The scratch of paws in an empty room, the brush of fur against the legs days after the death of a pet cat, the thundering hooves of a horse seen galloping along a deserted road which vanished before the eyes of astounded motorists.
Such ghostly experiences are evidence – some believe – it is not only humans whose spirits roam the earth long after they have died.
Last week, paranormal investigators claimed Scampton, the airfield in Lincolnshire from where the Dambusters squadron attacked the Möhne and Eder dams in 1943, causing flooding of the Ruhr valley, is haunted by a chocolate-brown Labrador.
The dog is said to be the ghost of Nigger, who belonged to the leader of the Dambusters squadron, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, but was run over and killed just hours before the raid.
A dog has been heard growling in Gibson’s former office and a brown Labrador showed up in a photo taken of some schoolchildren at the memorial to the Dambusters in 1987, near Gibson’s office. No one could account for its presence.
Chris Bishop, a pet bereavement counsellor, says hundreds of people have reported seeing or feeling the presence of a much-mourned pet.
“I believe it is a spiritual presence but even if you just think it’s just a very vivid dream, it’s very comforting,” she says.
Not all ghostly creatures are so benevolent, however. Tales abound of malevolent creatures whose restless spirits often haunt the places where they were ill-treated in life or met an untimely death.
One such disturbing apparition is said to be that of a maimed and mutilated black cat who appeared to the unfortunate inhabitants of Manor Hall in Oxenby, near Bristol. This cat was thought to have belonged to a boy who lived there more than 500 years ago.
The boy’s parents died and he was taken into the care of a cruel guardian who tormented and abused him. Once the boy was made to watch as his pet cat was tortured, mutilated and finally boiled. The boy was eventually killed too and the wicked guardian was hanged for his murder.
Their spirits haunted the place for half a millennium, including the ghastly apparition of the maimed and bleeding cat.
A subsequent owner of the house erected a monument to the abused child, and carved the figure of a cat on the house. But it was not until the house was knocked down that the hauntings ceased.
Athelhampton Hall in Dorset is said to be home to one of the more exotic animal ghosts in Britain: that of a pet monkey.
Some centuries ago a family named Martyn lived there and their daughter fell in love with the son of an aristocrat, who brought her a pet monkey from a trip abroad.
But the love affair turned sour and, heartbroken, the girl shut herself away in a secret staircase behind the long gallery, unaware that the monkey had followed her.
When the door was finally opened, the bodies of the girl and the monkey were found. People have reported the sound of scrabbling from the staircase and several have claimed to have seen the ghost of “Martyn’s ape”.
Along with many human ghosts, the spectre of a bear is said to haunt the Tower of London, once home to a menagerie. In 1816, a sentry was horrified to find a bear coming out of the jewel room. He lunged at it with his bayonet but the weapon went straight through it and the bear vanished. The sentry collapsed in shock and died a few days later.
More common spectral creatures are horses. Many civil war battlegrounds are thought to be haunted by the ghosts of horses slain there. A white horse said to be the charger of the Royalist commander Prince Rupert has been seen at the site of the Battle of Edgehill in Warwickshire.
At Pendennis Castle in Cornwall the Royalists were besieged for five months by the Parliamentarian forces. They were forced to slaughter their horses for food. The castle’s custodian is regularly kept awake at night by the sounds of hooves but on investigation no horses are found.
One of the saddest stories is that of the hooves heard in the village of Westonzoyland in Somerset. The legend goes that a young man fighting for the rebel Duke of Monmouth was captured by government soldiers outside the village in 1685. The soldiers promised to spare the young man’s life if he could outrun a horse.
With his sweetheart watching, he ran for his life and won the race, but the soldiers shot him anyway.
The heartbroken girl drowned herself, and her ghost still returns to haunt the scene of the race, along with that of the runner, whose desperate panting can sometimes be heard, accompanied by the thundering of ghostly hooves.
Another tragic tale is that of George Nelson, a boy who was killed in 1885 on a road in Lincolnshire, when he was thrown from his horse. In recent decades, several motorists have seen a horse throw its rider on to the road, or braked as it has galloped into their path, but when they stop, neither horse nor rider is to be found.
Driving on dark nights on lonely roads, motorists seem to be particularly vulnerable to ghostly sightings, such as the phantom horses that gallop across a road in Berkshire near Steventon, startling motorists – only to disappear into the darkness.
Sometimes these lonely road sightings take the form of spectral hounds. Black dogs are said to haunt crossroads, where gibbets were commonly sited.
At Tring in Hertfordshire, a large black shaggy dog with flaming eyes has been seen at a crossroads where a chimney sweep was hanged in 1751 for the murder of a woman believed to be a witch.
And in 2001, a woman driving in Yorkshire saw a large black dog run in front of her car. She braked hard, but the hound passed through the bonnet. Her companion also saw it.
When the women reached Leeming Bar, they told a man they met about the dog. He later killed himself. Black dogs were once believed to presage death or disaster. Could the dog have signified his fate, or was it coincidence?
Certainly the spectre of a black hound has long had the power to terrify. On Dartmoor, a huge black dog with red eyes is believed to run beside a coach made of bones, pulled by spectral horses and driven by the ghost of Lady Mary Howard, a notorious woman who survived four husbands in the 17th century.
This and other black dogs may have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous ghost story, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Other animals, like human ghosts, are believed to be more benevolent spirits which simply wish to remain in the place where they lived. Sian Evans, who wrote Ghosts: Mysterious tales from the National Trust, visited Ham House in Richmond where the ghost of a spaniel is frequently seen.
“I was filming in one of the rooms in 2007,” she remembers, “when I saw a spaniel through the doorway of the next room, but when I went in there, there was no dog and it was a dead end.”
The dog was the favourite pet of a woman who lived in the house in the 18th century. He is featured in a portrait, gazing adoringly at his mistress. In the 1990s, workmen found the bones of a spaniel in a casket. The skeleton was reconstructed and placed in a case beneath the portrait.
“I think he had a very happy life there and that’s perhaps why he remains,” says Evans. – Daily Mail