Monday, 16 November 2009

Trevone Bay and the Hole

To the west of Padstow, just around the headland, is a small village called Trevone Bay. For me, the best feature of the bay lies on the grassy slope leading up to the cliffs on the east side, and it is at this feature where an aquageist exists.
Trevone Bay's unusual feature is not visible from ground level so as you begin walking towards the cliffs its sudden appearance is a breathtaking surprise.
What you see is a collapsed sea cave, in other words, a huge hole in the ground, about twenty metres from the cliff edge, spanning approximately 20 metres across and approximately 80 meters deep. From the south side of the hole it would be perilous, but just about possible, to climb down to the bottom, unlike the north side where it's a sheer drop to the rocky bottom.
At high tide the water gushes in through a tunnel carved in the cliff-face.
The last time I travelled to Trevone Bay I arranged to meet up with Philip in the local pub where he works. Philip had found out about my aquageist investigation and contacted me personally. He told me that he knew of some strange occurrences he wanted to share with me. Naturally he garnered my full attention and I had to meet him in person.

I took my Dictaphone to the meeting at Philip's local and recorded the conversation we had at the bar. What follows is a transcript of the meeting.

Andy Wright: So Philip, here we are at your place of work. It’s a lovely cottage pub with horse brass adorning the beams, that customary but all too rare soothingly soft orange light and an open fire complete with the crackling of burning timber - there's even the pub's collie lying down at my feet. So Philip, tell me about the strange occurrences you’ve experienced here at Trevone Bay.

Philip: It began a few years ago, during the summer season, usually between 7pm and 9pm, with these holidaymakers running into the pub, all out of breath, telling me to call the coast guard immediately. When I asked them what’s happened, they’d tell me there’s a young lad trapped at the bottom of Trevone hole shouting for help.

The first time it happened I phoned the coast guard without hesitation. A helicopter was sent out. When it got to the hole there was no lad at the bottom. The tide had come in so they thought maybe the lad’d been washed out to sea. A search party worked through the night and by the morning no body was found and, weirdly, no body was reported missing.

It wasn’t long after that fiasco when it all happened again: a bloke burst into the pub out of breath saying a lad’d fallen down the hole and he’s shouting for help. This time I asked to be taken to the hole.

AW: Why?

P: For all I knew the last one might have been a hoax. There's people out there with a sick sense of humour. Anyway, there was no lad at the bottom of the hole. The bloke couldn't believe it. At that point I come to the conclusion that something abnormal was going on.

That same summer the same thing happened about 8 times. Then one day I decided to check it out for myself and went to the hole. I remember nobody was on the cliffs that day and sea mist had began to set in. I remember getting a bit nervous too. Even before I reached the hole I could hear these faint cries for help. When I looked down the hole I saw the young lad they'd all been talking about, dressed in shorts and a football shirt.

AW: What did you do next?

P: I ran down to the beach then walked back up to the hole again. He'd gone.

AW: Did you go there again?

P: Yes. I had to, just to check I wasn’t going mad. But I wish I hadn’t.

AW: Why?

P: Because when I went to the hole again I could hear the faint cries, but they weren’t just cries for help, the cries were saying ‘Philip, help me! Philip!’ Now that really freaked me out! How the hell did he know my name? I went there again though, but the third time had to be the last time… that ghost, or whatever it is, is a malicious bastard!

AW: Why ‘malicious’?

P: Because when I went to the hole for the third time, I heard ‘Philip, help me, help me, Philip, help’ as I expected. I went to edge of the hole and looked down but I couldn’t see the lad. I turned to go back and nearly had a heart attack. He was standing about 5 meters in front of me. Then he started to approach me, holding out his hands, then, I don’t know what happened next, I blanked out or shut my eyes, or something. When I opened my eyes again he wasn’t in front of me or down the hole.

AW: So you got a close look at him?

P: Yeah, I got a good look at his face and you know what? It looked familiar. I went back to the pub that night and sat where you’re sitting right now. I had a shot of tequila and tried to regain some composure, I was shaking a bit and that face, I kept picturing it, it was so familiar. Then it dawned on me. I turned around and, see that wall behind you? Look at the photograph second up from the centre. Actually, bring it over here.

(I did as he said and walked over to the wall behind me adorned in photographs from all eras, pictures of farming, school classes and drunken nights in the pub. The second up from the centre was a b&w group photograph of a football team.)

P: This is a picture of a local football team. It was taken in 1963. The lad that I saw is the one on the back row, third in. I’ve tried to find out more about him but nobody in the village wants to talk about it him-

Unfortunately the Dictaphone stopped recording at this point.

Phil proceeded to take the photograph out of the frame. He showed me its back. The name of each player was written down except for one that had been scribbled out, the player on the back row, third in. He held the photograph up to one of the bar's lights. I could just make out the name, Phil Nicholas. Philip told me that was also his name, and that he was born in 1963, the year the photograph was taken.

I remember Philip's parting words. He said if I was looking for a logical answer, he had one piece of advice for me: don’t look.

[photos to follow shortly]

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Wembury Unwed

On the south coast of Devon, not far from Plymouth, is a village called Wembury. If you drive through the village, heading towards the coast, there is a narrow road which leads to a car park that overlooks Wembury beach and the triangular island which lies 500m off shore called the Mewstone.

Wembury beach is very rocky. Marine biologists and school children of all ages can often be found examining its many rock pools, but they have to time it right because when the tide is in, the entire beach disappears under the sea. There is also a small marine centre, public toilets, a parish church and a tiny tea house on the edge of the beach.

The church is in a picturesque location and extremely popular for wedding ceremonies, as I would imagine most coastal churches are (last I heard there is a 4 year waiting list for this church). I'd heard certain rumours from a couple of people I know who used to live in Wembury about something that happened in the 1980's, so I arranged to have a talk with one of the reverends about the history of the church and the beach. I also wanted to ask the reverend if he knew of any occurrence that might qualify as an aquageist. His answers verified the rumours I'd heard.

The reverend told me how in 1985 a lovable group of people arrived at the church to rehearse a wedding. The groom was there with his family and best man, the bride was there with her family and bridesmaids. The rehearsals went fine but longer than scheduled. By the time they were finished the night had drawn in. The families finally parted company and returned home, except the bride and groom, they stayed behind.

What happened next is pure speculation. From the evidence found at the scene (their clothes bundled on the edge of the beach) it had been deduced that under the moonlight they stripped nude and, undeterred by the coldness of the sea, they entered the water. It must have been romantic: the moonlight dancing on the water; the silhouettes of the church behind them and the Mewstowe in front of them; the wedding just around the corner. As they swam alone the future must have seemed exciting and bright.

It is assumed that the young lovers got caught in a strong riptide that dragged them out to sea. Their bodies were recovered by a coast guard who found them washed up on to the Mewstowe’s southerly shore. The coast guard was reported have found them with their arms locked around each other.

The aquageist that has resulted from this tragedy has manifested itself in a unusual way. There is no ghost per se; nor is there a presence in the water. What happens is, at dusk on the 15th of October every year, once the hightide has receded, a collection of seaweed remains on the shore, not far from where the lovers’ clothes were found; the gathering of seaweed is mysteriously sculpted into a shape that resembles two naked lovers entwined. As of yet there are no photographs of this aquageist but I do know that the relatives of the deceased groom and bride hold a vigil on the beach every night on the 15th of October.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Diver of Stoke Beach

About 10 miles from Plymouth, between Wembury and Mothecom-be, down a winding single track road, past a sequestered caravan site and an abandoned church, there is a 49 step steel staircase that leads down to Stoke Beach.

You don’t have to be familiar with Stoke Beach’s history to sense its immutable dourness; a palpable gloom that makes the well-manicured caravan site seem so peculiarly out of place.

The uncanny atmosphere becomes noticeable when you first step onto the beach. Perhaps it’s the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment created by the thin stretch of grey sand lined by crumbling high-rising cliffs only feet away on one side, and the rows of jagged rocks, darkened by mussels and barnacles, stretching out into the sea on the other side

Whatever the cause is, I found the strange and inescapable atmosphere of Stoke Beach intensified after the revealing talk I had with Bill, an elderly resident who lives in a caravan that overlooks the beach.

I first met Bill when I was exploring the dilapidating church that’s situated next to the caravan site. I told him about my search for aquageists and he invited me back to his caravan where, over a cup of peppermint tea, he told me about a tragic incident that happened in 1986, and its ghoulish consequence.

It was the beginning of the holiday season. The caravan site and the slither of beach was becoming increasingly crowded. Bill’s friend (who has since passed away) was in the sea testing his new snorkel and mask set, swimming along the channels created by the fingers of jagged rock that point out to the horizon. He was only 5 meters from the shore when he noticed that directly underneath him was a diver, lying motionless on the seabed, facing up at him, his eyes wide open and still; his left hand disappearing into an enclave at the foot of the rock.

The police were called and the beach was cordoned off. The bloated body of the diver was recovered – after having its hand severed - and taken up the metal staircase to an ambulance.

Bill remembers the implacable stench that pervaded the caravan site that afternoon. He said: 'It was like a school of beached whales had gone rotten. The smell was so powerful even seagulls retreated... Not many people went in the water that summer.’

It turned out the diver had been under the water for six months. His identification was never discovered: he wasn’t a resident of the caravan site; nobody remembered seeing anyone that resembled his description; and no abandoned vehicles were found at the scene. However, the night before he was to be laid to rest at Stoke Beach Church, his body was stolen from a local mortuary and never seen again.

Mystery still surrounds his identity and the reason why his hand was wedged in the enclave, 7ft under the water. What was he reaching for? The only person who could have the answers is the person (or persons) who stole the body the night before the burial.

People who swim out to the spot where the diver was found, compelled by either a natural sense of morbid curiosity, or to investigate the enclave, said that when they ducked under the water and opened their eyes, saw the lifeless body of the diver, lying stretched out on the seabed, his hand still trapped and his eyes wide open.

So next time you’re in the south west of Devon and have a chance to explore the coastal area between Wembury and Mothecombe, why not take a little detour down a certain single track road to Stoke Beach? Walk down the 49 steps to the beach and, weather pending, swim 5 meters from the shore to the spot where the diver was found, then bravely plunge your head under the surface of the water with your eyes open, you might just witness your first aquageist. But remember to resist the impulse to explore the enclave, or it could cost you your life.