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Is this Satan's stronghold? BOLSOVER', DERBYSHIRE, 2015.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE by amanda killelea

Don't be fooled by the quaint antique shops. Regard the cosy tearooms with a suspicious eye. It may look like a picture postcard of rural England, but Bolsover in Derbyshire hides a dark secret.

In a town with a population of 75,866, no less than 17 said they were Satanists on the most recent census. That is the highest concentration of declared devil worshippers anywhere in Britain.

And it's not the first time this area has been linked with the Devil. Twelve years ago there were fears of sinister forces at work in Derbyshire after a spate of attacks on horses.

And the huge chasm of Eldon Hole, one of the wonders of the Peak District, is said to be a bottomless refuge for Old Nick himself.

So what is it about this sleepy town nestled in glorious countryside that attracts links with Lucifer?

Armed with my Catholic upbringing, the family Bible, a crucifix and a bottle of Holy Water, I'm here to find out.

According to experts in the occult, there are several ways to identify a Devil worshipper. They come and go at odd hours, especially late at night or just before dawn. They never attend church or celebrate religious holidays, and they often have no visible means of support, yet somehow live well.

They may carry strange bags and bundles and never reveal the contents. They rarely laugh and tend to dress warmly even in hot weather.

As it is near freezing today that last clue may not help. But I search the woodland beneath Bolsover Castle for any suspicious activity. With snow on the ground and the castle closed for winter there's not so much as a patch of flattened grass to arouse suspicion. So I take my cloak and crucifix and head into town.

Bernard Haigh, secretary of Bolsover Civic Society, finds the idea of his home town being a hotbed of devil worship somewhat hilarious.

"It must be a joke," he says. "I think people might have put that on the census form out of frustration with the Government or for a laugh."

So what about those horses? In 2008, one was found with eight litres of blood drained from its stomach while others had their tails removed and their manes plaited with intricate patterns of barbed wire. It's not exactly your average teenage vandalism.

"Well the horses in the field behind my house are fine," offers Bernard, rather off the point. "And they are ordinary horses, not devil horses."

Derbyshire MP, Dennis Skinner, the so-called beast of Bolsover, has his own explanation for the census. He believes devil worship is a front for an activity he considers far more evil. Voting Conservative.

The veteran left-winger grins: "I can only assume the few local Tories claimed they were Satanists because it's less embarrassing than admitting they are Tories."

Touche. Yet despite the devilish myths this hunt is proving rather fruitless... almost like there really is something to hide.

Derbyshire Police insist they are not plagued with 666-related 999 calls. And lunchtime drinkers in The Cavendish pub are staying mum. Colin Platts, 70, does recall sightings of an owl which "some people thought was a ghost". But where can these 17 people be hiding?

Above the Castle Way Cafe, Bolsover Knitting Circle is having its weekly meeting. Do they know of any devilish acts in their midst? Seems I'm in luck.

Leader Karen Robson says conspiratorially: "About 30 years ago there was an incident at the cemetery toilets.

"They found a dead cat and symbols that looked like a Satanic ritual. They closed the loos permanently after that."

I take off at once for the pretty little cemetery on Oxcroft Lane. But the only sign of life at the dilapidated loo block is an empty can of cider in the doorway. It's time to seek expert help.

The Rev Sean Adair, Superintendent Methodist Minister for Bolsover and Staveley, tries to cuts my investigation dead. "Since coming to work here last September I have certainly not come across any form of religious aspirations other than those within the Christian community," he insists. But, to be fair, he's possibly the last person in town who'd get the e-vite to a 666 shindig.

Can pagan witch Cherill Royce-Dexter, 57, from nearby Chesterfield help? Nope. She's just miffed at the suggestion she might socialise with Lucifer-lovers.

"I don't know a single devil worshipper," says Cherill. "We practise witchcraft in the old sense. We cast spells but these are only like an elaborate prayer. We try to help people. A pagan friend once met a lad of 18 who said he was into worshipping the devil. So she asked him if he liked Marilyn Manson, which he did. It was just a teenage thing."

Just another naysayer then. What about those horses. And the rumoured satanic killing of the cemetery cat?

Some demonic websites claim that William Peverel, who built the original Bolsover Castle in 1086, was a devil worshipper himself. And English Heritage repeats the local legend of a Bolsover blacksmith hired by the Devil to fit metal shoes to his hooves only to drive a nail deep into the soft flesh. While writhing and kicking in pain, Lucifer clipped St Mary and All Saints Church in Chesterfield , giving the spire its famous twist.

Sounds like definitive proof to me. But John Gillies of the local Civic Society insists: "I've never heard any of that -and I've never seen any devil worship going on round here."

Mmmm. So is Old Nick just toying with us all? Or are these 17 devilworshippers just hoaxers?

Suddenly John interrupts my thoughts: "But I will keep my eye out."

Finally... could it be another believer?

We may not have caught any Satanists this time, but remember the wise words of French poet Charles Baudelaire:

"The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist."

amanda.killelea@mirror.co.uk

When worshipping the Devil (or the Pope) was a burning issue

Today Devil worship is not illegal - we've come a long way from centuries when heretics (people disputing standard religion) were burned at the stake.

After the Church of England was established in 1584 anyone showing open allegiance to the Pope faced death. And from the 15th to 18th centuries, witch hunts were rife across Europe. The 1604 Witchcraft Act made it a criminal offence to invoke any evil spirit, but historian Simon Entwistle points out that the proof would hardly stand up in court today. Except on Broadchurch of course. He says: "Witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins had a big stick with a nail which retracted when touched. He poked women with it and say, 'Look they feel no pain.'"

In 1735 the law finally began to question whether summoning evil spirits was even possible and the penalty for claiming that you could was reduced to jail or a fine. That law was not repealed until 1951.

They put 'Satanist' on Census as they were ashamed to put 'Tory' LOCAL MP dennis skinner 'THE BEAST OF BOLSOVER'

CAPTION(S):

SUSPICIOUS SIGN Entrance to town

SLEEPY ON SURFACE But the town's Satanists are unashamed

RITUALS Loos at the cemetery, right, are focus of rumours

CLOVEN ROOF Spire at St Mary, Chesterfield

OUT DEMONS OUT Mirror's Amanda at Bolsover Castle

Pictures: JON FULLER-ROWELL
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 5, 2015
Words:1227
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