Rob Kirkup is an author, paranormal historian and a ghost hunter, based in the North-East of England. He talks to DAVID SAUNDERSON about The How Haunted? Podcast and his other spooky endeavours
Rob Kirkup, How Haunted? Interview
SPOOKY ISLES: Your journey into paranormal investigations began on Halloween night at Talkin Tarn in Carlisle in 2002. How did that experience shape your perspective on the supernatural?
ROB KIRKUP: I still can’t believe that was 21 years ago. The investigation at Talkin Tarn turned out to be a fateful night. I was selected to conduct the investigation as part of a local radio show’s Halloween special, and if I hadn’t, I’m fairly certain I’d never have conducted any further investigations, written any books, created my podcast, and be here answering these questions right now.
In terms of how it shaped my perspective on the paranormal, I’m not sure it did, as (spoiler alert) it was a largely uneventful night. But it opened my eyes to the fact that the only way I’d ever find my own personal proof for the existence of “ghosts” would be to continue on this journey of discovery that I’d been set on, and to seek out those things that go bump in the night at some the scariest places.
For anyone who wants to find out how my first ever investigation at Talkin Tarn came about, the spooky history and ghost stories connected to the place, and how my night went in episode 49 of my podcast focusses on Talkin Tarn.
You led a team of fellow first-time investigators in your initial adventure. What would be your advice to people interested in taking their first steps into paranormal investigation?
If someone reading this would love to go on a paranormal investigation but has never taken the plunge, I think it’s far easier today than it was when I first started two decades ago. The basic equipment you need is a torch, a camera, and a digital voice recorder, and the mobile phone you may well be reading this on will contain all of those.
In terms of finding somewhere to go ghost hunting, my recommendation would be to look at going along on an organised investigation ran by a reputable events company. These have all of the Ghostbusters-esque equipment, a team of investigators with a wealth of experience that they’re willing to share, and access to some of the very locations across the UK. There are also places that have their own inhouse teams, the Jamaica Inn for example. They aren’t all that expensive either.
I recently joined an investigation here in the north east ran by Spiritus Paranormal Investigations and it was a fantastic night, and the perfect introduction about how to conduct an investigation for anyone who’d then want to try somewhere alone, or with a smaller group.
In your two decades of experience, what has been your most chilling or inexplicable experience at a haunted location?
By far the scariest thing to happen occurred at the Edinburgh Dungeon, check out episode 13 of my podcast to hear what happened. But the most inexplicable experience was at Chillingham Castle up here in Northumberland. It was December of 2005 and at the end of our long, disappointing night at reputably one of the most haunted castles in the UK, we had been joined by the only member of staff on duty who told us that he “talks to the dead”. He was guiding us room to room, telling us of all the spirits who were with us, but of course there was nothing happening that we could see, hear, or feel.
The final room we entered was the Chapel, and by now it was in the early hours of the morning and I had to drive myself and my small team the hour or so south along the A1 to our homes, so I was just about to thank our host for the night and say our goodbyes, but before I could he spoke.
He told us that Eric is 12 or 13 years old, and sadly he doesn’t know he’s dead. He wanders the castles endlessly looking for his parents who were murdered in the torture chamber here. He told us that Eric is a playful young boy who likes to have a bit of fun around the castle and show off. He often does his “party trick” to let people know he’s around.
The Chapel is separated from the balcony overlooking the tea room, by a very thick, very heavy curtain which runs floor to ceiling.
The curtain was very thick and heavy and the it was handing very still. What happened next was without a shadow of a doubt the most inexplicable thing I’ve ever seen, and I looked around at my friends and it was clear they were all seeing the same thing I was seeing. The curtain slowly moved as if it was being pushed with purpose towards us in the room.
It would move a little bit, and then stop then a bit further. By now the bottom of the curtain was raised from the floor and I could almost see the points where two hands were pushing it from the other side, but I could see through the gap caused by the curtain moving, and there was no one behind the curtain. This was evidenced further by the fact that everyone in the castle that night was in the Chapel. The curtain then slowly returned back to how it had been.
There was a couple of minutes of nothing happening and then it happened again, more forceful and further into the room but still very purposefully.
After that second time we sat waiting, expecting it to happen again, but it didn’t.
I was amazed, as were we all. I can’t think of a single explanation for what I’d just seen except that there was something or someone moving that curtain to show to us that they were there.
I go into it in great detail in episode 3 of my podcast, and, despite it happening 18 years ago, I still find myself trying to rationalise what happened, trying to work out what exactly happened that night, and I always come to the same conclusion. I can’t explain it.
With so much content out there on ghosts and the paranormal, how do you ensure that “How Haunted” maintains its credibility as a source of accurate and reliable information?
That’s a good question, as the internet is so convenient, but with zero quality control it’s a blessing and a curse. I try and speak to first-hand sources where possible, be it staff or owners of the location, fellow investigators who’ve spent time there after dark and have experiences to share, or authors of books, blogs, or other podcasts that focus on that area of the country.
The history aspect tends to be easier as its predominantly fact based, but when it comes to the ghost stories of a location it is very difficult as there are stories out there that have been retold, added to, revised, and aspects changed as the years pass by which means often you’ll find a ghost story relating to a place and find five versions of the tale, and all five are wildly different.
In these cases if there is no one connected to the tale available to talk to, I will go with the most common version of the story, but in my telling I will always say “various versions of the story exist…” as not to mislead the listener.
Look at The Wheatsheaf in Boldon, Tyne and Wear, for example. Back in 2004 an incredible series of events led to the pub being named the most haunted in the UK and the Discovery Channel made a documentary about it called The Wheatsheaf Horror.
The amazing story of what happened that night has been retold countless times, but when I tackled it for an episode of the podcast I went direct to the source, Suzanne Gill, the psychic medium at the centre of the story, and I was fortunate enough to interview her and get the story direct from the person who knows it best, and what she told me over those two episodes varies wildly from the previously accepted version of events.
Your podcast delves deep into the dark and troubled history of various haunted locations. How important do you think understanding the historical context is for paranormal investigations?
I have conflicted views on this, as I generally know the history of locations when I approach them about conducting an investigation, partially because I want to ensure that it’s a worthwhile venue, and also because I love history.
I do think that having zero knowledge of a location, and then experiencing something that you later learn links into the history of someone, or something, that occurred there is true paranormal gold dust.
When I conduct investigations with my small team, generally I’ll have prior knowledge of the history of the location, but they try and make it their business if possible to not find out until after the investigation.
You’ve written books and articles in addition to podcasting. How do these two forms of storytelling complement each other in the world of paranormal exploration?
I definitely think there’s a place for them both, as people like to digest content in different ways, for example some people like to read a book, whereas others prefer to listen to audiobooks, and I very much see the podcast as the audiobook equivalent to the books I’ve written.
The podcast being solely me writing, recording and editing, which means I can do whatever I want with the podcast, and listeners have been really receptive. I generally will focus on a location on each episode, talking through the dark, bloody history, the ghost stories, and then, if it’s somewhere I’ve investigated I’ll talk about what happened when I dared to take on that location after darkness falls.
I also put out a monthly Patreon episode which focusses on a venue I’ve investigated and then I tell the whole story from the moment I leave the house to go to the investigation, which is often elsewhere in the UK, then explain everything, this is accompanied by actual audio from the investigation itself so the listener can join me and hear what happened, as it happened, to make it truly immersive experience.
Could you share some of your preparations or routines before conducting a paranormal investigation, especially in one of the UK’s most haunted places?
Good question, I’ll always attempt to visit a location during daylight hours, and talk to staff to find out if there’s anything we need to be aware of. Take plenty of photos so if something unusual pops up on a photo after dark, and you’re not in a position to return to the location, or get access to that room, there’s a daylight equivalent to compare it to, to see if there was perhaps something there that could be to blame.
If you’re planning to use EMF Meters to measure Electromagnetic Fluctuations, then baseline tests, where possible are essential. Checking the building out to see where there is electrical sources that could generate readings.
Your podcast features special follow-up episodes and big Halloween Spook-taculars. How do you keep your audience engaged and eager for more?
Well firstly, I encourage and act upon feedback, after all I’m making it for those people who listen, and I love it when people send me episode suggestions.
Each episode generally focusses on one location, but I try and mix it up by having the occasional ghost walk episode which features shorter stories about multiple locations. I’m also working on themed episodes, for example over the summer I had a month where I looked at overseas haunted places to coincide with people heading off on holiday.
I have put out big specials for Halloween and Christmas, and all of my Patreon episodes eventually turn up on the main feed to ensure that no one has to suffer from FOMO if they aren’t in a position to pay a few pound each month to get access to all those episodes when they come out.
I have had a number of guests, or ‘polterguests’ as I’ve taken to calling them, on the show so that listeners get to occasionally hear a voice other than mine, most recently I had the lovely Emma who runs the Weird-Wiltshire blog, as we had a fascinating chat all about the spooky goings-on at Stonehenge for a two-part Stonehenge Summer Solstice Special.
What’s on the horizon for the “How Haunted” podcast? Any sneak peeks you can share with your fans about upcoming episodes or projects?
You’ve picked the perfect time to ask this, as with Halloween just around the corner I have a lot of episodes coming up which I’m very excited for listeners to hear.
I was part of a paranormal investigation at the end of August that will form a two-part episode coming up soon, that will be followed by “the Ghost Walk of Prestbury Village”, and then there’s the Halloween episode itself. I’ve been working away on it for almost six months, and to give an idea of how big the episode will be, the script I’ve written is 31 pages long in Word, and it’s around 15,000 words.
I’ve just signed a contract to write another book (Ghosts of the North East coming late next year published by Amberley) and my word count for that is 20,000 words. This is an exclusive as I’ve not put it out there as to what this year’s Halloween show will be, but it’s going to be real deep dive into the Ghosts of Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel.
I’ve just put the finishing touches to the Patreon Halloween episode and that sees me investigate the Golden Fleece in York. This very special episode contains over 40 audio clips which are actually from the investigation itself.