There are no shortage of castles in County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland and most of them have history going back centuries so the odd haunting or two isn’t a surprise. Here are just a few with a little idea of who might be spotted if a ghost hunt was undertaken…
- Barnard Castle
Barnard Castle is a ruined castle built by Guy de Balliol from 1095 in the town of the same name which is now grade I listed. The castle was besieged by Alexander II of Scotland in 1216 while still held by the Balliol family, a member of whom later became then was deposed king of Scotland. In 1296 it became the property of the Bishops of Durham then the Earl of Warwick before coming to the Neville family by marriage in the 15th century. In 1477, Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, took possession of the castle and it became a favoured residence. It returned to the Neville family who held it until Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, was involved in the Rising of the North and the lands taken by the crown. The castle was abandoned and much masonry was removed to improve nearby Raby Castle.
Haunting: The main haunting noted is that of a woman who is seen re-enacting her death. She is believed to be called Lady Ann Day, though the dates involved in her death are unknown. She was thrown from the castle and is seen falling into the river near County Bridge.
- Bowes Castle
Bowes Castle was built in the village of Bowes replaced an earlier timber castle within the boundaries of the Roman fort of Lavatrae. It dates from 1170-74 and was built under orders from Henry II with the village being laid out at the same time. It was attacked by the Scottish in the Great Revolt of 1173-74 but was looted by rebels in 1322 and went into decline after this. The ruins are now a tourist attraction run by English Heritage and include a largely intact keep which is grade I listed.
Haunting: the anniversary haunting at the castle dates from Roman times. The story goes that the garrison at Lavatrae stole gold and valuables from the village and were then slaughtered when the villagers banded together and attacked. But the Romans had hidden the treasure beforehand and with them all being dead, the villagers were unable to find their gold, which has never been recovered. On the anniversary of the massacre, the garrison soldiers are seen at the castle re-enacting the burial of the gold. There are also regular sightings of a dark shadow moving around the castle.
- Durham Castle
Durham Castle was built in the 11th century to try and quell the disruption amongst the ‘wild and fickle’ population of the north after the Norman Conquest and is an early example of motte and bailey castles that the Normans specialised in. It was given to the Bishops of Durham as his seat and it remained their possession until 1840 when it was given to the University of Durham for student housing and the bishops moved to Auckland Castle.
The Castle is known for features including a Great Hall created by Bishop Antony Bek in the 1400s which was the largest Great Hall until another later bishop shortened it a century later. It still stands at 14m high and over 30m long. It is used now for students and staff to take their meals while the Undercroft is a Junior Common Room. There are two chapels, the Norman Chapel (1078) and the Tunstall’s Chapel (1540) in the castle both used for religious services and theatrical performances.
Hauntings: The Black Staircase has the ghost of a Grey Lady who fell to her death on the staircase and has been identified as Isabella Van Mildert, the wife of the 19th century Bishop of Durham. When she is seen, she walks at a different level to the current staircase due to alterations since her time.
Another ghost is an early student named Frederick Copeman who committed suicide from the tower when he failed his exams. His room was said to be the highest at the top of the Black Staircase, Room 21, which now stands empty. There are frequent reports of poltergeist-type activity in this room and phantom footsteps are also associated with Copeman.
- Raby Castle
Raby Castle was built in the mid-14th century by John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby, a Knight of the Garter who served as Admiral of the North and Steward to the Kings Household. His grand-daughter, Cecily, married Richard of York and had thirteen children including King Edward IV and Richard III. Raby stayed with the family until the Rising of the North in 1569 when Charles Neville led a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I which was unsuccessful and saw him flee to the continent and loose his lands.
In 1626 Raby Castle and its lands were purchased by Sir Henry Vane who used stone from nearby Barnard Castle to rebuild it. The current owner is John Vane, 11th Baron Barnard.
Hauntings: Charles Neville is one of the ghosts who are seen in the castle, in the Baron’s or Great Hall. Another family ghost is said to be Sir Henry Vane the Younger, who was beheaded after a questionable trial following the execution of Charles I, even though he had no part in the matter. He is seen at a writing desk in the library with his severed head beside the paper he is writing on. Lady Elizabeth Holles, who married Henry’s son Christopher, is also said to haunt the castle. She is known as Old Hell Cat due to her strange behaviour surrounding her two sons’ choice of commoner wives and took to sitting in Clifford’s Tower, knitting furiously. The sounds and sight of her needles are reported today.
- Walworth Castle
Walworth Castle is a 16th century mansion house built in medieval castle style, now a grade I listed building on the site of a former Hansard family property from the 12th century. The property passed to the Ayscough family by marriage in 1539 but was sold when the family line died out. It was bought by Thomas Jennison, Auditor General of Ireland and his wife Elizabeth and during their ownership, King James VI of Scotland stayed at the property. During World War II it was used as a prisoner of war camp for 200 men including officers from Italy and Germany and was bought by the county council in 1950. It opened as a hotel in 1981 and has been renovated in 2000-06.
Haunting: the main haunting is connected with a maid who fell pregnant to a lord of the manor at some unspecified time. Instead of admitting the affair, the lord had the girl bricked up in a wall where a spiral staircase was being renovated. It is the girl’s ghost who is said to haunt the building and has been seen walking along the corridor by the honeymoon suite and appearing from the wall by the staircase. A young woman has also been seen sitting in an armchair, but whether this is the same girl or not is unknown. There are also reports of footsteps climbing the stairs to one of the turrets, chambermaids having their hair pulled and guests experiencing someone sitting on the edge of their beds when no-one is there.
- Bamburgh Castle
The site of Bamburgh Castle has been used since ancient times, home to a fort known as Din Guarie and a possible capital of the kingdom in the region dating to 420AD. The Normans built a new castle on the site and was taken by the crown from its owner Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria. Henry II built the keep and the castle saw frequent Scottish raids. It became the first castle in England to be defeated by Artillery after a 9 month siege by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick during the War of the Roses in 1464.
The castle passed through various hands after this and saw periods of deterioration and restoration before being comprehensively restored by Victorian industrialist William Armstrong. His family still hold the property.
Hauntings: As an ancient property, Bamburgh has picked up a selection of ghosts across the centuries. The Pink Lady is said to be a broken hearted Northumbria princess who dressed herself in her finest pink dress and threw herself to the rocks below when her father lied to her, telling her that her love had married someone else. She is seen every seven years looking out at sea for his return.
Green Jane went to castle to beg for food, carrying her baby but was cruelly turned away by guards. She was either pushed or fell down the stairs and both died. A young woman carrying a bundle is seen on the Clock Tower steps who falls but when people come to her aid, she vanishes.
There have also been reports of clanking armour, chains and stomping feet connected with a ghostly knight on the grounds of the castle while the Tapestry Passage has the ghost of a young soldier who believed to have committed suicide or died from his wounds while the castle was used in World War II for convalescing soldiers.
- Chillingham Castle
Chillingham Castle is the seat of the Grey family and their descendants, the Earls of Tankerville from the 13th century until the 1980s. The castle started out as a monastery in the 12th century and in 1298 Edward I stayed there on his way to battle the Scottish army led by William Wallace. The castle continued to be strategically important into medieval times and was repeatedly attacked leading to fortifications that were 12 feet thick in places.
In 1617, James I, the first king of both England and Scotland, stayed in the castle when travelling between the two. After this time, the need for the castle decline so the moat was filled and the battlements converted to residential areas. A banquet hall and library were also added. During World War II, the castle was used as army barracks and fell into disrepair afterwards. In the 1980s it was purchased by Sir Humphrey Wakefield, 2nd Baronet, who painstakingly restored the castle.
Haunting: Chillingham Castle has the reputation as one of the most haunted castles in the region. The most commonly reported ghost is that of the ‘Radiant Boy’, a child ghost who appears in the Pink Room and whose cries of fear or pain are heard at midnight in the corridors. The cries are particularly associated with a passage cut through the 10-feet thick wall to an adjoining tower and as the cries stopped, a bright light would appear followed by the figure of a young boy, dressed in blue. The room was investigated and small bones with scraps of blue cloth around them were found and given a proper burial. The boy did not reappear until Sir Humphrey started letting the room out when blue flashes of light were reported.
The spirit of Lady Berkeley, wife of Lord Grey, is also said to haunt the castle after her husband ran off with her own sister and left her with their daughter. Her rustling dress is heard as she searches for her missing husband and a cold chill marks her presence.
The Inner Pantry area has another ghost, a pale lady in white. At one time, this was where the silver was kept in the castle and a guardsman posted at night. One night he was approached by a woman in white who asked for a glass of water which he went to fetch when he realised the castle was locked up and there was no way the woman could have entered.
The Minstrel’s Gallery overlooks what is now the Tea Room and here people have reported feeling sickly, getting bad headaches and even being pushed down the stairs. This is blamed on a strange creature which appeared from beneath the floor when the Tea Room was being renovated, appearing as a giant toad which changed to a human then vanished!
- Dunstanburgh Castle
Dunstanburgh Castle is the largest castle in Northumberland and was built by the Earl of Lancaster in 1313 on an earlier site. It was later improved by John of Gaunt in the 14th century. It was damaged during the War of the Roses and fell steadily into decline. It was composed of two d-shaped towers of four stories and originally had turrets 80 feet above the ground called the Lilburn and Constable Towers.
Hauntings: one ghost said to haunt the site is Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, builder of the castle who executed for treason by Edward II in 1322 and whose ghost has been seen walking around his home. Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, also appears as a white lady as this was the last place she stayed before she was captured and taken to France to be imprisoned. Luminous figures reported are also believed to be the spirits of former guards, still patrolling the ruins in case of attack.
- Tynemouth Castle & Priory
Tynemouth Castle stands on a rocky headland called Pen Bal Crag overlooking Tynemouth Pier. On the grounds is a Benedictine priory where early kings of Northumbria were buried along with the moated castle towers, gatehouse and keep. The priory was founded in the 7th century and in 651, Oswin, king of Deira, was buried here, later becoming St Oswin with his burial place being visited by pilgrims. Malcolm III of Scotland is also buried at Tynemouth after his death at the battle of Alnwick in 1093. Two years later, Robert de Mowbray took shelter there after rebelling against William II, who besieged the castle for two months.
At this time, the castle was earthen ramparts and a wooden stockade. By 1296, the priory was granted royal permission to surround the monastery with stone walls and in 1390, a gatehouse and barbican were added. Edward II took shelter in the castle in 1312, events which were written of my Christopher Marlowe in his play named for the king.
In 1538, the monastery was disbanded and lands taken by Henry VIII who granted them to Sir Thomas Hilton. The monastic buildings were dismantled and the castle was updated with gun-ports. The castle was the birth place of Henry Percy, 9th earl of Northumberland.
By the end of the 19th century the castle was used as a barracks with many added buildings but a lot of these were removed after a fire in 1936. During World War II, it served as coastal defence covering the mouth of the River Tyne.
Hauntings: the main story of Tynemouth concerns Olaf, a Danish raider who washed up on the beach after a shipwreck and was saved and nursed back to health by the monks in the priory. When his brother in turn raided the priory and castle, he defended it and both brothers died in the battle. He has since been seen walking the grounds or sitting looking out to sea from an outcropping stone.
- Blenkinsopp Castle, Greenhead
Blenkinsopp Castle is a partly, ruined country mansion incorporating the remains of a 14th century tower house 1 mile from Greenhead, a grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument. The manor was held by the Blenkinsopp family from the 13th century when they started their building but by 1541, a report stated the roof was in decay and the tower in poor repair. The family abandoned the castle in favour of other properties at Bellister Castle and Dryburnhaugh. Renovations were completed in 1877 by William Blenkinsopp Coulson which created the large mansion house on the site and the new property was sold to Edward Joicey. It was damaged by fire in 1954 and large parts were demolished on safety grounds.
Hauntings: there are two main ghosts associated with the property. A phantom hound appears when the owner of the property is near death while the other ghost is a white lady said to be the wife of Bryan de Blenkinsopp. She became upset when gossip said she had married him for his money so she hid the treasure causing her husband to fly into a rage and leave the castle. She waited for years for his return but he came back so now she haunts the castle, still waiting for his return and guarding the treasure she hid.