Great British Ghosts

Now as all my regular readers and listeners will know, I adore all things ghostly, whether in fact or in fiction. And while I was putting together my Ghostwatch special for Hypnobobs, as some background research I started channel hopping to check out the state of play of the sort of paranormal reality television pioneered by Most Haunted. However that aforementioned spook hunting show is currently off air, in between switching host channels it would appear, but I did stumble on a brand new series on Yesterday, a free to air history channel, which instantly won a place in my heart.

Entitled Great British Ghosts, this little programme does exactly what it says on the tin. In each half hour episode, we visit two different haunted locations somewhere in this green and pleasant land. However this isn't another exercise in televisual ghost hunting, completely free from all that running about in night vision and shrieking at shadows. Instead, with the always charming Micheala Strachan as our host and guide, we learn the history of the places, tour the locales, hear local experts recount the ghostly legends associated with it and round it off with with modern day sightings from the folk who dwell there and the indigenous paranormal experts.

And so we get to virtually visit a range of fascinating places from the comfort of our armchairs; naturally we have the expected selection of spectre-filled castles and stately homes, but also haunted pubs, coaching inns and villages. And there's also some rather unusual locations too, a recent episode featured Rochester House, a manor house built by a Freemason that was never actually finished or inhabited, and in another a formerly top secret nuclear shelter.

Now part of the show's charm is undoubtedly getting to have look around some fabulous places in the British Isles and learning a little of their histories along the way. But although you could say the locations themselves are the stars of the series, often they are complimented, and indeed often outshone, by some of the locals. Chatting with Michaela, the assorted historians, tour guides and experts frequently prove themselves to be excellent storytellers, spinning out the tales of the resident spooks and ghouls with great gusto. And rightly so, as this sceptred isle is, after all, as well known for its colourful local characters as it's wealth of historic buildings and monuments.

And it's this appealing cocktail of local history and storytelling that makes this show such a spooky treat for the long winter evenings. For unlike a lot of paranormal television, Great British Ghosts isn't trying to pass itself off as a serious investigation, and while we do hear the findings of local ghost hunters and often get some video footage or photographs to ponder, the show isn't really trying to tax your beliefs. How much you choose to believe is entirely up to you, and instead the show is simply celebrating Britain's spectral heritage, delighting in the pleasure of spinning ghost stories, whether they are folkloric accounts of headless horsemen and family curses or recent reports of weird goings-on.

Great British Ghosts is a winning combination of beautiful and fascinating locations, a taste of local colour, a soupçon of history and of course, plenty of spooks. This is very gentle television, perfect for the long dark evenings by the fire, and which I highly recommend to all lovers of all things spectral everywhere. However that said, the assorted accounts are bound to raise a delicious shivers or two as only a good ghost story can...

Great British Ghosts is showing on Friday nights at 9 PM on Yesterday (FREEVIEW 12, VIRGIN MEDIA 203, SKY 537)

Great British Ghosts home page

Yesterday channel home page

Great British Ghosts

JIM MOON, 9th November 2011