Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Castle Donnington

I went to Castle Donnington in Newbury, it was a short walk up a hill from a private road which is open until the evening. As I got to the top I noticed a large blue advertising sign right in front of the gatehouse that said "NOKIA: CONNECTING PEOPLE". I wondered if the castle was being used as a conference centre, but it is a ruin so this cannot be possible. To be fair, the Nokia man offered to move his advertising sign for me to take these photographs. Mr Nokia explained that there was a corporate treasure hunt going on to promote a new phone.

It was a very damp, grey day with light rain which made the ruins quite atmospheric (apart from the advertising). Castle Donnington is said to be haunted by a phantom guard who stands in front of the gatehouse before disappearing. Also a large white dog which runs down towards the woods, and most interestingly of all a green lady.

This is all that remains of the 14th century castle, which stands on the site of an older castle.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Brightwell Barrow

This is Brightwell Barrow, in Oxfordshire. It has been heavily ploughed and is marked by a small number of trees, but it is worth a walk up to the top to feel the bracing wind as long as you have a nice flask of tea to sit down with when you get there.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Minster Lovell Hall

The ruins of Minster Lovell Hall are said to be haunted by the ghost of of Lord Lovell, who was hiding in a secret room and became trapped when his servant died. It is said some workmen uncovered the secret room while doing renovation work and found the skeleton of Lord Lovell, seated at his desk with a book and his dog at his feet. Suddenly the skeleton and everything else crumbled to dust before their eyes! It is said the ghostly moans of Lord Lovell can be heard around the stones at night.

This site is the subject of one of Simon Marsden's photographs:

Minster Lovell Hall at the Marsden Archive

Another ghost here is the Mistletoe Bride. The Mistletoe Bough is a traditional ghost story and ballad, and it is associated with several stately homes, although J Wentworth Day asserts in his book that there is evidence it occurred here. Furthermore the ghost of the Mistletoe Bride has been seen around Christmas time by people walking their dogs near to the ruins. She is said to be aged about 17, wears a white wedding dress with flowers in her hair and slowly ascends an invisible staircase. The story is that she was playing hide and seek with her husband and hid in an old chest, but she became trapped and could not be found.

The ruins are melancholic and romantic, in the summer it is an ideal place for a lunch as one can sit beside the river windrush amidst the ruins. The river passes through the meadows beyond the ruins and is supposed to be clean enough to swim in. It is aso an ideal place to enjoy the gentle melancholy of autumn. There is a dovecote and the ruins sit beside the church of St Kenelm, which has information leaflets about the site and the village.

Another story about Minster Lovell tells of some American tourists who came to visit the ruins, they experienced a "time slip" where they saw the house in its former glory, and also a weary looking horse with a rider all covered in mud, which could have been Lord Lovell in his retreat from battle after crossing a river.

The Mistletoe Bough
Thomas Haynes Bayley (1884)

The mistletoe hung in the castle hall
The holly branch shone on the old oak wall.
The Baron's retainers were blithe and gay,
Keeping the Christmas holiday.

The Baron beheld with a father's pride
His beautiful child, Lord Lovell's bride.
And she, with her bright eyes seemed to be
The star of that goodly company.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

"I'm weary of dancing, now," she cried;
"Here, tarry a moment, I'll hide, I'll hide,
And, Lovell, be sure you're the first to trace
The clue to my secret hiding place."

Away she ran, and her friends began
Each tower to search and each nook to scan.
And young Lovell cried, "Oh, where do you hide?
I'm lonesome without you, my own fair bride."
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

They sought her that night, they sought her next day,
They sought her in vain when a week passed away.
In the highest, the lowest, the loneliest spot,
Young Lovell sought wildly, but found her not.

The years passed by and their brief at last
Was told as a sorrowful tale long past.
When Lovell appeared, all the children cried,
"See the old man weeps for his fairy bride."
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

At length, an old chest that had long laid hid
Was found in the castle; they raised the lid.
A skeleton form lay mouldering there
In the bridal wreath of that lady fair.

How sad the day when in sportive jest
She hid from her lord in the old oak chest,
It closed with a spring and a dreadful doom,
And the bride lay clasped in a living tomb.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones is rich in folklore. The photographer Simon Marsden has experienced strange forces at the stones which he claims have flung him to the ground. Unfortunately the warden's hut was burned to the ground and the stones have been vandalised, so there are also more tangible forces at work here.[]=rollright&pg=1

Wittenham Clumps and the St Michael Line

In South Oxfordshire there is an area called Wittenham Clumps. It is a popular nature reserve and consists of two large hills. One of them is Castle Hill, an iron age hill fort, and the other Round Hill or Sinodun Hill. In their book The Sun & the Serpent, Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller identify Wittenham Clumps as a highly significant Sacred site through which the St Michael Line, a ley line, passes as part of an alignment of sacred sites through the British Isles. On top of Round Hill, which they describe as "a hill top Sacred Grove", there is a node where the St Michael Line converges with the Mary and heads down to Dorchester Abbey and the Dyke Hills. They also visited Little Wittenham Church, which they noted was built on the site of an older wooden Saxon church,

"branches entwine to form a canopy where nature spirits peer down like the gargoyles and grotesqueries in a country church"

"..and it is impossible not to recall that churches are built to recall such natural places of sanctuary"

Thursday, 1 January 2009

My new blog

This is going to be a blog all about my visits to the strange and mysterious places of the British Isles. I am particularly interested in sites that are supposed to be haunted or rich in folklore.