I live in an area where there were a lot of Roman roads, many of which are below more modern roads.
One of them, not far from where I live joins another road near an old hill fort, which Roman invaders occupied for a while (presumably after turfing the locals out) before they built something more angular a few miles to the south west.
According to local stories, on a quiet dark night, at the point where the remains of that Roman road meets the other one which runs at right angles to it, you might see a Roman soldier.
I’m not sure what he’d be doing there, stuck fundamentally in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t know which way he’s supposed to be heading, but then that’s the nature of ghosts. And in Roman times, and perhaps later, it would have been a crossroads. Leaving aside whether I believe in him or not, or whether the crossroads is significant or not, I also wonder how anyone can see him, since presumably the ‘ground’ back then was a good deal lower down than it is now.
I travel that road quite often, but have never seen him, and a less than rational part of me worries that since logically he’d only be visible from the chest up or perhaps from the head up, walking a path long since buried by later generations of mud and so on I might accidentally run … er … through him.
The idea of levels of history fascinates me. Who knows what’s beneath our feet at any time? Or what will one day be above where we now walk?
Recently, my husband and I spent a day in London with friends, enjoying views from the Sky Garden and then traipsing round the area here Margaret Demeray’s fictional St Julia’s hospital would have been located if she or it were real. We were in what would have been the middle of Roman London, not far from the London Mithraeum which is effectively two storeys below modern ground level.
My friends then took us to the courtyard outside the Guildhall, and showed me a plaque in the paving which said that underneath us was the Roman amphitheatre, parts of which can be seen from well below street level. Sadly the Guildhall was shut that day, so we couldn’t see them, but I wandered about in the sun having the fascinating thought that if something happened to the space time continuum maybe someone in the second or third century might look up during a lull in activities in the amphitheatre, and see us walking in the air above the arena and wonder if we were ghosts or portents rather than people wondering where to go for lunch.
This takes me to something that I often wonder when people talk about ghosts. Assuming they’re seeing anything at all, are they really seeing things from before or things from the future? This might take you to quantum theory, or it might not. I honestly don’t know enough about it to speculate. But who’s to say the people wandering like ghosts aren’t actually lost people from the future?
That thought reminds me a little of when my then office moved to a new building. When they’d dug the foundations, they’d found and cleared both a Civil War mass grave and below it, an Anglo-Saxon churchyard. But… they had been a long way down. The building is a good five storeys high at the back and three at the front, to allow for a massive drop between the road and the docks behind. There is (or perhaps was – I haven’t worked there for a long time) a filing room on the topmost floor and it was there that a member of staff swore they saw a ghost one evening when there were only a few of us left behind on the late rota. It spooked them so much they absolutely had to go home and leave me and one other person behind. (Clearly, it didn’t matter what happened to us.)
As the top floor of that building is as far above where ground level would have been in AD 1643 (let alone AD 680) as I was above the London Roman amphitheatre the other week, I never could see what a ghost from the past would be doing up there. It certainly wasn’t filing. But if they really saw someone, perhaps it wasn’t a ghost but someone from the far future.
Perhaps that future person was somehow reflected through a doodah of the space time thingummy (you can tell I barely passed science can’t you) onto the same place in a different century in its own past only at the level they will be at rather we are.
Or maybe not.
The staff member was always a little vague about the ghost. They were never clear about its sex or clothing or could say pretty much anything about it which would identify what era it was from. They just said it was spooky and they were far too distressed to work a moment longer and might be late the next day.
I might give them some credence because I work for an organisation which has a great many buildings which are said to be haunted.
For example, a very sensible friend and colleague from a totally different place told me she once came across a sombre looking woman in a dreary dress wandering about the restricted area. As a responsible employee and as the senior manager on site, my friend politely but firmly asked the sombre woman where her visitor’s security pass was. The sombre woman said nothing. She just carried on along the corridor and round a corner towards a dead end. Unused to being ignored, my friend followed … but the woman was nowhere to be seen and it was only then that she decided she’d finally met the Grey Lady who’d been said to haunt the older part of that building for six hundred years. As I say, my friend is a very sensible person, so I’m not sure who was more surprised, her or the Tudor ghost asked to produce ID.
But that was her.
Apart from two very old graveyards which had once been under it but were now empty, the building where the other person got spooked out was a mere eighteen months old. Maybe the staff member saw a ghost. Maybe they saw a shadow of the future.
But given their general attitude to work, I find it somewhat hard to imagine that they saw anything except a pile of very boring filing and an opportunity to go home early.
Words and photograph copyright 2022 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.