by Katie Lumsden
I’m bored. That’s the problem. I always get bored. University didn’t bore me, but work did, endlessly, until now – until, finally, I thought, I’ll do a PhD and do some proper research, some real history. That’s the only thing that can explain my odd travels to this strange place, this little pocket of countryside that no one seems to know about.
There’s a medieval cathedral here that burnt down in the nineteenth century. That’s what I’m here for: research. Apparently the place all belongs to some Lord or other, one of the few members of the aristocracy with their fortune still intact. Apparently there was some scandal over his parents’ deaths and after they were gone he sold their Derbyshire Estate and bought a ruin. I tried to write to him to ask for a tour but I couldn’t find an address. So I thought I might as well just travel here and see. I hope the Lord of it all doesn’t object.
It’s a very long walk from the station, really in the middle of nowhere. To get to the village takes me long enough, and there are no taxis operating here. I sign in at the bed and breakfast and the people there are vaguely unhelpful. The woman who runs the place warns me not to go up to the cathedral. It’s haunted, she says. I laugh.
The next day I find out that to get to the cathedral is even harder. It’s a long, long walk. I’m glad I brought my walking boots; otherwise, I’ve got no idea how I’d manage this trudge through mud and countryside every day. Finally, after a two hour walk, I reach the bridge that crosses over to the cathedral. I haven’t seen anyone for miles.
Half way across the bridge I get the first view of the cathedral. My goodness, it’s beautiful here. It’s stunning, truly stunning. From this distance it would take you a moment or two to realise it’s a ruin. I get out my camera. When I get back to London I’ll develop the pictures and shove them in Jack’s face to prove that I was right, that it was worth coming here. We fought before I left. We’re always fighting nowadays. Only this time he shouted after, “this is the last time, Izzy – the last time this ever happens.” I wonder what he meant. There are three possibilities. Either when I get back he’ll ask me to marry him and I’ll say yes. Or he’ll ask me to marry him and I’ll say no. Or he’ll have left. So two out of three are the odds for the end. I like that. They’re good odds.
He doesn’t understand research. He doesn’t like history. I told him it was because he’s not an academic like me and he thought I was calling him stupid. Well, it hardly matters now. There’s no Jack here. I feel rather free.
It’s odd, the effect certain places can have on you.
I take photographs as I walk. I’m getting closer to the cathedral and all its splendid burnt beauty. Only, there’s so much to see. Still, I have days, weeks. I can stay here as long as I like and walk in every day. I’m glad I picked summer. If I wake at seven every morning I’ll be here by half past nine. I’d need to leave at half seven to get back in the light. That gives me ten hours of exploration every day. Wonderful.
To one side of the bridge there are steps, and I follow them down, intrigued, to a little chapel below the bridge. It’s not a ruin yet, and must have been built later than the cathedral. The carvings above the entrance are brilliant. I take photographs, and stop outside it to sit on the grass, eat my lunch, and take notes.
There’s so much to see, so much to write, so much to observe, to test, that time vanishes before my eyes. I take a few samples of rocks that have crumbled from the walls to send to Alice in London so that she can date them for me more exactly than my rubbish guesses can manage. Then I wander up the steps and towards the cathedral.
I walk around it. I stroll through the graves, taking photographs, taking notes. Fascinating. I take a few stones here too to send to Alice. It’s amazing. Everything, amazing, beautiful. Why Lord Whoever didn’t turn this place into a heritage site or museum is beyond me. It’s wasted here, with no one seeing it.
I’m about to go into the cathedral when I see movement. I step back so fast that I don’t see what moved, but something was definitely there. I wonder if you get wolves and bears around here. It might just have been a deer, but still – well, you’ve got to be careful. That’s what Jack would say. Never mind. Tomorrow I’ll borrow the gun that bed and breakfast lady offered me this morning, and tomorrow I’ll go inside the cathedral, armed, ready. Just in case.
So here I stand at the rotten doors of the cathedral with the gun in my pocket, prepared for anything. I move a little forward. I can’t see any movement yet which is a good sign, and I suppose if wolves do come here they’re probably not here every day. So I creep on, through the doors, and into the cathedral. I stop and stare.
It’s beautiful, so thoroughly beautiful. Even with the roof crumbled and burnt away you can still see magnificent archways and detailed carvings. It must have been amazing when built, and even now its wonder strikes me down. I want to pray. I always feel this strange urge, whenever I enter a cathedral. My agnosticism fades at the thought that no one could have built a place like this without the blessing and aid of some wonderful higher power. The past is fascinating. Think of how ugly buildings are these days. Now our offerings to the world are concrete blocks of flats, but look at this wondrous beauty, this masterpiece of centuries ago. They may say that world’s progressed, but nothing could beat this. I stand staring up, and through the archways, where the domed roof would have once been I see a wide sky of brilliant blue.
And then I start, because I hear a sound.
Standing before me, in an archway, is a man. Not a wolf, not a bear, but a human man. He is staring at me with a sort of wild fear, far greater than whatever surprise I feel. The first thing I notice about him is that he’s not wearing shoes. I take in everything about him in just a few seconds. His clothes are expensive but well worn. He’s got a beard, but not a long one – and yet it’s cut unevenly, as is his shaggy hair. His eyes are blue, his face dirty. He’s muscular, but thin. He’s pale, and his face is lit with terror.
He says, “are you a ghost?”
“No. Are you?”
“No,” he replies. “Of course not. Ghosts don’t exist.”
“Then why did you ask me if I was one?”
At this point, the man faints.
Photograph: Katie Lumsden
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