October 17th – The Festival of the Stranger in the Holloway

Even in the day, walking through Barrowman’s Holloway can be an eerie experience. This ancient trackway, furrowed into the earth through thousands of years of usage, leads up around the edge of Deep Hall forest and to the foot of Ceaen Moor, where an ancient, abandoned settlement is kept exposed on the hillside by the prevailing wind. Perhaps this settlement, called Deep Hall for reasons lost, was a sister to that proto-Buentoille that lies beneath the City, no wind or wild horse of its own to keep it from being buried. Nowadays it is only home to the occasional litter of baby wolves, and few travel the Holloway. Mostly it is kept clear by wild animals and water that flows down it during periods of high rainfall, yet it still attracts the occasional traveller, beguiled in by its tunnel-like branches, intertwined so that you feel entirely separate to the world, in some strange other place.

Many travellers will come to the Holloway today, mostly those of occult sensibilities, in the hopes of seeing the Stranger, a mythical figure written about in the journal of the photographer Eddin Serele, who became convinced, towards the end of his life, that he had been meeting with a ghost every year. For those who travel Barrowman’s Holloway, which is thought to be the longest of all Holloways near the City, the possibility of seeing a ghost seems likely, given the otherworldly nature of the place. All sound from the outside world passes overhead in this sunken zone, and your own footsteps seem to reverberate around, sounding as if they were behind you in some places, where the track winds around an outcrop of rock or turns for some other, unknown reason. It can quite easily seem as if there is someone else there with you, even if you are entirely alone.

Serele’s father, Holmstop Serele, was a constant fascination throughout his life. He was an enigmatic figure; Serele never seemed to know what it was that he did for work (his mother would not tell him), only that he went away for long periods of time. He would return only for a day or so before once again leaving, but the time he spent with Serele seemed, to him, somewhat magical. Later on, after Holmstop died, Serele’s mother admitted that his father had another family, who did not know about them. Apparently he made elaborate chimney pots at a workshop in Sleade Yard. Serele wrote in his journal that this seemed ‘offensively pedestrian,’ that they must be speaking of two different men. This was not the same man who, on Eddin’s birthday each year, would walk him down Barrowman’s Holloway, only revealing his present when they got to the end, where the sunken track opened up onto a hilltop. Just them, in their own separate world, their footsteps reverberating around them.

Later in his life, Serele became a celebrated photographer, who documented much of the Revolution with the camera his father gave him at the end of one of these birthday trips. Inside his journal was tucked a photograph of his father, taken by Serele that day. He’s sitting atop the hill, and you can see Deep Hall behind him. It’s remarkably good quality for someone who’d never used a camera before; Holmstop has an arresting presence in the photograph, as if he is looking straight back at you. He is very handsome, and judging from the angle of the photo, very tall also. He has some stubble, and a heavy brow which seems inquisitive, rather than angry. He looks as if he is finding something quietly very funny. They never walked back through the Holloway, but this time Serele wanted to, to take some photographs of this place he loved so well. ‘You must not,’ said his father, ‘ever take a camera into that place.’ He was not angry, or insistent, just firm.

None of those walking in the Holloway today will take a camera with them, nor will they travel in groups of any more than two, staggered out across the day. Some choose to bring ghost hunting tools with them; electrostatic receptors and the like; whereas others think that this will actually reduce their chances. If you read Serele’s diary, they say, you will see how they always met the Stranger without any artificial help. Some walk at night, others at twilight; both times ghosts are likely to make themselves known; but most walk in the day, when Serele and his father were always there, every year on this day for Serele’s birthday. Some don’t believe that their walk will yield any results, that there was something about Holmstop Serele that made the Stranger want to show himself.

It was three days before Eddin’s seventeenth birthday that his father died, but he wasn’t told until the day itself; his mother didn’t know until then. He was angry, he didn’t believe her. He decided to walk the Holloway by himself; surely he’d meet his father there. In his haste he forgot to leave his camera behind, as per his father’s instruction. He didn’t listen to what his mother was telling him about how he had died, about how it was going to be okay and they were going to be allowed to visit the body the next day. His mother rarely cried, and part of him was shocked, wanted to stay and to comfort her, to tell her that it was fine, he wasn’t dead, he was going to meet him. He was so deep in thought, walking up the Holloway, that he almost bumped into the Stranger coming the other way around a bend.

The Stranger was, according to Serele’s journal, a tall man, with a walking stick and a leather backpack slung over one shoulder. He seemed old, with wrinkled skin, yet was spry and fit looking; Serele suspected he was actually middle aged, but years outdoors had weathered him. His clothes were tatty, and he smelled somewhat. ‘Have you seen my father?’ Serele said, as soon as he looked at him, and he realised that these were the first words that he’d said to the Stranger, and though he’d met him here every year for almost his whole life he had forgotten about it. His father had always said hello, and shaken the Stranger’s hand, but he had held back, and afterwards he was an unimportant detail on an important day, so easy to slip though the cracks of memory.

Nor had he ever heard the Stranger speak. His voice was thin and weak, the voice of a man who had not spoken in some time, and Serele had to lean in close to hear him. ‘In the village,’ was all he said, pointing up the hill toward Deep Hall. Eddin thanked him and turned to walk away, but as he did he felt the camera in his pocket, took it out, and took a photograph of the Stranger walking away, so as not to forget him again. When he looked up from the camera, he was gone, probably around the bend. His father was not at the top of the hill, or in Deep Hall, where the grass is short around the old stone foundations. You don’t need to to be told to know that the picture, when developed, was just the empty Holloway.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Pasty Pastries
  • The Otter’s Dam Festival
  • The Festival of the Private Island’s Opening