Drake’s Island was officially opened to the public last week after spending decades desolate and behind closed doors, but according to the new team, the island has never truly been empty.
Months of hard work preparing the six acre landmass for visitors has been going on behind the scenes as part of owner Morgan Phillips’s vision.
Remnants of the past can be found all over the island but when one of the gardeners reported being poked by an invisible force, a clairvoyant was invited on the scene to take a look at the one bit of history that’s been previously unexplored.
After a couple of mysterious goings-on in recent weeks, Drake’s Island tour guide Cathie Gillespie knew exactly who to call – and it wasn’t Ghostbusters.
Gillespie, who turned tour guide after the closure of the Royal Navy Stables she ran in Bickleigh, invited her friend Anne to the island to find out if there was some kind of paranormal activity happening out in the middle of the Sound.
The two women have known each other for almost twenty years and Anne describes herself as a clairvoyant or medium. In essence, she claims to be able to communicate with spirits, a gift she has had ever since she was born.
And the verdict according to Anne? Drake’s Island definitely has ghosts – and they think it’s hilarious people want to come to visit.
“They’re all very friendly,” explains Cathie, who has had her own experiences with spirits, both on the island and elsewhere in the past.
“They think it’s hilarious don’t they? They can’t understand why anyone wants to come to the island.”
With such a rich, historical background, Cathie likens the situation on the island to the 1970s sitcom Rentaghost.
“You’ve got all these spirits from different generations right the way through,” say says. “You might have someone from WW1, WW2, and the time before Drake.”
As a clairvoyant, Anne is the one who has made contact with those on the other side and has found a connection with a woman called Mary, who acts a bit like the spiritual custodian of the island.
“She’s the one who came through initially very strongly and she basically looks after everybody,” says Anne.
“She’s very protective of the island. She’s a nurturing mother figure, probably in her thirties.”
Anne believes she passed at some point in the 1860s and has been there ever since.
“She’s been there all the way through, looking after ‘her boys’ – that’s what she calls them. Even through the Second World War, when she wasn’t physically there.”
While Mary may act as the mouthpiece for the ghostly inhabitants, there are plenty more notable stories that Anne has flagged up to the team.
“They come and stand behind me really and I know they’re there, it’s as real as a person standing there.
“When I got to the island, we got to the top bit behind the garrison and I stopped. Mary made it very clear from the beginning there was a young lad with her and it was like somebody physically passing me their child’s hand.
“It was like ‘he needs to go first.’ He had to get to his mum.”
Anne’s sixth sense specialises in energy clearing spaces and helping spirits move on.
She says she has assisted other spirits on the island aside from the young boy.
She explains “There was a gunner in the doorway of the room, on this constant watch out and he said, ‘I’m not allowed to leave my post’.
“He couldn’t physically leave there, so that was it, just reassuring him he could go.
“There was also a fisherman who appeared and wanted to be moved on. He was quite subdued.”
Cathie has since found a post on the blog run by Drake’s Island Warden Bob King that there is a story of two fisherman who were out in the Sound when the canons were fired and sank their boat.
It’s believed to have been a practice shot gone wrong.
There are also reports of a young man who was working with his dad to help build the roof above the casemates but tripped and fell 25ft onto the foreshore and died.
Cathie says she has had a white feather float down in front of her when explaining the story to a group of visitors previously.
“What I really want to make clear,” says Anne, “Is that people always assume that I’ve done loads of research and found all the stories and I come up with things.
“I don’t do any research, that’s the whole point. I don’t want to know the supposed backgrounds of anything because then logic kicks in.
“I know I can say that and people won’t believe me, but that’s the honest truth.
“I don’t do this as an entertainment thing. It’s very important they’re treated with respect and not be made into another form of entertainment.”
Staff are being encouraged to say good morning to the spirits
One thing the women do want people to be aware of if they’ve booked onto one of the guided tours running over the next month is that the ghosts have a great sense of humour.
“There’s this Hollywood view of spirits that they’re purely these scary things to be worried about,” says Anne. “In reality the majority of them are happy.
“They’re still people. They just don’t have a body.
“They still have the character and personality that a person would do and they still have their fun and games.”
That could especially be said for a spirit they’ve dubbed ‘Mr Snuffles.’
Allegedly Mr Snuffles likes to smell perfume. He has been known to cuddle into people’s necks if they have a particular nice smell to them. Anne is keen to stress that however strange a sensation that might be if someone experiences it, ‘he is harmless.’
“We do get people who come on the tour and say no, rubbish we don’t believe it. That’s their choice,” adds Cathie.
“There are two questions people always ask and that’s, ‘Is there a tunnel from the island to the mainland?’ and ‘Are there any ghosts?’
“I say there are only spirits if you yourself believe in them. It’s up to you, it’s your choice.”
It seems that the individuals directly involved in the current operating of Drake’s Island certainly do believe it though.
Staff are being encouraged to say good morning to the spirits when they get on the island to let them know they’re there.
Cathie has taken to shouting, ‘It’s only me!’ when entering the tunnels at the beginning of the day.
While the guides offer up a lot of historical information and storytelling on the tour, they don’t want it to turn into a ‘ghost hunting’ experience, especially for the people who want to bring Ouija boards to the island.
“The most important thing is to protect them, some of them want to go and some of them want to stay but it’s their home. I’m sure they’ll let us know if they don’t like it!”
Public tours are operating on the island as of last week. If you are interested in visiting you can book online here.