Tuesday, 20 October 2009

East Riddlesdon Hall, Yorkshire

One of the highlights of my week in Yorkshire was a visit to East Riddlesdon Hall. This featured in the recent TV adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

The building is quite dark and spooky, I was especially interested to find that one of the rooms is called The Grey Lady's Room. I asked one of the staff volunteers about this as it is a National Trust property and the staff are always friendly to chat to. When on entering I asked "is this the grey lady's room?" I was promptly told "no, I'm not her!"

I asked about the story of the grey lady and the ghosts. I was told the lady had been accused of adultery by her husband and he had bricked her up in a wall (or attic room) to starve. After hearing this story I jokingly said I would have to leave now as I was spooked. Although I thought it was curious that the story closely resembles Charlotte Bronte's subplot in Jane Eyre of the madwoman in the attic. Did this house inspire Charlotte or is the NT just trying to cash in on ghost tourism?

I also enjoyed seeing a piece of furniture which is supposed to have come from another house and which Emily Bronte is said to have seen as a child, and written about in the early chapters of Wuthering Heights. So the house has Bronte connections on many levels. It lacks the open moorland of WH and the Bronte Parsonage but there is an enchanting duck pond and it is well worth a visit.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Dartmoor Day 3

My third and final day in Dartmoor, after a full English breakfast and lots of fresh fruit, we checked out of the hotel and headed for Hound Tor. This is of course famous because it is said to be the devil and his hounds which are turned to stones. Some rocks do indeed resemble the heads of large hounds. When we visited it was enshrouded with mist. Although some intrepid tourists had still come to see it. On the way we stopped to visit Kitty Jay's grave.

The story of Kitty Jay is that she was a farmer's daughter who committed suicide and was therefore buried at a crossroads, probably with a stake through her heart. Her grave always had fresh flowers appearing on it, a phenomenon that took place until a couple of years ago and was said to be the work of an invisible hand.

After this we walked to the Bowerman's nose, also enshrouded in mist. The Victorians believed this to be a rock idol, an artificial carving of a pagan god. It is now generally considered to be a natural rock feature although it does closely resemble a human figure, the 11th century hunter, Bowerman, who was according to legend turned to stone by witches.

We finished the day by a visit to Grimspound, this is a prehistoric settlement used for farming not defensive purposes, it was enclosed by a wall and contained stone huts. It in a very special and peaceful setting. We walked back to the Warren Inn from here and I bought the guidebook about Grimspound and the Inn itself.

Dartmoor Day 2

On my second day in Dartmoor, I did a 10-miler from the Two Bridges hotel. This meant I didn't have to do much driving and also out hotel is in the centre of the moor so we could do a circular walk from there and see lots of scenery. Within about 10 minutes of walking north we arrived at Wistmans Wood. I have seen this before on the Nature of Britain documentary, where Alan Titchmarsh said it is supposed to be haunted. I have also read that Wistmans Wood is supposed to be the most haunted place on Dartmoor. Its real interest is that it is a SSSI. The lichens on the trees are very rare, and some grow nowhere else apart from this wood. Many are hundreds of years old. The trees are pedunculate oaks which are small and stunted, and very gnarled, partly because of the high altitude. It is thought that Wistmans Wood is part of a truly ancient forest and is what Dartmoor would have looked like in prehistoric times. The lichens grow so well on the rocks and trees because of the lack of air pollution.

On leaving Wistmans Wood, we admired the views from Bellever tor. We saw a rare orchid and walked down towards the ruins Powdermills. This is an eerie and haunted site because it is reputed to be the death on an Italian worker in an explosion there which resulted on the ghostly phenomenon of the "Hairy Hands". These Hairy Hands are said to grab the steering wheel from the drivers or motorcyclists at Cherrybrook Bridge, and there have been many accidents (one including a police officer) which have been blamed on the hairy hands. This is a uniquely modern 20th century ghost phenomenon which has only been happening since the 1920s.

On crossing the road we walked through a stretch of pine trees, but shortly before this we nearly got stuck in a bog because the signs warning about it were the wrong way round! I blame this on the hinkypunks or pixies. It was very interesting to see a bog up close nevertheless.

The next part of our walk took us towards the River Dart, and a landscape opened up that was almost like Middle Earth. A distant view of the sparking river over a dry stone wall where there were still many bluebells. Eventually we had to cross two sets of stepping stones, this was the only way across the river. The stones do look like something out of Middle Earth.

We saw some more Dartmoor ponies and followed the route over another clapper bridge and the sparkling River Dart back to the hotel.

Dartmoor Day 1

This week I arranged to stay in the heart of Dartmoor, a place called Two Bridges. This is a luxury hotel and was a favourite place of Vivien Leigh the film star. Apparently her room still retains her presence. The hotel is said to be haunted by her. On my first day I went to Okehampton Castle, on the edge of Dartmoor. This was quite picturesque and is said to be haunted by one of the ghost of Lady Howard, who is doomed to drive a spectral coach made from the bones of her murdered husbands. However it is thought to be untrue that she murdered her husbands. Although I think the idea of a coach made from bones is rather fantastic.

I then went to visit Lydford gorge, on my way to check into the hotel. Lydford gorge was amazing. It is however slightly dangerous in places and on the way to the Devils Cauldron - a pool where the waterfall makes lots of noise coming down on to the rocks - you have to hold on very tight to the railing while walking along slippery stones. The waterfall was very beautiful and was a great way to start a visit to Dartmoor. Lydford gorge is said to be the haunt of a white lady, hence the name of the White Lady Waterfall. Although personally I think perhaps the name of the waterfall comes from its appearance, which does look a lot like a white lady?

After we had checked into the hotel, we went for a drink at the Warren Inn. This pub is almost in the middle of nowhere and is possibly the model for "The Slaughtered Lamb" in the film American Werewolf in London. It has a fire which has been burning continuously since 1845.

Close to the Warren Inn is Bennets Cross. The views of the moors from the cross are superb. The weather changed very suddenly, and we were able to appreciate true moorland weather, which can be sunny one moment then heavy mist the next. It very atmospheric to see the way the mist shrouds the tops of Dartmoor's stone tors. This was very eerie and fascinating. We followed the GPS up to Merrivale stone rows, and walked around in the fog, the ground was waterlogged although not dangerously boggy and it was hugely eerie. Merrivale is the second most important prehistoric site on Dartmoor after Grimspound. I was extremely glad I was able to see Dartmoor in the mist because this enhanced the atmosphere and enabled me to appreciate its sublime beauty.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Red Lion pub, Avebury

The Red Lion Pub in Avebury stone circle has been visited by Most Haunted although its better claim to fame is that it is the only pub in the world that resides within a stone circle. As Derek Acorah states in his book, the Red Lion contains what used to be the village well. This now has a glass top and is the most popular table in the pub. The legend is that florrie was murdered and pushed down the well, and her ghost can be seen rising out of it. The Red Lion also has many other ghosts that have been detected by mediums. This may have something to do with the mysterious landscape that surrounds it. I made some enquiries about the ghosts and received this response:-

"Hi, This is Mike -----. My Dad was the Landlord and licencee of the Red Lion way back in the sixties and seventies. There was a well at the entrance to the dining room which had a glass cover over it for safety. That area of the pub was reputed to be the site of a sacrificial altar used by the Druids and there were stories of ghosts but none were seen. Prince Charles, who was doing an archaeological dig at Silbury Hill nearby came in to the pub for lunch on several days. One day he asked my dad if he would lift the glass so that he could toss a coin into the well for luck. To which my dad replied "not even for the King of England" and he cited safety reasons which the prince accepted."

I have sat at the table to drink my hot chocolate on a rainy windy day at Avebury and nothing like this has happened to me. But the place is well worth a visit.

Ashridge Estate

This weekend I went to the National Trust's Ashridge Estate. This is a large area of woodland with some chalk downland and hills that lead to Ivinghoe Beacon. The Beacon views are superb although I was perplexed by the sight of what appears to be a white lion carved on a hillside (in contrast to the usual tradition of white horses). The woodland is mainly beech, not as ancient as Savernake because beech trees only live about 250 years..although there's still something about the way the dappled sunlight plays through the trees that makes one think of wood nymphs. In the book Spirit of Trees, by Fred Hagenender, he says all trees have different spiritual qualities and beech supports contemplation and clear thought. The trees are conducive to gathering one's thoughts and coming back refreshed. After doing my 7 mile walk circular from the Bridgewater Monument, I drove to the Pitstone Windmill which is supposed to be the oldest windmill in the British Isles. The windmill (speaking of windmills generally) is of course iconic from most of my favourite horror films - particulary Frankenstein - and in his commentary for Sleepy Hollow Tim Burton explains how it has become an iconic image in horror films and how he used it in Sleepy Hollow.

The Pitstone Windmill does indeed look like a film set. It wasn't open when I went there although it is supposed to open on certain sundays in the summer, so I may go back and see it again. On the way through the woods I did not see any fairies but managed to spot what I believe to be a speckled wood butterfly.

Stills from Frankenstein (1931)

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Old Wardour Castle

I was partly inspired to visit Old Wardour Castle after seeing a picture of it by the artist Anne Sudworth, who is one of my favourite fantasy artists and landscape painters. So following Anne's advice to make sure I go to the Old Wardour rather than the new one, I made my way there through some very thick woodland. The drive took me down Hazeldean Lane, which was through a forest of huge pine trees and thick ferns, and the castle itself was very secluded and in a beautiful location. This is partly due to its being landscaped in the 17th century. It is the most romantic ruin I have been to. In some respects it resembles Minster Lovell Hall near where I live, although on a much bigger scale. It is very intact with some ornate architecture. The castle is licensed for weddings and was used as a set in the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (Kevin Costner) movie.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Inside the chapel, it is very quiet and the sound of the wind can be heard howling around outside. If I was to place bets on which of the sites I have visited are most likely to have ghosts, I would choose this one for sure.

The English Heritage handbook 2009 claims one Lady Hungerford cooked her unfortunate husband in the castle's ovens. Another Lady Hungerford is known to have been kept prisoner in the Lady Tower by her own husband for 4 years, during which she was fed by kindly villagers from her great window.

There were some suits of armour on display in the Priest's House. The crypt is a very historically important site as it contains some very rare examples of coffins which have death masks attached. These are made shortly after death and moulded on to the bodies. They are indeed very lifelike. However it is not possible to approach them too closely. The reason for this is there is a gate which keeps people out although they can see a great deal from outside. The gate was put there in Victorian times in response to the ghoulish behaviour of certain Victorians who would apparently insert a stick into a hole in the stone coffins so they could withdraw it to taste the embalming liquor!

The marble figures on the tombs in the chapel impressed me most, they are very intact.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Corfe Castle

This is now my favourite crumbly castle! The ruins are very romantic and the towers are leaning in all sorts of impossible positions. It's got a sort of fairy tale quality. It looks amazing viewed from the ground, as it's on a hill, and is equally impressive when you are at the top and can view the Dorset countryside.

The only ghost I have heard of is a headless woman who has been seen there, but when we visited it was a beautiful day, the sun was high in the sky and there were gently cumulus clouds drifting by. The castle was very peaceful. Although not spooky as such, it was a very beautiful and atmospheric location which the Lonely Planet Guide describes as "a cinematographer's dream". The best view was from the National Trust tea shop and the village of Corfe is also beautiful and has an old worlde quality. There is a steam train which goes from Swanage that takes people in and I would like to go back to experience the journey in via train.