September 22, 1986
Arrived late this afternoon at Alton Station with a cold wind blowing leaves down the railway line and rain threatening. Very atmospheric. Settled into my room — I have the house to myself — and looked out these guestbooks. I’ve spent a good hour reading them, looking for ghost sightings — which is why I’m here. Lots of funny stories though, really enjoyed reading about Sooty the station cat; not sure if he’s still about or not.
I’m a storyteller myself. I work for a magazine in Oslo, so forgive me if my English is bad. I’ve come here to write about the ghosts of the haunted station, which is what my editor called it. In the daylight it was hard to see this quaint place, with its Italian waiting room, and the footpath outside the door, as haunted. But now that it’s dark, and the wind is rattling the windows of the sitting room, I can imagine it. Hopefully future visitors will not mind if I use this logbook as a diary of my investigations.
Spent some time making dinner in the kitchen behind the sitting room. Imagine a whole family living here! It must have been very crowded. Then went back to the armchair to read more of the logbooks. More mentions of the cat, and also of a secret passage, which sounds fascinating. When it gets dark, it’s so quiet here. Hard to believe there is a village down the road and a theme park just up the hill; this could be the middle of nowhere. The logbook says that some people bring portable TVs, but that they don’t work anyway. I think it’s better this way.
September 23, 1986
Woke up to a grey dawn, and crows making a racket on the trees up and down the railway line. Went for a walk into the village to do my shopping, then took a bath to get the cold out of my bones. The pipes made a noise like a steam train, which is as close as the station has come to a train in 20 years, according to the guide book.
The station master’s house is a lovely place to stay, but the waiting room is a different thing. I can see that someone has tried their best to repair the old vandalism of broken windows and stained flagstones, but it’s a sad place. The paint is peeling, the plaster is starting to soften, the wind has filled it up with leaves. There are strange things too: a badly stuffed budgie in a cage, a threadbare railwayman’s hat left on a hook, spider webs in the corners. I look all around it for the secret tunnel the logbook mentioned, but found nothing.
Still no sign of the cat.
The afternoon is bright, so I take my rental Astra out for a drive around the potteries. It’s not really the season for it, but the big brick kilns make me think of the Victorians who built the railway at Alton. Down on the old line you can see where they cut their way straight through the old iron workings.
According to this logbook there is a thing called the Chained Oak not far from the station — a tree with a really sinister reputation. I asked about it in the village, and they told me a story of a curse that was placed on the Earl of Shrewsbury by an old woman, on an autumn day just like this one, except dark and stormy. The Earl was out in his coach, in the driving rain, when he came across an old woman in the road. She begged him to give her shelter in his coach, but he rode her aside, so she cursed him. She pointed at an oak by the road and said that each time a branch fell off one of the Earl’s family would die. Later a branch did fall, and there was a death, so the Earl had his men wrap the tree in chains, so that no more branches could ever fall.
I went looking for the tree before dinner. It’s a little way along the old railway line, perched on top of a steep hillside, with a precarious flight of steps below it. The woods around it were grey and claustrophobic, full of tangled bushes and stagnant water, and the tree loomed above me, covered in heavy iron chains. Not quite a ghost story, but I came back to the station full of ideas.
September 24, 1986
Breakfast time, on a cloudy day. I spent a while poking in all the corners of the house last night looking for the secret tunnel. Sadly I think there is no such thing; the house isn’t large. I thought it might be in the cupboard under the stairs, but there is nothing unusual there.
Read some more of the logbooks. Lots of charming stories there. Also mention of a ghostly station master wandering the platform in the dead of the night. I stayed up late last night myself in the hope that I might see him, but there was nothing to see.
Even Sooty the station cat appears to be dead. He stops being mentioned in the book a year back. Some former guests write about hearing strange scratching at the downstairs window — the ghost of the cat — so I spent a while sitting in the unused downstairs bedroom with the lights dim, but I heard nothing except a few bursts of rain spattering off the windowpane. I think that my editor got it wrong when he called this place haunted.
Tomorrow is last my full day, so tonight I will try a solo séance to see if I can call up some of these spirits.
September 25, 1986
Heading back to Oslo tomorrow, where I hope my editor will enjoy a compilation of the best true stories from the Landmark logbook as a substitute for a ghost article.
Sadly, my séance last night was not a success. I had brought a spirit board with me from Norway, and attempted to make contact with the dead through it. Was a little nervous, even though the station clearly is not haunted at all. In Norway we have draug and gasten, neither of which are like your transparent English ghosts, but instead have physical bodies and are very dangerous. I do not take these things as seriously as my editor, but at the same time who would not be afraid of the things that scared you as a child?
Luckily for me, though unluckily for my article, no ghost, English or Norwegian, made an appearance. You could almost think they are taunting me. Never mind, since it is a clear and bright day today I will put away my ghost hunting things and go for a walk along the old railway line, which some of the logbook entries say leads to quite a grand tunnel just a few miles away.
Later: just a note to say that the tunnel at Oakamoor is, indeed, well worth a visit, as is the Cricketers’ Arms, which serves a reasonable lunch for a few pounds. The weather, which has been grey and blustery most of the week, decided to give me a break, and I was able to enjoy my walk, and my pint, under a blue sky with only scattered clouds. The weather closed in later, but by that point I was safely back in the snug station master’s house, considering my supper.
Great visit, even if ghost free.
September 26, 1986
It is dark, the middle of the night. The only light is the lamp over the armchair, where I am writing this. I am not sure what time it is — there is no clock here, and my watch has stopped. I can hardly believe the things I have just experienced. I need to write them down somewhere, while I can.
I went to bed without any ghost hunting attempt. First time for that, I wonder if that’s relevant. A noise woke me. It sounded like something scratching at my window — on the second floor! By the time I got out of bed the noise had moved downstairs, so I went down myself.
There was a light in the downstairs hall, I think. A pale sort of glow, which I was coming from the cupboard under the stairs. I was certain that I’d left it closed, so I was worried, but curious too — so I crept up and peeked inside.
There was a second door open inside the cupboard, a door that had not been there before. Through the second door a steep passage led down into the ground — the secret tunnel!
It was impossible, and supernatural! I had to look, of course. I crept down with my hand on the wall, and my eyes everywhere, alert for some sort of danger. Instead I found myself in a narrow brick–lined corridor lit by a phosphorescent, directionless light. It went down a good ten feet before it levelled out, and then straight on, how far I couldn’t really tell, until it sloped upwards again towards a second door.
I came out into noise, movement, bright light. I was at the far end of the station, and the platform was full of people.
Men, women, and children thronged around me, crowding their way to the bottom of a steep path that led up towards the Alton Towers gate high above, the thing they called The Avenue in the station history book. The people were Victorians, or Edwardians, all dressed up for a day out in worsted suits and dresses with bustles. It was a horde; talking and laughing as they pressed on every side of me, carrying me along with them as if I was baggage. I tried to push free. I raised my voice. I shouted ‘excuse me!’, but they ignored me completely, as if they couldn’t see me — as if I was the ghost!
I was terrified. I was sure I’d be crushed by these people, and then no one would even know what had happened to me! Even as I was being pushed and shoved, I was imagining the police reading my logbook entries and wondering where I’d gone.
Abruptly the crowd vanished, and I stumbled towards the edge of the platform, confused and disoriented. The bright sun was gone too. Instead, a black and white cat sat in front of me on the cold tiles, licking one paw with casual indifference. I knew at once that it must be Sooty, the dead station cat.
A light grew behind the cat, a cold light in the sudden darkness, and I saw that it came from a lantern that was being held aloft by the gast of the station master, in his stiff collared shirt and his tight buttoned waistcoat. He was wearing the same peaked cap that hangs in the waiting room, and I could not see his face, but I knew it would be the face of the proud bearded man whose picture sits on the sitting room wall.
The master raised a whistle to his lips and blew, but the sound I heard was the shriek of a steam train, which at that moment came howling out from under the railway bridge. It was a dark train, armoured and shuttered — a wartime train like the ones that used to rush through Alton station without stopping. The platform was suddenly full again, this time with soldiers dressed in khaki and uniform caps; bearing packs, and rifles, and the blank eyes of draugr.
Even so the train did not stop. It thundered past, and blew all the dead soldiers around like leaves in a gale, banging the waiting room shutters and shaking the branches of the chained oak — which loomed above everything like a judge pronouncing sentence — and I went right up into the air with all the rest of them! A moment of sickening motion, and then I was sucked straight off the platform into the path of the rushing train!
I screamed. Things hit me. I tumbled out of control. When I finally stopped, I was lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs in the station master’s house, in the middle of the night.
If that sounds to you like a nightmare, I swear it was not. It was as real as anything else I’ve written here. Take my advice: stay here if you like, walk on the railway path, visit the potteries, have fun; but don’t go looking for the ghosts of Alton station, or they might come looking for you!
Magnus Dahl, September 1986
A note on the story
Most of this story is based on things that appeared in the actual Alton Station logbooks, which are a feature of all Landmark Trust properties. This includes the secret tunnel, sooty the cat, the stuffed budgie, the spectral station master, and the story of the chained oak. It also includes the Scandinavian ghost hunter, who wrote in the logbook about his intention to hunt ghosts and write an article about it.
A number of things mentioned no longer exist (or are no longer accessible), including—of course—the old layout of the house. It also includes the tunnel at Oakamoor, which is now sealed up, but which used to be open to walkers. I had a great stay in Alton Station, and didn’t see a single ghost.
Hail, fellow Landmarker! And hail, fellow Landmark ghost-conjurer.
Great story. A bit Mugby Junction, a bit Sapphire & Steel, a bit late-night BBC2 in the late 1970s. Brrrrrr. (Or, as there was a cat, should I say Prrrrrr?)