Halloween is on Wednesday and with it will come a succession of phantoms and ghouls collecting sweets on the doorstep against the promise of a trick.

But what about the real ghosts? Gary Bills-Geddes has been following the trail along Ledbury's ancient streets and finds . . . . we're not alone!

Ledbury is always likely to be lively around Halloween...if only because the town is reputedly so haunted.

For all of Ledbury's phantoms and the popularity of the town's organised Ghost Walk, few references to local spectres can be found in books. But their memory lives on in local minds and their presences are still felt, even sometimes seen, by the living to this day.

Many visitors to The Talbot Hotel in New Street have noted strange happenings, and history even provides a reason for the spectre. A serving girl was shot accidently in the panelled room, during a Civil War skirmish bet-ween Cavaliers and Rou-ndheads.

It is her spirit that is still seen, most recently by Maria, the wife of Andy Ward, the hotel manager.

Mr Ward said: "Less than 12 months ago, Maria was in the bar around midnight when all the customers had gone home, and she caught sight of her, walking down the corridor where the toilets are."

Mrs Ward felt "the sense of cold" and saw a dark-haired women in a white shirt, the same figure which has been seen in other parts of the building over the years, most notably in room two.

Here, visitors have sometimes been disturbed by the feeling of "something" with them. On occasions, the ghost has been seen, and has even made her presence known by sitting on the edge of the bed.

Recent refurbishments at the Talbot have helped to stir up the spirits. When a fireplace in the Elizabethan panelled room was unblocked, doors were slammed shut and opened throughout the building, and there were blasts of icy air.

Cynics might say 'draughts', but as Mr Ward points out, the chimney stayed open and the phemonena eventually stopped, as though the ghost "had found somewhere else to roost".

During the refurbishment, a single switch in Mr Ward's office controlled all the telephones. The office was locked at night and the switch was not of the "trip kind" and needed to be pushed upwards, against gravity, to cut off the phones. Nevertheless, this is exactly what happened on several occasions, and no explanation has been found so far.

Serving wenches seem to have had a bad time in Ledbury.

The Feathers Hotel is also haunted by a maid. In February 1999, the owner David Elliston told the Reporter of a recent incident that left the night porter "white-faced and shaken".

The ghost in this case is of a young girl who is believed to have been murdered in what was once the servants' quarters, some 200 years ago.

The spectre was seen walking down the stairs to the ground floor. She was dressed in a billowing white shift and eventually made her way to the locked door of the bar.

When the night porter, believing her to be a guest, asked if she "needed a drink", she spun round, stared at him and vanished.

Mr Elliston continued: "At that moment, all the sprinklers for the flower displays outside came on, and every toilet in the hotel flushed itself."

Other Ledbury hauntings are occasional and less demonstrative, as though they are only mere echoes from a long-forgotten past.

Veteran Ledbury resident, Pip Powell, of Powell Cycles in The Homend, recalls that the neighbouring Horse Shoe Inn had its share of unexplained noises in the 1970s and 1980s. His own property too has not escaped a haunting.

He said: "I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, back in the 1930s. There was definitely shuffling, hesitation, then someone turning back."

Unexplained footsteps were also heard when Mr Powell's daughter was a child, in the 1960s.

He said: "We thought she was sleepwalking upstairs. There was nothing ever frightening about it. But my daughter was always aware of a presence outside the bathroom door."

Across the road, Abbey's Bakery is reputed to be haunted by a child, though the present occupant, Sarah Abbey, is not so sure.

Her sister's children once asked what a little girl was doing in an upstairs room, but they were very young at the time.

She added: "I've never heard or seen anything. Not everyone is susceptible. I'm not.

"Staff believe they have sometimes glimpsed figures, but there's nothing concrete."

Sometimes "ghosts" do have an explanation, as Charles Bennett the Poetry Festival manager discovered last winter, when he was locking up the town council offices at midnight. He heard a tremendous rumbling noise from upstairs, "as though someone were moving furniture about".

He said: "It was like thunder inside, a deep, dark sound, and to my horror, there was nobody there."

Only later did he learn that the sound was from the neighbouring skittle alley, at the Royal British Legion Club.

l Places are filling up for tomorrow's (Saturday) Halloween Ghost Walk, led by "the lady in black", Elisabeth Galvin, from 7.30pm. Those who dare will learn of the phantom coach and horses, which still visits Abbey's Bakery some nights; of the now vanished "poltergeist pot" in the Talbot, with a lid that used to fly across the room, and other creepy tales. Further details on 01531 634229.