the spook of strensham lock
a waterways ghost story by Michael Nye
“Like father, like son.” is one of those phrases that gets pushed around when you are young. I’d guess that my love of canals does, at least in part, come from my dad Charlie Nye who had a few adventures on the water long before I was born. He was the one that suggested a waterways holiday in 1964, telling my mum that we’d either love it or hate it. We all loved it and both my brother and I were infected with the strange virus that gives you a lifelong interest in rivers and canals.
My dad’s adventure began with wartime service in the Royal Navy on the commandeered wooden trawlers that were used as minesweepers. Once demobbed he, and three of his friends, needed a well earned break before entering fully back into post war civilian life. The thought of hiring a boat was discussed and eventually it was decided that the Lower Avon was the place to go.
Presumably cost would have come into this somewhere because the river was bordering on not being navigable, which would have the obvious advantage of it being cheap to hire a boat there.
There are a few stories that dad told me, largely to do with the condition of the waterway. I remember him telling me that it was extremely hard on some locks (due to leakage) to get the gates to move. One even had a hand operated winch and steel cable as a sort of temporary repair. The tale that has always stuck in my mind is of when they tied up near Strensham Lock for an overnight stop. They’d got some odd looks when they spoke to local people of their intention and were even warned off doing so, with reasons of some form of danger that couldn’t be spoken of. Dad and his friends were all in their twenties and had survived the prospect of being blown up for the duration of the war. Dad had almost been killed by a mine on a beach, but survived with minor injuries (and a small piece of the trigger mechanism being embedded in his leg). Given this background, none of them were in the mood to listen to some unspecified and possibly apocryphal danger. Eventually they convinced someone to tell them exactly what this supposed issue was.
“The house is haunted,” they were told. “Something bad happened there many years ago.”
Nobody was in the mood to believe the tale of the lock-house being left one day with a meal sat on the table and its occupants never being seen again, and it was getting a little late when they tied up for the night. Dad always told me that, when they went through the lock, he and his mates had looked in at the window of the house and, sure enough, there were the remains (Great Expectations style) of the untouched evening meal. The table was set, food had been served and then left to rot as whatever calamity had happened. Like the Marie Celeste, the house was empty, and had not been occupied in decades. Whether or not Dad chose to embellish this part of the story for my brother’s and my benefit is open to discussion, but it always sounded true to me.
As Dad and the crew of the hired boat prepared their meal, a mist began to rise from the water, giving the place something of an eerie feel. As they ate, and presumably had a beer or two, the conversation went back to the lock-house and the supposed ghost. A look out at the mist, which now sat shroud like over field and river, started sowing the seeds of doubt amongst the four friends.
Dad said that he wasn’t bothered either way and was perfectly happy to sit the mist out and leave in the morning. It was at this point that another of his friends pointed out that they’d been told that the mist was always accompanied by an unnatural chill in the air and this was when the ghosts walked. Well, in the mid forties, chemical toilets were not as well developed as they are now and, after tea and a few beers, nature was beginning to take its course. The trees almost beckoned to have a visitation. The crew, apart from one rather vociferous member, all claimed to be fine and would use the primitive facilities on the boat. The reason given was that it would be difficult to avoid rabbit holes, tree roots and other hazards as they paid homage to the local flora. The vociferous crew member called the rest something that I won’t repeat in this day and age.
“You’ll be scared of your own shadow next!” he laughed. “Well, I’m going even if none of you lot are. I’m going up to the house and all after as well!”
Ignoring warnings of rabbit holes, tree roots, barbed wire fences and the possibility of paranormal activity, he stepped out onto the side deck and thence onto the river bank. Soon after that he disappeared into the mist and conversation aboard moved on to where they would stop the next day. When this was dealt with, another beer was consumed and general conversation resumed. After an hour, my dad observed that their friend had been away for some time. They were contemplating that the guy may well be looking round the house, may have got himself stuck, or was simply chatting with a local when (as if summoned by their thoughts) the boat pitched quite violently as the missing crew member launched himself aboard with lines and mooring stakes in hand.
“We’re getting out of here,” he said, all colour drained from his face.
They asked what had spooked him, as he started the motor and pushed the gear stick forward. Like the best ghost stories though, the guy never (according to Dad) said what he’d seen. I leave you to draw your own conclusion.
©2019 Michael Nye.