Monday, 30 June 2014

The Strangeness of Meon HIll, Warwickshire

The Strangeness of Meon HIll, Warwickshire

The landscape of southwestern Warwickshire is generally flat with just a gentle rise and fall of the landscape to add interest. But near the village of Mickleton the imposing bulk of Meon Hill dominates the skyline. This is the northern outlier of the Cotswolds, which run southwest into Gloucestershire and beyond.

This has long been a hill of legend and mystery. A labourer working the slopes of the hill in the 16th century is rumoured to have unearthed a pot filled with ancient gold coins. The hill itself is said to have been created by the Devil who threw a huge mound of earth at Evesham Abbey, so angry was he at the sanctity of the monks there. Timely prayers by the monks caused the missile to swerve in flight and land near Mickleton instead.

from "Haunted Places of Warwickshire" by Rupert Matthews.

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Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Grumpy Old Man of Newark

The Grumpy Old Man of Newark
Other ghosts in Newark are more difficult to date. Typical is the grumpy old man who haunts Old Kings Arms in Kirkgate. The pub gained its name in 1820 when popular King George III died and his son, George IV ascended the throne. The landlord of the time so disliked the wastrel George IV, that he dubbed his pub the Old Kings Arms to associate it with the Old King.

The pub’s ground floor is much as it has been for centuries, but what used to be the first floor living quarters for the landlord have now been converted to be a restaurant and kitchens. It is here that the pub serves its hearty meals, as opposed to the snacks served in the bar. And it is here that the grumpy old man makes himself a nuisance. He will stomp about bad temperedly, moving furniture, switching off lights and slamming doors. One afternoon in 2001 the barman was tidying up after lunch when he heard the ghost approach him from behind and then push him roughly aside.

from "Haunted Places of Nottinghamshire" by Rupert Matthews.

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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Headless Drummer of Dover

The Headless Drummer of Dover

As ghosts go, few fit the popular cliche of a spooky phantom than the notorious headless drummer of Dover Castle. The unfortunate boy has patrolled the battlements for two centuries, and looks set to march on for many years to come. But he is not the only phantom at Dover nor, by some centuries, the oldest.

It is, however, the drummer boy which is the best known of Dover’s ghosts. The luckless lad was part of the garrison here during the long summer  of 1805. The French Emperor Napoleon had a vast army camped around Bolougne, just on the other side of the Channel. On clear days the French scouts on the opposite coast were visible from the ramparts of Dover Castle. All Napoleon needed was control of the sea and he would use this army to conquer Britain. Day after day the scouts on both sides of the Channel scanned the western horizon for signs of the French fleet coming from Toulon and Brest. The French ships never came as the Royal Navy, led by Admiral Nelson, held them off and finally defeated them at the Battle of Trafalgar in October.

Although the invasion never came, it was a real possibility during the summer months. Even more likely were French coastal raids to test possible invasion landing sites or to damage coastal defences. Such raids were most likely on moonless nights, and it was to guard against such attacks that the drummer boy was set to patrol the battlements of Dover Castle. All British boats and ships were ordered to stay in port on such nights, so any craft seen moving had to be French.

One dark night, the drummer boy was put on duty and given orders to beat the alert as loud as he could the instant he saw anything. When the watch changed, his battered and decapitated body was found crumpled at the foot of the castle walls. Nobody was ever caught for the crime. It was assumed he had seen some criminal activity and been silenced by the ruthless crooks.

Before long the boy returned. His headless phantom strode up and down the battlements, his immaculate drum hanging loosely by his side. He appears only at night, when the moon is dark. It seems he is determined to continue forever the patrol cut short so savagely back on that summer’s night in 1805.

from "Haunted Places of Kent"  by Rupert Matthews

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Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Phantom Bishop-killer of Braunton Barrows, Devon

The Phantom Bishop-killer of Braunton Barrows, Devon

The coast north of the Taw Estuary is marked by extensive beaches and towering sand dunes built up by the wind and waves.

Many years ago this stretch of coast was among the various Devon estates of the hot-headed and ambitious young knight William de Tracy. One fateful day in 1170 young William and three friends were at the court of King Henry II when they heard the king raging against the intransigence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket. “Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, shouted the king at his cowed court. De Tracy and friends took the king at his word. They rode to Canterbury and slew the Archbishop in his own cathedral.

The king at once repented of his hasty words, but this did nothing to calm the anger of the Church nor of the people. Penances were imposed on King Henry and upon the four knights. In 1173 the murdered Becket was canonised and in time became the most popular of the English saints.

Although Tracy worked out his penances before he died, the good folk of Devon never forgave him for his acts. It is said that his ghost is condemned to exist on the windswept Braunton Burrows. There he must twist the sand into rope to gain his entry into Heaven. Not content with imposing such an impossible task on the murderer, it is said that the sands are patrolled by a great black dog raised from Hell itself. If the ghostly Sir William ever looks like completing his task, the dog breathes out a ball of red fire which destroys his work. The ghost of Sir William de Tracy is also seen at Lapford.

from "Haunted Places of Devon" by Rupert Matthews

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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A Theatrical Ghost in Hampshire

A Theatrical Ghost in Hampshire

The second ghost at The Theatre Royal in Winchester, Hampshire, is even less active, not having been seen for years. This is the phantom of an actor who committed suicide by slitting his throat in his dressing room in around 1895. For decades he haunted the room where he died, but this section of the theatre was pulled down and redeveloped during the long years of neglect and the ghost is not now seen. Some maintain that the unfortunate suicide victim was not an actor, but an accountant who had been fiddling the books to line his own pockets.

Haunted Hampshire by Rupert Matthews

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Monday, 9 June 2014

The Ghost of Ampthill Castle

The Ghost of Ampthill Castle

The mighty fortress of Ampthill Castle is no more, but the ghost that haunted the castle for so many years is still there. He is one of the more dramatic apparitions of Bedfordshire, but does not always appear in his full splendour.

People in Ampthill who know about the ghost of Great Park will cheerfully confirm that he is a most splendid fellow. A knight dressed in a full suit of shining armour, carrying a shield boldly painted with a colourful coat of arms and carrying a lance from which streams a brightly decorated pennant. He gallops out of the old ruins, down a long disused road and disappears close to a stream.

This sounds a truly spectacular phantom to rank alongside England’s best. However, those who have actually seen the ghostly knight of Ampthill are not too sure. They report a more insubstantial phantom. It is, without doubt, a ghostly horseman but he seems to be a misty, grey shape rather than a definite knight in armour.

Perhaps this ghost was once as magnificent as local talk has it, but he has faded with the years. Some ghosts do that.

from  Haunted Places of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire [Paperback]  by Rupert Matthews
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Thursday, 5 June 2014

A Haunted Walk round Rye & Winchelsea, Kent

A Haunted Walk round Rye & Winchelsea

Distance:            9 miles

Ghostly Rating        *************

Route:                Rye - Winchelsea - Icklesham - Rye

Map:                OS Explorer 125

Start/ Parking:        Winchelsea village centre

Public Transport        The village of Winchelsea is served by railway. Leave the railway station and turn south, walking into the village centre to start the walk.

Conditions:            This walk is mostly over established footpaths or country lanes with just one section across open land. There are a couple of short, steep hills, but no difficult terrain.

Refreshments:        There are numerous pubs, cafes and snackbars in Rye, with shops selling snacks in Winchelsea and in Icklesham.

This is a fairly long walk around the River Brede and the surrounding wetlands. Each of the towns and villages visited was formerly standing on an island surrounded by marshes. Although the marshes have now been drained to provide farmland, the land is still damp and can be muddy after rain.

1) Find your way to the churchyard at Winchelsea.

The town of Winchelsea is one of the ancient Cinque Ports, a medieval trade organisation of ports that traded with France. In its day this was a leading mercantile organisation which was both enormously wealthy and politically powerful. The office of Warden of the Cinque Ports is now no longer a position of much importance, but it is highly sought after as it carries with it much prestige, precedence at formal events and a rather nice official residence. It is in the gift of the monarch and is generally given in recognition of services rendered.

In 1283 Winchelsea was completely rebuilt on a bluff overlooking a new harbour on the River Brede. The size and importance of the port can be measured by the distance between the current village and the surrounding medieval walls. The harbour has long since silted up and Winchelsea is no longer a port.

The first ghost to be found in the churchyard, however, does not seem to know this. The phantom monk walks into the churchyard from the south, crosses the grass without taking any notice of the tombstones through which it glides and approaches the main church door, where it vanishes. This apparition must date back to the days when what is now the Church of St Thomas the Apostle was the central building in an extensive friary. The friary was closed by King Henry VIII in the 16th century at a time when Winchelsea was losing its prosperity. The local parishioners clubbed together to buy the friary church to be their parish church, but could not afford all of the large structure. What is seen today is merely the chancel of the original.

A second ghost can be seen lurking by the large tree that stands ??????????? This is a phantom highwayman who waited here to ambush wealthy travellers on the road from Rye to Hastings. He came to a bad end, however, being shot down by a gentleman who proved to be as well armed and courageous as he was rich.

from "Ghosthunter Walks in Kent" by Rupert Matthews.