by Alex Woodward
Weymouth is probably no more haunted than any other town with a population of fifty thousand odd. But as a tourist resort it's currently enjoying a huge upsurge in popularity: last year TripAdvisor placed it at number four in a list of the Top Global Emerging Destinations. Not all the visitors will be interested in ghosts, of course, but many of them will... so the potential audience for a book entitled Haunted Weymouth is huge.
Alex Woodward is the founder of Weymouth Ghost Walks, and her book draws very effectively on this experience. Needless to say there is nothing in the book—based as it is on anecdotes and legends—that is going to convince a hardened skeptic. But for anyone with an open mind, it provides a comprehensive survey of everything Weymouth has to offer in the way of spooky phenomena. There are ghosts that are seen, ghosts that are heard, ghosts that nudge you gently and ghosts that push you violently from behind. There are even ghosts that can only be detected by the smell of their tobacco! And then there are poltergeists, spectral dogs, timeslips, phantom Roman legions and strange lights in the sky.
The majority of the events described are relatively recent, and of the one-off "It Happened to Me" variety. Alex Woodward does an excellent job of re-telling these stories in a way that is engaging and entertaining. Even more interesting, though, are the tales that are rooted in local legend, such as the Whistling Gunner who met his fate at the Nothe Fort, the gruesome murders that took place in the Black Dog inn, and the tortured souls of Helen (formerly Hell) Lane, where the Black Death is said to have entered the country in the fourteenth century. There is even one classic "ghost story" that could have come from the pen of M.R. James himself—in which a spectral apparition repeatedly points at a blank wall, eventually leading to the discovery of a hidden skeleton from the Civil War!
Even if you have difficulty believing in the supernatural, you will find some intriguing local legends in this book: rumours of a buried treasure in Chapelhay, a smugglers' tunnel at Newton's Cove, another tunnel reputed to have been built by King George III, and black magic rituals supposedly conducted among the ruins of a disused church on Portland.
|Ghost Guide: Alex Woodward
Haunted Weymouth is arranged in roughly geographical order. Part One is a meandering perambulation through the town from the Nothe in the south to the Esplanade in the north. Part Two (which is much shorter) describes a few ghostly highlights from the surrounding area, including Portland, Abbotsbury and Lulworth. There are numerous black and white photographs, many of them set at quirky angles and seemingly held in place by paperclips or magic tape—a nice touch which gives the book a friendly feel. Unfortunately, not all the images have reproduced that well. High contrast black and white photographs can be extremely moody and evocative, and that's exactly what the book needed. So it's disappointing that, due to the vagaries of the printing process, too many of the pictures have turned out with low contrast and looking rather dull.
The book is meant to be read from cover to cover, rather than used as a work of reference. If you wanted to use it in the latter way, you would find it difficult due to the lack of an index. The geographical arrangement makes it easy enough to find a particular building or street, but if you're interested in a specific topic—such as "ghosts from the Civil War" (of which Weymouth has many) or "ghosts seen in Ladies' Toilets" (of which, bizarrely, Weymouth also has a large number)—you will have to resort to flicking back and forth through the book.
As I've already said, Haunted Weymouth is not a book for the skeptics: it won't convert any non-believers into believers. But for anyone with the slightest interest in the supernatural, whether they are long-time residents of Weymouth, holidaymakers or occasional visitors, this is a fascinating and enjoyable insight into the spookier side of the world's fourth-from-top Global Emerging Destination.