The Smugglers Cave, Looe Name: Smugglers Cave, Penrocks, East Looe
Location: Penrocks. Just beyond Looe's main beach, seafront
Weather: Overcast, but dry. Crisp & dry. Temp: 15°C
Investigators: Joanne Marie, Jonathan, Lorraine, Bob
Map Ref: OS Map of Penrocks, Looe.
orbs sounds audible voices temperature changes infestation phantom smells
Smugglers, cutters, caves & capture: To comment that Cornwall has a rich smuggling history would be rather obvious. It is well known, the world over, that the coast surrounding the county has a rich and detailed history of contraband goods, murder and deception. The harbour town of Looe, East Cornwall, is no exception, and has many a smuggling yarn of its own. For the historian, adventurer or artist it is a treasure chest offering seaside spirit, rugged coastlines, supernatural tales and stories worthy of a Boys Own annual.

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie,
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

A friendly resident. The Harbour circa 1900 Explore the rugged coast. The old warehouses and fishing huts. Ol' smuggler!

Just off the coast, and easily accessible by boat, is St. George's Island (also known as Looe island), which played a vital role in the smuggling trade. It is here that tubs of contraband were deposited, awaiting collection on dark nights. Fyn and Black Joan, a brother and sister team with a bloody history, guarded the precious cargo. They are thought to have hidden barrels and boxes in a secret cave, although the location has never been confirmed. The isolation provided perfect cover from the law, and activities on the island were invisible from patrolling Excise men. It was within their authority to seize goods, and arrest those responsible.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

The Jolly Sailor: On the mainland, The Jolly Sailor Inn was a favourite haunt of pirates and smugglers, who plotted with the landlord, and his equally corrupt wife. On one occasion, the Excise men (following a tip off concerning an illegal stash of liquor) raided the pub. The landlady was a resourceful woman and quickly sat upon the barrels, covering them with her voluminous petticoats. Once hidden, she continued her knitting! The Excise men searched the Inn to no avail.

The Inn is reputed to be haunted, including the regular sighting of a white rabbit. I hope to make the Jolly Sailor the subject of a future investigation. For now, Lorraine, Bob, Joanne Marie and myself are just finishing our drinks, and preparing for our journey to the "smugglers cave", beyond Penrocks. I have a few moments to tell my fellow investigators some history of the town (non-revealing!), and flick through the photographs taken earlier that day. The sunshine and sea views presented suggest a much prettier adventure than what lies ahead, but I'll keep that knowledge to myself.

The Investigation: July 15th, 2004. From 22:45 to 01:45.

The present landlady of The Jolly Sailor rings the bell for "last orders", and we make our way from the Inn, and out onto the harbour. It is low tide, the night is bright and chilly, and we have a smugglers cave to explore!

Please Note: Do not attempt to access the area discussed in this investigation without knowledge of the tides, weather conditions and local geography. The cliffs around the area are unstable, so every precaution should be taken.

Beyond the rocks: A steady, if rather hesitant, group make their way across the sands of Looe beach, and towards the granite rocks in the distance. Beyond this huge natural landmark lies a second, less well known area, covered in rocks, seaweed and shingle. During the day this beach is shrouded by the shadow of the ancient rocks, even in the brightest sunshine. A constant and chilly breeze adds melancholy and mystery, which heightens our mood. The Eddystone Lighthouse blinks twice, 12 miles out at sea. It is hard to believe we are mere minutes from the B&B's and tacky gift shops of the seaside town. Joanne is finding the experience very exciting, and has clearly enjoyed her day by the sea, but I notice that Lorraine is very quiet and thoughtful. "There's a sadness, and uncertainty on this beach" she says, after some questioning. I point out that it's not a favourite spot with holidaymakers, which prompted this more detailed description:

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"I can imagine! This isn't a place people would want to spend time, certainly not holidaymakers. I think children, especially girls, would find these rocks disturbing. Instead of climbing, and having fun, they would avoid this area. It's dank, and depressing compared to the other beach".

Joanne points out the smell. The strong and nauseating stink of seaweed is very obvious, and adds a nasty edge to our walk. I'm not referring to the briny smell that haunts every seaside town, most definitely not, as this whiff is overpowering. I attempt to recall the smells of my daytime visit, but can find no memories to suggest a smell this strong. The tide was higher, at the time, so perhaps the low tide has revealed a different species, or larger mass. The horrible smell increases our speed, and we reach the cliff side in good time.

Flies! In my hair, ears and mouth: Nearing the cliff, we all became immediately aware that we were crawling with black flies. A truly disgusting turn of events, not helped by the continued presence of the foul smelling seaweed. I considered cancelling tonight's investigation, as I worry about infection or disease. Lorraine suggests we enter the cave, as the flies may be indigenous to the open beach. I don't wish to be a killjoy, so I lead the party across the final rocks. We are now standing beneath a huge gash in the cliff side, and the town feels miles away. A dark opening is immediately before us, and with a quick "here we go", I lead the group into the "smugglers cave".

The darkness: The interior space is devoid of light, and torches (flashlights) are hastily switched on. We are all relieved that the flies have not followed us. A quick gasp of breath, from Joanne and Bob, reveals their surprise at the size of the cave. A spacious, jagged and dry antechamber towers above us, and continues into the gloom. Adjusting our clothing, and checking for flies, we make our way further into the cave. This is done in silence, as we all take in the atmosphere. I feel this is important, especially for Lorraine, as she is definitely more sensitive to the location, and any possible ghosts that may exist here. Although she refuses the title of 'medium', her talents could be ascribed to such a person. She has been vitally important during many investigations, as we often explore locations with no history or known ghosts. Without her instincts, we would be stumbling in the dark, without a clue.

A large stone ledge forms a natural step up into the next section. The cave narrows downward quite dramatically, to form a rounded tunnel. This manmade passage is stunningly creepy, and ominous, and instantly reminds the group of the smuggling tales recited in The Jolly Sailor. Strangely, I can find no mention of the tunnel in any history books, or local guides. Surely such an obvious feature would be mentioned? My thoughts are interrupted by Lorraine, who could well have the answer to my questions:

" This tunnel is still in use!" Lorraine exclaims to the group.

A collective "What!!!??" is all we could muster by way of a reply. The height of the tunnel is shrinking fast, and we are bent over as we shuffle along its length.

"Definitely still in use, and very recently", adds Lorraine, "But not by smugglers, ghosts or elementals. People come here to hide, smoke, drink and have a good time. Teenagers mostly."

Aha! I am about to congratulate Lorraine on her skills, when I too notice the fag butts, ring pulls and dead joints which litter the floor of the tunnel. It seems this underground passage is more active than I had suspected. We are approximately 6 metres into the tunnel, and the atmosphere is humoured, to say the least! Bob mentions he had a similar hideaway in his teens, but points out that it wasn't as gothic, or flamboyant, as a smugglers cave. "Where was it" asks Joanne, obviously intrigued. "It was a bunker, back in Kent. One of those second world war pill boxes along the river. They were manned to take down enemy planes, following the waterways to London". Thoughts of future investigations begin to form, and my mind wanders from the job at hand…..

"There is something…": Lorraine has stopped, and lowered the beam of her torch to the tunnel floor. We all wait patiently. "Someone doesn't like our presence here. They are surprised to find us here. It's secret, and should be left as it is. He's very particular about it. You know?! Fussy! He's fussy and pretends to be in a bad mood." There is a long pause, and my back begins to ache like mad. After what felt like an age, Lorraine whispers "It's ok. He's not angry. Just surprised. He likes to visit these caves. He made a lot of money, and friends, because of them. No, not friends, colleagues! He used the caves to hide the rum. He's proud of it. He's proud of the cave. He reminds me of a librarian. Ha ha! Definitely a fussy librarian, or accountant."

We feel now is a good time to set up the experiments. Lorraine is convinced she has located the energies of a long dead local man, who used the cave/tunnel to store contraband goods. This fills me with joy, as there IS a connection regarding rum and this very tunnel. The older fisherfolk of the harbour towns actually refer to this tunnel as "The Rummy". I know, and promise, that Lorraine could have no knowledge of this. A great start!

The Experiments:

Candle: A household candle has been lit in a sheltered corner of the tunnel. Joanne and Bob are sharing the task of watching its movements, and will note anything they feel is irregular. They are both big candle lovers, and their homes are filled with various varieties. I do not expect them to note anything which could be explained by drafts, or our movements.

Compass: I have brought my trusty compass. It has provided surprises in the past, and takes up no room at all. An occasional 'sweep' of the space will be carried out by myself.

Digital Dictaphone: This is rapidly becoming my favourite ghosthunting gadget, after the digital camera. Depending on the quality of the recording, this device can run for hours. I would normally find a position to place it safely, but there are no ledges or cracks big enough. Placing it on the floor could result in damage, so it will have to stay in my hand. This means, much to my regret, that any strange sounds recorded could be clothing, movements of the team or any other explainable source. It is useful for documenting this investigation, but cannot be counted as evidence.

Digital camera: As always, we have at least one digital camera. It is set to the highest resolution, and I am hopeful of capturing "orbs" or trails (the mist type clouds which have appeared in other investigations, like Talland Bay).

Findings and events:

With all the group settled, and the experiments in place we switch off our torches (flashlights). Claustrophobia quickly sets in, and it is hard for the group to maintain their composure. Joanne, in particular, begins to complain of aches along her spine, and a lack of clean air. She does not want to leave, but points out this information for possible use. The tunnel does smell stale, and briny, but the horrific seaweed smell is not present. I find this surprising. Bob is very quiet, and watches the candle with a very fixed stare.

Lorraine has closed her eyes, and attempts to contact the spirit of the "fussy" man. Her breathing changes occasionally, but there is no obvious change in behaviour or facial features. She mentions that he is still near, but is not "trapped" in the space by any past deeds, or misfortune. I suggest he comes in "visitation" and she agrees with a slow nod of her head. She goes on to say that this is one of many places he visits, in the town, and along the coast. He was well known in his time, and should be thought on as a historical figure. He feels his worth, and contribution, has not been recognised. It is at this moment that Bob mentions that the candle is flickering. I also notice a sweet, sickly smell, like burnt sugar.

The candle flickers again, and the tunnel takes on a different atmosphere. The town really does feel like a million miles away, in the eerie golden glow. There is something very primitive about candle light in a stone chamber, and I am immediately aware of the mass of stone above us. We are in the depths of the earth. Lorraine whispers that "he" is coming closer to her "aura" (the personal space which surrounds us all). I attempt to look back along the tunnel, and I understand Joanne's feeling of claustrophobia. Nothing is visible, but we all hear a sound. The shingle at the start of the tunnel (in the larger cavern) has been disturbed. It didn't sound natural, due to its sudden intrusion. I feel it is wise to call a quick "hullo?!" into the gloom, but there is no answer. The local teenagers may have come for their nightly meeting, but we heard no-one approach. Bob also calls out "Is someone there?", but there is no answer, or sound. Lorraine whispers that "he" is listening. I prompt her for a name, and she mentions that "Robert" is the nearest name in her mind. "Hello? Robert, is that you? Are you Robert?" I speak to the darkness, and add "We don't mean you any harm, and will be gone soon". Both Joanne and Bob are excited to see the candle flicker. I felt no breeze, at all, and feel this is highly significant. Lorraine breaths a laugh, and points out that "he" wants us to be quiet, but does not dislike our presence here. She feels he is "welcoming our company", but warns against making too much of a "babble". (??!!) We take this advice, and crouch in silence for many minutes. Apart from one flicker of the candle, no other events take place.

Compass: The compass did have problems finding magnetic north upon settling in the tunnel, but there were no other fluctuations of note.

Candle: Easily the most impressive of the experiments. The candle did flicker on 4 occasions. You may say that this was to be expected, on a rugged piece of coastline, but the tunnel is very sheltered, and free from backdrafts.

Digital Camera: Two sets of "orbs" were caught by the camera. Many photographs were taken, and the "orbs" do not appear in all of the sequence, even on multi-burst. If there was dust, or moisture, on the lens, I would expect the "orbs" to appear more often, this was after all, a damp tunnel on a humid night. So, where are all the discountable "orbs"?

After an hour of relative silence, and non-event, we made our way back along the tunnel, and into the cavern. The fresh air is more than welcome and the group returns to its regular lively state. I did notice Lorraine wishing the tunnel goodnight, and thought it good manners. She quickly pointed out that it wasn't the tunnel she was bidding farewell to, she feels "Robert" enjoyed our company, and was sad to see us leave. It is tempting to stay, but Bob promises me an Irish Coffee, and a comfy armchair, which was more than persuasive. We left the cavern, and made our way back across the beach. I should mention that the beach was free of black flies, and the smell of rotting seaweed had certainly receded.

In retrospect: I do not feel this was our most successful investigation, but Lorraine's communication with the presence in the tunnel made the trip worthwhile. Horrendous smells and black flies made the night unpleasant to begin with, but our impressions changed over the space of the investigation. I may return to the tunnel, with a smaller group. Four adults in such a small space was impractical, and I should have thought better of it. It's not everyday that you get to explore a Smuggler's hideout, and excitement got the better of me.