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Free online course for separated parents | Lifestyle | Play | Days Out | Days Out for You | Do ghosts exist? Find out for yourself

Do ghosts exist? Find out for yourself’s intrepid ghost hunter, James Draven, spends the night investigating the reported spectral sightings, paranormal activity and alleged demonic presence at Fort Horsted in Kent… and you can too


“Come on demon, you’re a coward! Are you scared?! Are there too many people for you? Make yourself known. If you wish us to leave, scare us! Show these people why this place is known as the demon’s lair, why it is dark,” Dan, our barrel-chested, self-proclaimed demonologist, bellows into the pitch-black space. This is not what I signed up for.

I’m in a relatively small room, underground in Chatham’s Fort Horsted, crammed shoulder to shoulder with 23 other guests, standing in a rough circle with linked hands. It’s so dark I can’t see either of the two people whose mitts I have grasping mine. We’ve been stood here chanting and monotonously humming in unison for about ten minutes now.

“Or are you weak?” Dan continues to goad the evil spirit throughout the séance, “You’re impotent and you’re a coward! You have no power!”

I goggle in the darkness. At some point in the evening one of the organisers told me that Dan carries out exorcisms, but tonight’s events seem like the polar opposite of that: rather than the religious practice of evicting so-called demons, Dan is apparently trying to invoke and anger one. I thought I was coming along tonight to research reported ghost sightings, I had no idea we’d be practicing the dark arts! I think of how my religious father once warned me to never touch a Ouija board. He’d not be too happy about this.

I’m a bit stunned at this somewhat sinister turn of events because, aside from his disconcerting habit of talking to unseen spectres, Dan seems quite reassuring and approachable when he’s not literally raising hell. We’ve chatted already earlier this evening: I sought him out for a quick interview after I arrived at the fort and immediately and correctly assumed that – among the group of around 28 people, staff included – the sturdy, bearded man, wearing a tweed waist-coat and jacket while sporting yellow-lensed driving glasses was none other than medium and paranormal investigator Daniel McDonald. I’d call this an educated guess. Dan would say this is because I am psychic.

Dan (left), large, and a fellow medium (right) put Michael in the corner | Image: James Draven

Not that he’d singled me out for having clairvoyant abilities: during one of the gaps in between what I confess became slightly repetitious visits to the handful of haunted areas of Fort Horsted, McDonald explained to me that being able to sense when someone is watching you, thinking of a friend moments before them phoning, or a parent knowing when their child is lying, are all signs of every human’s latent psychic ability. Later, amid another tea-break, he takes this a step further by telling one of our guests, Lynne, whom he has met several times previously for ghost hunts and psychic readings, not to waste time redecorating because she’ll be moving house in March 2014! Lynne – a gregarious, warm woman in her fifties who spends most of her weekends dragging her sceptic husband to various occult events – is in little doubt that he’ll be proved right. I think this is what is known as a self-fulfilling prophesy.

“We call upon the dark, demonic energy here, those who were murdered, those who were sacrificed…” back now in the dark underground chamber where we are concluding our long evening, McDonald is cut-off mid-sentence by one of our fellow guests, a trendy chap of about 30 called Michael, giggling maniacally. My companion, Lianne – a staunch believer in ghosts and the paranormal, whom I’ve brought along to offset my own scepticism – grips my hand tighter. Later as we drive home at 3am, she’ll reveal to me that being shut-in with a large group of people chanting in an attempt to invoke spirits was the most frightening part of the whole experience. I’m inclined to agree that I’m more concerned about the living inhabitants of the room than the dead. I whisper to her, “It’s like a scene from The Wicker Man in here.”

Michael starts shuffling and staggering about. He’s only a few links in the circle away from me and, as my arm is pulled forward, I can feel him moving into the centre of the room, apparently being pushed by spirits… they’ve been singling him out for abuse all night though. He’s been manipulated, forced to slump into chairs, pushed to the ground and rolled around the muddy floors in each room we’ve visited thus far. Later, when this ‘vigil’ or séance is over, I ask him if he’s scared by all that he’s endured at the hands of his invisible tormentors; he unexpectedly and somewhat excitedly retorts that he “absolutely love[s] it!”

“You again!” McDonald laughs, somewhat dismissively, at Michael’s interruption. The latter seems to have now collapsed to his knees. “It’s no good moving people around,” Dan adds, once again addressing the demon, “manifest yourself… let us hear your growl, let us hear you speak!” It seems Dan is equally unimpressed with the spirits’ ability to toss Michael around like a rag doll.

The general indifference to a grown man claiming to be moved around a room against his will while being covered in mud and grime (ruining his new trainers, he himself complained) makes me wonder if this is all just psychological. Indeed, having already been enlisted to use various thermometers and electro-magnetic field sensors to scour the complex for ‘scientific evidence’ of the supernatural, we’ve found no hot or cold spots, no EMF anomalies and, in spite of my frequent night-vision camera snapshots, no images of ghosts. I start to assume that much of what I actually have witnessed tonight could merely be the power of suggestion working on those who want to believe.

Out of the 24 guests that arrived, only three of us raised our hands when we were asked if there were any sceptics in the room, with the remainder of the party firmly believing in the paranormal. I think it’s safe to say therefore that most people there wished to experience something otherworldly.

Paul, the man in charge of the building, gave us brief health & safety talk and a quick history of the fort, during which he surprisingly confessed that they’ll do pretty much anything to make the place profitable. As such, much of the building is rented out as business space for uses as diverse as conference centre to colonic irrigation clinic (Dan, I’ve now learned has another way of emptying visitors’ bowels). Paul regularly hires the place out for a wide range of events, he told us, including several different ghost hunting companies’ activities. This made the cynic in me question the validity of his paranormal eye-witness reports.

Peter Venkman never busted any ghosts by havin a nice sit down | Image: James Draven

Thinking back, I recall that, just before we set out to look for ghosts, Dan had us all join hands in the brightly-lit reception room and close our eyes. In soothing tones he’d told us to imagine our legs becoming tree trunks, our bodies becoming heavy, walking along a path towards a glowing paving slab which would envelop us with a protective aura before we sank into it. While I’m admittedly a layman on the subject, at the time it felt to me like a form of hypnosis and I fought the urge to allow myself to be carried away by it all. Dan unexpectedly then concluded by asking the spirits to “push someone, push them into that chair.” When I opened my eyes, I saw an apparently dazed Michael slumped upon the chair positioned behind him. Was this a sign of the supernatural already at work even under the fluorescent glare of this seemingly innocuous room, an indicator of this man’s willingness to believe in the paranormal, or an early display of his susceptibility to the power of suggestion? I can’t be sure.

It should be noted that Michael was not the only member of the group to experience this sort of phenomenon though. During an earlier vigil, Dan managed to make the linked hands of a mother and adult daughter rise up through the air and then pulled them towards him with an invisible force. I was very curious about this incident as the daughter represented a third of our three sceptics, so I was quick to interview them on their experience immediately afterwards. I’d expected the young cynic to blame her ghost-enthusiast mum and claim she’d simply lifted her hand, but she surprised me by insisting she felt an unseen force raising her arm by the wrist. She confirmed that McDonald had made a believer of her. Conversely though, her mother was unimpressed: “I can make people do that too,” she told me, “I’m a hypnotherapist, it’s how I prove to people I’ve put them under.”

Guests particularly frightened of ghosts disguise themselves as foliage to evade demonic detection | Image: James Draven

Perhaps it’s because of all this information I’ve gathered over the course of the evening, that I’m now relatively calm and lucid as I stand in the dark heart of the ‘demon’s lair,’ surrounded by occultists.

“Did you hear that?!” a woman (I think Lynne again) frantically stage whispers. I hear nothing at all and my audio recording of the event also detects nothing. “Oh my God!” another cries and chattering breaks out among the group.  “Ye-es,” Dan purrs appreciatively to his audience, “What did you hear?” he asks. Lynne and a few others make low, groaning, zombie noises and a few people mutter the word growl.

“Did anyone see Ghost Adventures?” Dan asks, referring to his recent television appearance at Fort Horsted on a US ghost-hunting TV show. Several of the group chorus that they have, and I know that Lynne has indeed watched the episode Dan’s referring to: all evening she’s been talking about the programme and ‘the demon’s growl’ audio phenomenon the show apparently reported. Again, I’m reminded that many of our group came knowing what they expected to hear.

We spend a further 40 minutes jumping at shadows and to supernatural conclusions at every sound that echoes against the windowless bare walls of this unfurnished, subterranean room. Though we’ve found no scientific evidence of any inexplicable phenomena, throughout the night a number of guests continue to feel they are being slightly moved by unseen forces, feeling gusts of winds against them that they attribute to paranormal causes and hearing sinister ‘footsteps’ and ‘growls’ that I assume are simply dripping water and rumbling stomachs. I myself feel some tightness in my chest and through my torso and a few chills down my spine at points too, but I soon dismiss them as anxiety, given the situation.

Lianne waits in the dark beside what she believes to be two shrubs | Image: James Draven

Despite these indicators though, Dan’s clearly not impressed with the spirits’ supernatural show tonight and lays down an ultimatum: “We call upon the dark demonic forces here. You’ll have to do a darn sight more to make us leave,” though this statement turns out not to be wholly accurate. As the evening’s finale, he again picks on my friend Lianne, the only person in the room who openly confesses to being utterly terrified. She’s been singled out a few times over the course of the evening and on an earlier occasion agreed – after Dan took her aside and, holding her hand, asked a spirit standing beside her to push her – that she had felt some unseen force move her forward.

Though she’s now timidly protesting that she doesn’t want to engage with the demon, Dan says that a spirit has singled her out for attention and insists she break the circle (and in doing so, his one cardinal rule, oddly) and brings her to the centre of the room as a climax to the evening’s events.

“Affect this young lady,” Dan asks the spirit. I can’t see Lianne at all in the pitch black, so I listen with baited breath, expecting to hear movement or a shriek of fear from her at any moment. I’ve promised her I’ll look after her tonight.
“Push her, touch her, play with her hair,” he continues. “Can you feel anything, Lianne?” he asks.
“No.” she replies.
It’s utterly silent; you’d need a razor-sharp knife to cut through the atmosphere in here.
“C’mon spirit, you identified her. I will catch her if you push her,” says Dan.
“Don’t say that,” Lianne pleads the demonologist, “Please don’t push me!” she continues, this time talking to the spirit.
… It turns out Lianne may be able to communicate with the dead too, because the spectre kindly complies and she leaves the circle completely untouched.


James visited Fort Horsted as a guest of experience days specialists
If you think you’re brave enough to go ghost hunting, you can sign up for the same night out featured here.

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