Thursday 31 October 2019
On 25 January 2013 I travelled from home in the Scottish Highlands to Horsley, London to pick up my ‘new’ car. My boyfriend Paul came with me so we could share the drive back up north.
I paid for the car and we left Horsley not long after we’d arrived.
Driving further north the worse the weather conditions became. Snow was falling thick and fast. It got so bad you couldn’t distinguish the different lanes on the motorway. It was getting darker too. I was freaking out and bottled out of the driving well before we were anywhere near Newcastle. Paul took over. The satnav was taking us home by the ‘fastest’ route and Paul pulled off the motorway onto the A68. This was a big mistake. Huge.
Drifting snow from open fields had piled onto the road and the blizzard caught in the car’s headlights made it seem like we were in the opening credits of a Star Wars movie. Paul drove well but my hands were sweating and my pits prickled as I felt the back end of the car slide about on the white surface. ‘I mean, thank fuck there’s no other traffic!’ I squeaked at Paul.
‘Yeah, all the smart people have stayed home,’ he said.
‘I’d kinda like to see another car or even light from a house. It’s spooking me out. I don’t like this. At all.’
It really was so very, very dark and very, very quiet – apart from the noise of the car’s engine. I became afraid we were going to get stuck in the snow, miles from anything and anyone. Plus it was late now, approaching 11pm. Paul checked the Satnav. The miles were too far and too treacherous. After what seemed for ever, out of nowhere, a building appeared on our right. It was an Inn, but it was in darkness other than lights shining on its sign The First and Last. We drove on. ‘This is stupid,’ I said.
‘Shall we go back and see if there’s anyone about at that place we just saw?’ Paul suggested. I was all for it, so he, very carefully, stopped the car, turned, and drove back. We knew it would be a long-shot but we were desperate . . .
We looked into the window of the Inn. Definitely all locked up. We walked round the back, through a kind of courtyard, and knocked on the door of the house. The night was so still. A dog barked, but nobody came. We turned and walked away completely dismayed, our breath making cauliflower clouds in the cold air and feet crunching over the snow. Suddenly a marvellous sound – a handle turning. ‘Can I help you?’ A woman asked, standing in a lit doorway.
Paul explained our situation and that very kind woman took pity on us. ‘We don’t have any other guests so we closed the Inn, but I can’t turn you away in this weather. Come with me,’ the woman said. We followed her back across the courtyard, to the locked up Inn. ‘Where have you travelled from?’ She asked. We told her we’d driven up from Horsley in London. ‘That’s funny,’ she said, ‘this place is called Horsley too.’
The woman gave us a Jack n Coke from the wee bar before showing us up to our room.
‘Why’s it called The First and Last?’ I asked.
‘Because it’s the first Inn over the border from Scotland and the last Inn leaving England,’ the woman smiled, and I smiled back.
I can tell you, I’d never felt so happy and relieved as I flumped onto our double bed for the night. Paul immediately switched on the TV (rolling eyeballs and rolling off the edge of the bed I go to the window and push it up and open). I scoop up a giant amount of snow from the ledge and pack it into a beautiful sphere. I weigh up the consequences of the action I know I’m about to take. Fleetingly. Then, as swift as the blow from an executioner’s blade, I spin, I aim, I fire.
Paul is raging.
I’m laughing hysterically. What joy! I climb into bed. Before long I ask P to put the TV off.
It’s pitch black. I close my eyes and wait for sleep. In the darkness I hear the faint sound of music. It’s almost like ceilidh music or something. ‘Do you hear that?’ I ask Paul, my eyes now wide open, waiting impatiently for them to adjust to the blackness.
‘The music?’ he says.
‘Yeah, I hear it.’ A few moments pass.
‘Where’s it coming from?’
‘Dunno. Maybe the woman’s house?’ Paul suggests. He’s probably right. I settle and soon am drifting towards sleep.
Suddenly I’m yanked into wakefulness again. Paul is leaning up on his elbow in the bed. ‘Did you hear that?’ he asks, ‘I thought the woman said there were no other guests and we were alone here?’
‘Yeah,’ I mumble, ‘she did. What is it?’
‘I heard someone out in the hall.’ Paul said.
‘Have you locked our door? You better get up and lock it!’ I tell him. Paul does.
The next morning we go down for breakfast. The woman smiles and asks, ‘How was your night?’ I decide to be truthful.
‘Well,’ I start, ‘Were you playing music?’
‘No,’ replied the woman. ‘I went to bed after you came because I had to get up to do your breakfast. You heard music, what sort of music?’
‘Kind of like dancing music, like ceilidh or something,’ I answered. ‘And did someone else arrive last night because Paul heard someone in the hallway.’
‘No. There was no-one else here,’ the woman confirmed, then added, ‘I’ll go check all the radio clocks in the rooms.’
‘This is super weird, isn’t it?’ I say to Paul. ‘I mean, sound travels, but there’s nowhere else around here for miles. Where the fuck did the music come from? She said she went to bed!’
Several minutes later the woman reappeared. ‘The clocks are all switched off. It’s strange,’ she said, thoughtfully. ‘When I first took this place over my uncle visited. He stayed the night in the room you were in. He swore blind he saw a little girl dancing in the corner of the room. I just thought he’d had a few whiskies too many. But that’s really, really weird that you say you heard dancing music and noises in the corridor.’ Paul and I ate our breakfast and got out of there.
As we drove away from The First and Last Paul said, ‘Well. That place is aptly named. First and last time I’ll ever stay there again! Not because of the service, that woman saved our lives last night, but that place is definitely haunted.’
Happy Halloween everyone! Please friend me on facebook here, so I never have to leave my house to socialise again – unless that’s up a mountain. Lol.
Check out another true story. MY BOOK Just Another Mountain, here.