Haunted Castles of Northumberland
As the northernmost county of England, Northumberland has seen plenty of activity through its history – there was a reason that Hadrian decided to build his wall here! Those Scots were always having expeditions across the border for a raid or two and for this reason, the county has a very high number of castles scattered through it. As befits any genuine castle, most of these also come with their own resident ghosts. Here we meet a few of the haunted castle of Northumberland.
Alnwick Castle is one of the most well-known castles in the county, even if you know nothing about it due to its role in the Harry Potter films. It has been the site of a castle since the Baron of Alnwick, Yves de Vascy, first built there in 1096 as part of moves by the Normans to protect the northern border. This didn’t work too well as the castle was captured by David I of Scotland in 1136 as well as being besieged in 1172 and 1174 by William the Lion. This Scottish king was actually captured outside the castle walls during the Battle of Alnwick.
After the Vascy family died out, the castle passed to Antony Bek, the Bishop of Durham. When Henry Percy purchased the barony of Alnwick in 1309, he also bought the castle and the Percy family have owned it since then. The family saw the castle transformed into an impressive stronghold with the Abbots Tower, Constable’s Tower and the Middle Gateway dating from this time. It was also a family home and was described as ‘extensive, opulent and theatrical’ in a manner that became the standard for grand family castles around the region.
The most well-known paranormal resident of the castle isn’t a ghost but a vampire. Back in the 12th century, William of Newburgh chronicled the story of a vampire that lived under the castle and came out at night to feast on the local villagers. The creature was even blamed for an outbreak of the Black Death so the locals dug up the corpse of the man believed to be the vampire and burned it.
There is also mentioned of a Grey Lady in the castle according to the Great Castles website. She is said to be a young maid from Victorian times who took a fall in the castle kitchens. Her tumble was down the chute used for the dump waiter and didn’t kill her but being crushed by the kitchen aid did. Her spirit is said to be found in the passages and corridors under the castle.
Another of the most impressive castles in the county is Bamburgh Castle, not least for its stunning cliff-top location. The site has been prominent for centuries, with the native British people known as the Din Guarie using it as their capital. Vikings destroyed another early fortified settlement there in 993 and it was the Normans who first built a castle, which is found at the core of the current building. It became the property of the crown with Henry II having a keep built there. It was the first English castle to fall to artillery during the War of the Roses in 1464 after a nine month siege by Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick.
Bamburgh remained in royal hands for many years under the governorship of the Forster family. Later Lord Crew, Bishop of Durham, took the property but this saw it deteriorate. It was restored by the industrialist William Armstrong during the Victorian era and today is still owned by the family, though it is open to the public.
According to the castle’s website, there are three main ghosts associated with it – the Pink Lady, Green Jane and Dr John Sharp. The Pink Lady was a princess whose father disapproved of her love and sent him overseas for seven years. She became depressed so her father told her the man had married someone else. She promptly ordered herself a pink dress, climbed to the highest point of the castle and threw herself onto the rocks. Her ghost appears every seven years, hoping her lover has returned.
Green Jane gets her name from the colour of the clock she wore when approaching the castle to beg for food for her starving family. She was met by jeers from the guards even though she carried her baby and turned to flee. Whether she was pushed or fell, she tied on the steps along with her baby. Her spirit is seen walking near the Clock Tower with a bundle in her arms.
The final ghost is a man who worked in the restoration of the castle in the 18th century and also added a school in the Crewe Room. He also set up the first lifeboat station in the country, watching the treacherous area off the coast of Bamburgh. He is often seen around the castle, watching over the place he put so much work into and can be recognised from his portrait that hangs in the King’s Hall.
Other less well known sightings include a knight in armour seen around the grounds, a World War II soldier in the Tapestry Room and misty shapes or strange shadows.
Chillingham Castle holds the position of the most haunted castles in the region, if not the country. This medieval castle is located in the village of the same name and has been the home of the Grey family along with their descendants, the Earls of Tankerville from the 13th century through until the 1980s.
The castle started out as a monastery, founded in the 12th century where Edward I stayed on his return from battling with William Wallace. When the castle was founded, it became a staging point for battles with the Scottish and saw frequent raids.Â Fortifications twelve feet thick were added along with a moat and each generation added further features to it. It saw the first kind of England and Scotland, James I, stay there in 1617 on his way between the two capitals while it was used as am army barracks during World War II.
The most famous ghost at the castle is the Radiant Boy. This child ghost is associated with the Pink Room and is heard to cry around midnight at the spot where a secret passage joining the room with the adjoining tower is found. A young boy dressed in blue is also seem. At some point, bones were discovered behind a wall along with a fragment of blue cloth and after a burial, the ghost seemed to rest.
Another ghost is the spirit of one Lady Berkeley, the wife of Lord Grey, whose husband abandoned her for her own sister, leaving her in the castle with her baby daughter. Her rustling dress is often heard as she searches the castle for him while a cold chill is felt as she passes.
The White Pantry Ghost is a frail figure seen in the inner pantry area where the silver was once stored. A footman would guard it and one night he was frightened by a woman in white, begging for water. He went to get some, only to realise there was no way a guest could have entered the area. Her ghost is still seen today and her need for water has been said to mean she was poisoned.
Other ghosts are less substantial. Unseen, there is a spirit that causes a sensation of movement and a chill while two men’s voices are heard near the Great Hall. People sitting on the Minstrel’s Gallery overlookinh for tea rooms area have reported terrible headaches and feeling sick for no reason, though it is thought to be connected to a strange toad like create that was found when the tea rooms were created that promptly vanished and is believed to cause the sensation.
Dunstanburgh Castle is found between the villages of Embleton and Craster and is the largest in the country, despite being a ruin. The castle dates from the 14th century, though evidence of occupation pre-dates this. Earl Thomas of Lancaster, the cousin of King Edward II, started a massive fortress there in 1313 while John of Gaunt later added to it while he was Duke of Lancaster. By the mid-1400’s the castle was already seeing decay and by 1538 was described as ‘ruinous’ with its stone being recycled to other local building. It is now owned by the National Trust and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Sir Guy the Seeker is the stand out ghost of the ruined castle, a gallant night who took shelter there after being caught in a storm. While there he saw a hideous figure in white that urged him to follow it for a ‘beauty bright’. He did and was led to 100 knights and their horses, all in a strange sleep along with a beautiful woman asleep in a crystal casket. Either side of her were two serpents, one with a horn and another with a sword and the figure told Guy he had to choose one to rouse her. He chose the horn and the knights awoke, at which point he lost consciousness but heard the figure say ‘Shame on the coward who sounded a horn and the knight who sheathed a sword’. When he woke, the maiden was gone and he became obsessed with finding her. He never did and died a broken man. His ghost is still seen around the ruins, searching for the beauty bright that escaped him.
Other ghosts include Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who built the castle and was executed by his cousin, the kind, in 1322 for treason. Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI, also appears in the ruins as a white lady in the castle keep, the spot she enjoyed freedom for the last time before being captured and taken to prison in France.
Edlingham Castle is a ruined castle in the hamlet of the same name close to Alnwick. While little of the castle is still standing, the solar tower is still mostly standing while much of the foundations can be seen. The castle began life as a manor house owned by John of Edlingham and later it was fortified by William de Felton. The solar tower was added in 1396 by his descendant Elizabeth when she married Sir Edmund Hastings and later the property became the home of George Swinburn a constable of Prudhoe. His family held the property until the 18th century but by then, it was in disrepair. Today it is owned by English Heritage.
The site is filled with paranormal activity despite its ruined state – or perhaps because of it. Several witnesses have reports a strange and oppressive atmosphere around the ruins as well as strange lights being seen. Shadows are also common where there are no lights to create them and people have even thought that they were seeing people skulking around though no-one was ever found. A young girl is one of the spirits who haunts the ruins and is said to pull at people’s clothing when they are touring the ruins. Heavy breathing has also been reported and badly scaring witnesses who also heard shrill screaming when no-one was present.
Thirlwall Castle stands on the banks of the River Tipalt, near the village of Greenhead some 20 miles from Hexham.Â Built in the 12th century, its construction used stones from Hadrian’s Wall and was the home to the Thirlwall family until the last of the family married in 1738 and her husband sold the estate. The castle fell into decay until 1999 when the Northumberland National Park Authority took over its upkeep to prevent further ruin.
The castle has a demonic dwarf rather than a resident ghost, according to legend. According to a book from 1843 called the Local Historian’s Table Book, a baron of Thirlwall returned from war with a table of gold among his spoils. It was guarded day and night by a hideous dwarf until the Scots raided the castle and the baron and his family were killed. The dwarf, however, disappeared and with him went the table. It was said he had jumped into the well using his ‘infernal powers’ and hid the treasure there even while the Scots burned down the castle. Today, he haunted the place still, watching the treasure he hid. One local man in 1793 did find the well but when he returned the next day, was unable to find the spot.