It wasn’t how I expected to spend my Friday night: hunched over a rickety wooden table at 2am in the pitch black cellar of an old mental asylum. But here I was, sat with a group of strangers and seeking the paranormal at Doncaster’s St Catherine’s Hospital.
A bunch of us ventured to the grounds of the hospital on Tickhill Road, Balby, for the hunt organised by Simply Ghost Nights.
The possibility of the paranormal had always intrigued me, and while I think it’s important to keep an open mind, certain things seen on ratings-hungry television programmes are, without a doubt, codswallop.
But events like this don’t need to play up for the benefits of viewers in their living rooms. If nothing spooky happens while you’re there, it’s tough luck to you.
Luckily for the group on Friday, there were some strange things happening that I, for one, wasn’t able to explain. I doubt anyone present there could, either.
If someone had have recounted stories like that to me, I would have said they might have belonged in an asylum themselves.
Before the spooky activities began on Friday, we were given a short introduction to each of the team leading the tours, as well as some of the hi-tech equipment being used.
They had all sorts of nifty devices, from recording equipment to machines designed to show a change in temperature as a result of something else being in the room.
There was even a stuffed bear who came to life with child-like speech and light-up red eyes whenever he sensed something. Hearing and seeing that in the dark would have been terrifying.
My group left the bear safely upstairs and headed for the cellar to start our night. Fuelled by a mixture of excitement and the sugar from handful of complimentary chocolate bars and fizzy drinks, we were interested to see what we would find.
Naturally, it was a bit unsettling when the lights went out. We were in a room where you would have to wonder what went on in the 1800s when it was used as a hospital.
The presence of an archaic looking operating table, reportedly used in the period, added to the atmosphere.
Things got off to a slow start in the dark, but eventually, after much patience, strange events began to occur.
I’d always thought those “table tapping” exercises - where spirits are instructed to “use the energy” of the people in the room to make noises on, or even move, a table, were a set-up. Those more cynical than me will probably agree.
The fact of the matter was, though, that there were some audible taps coming from nowhere. At times, they seemed to echo the fingernails-on-wood sound members of our group were making.
That was weird enough, but then the table started moving as the energy levels hit new and unsettling highs. The device measuring energy changes suddenly came to life in a burst of lights.
It’s said that certain people have more luck than others in the paranormal world, and that certainly seemed to be the case on Friday.
One woman, who was celebrating a birthday, built something of a rapport with whatever was in the room with us. It was following her instructions more than anyone else’s.
I spent two sessions in the cellar, and the first one was, by far, the most productive. There was nothing to be found when I went back down with another group.
Nor was there, in my experience, much concrete evidence in the other rooms of the house, despite other groups reporting plenty of activity in the servants’ quarters and kitchen.
There were excited whispers during the break of one group’s table being “up on two legs”. I certainly didn’t see anything like that.
But perhaps the strangest happenings of the night, for me, were from before the hunt even began, while the lights were still on.
I can’t explain the noise I heard, seemingly right beside my head, while I took a photograph in the building’s central courtyard.
The sort of whispery groan isn’t something I would like to hear too often in the dead of night in such a building.
I spun round, but there was no-one within 20 metres of me. I have no idea what it was.
Maybe I don’t want to know. To me, not accounting for something I’m hearing is all part of the fun of investigating the paranormal.
James Howard, who was with a large group to do the tour, was a sceptic before it began.
He said he left a sceptic too.
“Nothing really grabbed me as proof,” he said.
The table tipping experiments were the most plausible part of the experience.
“Unless they had some sort of magnets under the floor, I don’t think that could have been faked,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be able to explain it.”
Layla Allen was sure what she saw was real.
“I’ve thought and thought, and tried to think of how the things we saw and experienced that night could be explained in any other way, and I can’t,” she said.