The Serpentine Mist Form of Swain’s Lane PLUS: a Forty Year Old Mystery Finally Solved?
Guest Blog kindly contributed by Redmond McWilliams
Date of investigation: Friday, December 9th, 2011 (9-10pm GMT).
Being much intrigued by the two separate attacks that were allegedly carried out by the Highgate ‘Vampire’ on both a male student and a female nurse in the early nineteen seventies, I decided to carry out a field examination of the area in question. This was upper Swain’s Lane as this section not only had the 12 foot high wall that lined the west cemetery, but also an 8 foot wall on the opposite side; which in turn ringed Waterlow Park. It was also quite close to the old North gate to the west cemetery which was the focal point for many of the ghostly sightings reported at the time. The purpose of my visit was to see if there was any plausible explanation for the supposedly spectral quality of their assailant – that being its seeming ability to just vanish into thin air.
As it was mid-winter I decided to undertake my field investigation in the late evening as it would be dark; so replicating the time of day for both attacks. I arrived at the foot of Swain’s Lane around 9pm armed only with my digital camera. As I made my way up the lane I took occasional shots of the east cemetery outer parameter through the railings, and that of the main entrances to both the east and west cemeteries. Just ahead of this point the lane got narrower and darker; mainly from the trees and bushes that over hanged both the west cemetery and the park opposite. However, it was not as dark as I thought it would be as every few yards or so and along the narrow pavement that ran along the side of the park there was a well lit lamp post. This also meant that there was very little in the way of shadow. Moving further up the lane the low wooden fence that lined the park suddenly gave way to an 8 foot high brick wall – I was now in the area of interest.
At first glance it looked like it would be very difficult to see how such an assailant, human or otherwise, could make a quick escape without being noticed and without means of a quick exit. When you have to bear in mind that both victims were apparently saved by the headlights of an approaching car, how would the attacker fail to be seen by either motorist? One possible explanation that came to my mind was that as both victims were violently thrown to the ground it was possible they they hit their heads and suffered concussion. And one of the side effects of concussion is a temporary lapse in memory, and one that occurs immediately following said injury. Therefore the assailant could have heard the car approaching up the lane (it is one way only) and clambered over the park wall and so escape detection during that period.
From the perspective of the victim of course it would seem that very little or no time has elapsed at all from being knocked to the ground to being helped up from the passing motorist. But would that theory be enough to explain the witnesses saying their assailant seemingly appeared to vanish in the glare of the car headlights? It was then that I noticed that further along the eight foot wall there was gated entrance to Waterlow Park and furthermore was somewhat recessed from the line of the wall. Certainly it was a recess that was deep and shadowy enough for someone to be hiding from view if viewed at a distance – so allowing them more time to escape over the gate and into the park. It should also be noted that the lane was not always as well lit as it is today as additional street lamps were added some years later; as was later confirmed by cases’ primary investigator David Farrant. Perhaps because of these very real concerns over pedestrian safety re muggers and motor vehicles such improvement was made?
So had I succeeded in debunking the spectral nature of their darkly clothed attacker with a deathly white face? Who knows? Perhaps the incidents do relate in some way to the supernatural phenomenon that was reportedly associated with the cemetery and the adjacent old drover’s road. But it’s just as equally possible that both attacks were only attributed to having a supernatural cause by a simple knock on the head and the suggestive potential of the area’s haunted reputation that both victims would already be well aware of.
Now I have to say at this point that I myself felt nothing odd or strange during my own night visit. Other than the occasional motor vehicle and passerby I was for the most part quite alone; though the ample street lights did provide me with a certain degree of reassurance nevertheless. So before heading for home I decided to take some shots of the infamous north gate and its interior; as well as parts of the lane just adjacent to it. Now I noted nothing that was out of the usual at the time – either with my naked eye or from quickly reviewing the shots I had taken via the small monitor screen on the back of my camera. So it came as something as a surprise to me when I got home and uploaded the file onto my PC. Of particular interest were four photos… the first three of which were taken of the pathway and gatehouse that lay within the north gate, whilst the fourth was of the section of lane just to the left of the gates themselves. The photos were sequentially numbered as 16, 21, 22 and 31. Three of the photos captured a strange white, wispy anomaly, whilst the other depicted a number of orbs; one of which was quite bright indeed.
The photos (accompanied with captioned descriptions and with their numbers) are as follows:
Now photographs of white smoky shapes are not exactly unheard of in the field of paranormal research. Very often they are either the product of cigarette smoke, the light trails from the camera moving very quickly past a light source, or simply the condensation of the photographer’s breath captured by the camera’s flash when the conditions are cold. Now the third possibility did cross my mind at the time as the ambient temperature had been quite low… somewhere between three and five degrees centigrade by my own estimate. I certainly could see my breath, it was that cold. But to my own eye they just don’t fit the pattern given by exhaled breath. Neither were they caused by cigarette smoke – I do not smoke, nor was there a smoker in the vicinity at the time. The light source explanation can also be discounted as it did not fit the light trail shape you would get from such a source, and no such source was near. It has been suggested that the wispy anomaly in photograph number 31 could’ve been created by either water evaporating from a wet surface or the dew evaporating from the heat residue of a parked car. The ground however was dry and for the hour or so I had been there had been no cars parked up. Personally what I find most intriguing is that the wispy shape in that photo seems to be outlining a roughly square shape on the tarmac (which surface I can assure you was relatively flat and there was no manhole nearby; as well as the angular, winding nature of the anomaly itself.
With the one photograph that had the light and orbs however, I am not at all convinced there was any unexplainable cause for it. All sorts of atmospheric conditions could have accounted for their presence i.e. insects, the flash of my camera reflecting off water droplets (though the ground was dry the air was damp), etc. And certainly there were no other photos from my series which captured them in as much detail as we have here. In fact many of them did not capture either of the anomalies involved; as illustrated by the rather sporadic numbering of these four examples I have provided. Which in itself might be very telling perhaps?
So to conclude, are we dealing with simple digital anomalies that are the artifacts of many a modern camera? Or did I manage to capture something really quite unusual? What I can tell you is that at some point I plan to return to this location and under similar conditions to see if I can replicate either of the images here and perhaps find a decisive explanation for their origins.
The above post is a guest blog kindly contributed by Redmond McWilliams, founder of The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society
Text and images (c) Redmond McWilliams 2013
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