Motorbike Tours Northumberland
Castles, Battlesites & Ghosts
Back on the bike returning to the A697, head south to Wooler at which point you see a sign to Belford over an old iron bridge. Take this route all the way through to Chatton (allow me to digress a touch as this village always reminds me of Glen Miller with – Pardon me, boy Is that the ‘Chatton’ of the choo choo? track twenty-nine, oh okay then, moving on……).
Immediately on entering this village turn right and head south once more. After a couple of miles, you reach Chillingham and its fabulous Chillingham Castle. This Castle, for me, epitomises every boy’s dream of a castle steeped in history and ghosts. From clashing of swords and shields to the discovery of a small boy encased in the wall of a bedroom and believe it or not it even hosted Edward Longshanks on his way to fight William Wallace. It is now time to discover more…………
At first a 12th century stronghold, Chillingham became a fully fortified castle in 1344. The castle is steeped in local and national history, often besieged and always winning through. The family were made Dukes and Earls in their early warrior days. They achieved many mentions in Shakespeare’s history plays and in Royal archives. The many Grey commanding generals, eighteen Knights of the Garter and royal appointments were balanced by no less than eight executions, invariably for high treason. Obviously some family members did espouse a losing cause, but other family members chose different sides so the Chillingham estate survived.
Chillingham occupied a strategic position during Northumberland’s bloody border feuds, frequently under attack as well as basking in the patronage of Royal visitors (a tradition that remains to this day). Sir Henry Wakefield was Treasurer of England to King Edward IV and, in the last century. Sir Edward Wakefield, the father of Sir Humphry’s (the current owner), was both Treasurer and Comptroller of the Queen’s Household.
In 1245, King Henry III came to Chillingham as did the Kings Edward I and James I. Charles I stayed here for three frantic nights before he was imprisoned, Edward VIII came to hunt here, and members of today’s Royal family continue the tradition with private visits to the Castle this century.
There have been very few architectural additions since those early days, apart from elaborate galleries added in Tudor days. These were in preparation for the visit of James VI, en route to his English coronation. The commanding Grey of that day was Queen Elizabeth’s godchild, and the trusted ‘go-between’ for the English/Scottish courts during those difficult times of the royal succession..
Mediaeval Courtyard. Below the stone flags, five feet down, is another cobbled flooring, but that space serves as most excellent drainage. You can clearly see that each tower is separated in the style of stone from the walls between them. This is because the towers were built in the 12/1300s and the walls between were built in the late 1500s, Elizabethan times, to make the castle into a palace fit to receive the King of Scotland, on his way to the English crown. The Grey lord of the manor in those days was Queen Elizabeth’s Godchild. Grey was also the Godchild of her great supporter William Cecil whose descendants became the Marquises of Salisbury and of Exeter. He was the go-between for the English and Scottish courts. You are standing in much embattled surrounds. The castle had many of its lords executed and yet many were Knights of the Garter, courtiers and great generals.
Dungeon. On the way you will see a low passage leading to the side and all fallen in. These passages ran through the thick walls that linked the great towers. They were filled in as they weakened the walls against cannon fire. Many recordings of those in this dungeon show that it was for hiding people as well as imprisoning them. Note the hugely thick oak door with handles on only one side. Note the scratched diaries on the walls and the ‘drop’ in the floor leading to deeper chambers.
Torture Chamber. All castles will have had such rooms. If you lost a family friend to the enemy, it would be natural to capture one of them and encourage talk. It is horrid to think that such repression is alive in the world today. There are executioners blocks and an Iron Maiden, with her vile interior spikes, and a ‘scold’s bridle’ for gossips and grills and thumb scews.
Ghosts. The Blue boy, poor, wandering, Lady Mary, a tortured child, the Royal procession and so many other famous stories. Chillingham retains them all because the Castle stays calm and unaltered ever since ancient battling days. With all its beauty and calm, Chillingham has many ghosts…. Of course it has. Quite apart from Lady Mary and her friends, the Castle family lived exciting and romantic lives, they served Kings, but then, as William Shakespeare notes, they rebelled, too. With a record eighteen Knights of the Garter, the family also had no less that eight famous, well recorded, executions. Some were hanged, drawn and quartered. While alive, they were cut down from the Gallows, to have their entrails removed. Still living, the failing body was cut into quarters. The head was displayed on city gates, as a warning. Other members of the family, more fortunate, simply had their heads chopped off.
But for me the most impressive room, that is a whole story in itself, is the room that Edward Longshanks resided in on his way to have a battle with William Wallace, made famous most recently from the film ‘Braveheart’. The Edward 1st Room is the most ancient State Room in the Castle. Here, the Lords of the castle were secluded up high and safe; also, well above the stench from the moats below. The room is named after the visit of “Proud Edward, Hammer of the Scots” in 1298, on his way to the battle of Falkirk where he captured William Wallace (Brave Heart), who had ‘visited’ the previous year, burning women and children in the local church. King Henry III will also have stayed here in 1245 when he came by for his Scottish forays. The gothic window overlooking the garden may even have been designed by William of Durham who designed the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey which covered the famous Stone of Scone.
The Edward 1 Room has been restored to its 13th century format with a gallery, armour, weapons and furnishings of its time. Also on display is the castle’s “License to crenellate”, or Royal permission to build battlements, issued in 1344. This license was not freely granted as it meant the castle would be hard for royal troops to assault. The license was drawn up by Sir Humphry Wakefield’s forebear, William de Wakefield, secretary to King Edward III. Throughout the whole country, this is the only ‘License to Crenellate’ actually in its castle of origin.
In a secret compartment, to the right of the north window, 125 Elizabethan documents were discovered during renovation some relating to the Spanish Armada, others to the Royal succession of James VI of Scotland. The fine gothic window was installed for the Royal visit in 1298.
The poet Longfellow begins an apt description of Chillingham with the following verse:
”All houses in which men have lived and died
Are haunted houses: Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sounds upon the floors.”
Chillingham certainly hosts memories of the happiness and drama of a colourful and drama packed past. In our land of ancient dwellings few houses have been lived in so continuously and from so early a date, let alone have they been lived in constantly by the very same family line. No house has Chillingham’s true breadth of glamour, from basking in royal visits to suffering with horrifying military assault. For eight hundred years the family, their friends, with their royal friends and masters have visited the Castle, and lived, loved, fought, and faced triumph and disaster right there .
The entire region is romance packed, the Castle evocatively described by Sir Walter Scott as having “the true rust of the Baron’s wars”. . The Castle was the scene of many an attack from Scottish neighbours, its dungeons seldom without some unfortunate inmate. Safe behind a seven inch thick oak door, the dungeon walls have old initials, and lines scratched, to count out the weary days of imprisonment.
The White Pantry Ghost
In what is called ‘The inner Pantry’ a frail figure in white still appears. The silver was stored here and a footman employed to sleep here and guard it.
Historically, one night, when the footman had turned in to sleep, he was accosted by this lady in white Very pale, she begged him for water. Thinking it was one of the Castle guests he turned to obey. Suddenly he remembered he was locked in and no visitor could have possibly entered. This same pale figure is seen today, and it is thought the longing for water suggests poisoning.
The Ghost in the Chamber
Not all the ghosts are those we see. Some are merely felt as ‘Impalpable impressions on the air,’ as the poet Tennyson says. There is this sense of something unseen yet distinctly moving, it can be a chill dark creeping sensation, or maybe just an oppressive atmosphere.
Voices in the Chapel
In the Chapel, beside the Great Hall, the voices of two men are often heard talking. It is never possible to follow their words, and they stop talking if one makes serious efforts to trace them
Ghosts in the Courtyard
The moonlight casts the shadows of the battlements across the worn flagstones, and it is positively hard not to see the shades and shadows come to life.
Extracts from recent visitors in Chillingham’s haunted rooms..
“I felt this hand on my arm. It was a most friendly feeling, and I believe someone was trying to guide me to see something”. “My camera just would not take a picture of the orbs and lighting I actually saw. Yet, when I developed my film, there were just those same orbs, but in different places and rooms, literally all over the place”. “The guide told me not to be frightened, and funnily I was quite happy even with the distinct whispering I heard in the King Edward Room”. “I did not expect to find anything of interest, but was completely charmed rather than frightened”. “It was at midnight when Ralph woke me. I saw nothing but he…”. “It must have been the very early morning. I thought it was my wife, and suddenly realised that I had come along alone……………
Chillingham also offers an opportunity to stay in their apartments within the castle so you can sleep with the ghosts!
We end our discovery of Northumberland & Hadrians Wall at Chillingham and hope you have enjoyed the journey and you’ve been inspired to get your leg over and discover what this ‘secret kingdom’ has to offer with history, heritage, coast, countryside, castles and more battle sites than anywhere else in the country.
This guide just scratches the surface and I hope it has whet your appetite enough for you to travel and discover this fabulous region for yourself