The Most Haunted Castle in England
Chillingham Castle, northumberland
About Chillingham Castle
The ghosts of Chillingham Castle have a wonderful home. The castle, which boasts exquisite chambers, gardens, lakes, fountains, and tea rooms, has a remarkable ownership history that dates back to the 1200s.
This charming and visually stunning castle is ideal for weekend getaways or family outings and is only 20 minutes from the coast. The torture chamber and evening ghost tours, taking place at one of the most haunted castles in England, are guaranteed to terrify you.
Situated in magnificent grounds, which include an Elizabethan topiary garden, a private lake, lawns and beautiful woodland, both grounds and castle command breathtaking views of the surrounding Northumberland countryside with local farmsteads and the scenic grandeur of the Cheviots.
The castle is steeped in history and once occupied a strategic position as a fortress during Northumberland’s bloody Border feuds. The family of the Earls Grey and their relations have continuously owned the castle since the 1200s.
Recent restoration work, along with antique furniture, tapestries and armour, has – brought back to life the splendid halls and state rooms. They have carefully transformed parts of the castle into superb holiday apartments, offering a truly unforgettable holiday in an unbelievable location.
As of 2020, the castle’s grounds and eight of its apartments, along with its outbuildings, are accessible to the public, including for late-night ghost tours. Please book in advance, especially in October.
Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) singles out Chillingham Castle as the last bastion for an almost extinct breed of Scottish cattle.
In 2005, Eva Ibbotson wrote The Beasts of Clawstone Castle, a children’s book that was inspired by the castle and the cattle.
The castle served as both Leith Castle and the hunting lodge during the 1997 filming of Elizabeth.
In the great hall, fireplaces made of white marble from Wanstead House’s 18th century are covered by fibreglass fireplaces from the movie.
THE HISTORY OF CHILLINGHAM CASTLE
Originally built in the 1300s, Chillingham Castle has stood the test of time. On his route to the Battle of Falkirk, where he beat William Wallace, King Edward I spent the night in the fortress in 1298.
Sir Thomas Grey was given permission to strengthen and crenellate the castle in 1344, almost fifty years later.
By 1348, the castle had been altered into a square building with towers at each corner. With the exception of its outer curtain walls connecting the towers, which are currently much higher, the castle’s look hasn’t changed much since then.
Chillingham Castle took part in several border conflicts between England and Scotland over the years. It was also under siege in 1536 when the Percy family of adjacent Alnwick Castle launched a cannon attack on it as part of the “Pilgrimage of Grace” uprising against Henry VIII.
From the 15th century until the 1980s, it served as the residence of the Grey and Bennett (later Earls of Tankerville) families. Sir Edward Humphry Tyrrell Wakefield, 2nd Baronet, (also known as Sir Humphrey Grey) who is married to a descendant of the original Grey family, now lives there.
The castle served as an army barracks during the Second World War. They alleged the soldiers staying there to have pulled out and destroyed a lot of the beautiful wood.
The castle started to deteriorate after the war. Large portions of the building had sustained significant weather damage as a result of the removal of the lead from the roof. Sir Humphry Wakefield, 2nd Baronet, whose wife Catherine is a descendant of the Greys of Chillingham, bought the castle in 1982 and embarked about a careful renovation.
The Ghosts of Chillingham Castle
They rumour that several spirits prowl the ancient interior of the castle. The most well-known is the Radiant Boy — a ghostly boy who may be seen in the castle’s Pink Room and whose heart-wrenching cries of sorrow and fear reverberate through the hallways at midnight.
Cries used to be heard frequently from a location close to where a passageway was cut through the next tower’s 10-foot-thick wall. As they dissipated, a brilliant halo of light would appear, and a young boy in blue clothing would walk toward those sleeping in the space.
Later, behind the wall, they discovered rotting pieces of blue cloth and the bones of a child.
After receiving a Christian burial, the “Radiant Boy” was never again seen. That is, until Sir Humphrey started letting the chamber. Some visitors claim that in the middle of the night, a blue flash emerges from the wall. Sir Humphrey is quick to point out that there is no electrical wiring in that specific area of the wall, despite the fact that they claim it is an electrical defect.
The ghost of Lady Berkeley, the mistress of Lord Grey, whose husband left her for her own sister, Lady Henrietta, haunts the castle as another unnerving presence. The only person left at the castle with Lady Berkeley was her infant daughter. Sometimes, as her unseen revenant rushes through the confusing hallways looking for her husband and leaving a chill, not to mention uneasy witnesses, one may hear the rustle of her dress.
One strange incident happened at the turn of the last century, when some stones fell from the wall in a bedroom and in the cavity stood two grinning skeletons, the bones of a man and a child. Other bones were discovered in one of the dungeons and workmen were terrified to see a seated figure, which appeared to be perfectly preserved, but crumbled to dust as the air rushed in. The dungeon’s walls bear the scratched lines and initials of prisoners captured during the Border Wars and their ghosts still linger in the dark, gloomy vaults.
MY OWN EXPERIENCES of The Ghosts of Chillingham Castle
Whatever notes I had written at the time about the ghosts of Chillingham Castle are now lost. But this is from memory.
Chillingham Castle is very impressive. It is a big castle in a remote part of Northumberland. When you are there, all you hear is the silence of the countryside, maybe some crows, some sheep, the wind in the trees. I always remember it being freezing cold. I must have gone there 10-20 times. Once we even did an event there to launch a video game about ghosts on Halloween.
The aristocratic owner of the castle lived mostly in London and so we didn’t see him much. When we did see him he was pretty scary. He didn’t like “ghost hunters” wandering around at night. On one occasion, he rushed out in his pyjamas and threatened to call the police! Whenever he did see us, he would go crazy.
The housekeeper and the staff were local people, and they were very welcoming. I fondly remember hearty meals of venison and pheasant in front of a huge roaring log fire in the ancient kitchen with its irregular stone walls and tapestries.
Chillingham had a mock medieval torture chamber for its day visitors. We used to go there in the small hours with our equipment. There were always lots of orbs right through the castle, but particularly there. I remember one night when all of us were in one end of the long room and at the other, the studded wooden door slammed suddenly shut. There was no wind – it was as if it were pulled. I can’t explain that one.
We used to wander in places we shouldn’t – through the empty rooms and quarters in the middle of the night. The combination of the freezing air and silence gave such a stillness. On one occasion there we had people staying in a nice suite of rooms we didn’t normally occupy. There was a piano in there too. I remember standing and watching from the courtyard as the lights switched on and off, even though there was no one in the room. As we went up to investigate, we could hear the piano playing from inside, but when we worked up our courage to enter, there was no one there and the music stopped.
By the entrance to the castle there is a small church. We used to go there deep in the night. It was never locked. There is some wonderful sculpture in there – particularly two what looks like alabaster tombs of a man and a woman in Elizabethan costume. Some people asked me whether they were vampires. I am guessing not, but it used to give a thrill as we walked round to think they might be about to rise from their tombs. It was in that graveyard that we observed dancing red lights around the graves on one occasion.
The weirdest thing that happened to me at Chillingham was one time when we had lots of guests for our ghost tour. There were so many that I had to sleep in the stable block. This is a group of buildings down a short track, but about a quarter of a mile away from the main castle. I went to sleep that night and woke to the sound of motor engines revving. It sounded like they were coming from the open area in front of the stable block.
I looked out of my window, but there was nothing there. Even though I could see the area was empty, I could still hear these engines. The experience was weird because it was as if I was hearing the noise with some kind of internal ear. My external ears could hear the quiet, but my “imaginative” ears could hear the engines.
I’ve had that experience before – hearing something that isn’t there but that sounds like it’s coming from outside. Later, I discovered that during the Second World War, the British Army used the Castle and that the stable block was where they kept their vehicles.
We also used to take bookings from the castle. One time I took a booking from a group of friends who were going to stay there when I wasn’t. One girl rang me after they got home and told me she had been drinking a mug of coffee when she looked down the corridor and saw the translucent shape of a woman walking into the wall. She says she threw her coffee at it – not breaking the mug but splashing coffee down the wall of the corridor.
The weirdest story about the ghosts of Chillingham Castle was told to me by staff. They said there had been an old night watchman in the castle. He would sleep there and walk round at night to check all was ok. I never met him as he’d retired by the time we went there.
He used to talk about a glowing woman he would see around the Castle. However, she didn’t scare him. He used to talk to her when he met her in the corridors and rooms in the middle of the night. I wonder if this was the famous ghost of Lady Mary Berkley?