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Soulsearchers 'see ghosts' during Carlisle restaurant investigation

It’s a cold, October night in Carlisle. Fog rolls in over the cathedral, lit up against the black sky and stoops to kiss the cobblestones outside the restaurant.

Ghost research photo
Colin Hargreaves and Ronnie Murphy, of Soulsearchers UK with La Pergola owner Andrew Hartley, centre

Inside, the customers are gone. The tables, still laid as if for a ghostly banquet, are occupied by seven men and women, awkwardly observing a reverent hush.

Two burly Scotsmen are flitting about with bits of machinery, recording the readings on digital screens. Only two people seem relaxed. They sit at separate tables, scribbling their thoughts into spiral-bound notepads.

These are the mediums, David and Michelle. Whatever they’re seeing, they mustn’t discuss it at this point. Their verdicts on La Pergola, on Castle Street, will be separately videotaped later this evening.

Sitting by a window is the restaurant’s owner, 38-year-old Andrew Hartley. After 10 years of feeling he was never alone, he contacted the Scottish group, Soulsearchers UK, in response to a newspaper advert.

Only when the mediums nip out for cigarettes, guarded by a member of the team, can he talk about his experiences.

“There’s been various weird happenings in the restaurant,” he says. “I’ve been told by some of my regulars that a lot of them have happened since as far back as the 1950s.

“One evening I was in here by myself and I caught a glimpse of someone waiting, just in one of the doorways. The same thing was seen by a gentleman’s mother 50 years ago, when this was the Castle Boutique.”

On other occasions, he’s noticed the sound of footsteps, or doors opening and closing. Customers and staff have reported being tapped on the shoulder, then turning around to find nobody’s there.

He already has ideas about what could be causing the problems. Several years ago, a medium told him the restaurant, in the basement of a Victorian building, was haunted by a maid who used to work there.

“It’s generally assumed that she comes downstairs into the basement from the old servant’s entrance above,” he says. “It’s hard to put a period on where she comes from, because her clothes are pretty nondescript. We think Edwardian, or Victorian.”

The mediums return and it’s time to keep his theories under wraps.

At about 11.30pm, the serious business of surveying the building begins. Michelle, 30, and David, 28, split up and tour the rooms slowly, recording their impressions of any paranormal activity.

Their techniques are surprisingly different.

Michelle sits and ponders each area, writing her findings down quietly. David, on the other hand, stares into the middle distance, describing what he sees in a soft Ayrshire accent.

An hour later, they’re ready to make their reports.

Michelle has seen a modern woman, not more than 15 years dead, sitting with the group in the main dining area. “It was as if she was sat having dinner,” she says.

“She was 45 to 50, with short wavy hair, a kind of mousy brown colour. It was only when she disappeared, I realised she must have been a spirit.”

As it turns out, the restaurant is packed with ghostly activity. In a private booth, a man is deathly ill, possibly having a heart attack. A little boy, aged five to six, is running around in a cloth cap, looking for an absent little girl.

In the toilets, someone has been washing their hands and occasionally appearing in the mirror.

Next, David has some even more alarming news.

“There was a lady in the toilets who was very scared of us, and me in particular – as it turns out, because I’m a man,” he says. “She died of strangulation, not here but in a back lane nearby.

“Her name was Marie, and she was some sort of machinist, wearing a pink and white striped tabard.”

He’s also seen a woman in a big puffy dress, a scruffy man in the bar-room, and someone washing dishes at the sink. The little boy is back, now aged seven to eight, but still wearing his cap and chasing after his missing playmate.

There’s time for a quick break, before the whole group gets together and tries to talk to the dead. They are armed with a dictaphone, a discontinued Panasonic model, legendary for its psychic qualities.

Colin Hargreaves, 41, the team leader, explains that it picks up the high-frequency sounds of spirits and compresses them to an audible level.

He says: “Panasonic recalled as many of the dictaphones as they could. They’re like gold dust these days.

“Some people do believe they’re just picking up radio waves, from taxis and things. But having heard what they can do, I doubt it.”

Sitting in a circle with the lights out, each person takes a turn to speak. They ask a question into the machine, then keep it recording for a few seconds, giving the spirits a chance to answer.

When played back, the clips have picked up an unpleasant, phlegmy bark, with a rhythm that sounds a lot like speech. Any words are too distorted to discern, but many of the ghost hunters suggest interpretations. A bubbling growl becomes the name Christopher, followed by the age 39.

The group is warned not to ask the spirits how long they’ve been dead. Someone tried it at a previous session. “How do you know you’re not dead?” was the chilling response.

Having taken the séance through two different rooms, they are ready to call it a night. Not that the experiment is over. For the members of Soulsearchers UK, there is work to be done over the next few weeks.

They’ll be researching the mediums’ findings for a final report, analysing temperatures and electromagnetic energy readings.

“There’s a belief that if the electrics are quite powerful, they can induce visions,” says Colin. “So we start off by establishing the electrical levels, and we assess temperatures to see if there are major fluctuations.

“We wouldn’t be here, two hours away from home when Scotland are playing, if we weren’t really serious about what we’re doing.”

They try to stay sceptical, he says, and account for the impact of environment and psychology. Not that Andrew needs much convincing. He’s already delighted with how the evening went.

“It’s pretty fantastic, the sort of thing they’ve picked up on,” he says. “David talked about hearing a juke box playing 50s music, which would have been here when this place was the Castle Boutique.

“The alleyway he mentioned, I know where that is as well. Intriguing, is probably the best word.”

For more information about Soulsearchers UK, visit their website at

I MAY not have been the best girl to send on a ghost hunt. I don’t believe in anything, for a start. Not ghosts, a soul, an afterlife, UFOs or aromatherapy. I even have difficulty with global warming, as much as I know it makes sense.

I do, however, like ghost stories. It was fun, and even scary, hearing David and Michelle talk about what they’d seen. The atmosphere helped – a dimly-lit room, fire glowing in the grate. It was like going camping.

When the dictaphone came out, I found it a little embarrassing. It sounded like a piece of malfunctioning machinery, not something I wanted to talk to. If I tried to interpret, I just heard my own name, or words I’d heard earlier that day.

Colin compared it to looking at a cloud, and seeing a bunny rabbit. We’re conditioned to make sense of what we see and hear, by trying to find patterns in the random.

That’s how I feel about the supernatural. People need excitement, they fear death and they want to make sense of the confusing, so their desires affect their experience. Essentially, they see what they want to see.

Even for me though, there’s room for the tiniest seeds of doubt. David suggested there were Roman remains under the restaurant, which happens to be true. Hardly a shock in Carlisle, though.

And spookily, both mediums saw a similar little boy running through the building. But with so many ghosts floating around, some crossover is probably inevitable.

I’m sticking to my guns, then. There’s no such thing as ghosts. And writing this article didn’t make me nervous at all.

Have your say

As the owner of the restaurant I feel the right to reply to GS's comments. The reason we think Edwardian or Victorian is that is the date the building was used as a family residence & the image was fleeting & quite non-de script. Also I had originally thought this was to be a private investigation, the News & Star approached me via the group to check if it would be okay, I did not seek the publicity.

Posted by andrew on 30 March 2012 at 00:29

If they've only a choice of 9 spirits .........

Posted by Mikal on 18 October 2010 at 09:48

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