Every year, thousands of visitors come to the United Kingdom to take pictures of the gloomy castles and gracious manor houses dotting the landscape. The reasons for this fascination with such ancient fortresses are varied. Some come for the history. Others come to admire their beauty. Still others come to see ghosts.
Ghosts – a popular tourist attraction!
Given the long and brutally violent history surrounding many castles, its hardly surprising that visitors are curious whether the past residents of the building might still be hanging around. Despite the scorn and professions of disbelief, ghost tours are doing a brisk business and castles with a certain ‘reputation’ are today as likely to be besieged by tourists as they ever were by armed enemies. The most famous of such edifices is Muncaster Castle, which was given an ‘Excellence in England’ Award for attracting up to 100,000 visitors, largely due to the stories of the castle’s ghostly inhabitants — and its not even the most haunted castle in England.
Muncaster Castle is famed as the home of Tom Fool, who in life was known as Thomas Skelton, the court jester and an altogether nasty character who died with a grudge. After a lifetime of malicious tricks, he was brutally murdered by his mistress’s husband, and apparently decided not to stop playing pranks. To this day, there are reports of strange going-ons in the castle, including apparitions, phantoms weights pressing down on the visitors and other manifestations. He isn’t the only ghost of the castle however, as there is apparently the ghost of a child crying in the Tapestry room, a lady who seems to be comforting the child, and a White Lady wandering around the grounds. This last apparition is thought to the ghost of a young girl who was murdered on the grounds.
The Hauntings of the Tower of London
In fact, there are a remarkable number of similar White Ladies haunting this castle or that tower. Since most of these stories usually involve a woman who was betrayed, murdered or otherwise wronged, it does give some sense of the precarious position women lived in during earlier times. The greatest concentration of such unfortunates is undoubtedly located in the Tower of London (pictured above), the infamous royal prison. The Tower is generally considered the most haunted group of buildings in the country; given the number of violent deaths that took place in its thousand-year history, that’s hardly surprising.
At least two of these ghostly ladies can be attributed to Henry IV: Anne Boleyn and her successor to the King’s affections, Jane Grey. Both were imprisoned here and beheaded after falling out of favour with the King, and their ghosts occasionally wander around the battlements. They would not have lacked for company however, as the Tower has numerous other specters. Two of the most heartbreaking are the two little princes and the Countess of Salisbury. The disappearance and death of the little princes has been a mystery for centuries, but the two little white figures which occasionally appear in the Tower, holding hands and still clothed in the nightgowns in which they disappeared, are an eerie reminder of ancient royal intrigue. The Countess of Salisbury’s death was a grisly one, for when she refused to be beheaded like a common traitor, she was hewn to death. Visitors have sometimes seen the poor woman reenact her own horrible end.
More than a few visitors to the Tower ask the Yeomen Warders, who guard and live in the Tower, how they can stand to stay in such a haunted place. Jittery questioners would probably not be reassured to hear that the Yeomen themselves aren’t blasé about the spooks, particularly the presence in the Salt Tower. Ever since the 1930s, when an unseen presence attempted to throttle a Yeoman, no one has dared go to the area alone after nightfall.
Ghostly Pipers and A Phantom Knocker
Not all the ghosts hold a grudge against the living and some are downright entertaining. Inveraray Castle in Scotland is the seat of the Dukes of Argylls of the Campbell Clan, and is known for its ghostly harper. The ghostly music can be heard on occasion, but the player is rarely seen and for some reason, almost always by women.
At Edinburgh Castle (pictured right), a drummer and a piper occasionally play on the battlements, though it’s a mystery why the drummer is headless. Interestingly enough, during the Edinburgh International Science Festival of 2001, a skeptical scientist by name of Dr Wiseman organized a research mission to investigate the supernatural aspects of the Castle and found enough data to intrigue him, even as he refuses to be convinced.
Though most ghosts don’t seem to be aware of people, one ghost apparently amuses herself by playing tricks on guests at Ballygally Castle Hotel in Northern Ireland. According to reports from sober individuals staying at the castle, a woman will occasionally knock on their bedroom door at night, only to disappear upon entry. The ghost is said to be very polite, for if the occupant doesn’t give permission for entry, the ghost doesn’t come in! The ghost is said to be that of former occupant Lady Isobel Shaw, who appears to be making up for a tragic life, during which she was locked in her room and starved by her husband before she flung herself out of a window.
It would be impossible to list all the countless ghost stories tucked away in every castle in the British Isles. Whether the visitor cherishes a belief in the supernatural or professes a die-hard skepticism, ghosts have a way of giving an air of mystery and spine-tingling thrill to even the most unremarkable building — and on an island that seems to be littered with haunted castles, houses, pubs and street corners, there’s certainly no shortage of spectral entertainments.