The dangers of exploring ice-houses

I wrote this morning about ice-houses, where ice used to be stored, not igloos! I mentioned that I have a fascination about them, interesting yet creepy too. An ice-house features in one of my Radwinter stories… they can be dangerous places to explore, especially if no-one knows where you are!

Thomas is on a genealogical trail, and has found Hope Lees, the house where his mother Sylvia and her brother Gordon and the Waxham-Collins family lived, many years ago. Hope Lees is a farm worker’s cottage next to a big country house, The Blendales

The backdoor of Hope Lees was unlocked and I stepped into the empty kitchen. I had no sense of anything, it was a fairly big room, clean, but empty. I wandered through the other rooms, and then made my way upstairs. The bathroom was quite small, and I guess whoever buys the house next will enlarge it by making the bedroom next door smaller. It had been modernised with a basic bath, toilet and basin, nothing more and no central heating.

The rooms at the front were of different sizes, and maybe someone would change the layout to make an en-suite or a very small fourth room for an office… But this place wouldn’t really suit a modern family unless maybe they extended out the back, using the outhouse and building above it.

I had no desire to do so. I wouldn’t want to live in this house, not because it had any bad vibe, but it wasn’t convenient and was literally miles from anywhere.

 I looked out of the bedroom windows and from this elevation I could see other houses, and a church spire poking up above a low hill. From the front windows there was the tiniest glimpse of sea.

I went downstairs again and opened the door which led under the stairs. It wasn’t only a store space; there was a staircase down into a cellar. I tried the light switch but there was no power. I took a couple of steps down but the light coming in from the ground floor windows was not enough to penetrate the gloom; a cold and rather nasty feeling seemed to be lurking below.

We had lived in a house once with a cellar… My brother Paul used to go down into it… why did I remember that? I must have been very young because Paul left home when he was about fifteen…

I hurried back out of the house and then went down the garden, to try to work out where the photos were taken. Using the camera on my phone and comparing it to the copies of the photos I’d enlarged and brought with me, it wasn’t too difficult. I’d wondered if Sylvia had been looking at the outhouse with such a strange expression, but the family were further down the garden. When I placed them, as best I could, Sylvia would have been looking across the rickety fence and into an area of trees which was part of the Blendales estate.

Perhaps I was being fanciful. Maybe Sylvia didn’t want her picture taken and was looking sideways to be awkward. There’d been plenty of times when I was young and had hated having my picture taken, among all the slim and attractive Radwinters…

I crossed the tussocky grass to the fence; it had obviously been put there since the photo had been taken. I stood looking into the trees but could see nothing of any significance. Perhaps there’d been an estate worker looking at the family … but who was taking the photo? It had to have been Gordon.

The fence had been put up along a broken down wall. It wasn’t a red brick wall like others, but an old dry-stone wall which had tumbled into disrepair. I stared down at it…

I’d about finished here… there was nothing which could tell me anything about my family but at least I knew where they’d lived.

There was a gap in the stone wall, and either side was a stone gatepost… both had fallen over and lay among the brambles and ferns. Had the farm house, Hope Lees belonged to the estate? Had the original occupant walked through the gate into the estate to work… maybe the daughters as maids in the house, the sons as under gardeners?

I looked back into the garden; it seemed that this gateway was in a line to where the family had stood having their picture taken. Had someone been standing here?

I stepped over the fence and it seemed there might have once been a path through the trees. It was very overgrown with fallen branches and little saplings, briars and brambles, nettles and all sorts of plants growing lushly and abundantly.

I began to follow the path, trying to recall what I knew about The Blendales. Were people still living here when the Waxham-Collins were at Hope Lees?

I wanted to see if this faint trail led to the big house; there had been glass houses, no trace of them from my glimpse through the padlocked gates, and an arboretum. I’m no expert on trees but the trees I was walking beneath were mostly beech with a few sycamore and oak as far as I could tell. There’d been an ice house too, I wonder if there’s any trace of that? And fountains, so maybe there was a lake…

The path petered out and I stood looking round; the wood was silent, and maybe it was my imagination but it seemed very creepy.

There was a lumpy bit in front of me and I wondered if I’d get a view of the house if I climbed it. I scrambled up over big rocks and what looked like lumps of masonry. It was covered in ferns but in the top was a sort of depression.

I stepped into it and suddenly I was plunged into darkness and stuff was falling with me and I landed heavily, the breath knocked out of me. I lay for a moment absolutely winded, dirt, and stones showering down on me as I tried to work out what had happened. There was a circle of brightness above… the sky, and I stared up at it my senses reeling. I blinked or maybe something covered the hole above me, or maybe I lost consciousness for a few seconds…

I was lying flat on my back on a pile of rubble, in a state of paralysing shock, pain beginning to arrive. I’d bumped my head, and my elbow was beginning to really hurt, tingling and shooting sensations down my arm… and maybe I’d broken my ankle. What an idiot!

I’d fallen into some sort of cave. I began to be able to breathe and after a moment I was able to rollover and sit up. Dim light filtered down from the hole above me, and dust and motes danced in the faint rays and there were little trickles of earth and patters of stones. I felt myself all over, only bruised, I think, and although my ankle and elbow hurt, both still worked.

I don’t often swear but I said a few choice words now because I’d got myself into a ridiculous situation, I just hoped there was some way out…

I groped around for my phone but there was no sign of it; I’d had it in my hand as I was wandering about, it could be anywhere, in the dark recesses of this cave, or anywhere among the jumble of stones and tangle of weeds and briars above… Idiot!

Who knew I was here? No-one. Had I told Kylie where I was going? I couldn’t now remember; I’d burbled on about the house where Sylvia lived as a child, but I’m not sure I said exactly where it was. I’d parked the car down the road near the old gates, and who would think to look for me in the woodland of the estate? What an idiot! How stupid!

My chest began to tighten as I realised the true gravity of my situation. I groped in my pocket for my inhaler, but stupidly I no longer take it everywhere with me.

 I shouted ‘Help’ and my voice echoed round the chamber but did it carry outside? And if it did who was there to hear it? No-one… the place was deserted…

This excerpt is from my novel Magick; if you haven’t yet read it, here is a link:


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