the results can be.
Through the research I’ve discovered a (free!) ghost hunting app! It’s not great, but in the prisoner of war prisons at Edinburgh Castle in September it did pick up some faint energy, so I had some hope for Arnos Vale. Sadly, the app reported nothing.
That being said, the app also provides random words. I’ve since come to discover that some ghost hunter equipment provides words that spirits can manipulate to communicate with the living. At one point, walking through the cemetery, the path forked. While we were choosing whether to go left or go straight on, the app said to me ‘straight’.
Arnos Vale cemetery is also home to a community centre, a café and a gift shop (bit weird, but this amazing place is run by a Trust which needs to generate income, and it all adds to the charm). We sat outside, it being the warmest Halloween on record, surrounded by a head splitting amount of children dressed as witches, spiders, vampires and ghouls, and had cake (naturally). Their gluten free brownies are gorgeous.
Beneath the community centre…well, it has to be seen. Even if you don’t need to go, visit the toilets situated underneath the café and centre. Here there is a mini museum showing how the cemetery looked when it was first opened (not a tree in sight). Go left to empty your bladder, go right to involuntarily empty your bladder.
Yup, to the right, round the corner, is the remnants of the crematorium. A large furnace, the drop door where the coffin would lower, and the winch. It’s a bit less spooky if you discover it with a load of children dressed up, as I did. But go down there alone and you might find yourself running back out.
The Trust do evening and night walks around the cemetery, which I might brave one day. Otherwise you wouldn’t catch me there in the dark. We escaped before the sun began to set, but I’m itching to go back.
Arnos Vale is beautiful, tranquil and damn spooky. At Bristol’s own Necropolis you can walk your dog, do yoga, hunt ghosts, spot wildlife and even get married. It’s well worth a visit if you’re ever down this way.