The North East's Most Haunted Ghost Tours to Try This Halloween
In the spirit of Halloween we take a tour of some of the region’s most haunted places as we wonder why people have such a fascination with ghosts
Steve Taylor, founder of Newcastle Ghost Walks and Alone in the Dark Entertainment, was born into a spiritualist family so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to ghosts. It’s his interest and ability that led him to offering ghost walks to curious members of the public. ‘Some spirits aren’t nice, some are, some need help and some may simply have experienced tragic things,’ he says. ‘My gran would practice a traditional form of witchcraft and would always say if a candle is flickering, popping or cracking – find out why. In other words, a spirit would be trying to communicate.
‘I knew I wanted to do something paranormal; investigation or psychology but I didn’t have the exams for that,’ he says. But after taking the City of The Dead Tour in Edinburgh, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. ‘Paranormal Activity movies were being released, Most Haunted was really big on the TV and there was a fantastic castle right here in the city centre with plenty of history.’ After persuading a friend to become a tour guide (a perfect choice, being over six foot and ‘creepy looking’), Newcastle Ghost Walks launched in 2006 and saw a sell-out Halloween in 2007 (with more than 1,000 ghost hunters keen to buy tickets).
‘We launched our first ghost hunt and the hunts led to us to haunted sleep-overs where we’d hire the castle for the night; we were the only ones in the UK doing anything of that nature at the time,’ says Steve. ‘We also ran haunted movie nights. Why go to the cinema to watch a scary movie when you can watch one inside a real haunted castle?’ Steve has since written three books and run a paranormal radio show, and his ghost walks are still proving popular. ‘Everyone loves a good ghost story,’ he explains, when asked why the interest hasn’t died down. ‘They love to question what’s real and what’s not. Everyone has a curiosity and I think there are things to be learned from ghost stories.
‘When Halloween comes, we start to question ourselves. Seasons are changing, it’s starting to get darker and you want to watch horror movies – that’s a part of history. Learn about your ancestors, learn about spiritualism, and learn about witchcraft.
Naturally, as humans, especially at this time of year, we want to explain why we feel this need to learn about spooky things. It’s an ancient part of us to find out who we are and where we came from. Ghost walks settle some of that urge. It’s part of our DNA and it’s something that people will always be interested in.’
Steve Watson, a paranormal investigator and founder of GHOSTnortheast also became interested in spooky goings-on at a young age. In 2010, with his wife and a couple of friends, he set up his paranormal investigations business. ‘We thought it would last maybe a few months, but when friends and family found out, they wanted to join us and their friends and family wanted to do the same – and here we are 12 years later,’ he says. ‘The walks and tours came about during Covid. While everything else was opening and you could meet outside, the places we’d used for our events were still shut. At the time I was writing a book about Newcastle and someone suggested that I could take them for a walk around the city. I took around six people out as a test when we were able to, and the feedback was amazing and before we knew it we had people booking private tours.’
During their paranormal investigation events, Steve shows you the equipment and tells you what to do, but it’s up to you to do the investigating, he simply runs the night. ‘We have genuine honesty. If nothing happens, then nothing happens. You could stay a night in a castle, and the only thing you catch is a cold,’ he laughs. ‘But if something does happen we can say 100 percent that it’s genuine and nothing has been staged. We don’t use hypnosis, suggestion or special effects, and the team don’t even touch the equipment so if that goes off then it’s up to the guest to decide what’s going on. They can’t say we’re pushing the glass or kicking the table, because we won’t be anywhere near it. When we first started, we weren’t sure it would work because a lot of people watch television shows and films and expect all sorts to happen, but we want our experiences to be genuine. I’d like to believe that’s how we’re always getting people coming back.’
Steve believes people are so fascinated by ghosts because there’s no definitive answer to their questions. ‘People will ask if you believe in ghosts, but what is a ghost? Everyone’s thoughts will be different. I’ve heard things, felt things and witnessed things that I certainly haven’t got an answer for,’ he admits. ‘Is it a person who has passed, is it science or is it a part of your brain? I don’t know. There are some places you go and think, I don’t want to be here, but there’ll be no explanation why. I always say if I had a definite answer, I probably would stop doing this.
‘The locations that we use are heavily researched first. For example I’ll look into the land a property is built on. Is there a reason for it to be haunted? I’m offered new places every week now. Some might say they have a ghost but I’ll always ask: what happened? What’s the history?’
GHOSTLY NORTH EAST HAUNTS
From Chillingham Castle to Durham’s Gypsy Piper and Grey Lady, there are plenty of well-known ghost stories in the North East. We ask the two Steves to highlight some of the most frightening places they know.
The Black Gate, Newcastle
The medieval gatehouse to Newcastle’s Castle Keep (added between 1247 and 1250 by Henry III).
Steve T: ‘When we’ve taken people into the Black Gate, a poltergeist location, one person would go down into the basement by themselves with an electromagnetic field meter (a machine that picks up the frequency of spirits full of energy) and it would be on a base line of zero. There’d be nothing that could set it off (no electrics) because it’s essentially an ancient pit. The machine would start reacting and getting louder. All of a sudden people would get shaken, stones would hit them and this is what built up our reputation. We once had shillings come out of nowhere and hit a BBC reporter in the chest. We picked them up and they were physically hot to touch. We couldn’t work out where they came from or how they were heated up. The Black Gate is probably one of the most haunted places I’ve been to in Europe. Hundreds of people were killed there (it was an execution site); it’s an extreme location when it comes to paranormal activity.’
Cow Hill, Newcastle
An area of land with a long history as a fair ground and, before the construction of the Central Motorway, it was the highest point on the Town Moor.
Steve T: ‘This is where we hung witches in the 1500s. People were hung and burnt alive here. Strange things can happen here: shadow shapes, groaning sounds, and animals often act strangely too. Cows will start stampeding for no reason, for example. There’s nothing wrong but they get spooked by something we can’t see.’
Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle
One of only 10 theatres that date back to the Victorian period, with wooden modular stage machinery.
Steve W: ‘Tyne Theatre was built on the edge of the west walls of Newcastle and there’s a graveyard right next door to it.’
Edlingham Castle, Alnwick
A small castle ruin in a valley to the west of Alnwick which was fortified against the Scots during the 14th century.
Steve W: ‘We’ve been back here three or four times. It has a fantastic history behind it – particularly the wars with the Scots as you can imagine. Stones have been thrown and we’ve heard voices but you’re literally in the middle of nowhere.’
The Lit & Phil, Newcastle
The largest independent library outside London, housing more than 170,000 books, which opened in 1825.
Steve W: ‘I’d say this is the most haunted building in Newcastle. The Lit and Phil basement is the one place I wouldn’t go by myself. I can’t explain it. We’ve taken photos down there and have seen a figure of a man two or three times, and there’s been strange noises. It was of course built on top of Hadrian’s Wall, so there’s almost 2,000 years of history under that building.
The Cooperage, Newcastle
One of Newcastle’s oldest, historically important buildings on the city’s Quayside. Dating from 1430, it is the most complete late medieval timber-framed building in Newcastle.
Steve T: ‘My wife actually got thrown into the wall in here. We were doing a historical tour and on the middle floor the door swung open and it was like a load of black smoke came through. That place is extremely haunted.’
Queen Street Masonic Temple, Sunderland
A masonic hall dating back to 1785 (one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city that is still in use).
Steve W: ‘We’ve taken photographs and seen wet footprints when there was nobody who could have possibly made them. When you’re inside it feels like you’re being watched all the time. It’s the oldest purpose-built masonic temple under the English Constitution.’
The Royalty Theatre, Sunderland
A theatre established in 1925 which still shows performances today.
Steve W: ‘This theatre was used in the First World War as a hospital so you get a lot of connections with soldiers who were wounded. You won’t feel anything then all of a sudden more than one person will say they feel like their face has been burnt or their arm is hurting for no reason. It’s not until afterwards that you tell them the history of the people who had been there. They were probably sitting where the beds were.’