Chillingham Castle is unlike any other castle that I have visited before.It’s reputation as one of the most haunted buildings in Britain is well established. I am a more than a bit sceptical when it comes to the paranormal, but that is what Chillingham Castle is most famous for. It plays host to regular ghost nights, and has also been featured on many TV shows, including Most Haunted.
Walking into the castle, the first stop after buying the entrance tickets is a dark room, adorned with the most random collection of items, from sleds to antlers, to tiger skins.
It was there that we came across the first ghost story – the Spanish Witch.
On a random sideboard is a collection of letters from people returning stolen items to Chillingham Castle. They soon regretted their mementos of their visit which had been snuck into pockets and purses, as the Spanish Witch haunts anyone who steals from the Castle. It was almost overwhelmingly tempting to put this theory to the test, but it was the thought of being caught stealing by actual human beings as opposed to a Spanish Ghost which kept us on the straight and narrow.
Off this room is the passageway to a dungeon. It is uneven, narrow and claustrophobic. It is a real squeeze to get into the tiny dungeon. Lit only by a single bulb, it must have been pitch black when it was actually used. Underneath your feet, a grate covers a hole which is the final resting place for a whole collection of bones – a poignant warning to the inhabitants of the tiny cell.
These two rooms set the scene and create the atmosphere of what is to come with Chillingham Castle. This is no opulent, perfectly preserved, sterile castle with glass cabinets and laminated information sheets. This is a castle with a history and a personality. Continue if you dare.
The rest of the castle carries on in the same vein. Very few rooms are laid out and preserved in all their splendour, and those that are, we brushed through quite quickly.
Much more intriguing are the rooms filled with an odd assortment of relics, through which we not only get to understand the personality of the castle, but of it’s current owner, Sir Humphrey Wakefield.
The castle has been the home of the Wakefields for over 30 years, and they have painstakingly restored it from the verge of ruin to what it is today. Sir Humphrey’s love of the castle is apparent in every detail, and he has taken the opportunity not only to showcase the history of the castle, but his own family history as well.
At the end of the tour around the castle, the star of the show is saved for last – the grisly torture chamber.
Creeping through a dark doorway, gripping onto the walls to keep myself from falling on the uneven floors, I gingerly made my way into the room. At first, I couldn’t see what was in the room. It is very dark and lit only by soft light at the far end. I could see a lot of indistinct shapes, but I couldn’t make out what I was looking at. So I turned on the flash on my camera, and snapped the shape closest to me:-
It was like something out of a horror movie. All of the barbaric, mediaeval instruments of torture were present in the chamber, complete with mutilated models in the throws of agony demonstrating their use. God help the poor souls that found themselves in that room – one look at the instruments it housed and I would have said anything that they wanted me to say.
There was no bright lights in that room. No guide standing at the door. No information plaques on the wall, nor laminated cards. There was no glass walls to place the instruments behind. It was all out there on display, on a cold, uneven stone floor, in the dark. I would have been totally creeped out if I was by myself, or if I was on a ghost tour – sceptic or not, that place is so full of atmosphere it would make even the staunchest unbelievers jumpy in the hands of the right guide. Jim & I both took turns in putting our heads on the block, laughing about it but with the backs of our necks tingling under the blade.
Despite it’s reputation, we didn’t see any real ghosts at Chillingham Castle. We visited just after it had opened for the season, and so we were lucky enough to have the castle virtually to ourselves. Plenty of scope then the put my camera onto a slow shutter and run around creating our own ghostly shots.
Northumberland has so many old castles, and some in particular, such as Alnwick and Bamburgh castles, are really excellent – they are really well preserved, educational and informative. But for something totally different with such a distinct personality and unique atmosphere, I couldn’t recommend Chillingham Castle to visitors (at least visitors like me anyway!) highly enough. Having lived in or near Northumberland for practically my whole life, it has take far too long for me to visit, and I am sure I will be there again.