Storyteller: The 'ghosts' of Oare Church on Exmoor

Torbay Weekly

Over the years, I have been privileged to have been shown many unusual pictures that people have taken, in the belief they have captured something paranormal or ghostly.

Usually what I am being asked to see are the results of an overactive imagination, or the mind playing tricks on the eye of the beholder.

It is quite a natural phenomenon for the eye to make up shapes out of patterns in stonework, wood and fabrics, in the same way as we make shapes out of clouds, but in these cases the photographer is desperate to find evidence of something spookier, especially if taken in an allegedly haunted location.

Photos containing orbs are also brought to my attention.

In my humble opinion, these are just the results of insects, particles of dust or smoke getting caught in the camera flash, or reflections off objects present in the area where the photograph has been taken.

The fact you are seeing a static image doesn’t help to make a proper judgement, when captured moving on video this is much more interesting, and worthy of further study, maybe even the subject of a future article.

During my time at the theatre, I grabbed the opportunity to have a chat with the medium Colin Fry during one of his many visits, and I asked him his opinion of this relatively new orb phenomenon.

He told me that he had a friend who worked for Fuji, the camera manufacturers, in Japan.

He had admitted to him that there was a fault in modern digital cameras, that allowed light from the flash to bounce off the tiniest of particles in the air and to appear as bright orbs of light on the resulting photograph.

Nothing paranormal, just a glitch in the technology that is too expensive to fix!

This has become a real bane to those of us that study anomalous phenomenon, it’s hard enough as it is, without the equipment we use to try and capture it playing tricks on us!

As a result of all this uncertainty, I have had to let many people down gently, when I just can’t see what they claim to be seeing, as it just isn’t obvious enough.

If a spirit is willing to be photographed, it will make itself visible to the naked eye, not hiding in the background or shrouded in mist, just like in the example I am sharing with you here.

This particular picture was brought along to one of our Monday night TIP meetings at Churston Court, by the photographer himself, seeking an explanation as to why there are people in it, when they weren’t present when he had taken it!

He explained, it shows the interior of Oare Church, on Exmoor, which he visited back in the 1960s, while on a daytrip out of Paignton with his mother and his brother.

He was quite proud of his photography, saying he would only take landscapes or interiors, never anything involving people.

He had purposely set up this particular shot after all the visitors on his coach had had their fill of looking around, he had made sure inside was empty before positioning his camera and taking it.

Initially it was developed and turned into a slide, it wasn’t until he had a print made that he could study the picture close up and make out what was bothering him about it.

As you look at it... ignore the black shape to the left, that is a pulpit/lectern in the shape of an eagle, which is still present today... you can clearly see a group of people sitting, gazing intently at the window to the right, who, if the photographer is to be believed, weren’t sitting there when he set up his shot.

If you look closely, you can see sunlight reflecting off four, possibly five faces, which in itself is odd, as there is also bright sunlight shining through the main window by the altar, and coming up the centre aisle.

Have we got two light sources at play here, or is it two different time periods, possibly a century apart, melded into one for the benefit of our photographer?

The window they are looking at is known as the Carver window, and, for those of you who know their Lorna Doone, Oare Church is the very church where our heroine gets married, and is shot on her wedding day by the villain of the piece, Carver Doone, hence the Carver window.

Lots of writers of fiction like to shroud in mystery the real-life locations that they rename in their novels, I’m thinking Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie here.

They like to keep their fans guessing, but not R D Blackmore, who wrote Lorna Doone. He is very blatant about his locations, so much so that visitors, and fans of the book alike, can follow what is known as The Doone Valley Trail all over Exmoor, visiting the sites made famous by the book.

My theory is that the people captured in our friend’s picture were on such a pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of their heroine, and got so wrapped up in the moment, seeing the very window through which she was shot, that some of their energy and the excitement of that experience, got captured on the ether at that very spot and that very moment, allowing our photographer to capture their images on camera nearly a century later.

Look again at the faces in the picture. You can possibly make out another, in-between the two closest to the window, then there is one standing at the back of the group, and in front of them there is a distinctly male looking figure with possibly a beard and balding head.

Now look at the other picture shown here, of a man with a beard and balding head. Can you see a similarity?

This is actually a portrait of the writer R D Blackmore, whose grandfather was vicar of the church while he was writing.

Is it possible, that the writer himself, or someone bearing a strong family resemblance, accompanied the visitors, thus adding more excitement to the occasion?

I’ve visited the location of the picture for research purposes many times since being given it, and can confirm the presence of the eagle lectern.

Likewise, the plaques by the window are still there, along with the black object on the wall above the back figure, which is actually a planter for flowers.

I’ve been accompanied on my visits by several good mediums, who couldn’t sense any spirits still present, and my research doesn’t show up any signs of historical hauntings either, but on the basis of the figures captured in the photo, I feel its safe to say that at the moment it was taken, Oare Church was most definitely haunted!