Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Those boots were made for........spooking.

An earlier post where I mentioned an unexplained encounter at Caerphilly Castle brought to mind the only other similar happening I've had.  We'll call this one 'The Dark Arch Incident'.

Let's set the scene.  When I was growing up the local pit or coal mine (Bedwas Navigation Colliery to give it its full title) was an even bigger playground for us than Caerphilly Castle.  It loomed large over the village and provided employment for most of the men.  We roamed around it and in it as freely as we could get away with and there were few parts of the pit that we weren't familiar with.  The pit buildings were on the mountainside and were separated from the village (and the now contiguous neighbouring village of Trethomas) by the railway line (down to Newport and up to Merthyr Tydfil).  Easy access to the pit  for many of the miners was provided by a narrow tunnel - the Dark Arch - under the railway.  The Dark Arch was around 100 yards long and had a kink in its length so that you could not see all the way through.  It was dank, smelly and, at best, very poorly lit.  For young children it was a rather frightening place.  So much so that, more often than not, we would wait for some miners to go through and then tag along behind them rather than risking it by ourselves.

The infamous Dark Arch. The hut to the left was a relic of the strikes for union recognition in the 30s.  A classic workers vs bosses conflict which the workers won.  Power to the People!

However, when we were feeling brave we used to play a game of dare: who had the nerve to go through the Dark Arch by themselves?  How old were we when we did this?  In my mind, we were a few years younger than 11, certainly before I moved the great distance of a mile to live in Trethomas rather than Bedwas (that would be 1959).  Back to the game: this involved a few of us at each end at the start and the bravest setting off into the Stygian gloom alone.  We did this many times without anything of note happening but one particular time something did.  We were all set up with maybe 3 or 4 of us congregated at each of the two entrances.  All of a sudden, the group I was with heard the sound of hob-nailed boots clattering over the cobbles of the tunnel.  It sounded as if a miner was walking through. This went on for a while and we waited for someone to emerge before we started our game. But the clattering faded away and no-one came out.  We thought that the walker had stopped out of sight so we waited ... and waited and waited .. for them to come out. Nobody did and, after a while, we went in en masse to see what was happening. No-one was there and we met the other group of us coming down doing the same thing.  All of us had heard the sound and, as no-one had gone passed us, we were all convinced that someone had been walking in the tunnel towards the end that we were standing at.  I know what I heard and, again, I have no explanation for it.  Of course, at the time we attributed it to the Dark Arch being haunted, not that I was ever aware of any such myths being associated with it, then or since.  One consequence of this event was that we never played the game again and we made sure that we always went through the Dark Arch with at least one friend or tagged onto an adult.  Another consequence was that, even as an adult, I never felt easy going through the tunnel.  As a student, I spent a few summers working at the coking plant next to the pit and, although the route through the Dark Arch was the shortest, I invariably took the longer path that avoided it.  Daft, eh?  Even dafter is the observation that the hairs at the back of my neck were standing on end as I just recalled the sound of the ghostly hob-nailed boots advancing towards me - over the decades..........

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