Non-Fiction Reviews


Hauntings
A History of Ghosts and Where to Find Them

(2023) Neil Oliver, Bantam, £25, hrdbk, ii + 350pp, ISBN 978-1-787-63634-7

 

For longer than recorded history there have been tales of spirits and of places where our hackles rise and our skin turns cold.

Bestselling historian, Neil Oliver, travels the British Isles on a deliciously spine-chilling tour that spans several centuries and explores more than 20 sites Ė castles, vicarages and towers, lonely shorelines and forgotten battlefields Ė to unpick their stories.

Some people will know Neil Oliver as a historian presenting TV shows such as Coast, a series which he co-presented for one season before becoming the main presenter for the seasons that followed. Heís also made series about the History of Scotland and the Vikings, and about British Battlefields, all of which I would suggest are good research for a book on Britainís haunted places as he has written several non-fiction books to accompany these programmes. However, for the last few years he has been more famous, or infamous, perhaps, as a presenter of a weekly current affairs and interview programme on GB News where he has taken the opportunity to air his opinions on CoVID-19, mass-vaccinations, CoVID lockdown, the influence of certain billionaires, a political world order, and global warming.

In a way Hauntings has its own share of wild theories, certainly to those who do not believe in ghosts or haunted places, but for those that do, the idea of places where there have been great turmoil and tragedy being able to retain something of these events which certain individuals are attune to, doesnít seem so far-fetched. Here, Oliver takes us all over the United Kingdom to 25 places well-known for being spots of unease, where there have been sightings ofÖ something.

Ghosts come in different shapes and forms. Ghosts of people. Ghosts of war, which can be people or ghostly aircraft. Ghosts of animals, even. Not surprisingly, there are ghosts of places, very specific places such as castles, and churches, and coastal regions and battlefields - those previous TV programmes and books have come in very handy, but Oliver often touches on the personal, particularly about the death of his father and his funeral which took place under CoVID restrictions.

Oliver is an old-pro when it comes to writing non-fiction books, so this is very readable with a nice turn of phrase and some poetic descriptions in places. It isnít a big coffee table full of slight descriptions to accompany colourful, striking photographs, although there are black and white illustrations throughout. It certainly isnít an exhaustive look at haunted places. There are probably thousands of books that have been written about specific parts of Britain that go into more detail. More, this is a snapshot look at certain haunted places, not an A to Z guide to them, and while I was familiar with myths and legends about places such as Borley Rectory, Raynham Hall, Pendle Hill, Culloden, and Glamis Castle, I had never heard of others like the remote Wistmanís Woods in Dartmoor, which because of its remoteness and being surrounded by boulders is an eerie undisturbed place.

Nor did I know of the Neolithic tomb called Waylandís Smithy. If anything, Oliverís book makes you want to visit these strange, bleak, lonely places to see them for yourself, to soak up the atmosphere and make contact withÖ and if he can make the reader want to do that, then the book has to be a success.

Ian Hunter

 


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