When Della’s Farrant’s popular book on ghosts and hauntings, Haunted Highgate, first hit the shelves of national and local bookshops in October 2014, it caused not least a bit of surprise amongst the residents of this quaint old London village. Highgate – or rather its bordering Highgate Cemetery – had already been entrenched within the public persona as being the haunt of a blood-thirsty vampire: a story that owed its roots most probably to the activities of Hammer Horror films who chose the cemetery as a popular location in the late 1960s/early 1970s to make some of its most favourited Dracula movies. Stories of a ‘vampire’ abounded (most likely due to the success of these movies), but these also conflicted with many other stories of different ghosts and haunted locations that seemed to abound in the Highgate area. As a result, Highgate became associated with a mass of volatile ‘vampire’ stories which inevitably became entangled with much older stories of ghosts and legends, that originally took precedence in Highgate’s history.
It seemed Della was faced with the formidable job of trying to unravel an absurd mix of fact and fiction (or rather, what constituted fiction as opposed to genuine stories and legend) when undertaking research for her book, and still accounts come to light from people who, having read her book, are reminded of experiences of a ghostly encounters they may have had themselves, that have persuaded them to make contact.
The account below from former Highgate resident Declan Walsh is just one of these. In fact, Declan’s account was mentioned in a much shortened version in the book, but he subsequently made contact again with Della via her website hidden-highgate.org and was asked for more details about his sighting in Swains Lane – the eerie lane that skirts Highgate Cemetery – back in November 1991 . . .
Thank you to Declan for sharing his memories, and to Della for helping to collate stories such as Declan’s for posterity.
Having found your website and read some of the stories I felt I had to tell you of my experience on Swain’s Lane.
I used to work at a community NHS unit near Parliament Hill Fields and I often walked to work from my flat just off the Archway Road. A lovely walk in the summer but on a cold, damp autumnal morning…I would walk briskly. There were a number of ways to get to work but the quickest one was via Swain’s Lane. It was steep and quite narrow in parts and as you near the halfway point to your left is the East section of Highgate Cemetery. I have visited the cemetery many times as a legitimate visitor and as a kid during the 60’s / 70’s who climbed over at night with his mates. It is fair to say that I had a pretty good knowledge of the cemetery.
This particular morning (6.30 a.m.) in November 1991 I was walking towards the cemetery gates when I spotted him. He was walking directly towards the gates and about 200 yards away from me. I don’t know how I knew it, but I instinctively knew something was wrong. He was extremely tall, well over six feet in height and he was very thin. He wore a long black cape-like coat and a top hat. His dress looked Victorian in style and he appeared all black. He also carried a small package. However, he walked directly towards the gates which I and every other local knew was locked to prevent intruders gaining entry. I watched as he walked straight at and through the gates, not once altering his stride or reaching out to open the gates. I stood frozen to the spot and stared at the gates. I kept thinking “Those gates are locked. I know they are locked”.
I walked towards the gates whilst keeping to the right hand side of the road, keeping some distance between myself and the figure who had disappeared once he had entered the cemetery. The gates were securely chained and padlocked. To get in one would need the key or would have to climb over. I stared at the gates and I realised that I had seen someone not human. It’s funny what details stick in your mind because as well as his extreme height, thinness, the clothing and the blackness of the figure, he also appeared to glide and there was no sound. The ground was littered with leaves yet I heard no sound from him nor did he take any notice of me.
I have to confess I made it into work in record time and one of my colleagues stated “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost”. When I told them what I had seen I was met with laughter and ridicule.
However, I know what I saw that morning and I remember it distinctly to this day.
As I saw the figure my instincts / feelings were of dread. It sounds very corny but I felt cold and full of dread. I recognised as I watched that something was wrong and immediately afterwards my instinct was to run. In the weeks and months afterwards I avoided that spot and to be honest I used other routes to get to work. I also reran it all through my mind and questioned whether I had really seen this apparition. I don’t recall having ever dreamed about the event or the apparition. When I think about it now I realise how lucky I was to have had this experience although at the time I certainly did not think so.
As to whether it was a vampire…I have absolutely no idea as to the existence of vampires although I do believe I saw an apparition.
Declan Walsh (2015)