Paranormal Purbeck: A Study of the Unexplained

By David Leadbetter

From the publisher’s website: Why understanding what we term ‘paranormal’ is of fundamental importance to comprehending the world we live in.

Footsteps echoing from the past, objects moving of their own volition, near death experiences, displacements in time, memories from the future, UFO sightings, synchronicities ... this book is a collection of remarkable experiences from the Isle of Purbeck. It visits nearly 70 sites and has contributions from over a hundred local people.  Most of the first-hand accounts have never been published before, suggesting that the ‘paranormal’ is more commonplace than we generally suppose and is perceived intuitively, depending on the right combination of circumstances.  The author challenges fixed opinions and beliefs, offering detailed personal experiences from a small geographical area and arguing that we need a fundamental reappraisal of how we view the world.  Anyone with a thirst for mysteries and a desire to extend the frontiers of human knowledge will be gripped.

David Leadbetter has lived in Swanage most of his life, where he worked at a local school teaching English to foreign students and administering examinations.  David’s fascination for the paranormal started as a boy when he learned about some of his family’s experiences and began to read books on the subject. He has been studying the paranormal for a number of years and is particularly interested in how it connects with certain aspects of science and the metaphysical core at the heart of some religious experience. David believes that by understanding the paranormal, our insights into this world and what may lie beyond will grow.

For more information on Paranormal Purbeck and Roving Press, visit:

Paranormal Purbeck. Roving Press, July 2013. 9781906651-220

Reviewed for the SPR by: Tom Ruffles

Purbeck is a Dorset peninsula of great beauty, and Swanage resident David Leadbetter has combed the area to find accounts of its unexplained side.  His title suggests an entry in Amberley’s well-established Paranormal Somewhereshire series, but Paranormal Purbeck has been produced by the independent publisher Roving Press.  They are based at Frampton, the other side of Dorchester, and concentrate on books of local interest (including one on Dorset’s alien big cats written by Merrily Harpur).  The production values are higher than for many similar books from bigger publishers: the first surprise is that the illustrations are in full colour, as pictures are usually black and white.  Further, it has been carefully proof read, which is not always the case, and there is an index, a lack I have complained about in the past in similar offerings.  So full marks to Roving Press for the overall package.

The content on the other hand will be familiar to those who have read similar regional guides because reported phenomena tend to be stable across places.  The chapters are a mixture of those focusing on specific locations, and on types of event.  We begin with activity in Studland, Swanage and Langton Matravers (the last not a cad in a Victorian melodrama) before moving on to Corfe Castle and Wareham.  The third chapter concentrates on a single building, the Royal Oak in Swanage, which is notable for the richness of events reported there.  The following chapters deal with Near-Death Experiences, time-related phenomena (precognition, synchronicity, time-slips), and the final chapter contains general reflections.

There are some historical accounts, and some supplied second-hand, but the majority were told to Leadbetter by the experient.  A number of these personal stories are rather thin, either with little detail or a probable normal explanation, but others are more detailed, making them a valuable contribution to the database of cases.  The first two chapters contain the usual mix of hauntings and poltergeists, and will be of most relevance to tourists wanting to add some spooky locations to their itinerary.  Of course interviewees often wish to remain anonymous, or ask for their place of residence to be omitted except perhaps in general terms, and the significant proportion of these anonymised narratives reduces the book’s value as a guidebook.  The Royal Oak on the other hand gets a whopping 23 pages, and Leadbetter has done a thorough job in recording accounts of staff and customers.  By contrast the NDE chapter is short, and while there is always a local connection, it has a miscellaneous feel, covering also out-of-body and vague medically-related experiences.  The chapter on time and synchronicity includes a couple of ‘small world’ coincidences which, while they are surprising to the experient, are not particularly unusual, and it is doubtful that they have any significance.

The concluding chapter draws out commonalities among the various topics Leadbetter has recorded, and he uses the work G N M Tyrrell did for the SPR in analyzing and categorising types of apparitions to examine the ones in his own collection.  He looks at scientific correlates, asks whether animals possess any paranormal abilities, and concludes with speculations on what paranormal phenomena might mean for the future of the human race.  There are no surprises here, but primary accounts are always worth collecting as they may assist some future Tyrrell to discern patterns that will enable a better understanding of what exactly is going on.  On an everyday level, Paranormal Purbeck is an entertaining read which will be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.  Hopefully Roving Press will produce further books which do a similar job for other parts of Dorset, and perhaps further afield.