Is there anybody there? Steve Pratt goes to a paranormal party in a haunted pub in York, but finds the spirits aren’t willing to come out from behind the bar.

TWO in the morning. Drinkers at the Black Swan, one of York’s oldest and most haunted pubs, have long since supped up and gone. The old, creaking timber-framed building is in darkness.

We ghosthunters – a motley crew of medium, paranormal investigators and journalist – are creeping about the darkened building, gliding as quietly as a ghost down the stairs by torchlight and into the bar, eerily illuminated by the flickering flames of the log fire.

I spot a shadowy figure sitting in a chair by the fireplace. He – the silhouette is recognisably male – moves. A hand reaches towards the table and picks up the pint glass standing on it.

The figure speaks. “The best way is to sit quietly,” he says, addressing the ghosthunters entering the room as noiselessly as they can in an old building that creaks and groans at every move.

This is no apparition but Andy the landlord.

We’ve interrupted his pint with which he likes to relax at the end of a busy night. He, unlike us, has seen things. “A lot of things,” he emphasises.

“I’m used to it, they’re all over the place,” he says of the ghostly visitors at the 14th Century pub, now a Grade II-listed building. “I’ve had soldiers running down the steps. You don’t see what they are, they’re just shadows.”

He’s also encountered a Charlie Chaplinesque man in a bowler hat, one of the Black Swan’s most famous other worldly visitors.

He has met the dog. A sort of Yorkshire hound of the Baskervilles, by the sound of it.

It’s a haunted dog, says Andy. “I felt something sleeping on my feet,” he adds.

Andy tells us his “chill out time” is when ghosts like to come out. “They’re lovely,” he says, “if they’re not nicking my beer”.

As it happened, we – well, I – didn’t see anything out of the ordinary during a Friday night and Saturday morning paranormal party. But I heard plenty of tales of gruesome murder and mutilation, held hands in a seance and attempted to provoke a ouija board into life.

York-based Dick Turpin Tours, set up by Amanda Hayward, offers a complete paranormal package In The Company Of Ghosts. No promises are made, apart from the prospect of an entertaining time – which seems fair enough as legislation requires they advertise themselves as entertainment. Ghosthunting can be fun.

Ghost walks are a part of York life. Walk round any corner at night and you’ll bump into a cloaked gentleman regaling tourists about the city’s bloody history.

Amanda Hayward set up the company after spotting a gap in the market for ghost tours starting earlier than the others. Hers begin at 6pm, starting and ending at the Black Swan, and offering a chance for everyone to eat, drink and be merry after being scared to death.

Ghost guide and local historian Chris Kelly gets things off to an unsettling start as we walk the streets, pausing to hear terrible tales of torture, men with black holes instead of eyes and people walled up alive with the bodies of rotting priests.

After a candlelit dinner upstairs in the pub, the equipment for locating psychic hotspots is produced. Divining rods, temperature guns and night vision cameras all have a part to play in putting ghosts on the record. Rachel Lacy, billed as York’s Ghostfinder General, spends much of the evening surveying and recording activities through the lens of a movie camera.

Try the divining rod, I’m told. You could just bend a coat hanger and go looking for phenomena.

There are more sophisticated models, but in my hands these metal rods prove uncontrollable and likely to be classed as an offensive weapon.

They’re difficult to operate, unlike the pendulum.

The idea is to build up a rapport with this dangly instrument by establishing mentally a yes/no system of reply with it. Now, I don’t know how, but I got into the swing of it.

The movements answered my questions correctly.

It didn’t make me a believer, but did make me think.

We followed Psychic TV medium Diane Jarvis as she went from room to room, telling us about the characters – unseen by us – that she felt were present.

A weeping girl with asthma occupied one room. In another, Diane burst into a chorus of I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am, I Am, in what was of the most alarming moments of the night, mainly because of her Cockney accent.

She sensed other figures – a man wearing a hat with a feather (“he’s so energised”), a jovial 20th Century man (“big man, big face, white hair”) and a woman’s presence in the Oak Room.

Diane also conducted the seance. Yes, we did all sit around a table holding hands but no, she didn’t go into a trance. That isn’t her style.

There was also a long list of psychic health and safety requirements before we could start.

Don’t, for instance, suddenly break the handholding circuit – it could cause some sort of psychic big bang.

WHEN young Tom comes through from the other side, he takes an unhealthy interest in my wife who’s sitting outside the seance circle. Diane has to restrain the inquisitive youngster from going over and tugging her leg.

Tom wants to channel his voice through Diane. She’s having none of it. There will be no Madame Arcati body takeovers here.

We try the ouija board. We rest our fingers on the planchet. Nothing. We try in another room. Nothing. It doesn’t move. We give up.

By 3am all this ghost hunting is taking its toll. Tiredness, rather than a ghost, creeps in.

We retire to bed in the Stag Room, which might have been fully occupied by ghostly visitors but I’ll never know as I fell asleep instantly.

Others in the paranormal party stay up a little longer, wondering if shadows are unnatural or cast by passers-by outside. Next morning, they report they saw traces of a woman in a corridor. No sign, though, of the legendary disembodied legs on the stairs. They presumably had done a runner.

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