Living in the North East, I am fortunate enough to be able to visit some of the beautiful castles of Northumberland without having a long journey to reach them.
One of the places I visited again a couple of months ago was Chillingham Castle.
This remarkable castle with its alarming dungeons and torture chambers has, since the twelve-hundreds, been continuously owned by the same family line. It is the home of Sir Humphry Wakefield Bt., his wife The Hon. Lady Wakefield and their family.
It was a 12th century stronghold, and became a fully fortified castle in 1344.
It occupied a strategic position as a fortress during Northumberland's border feuds. It was often besieged and also had many royal visitors. In the Tudor times there were additions, but the underlying Mediaeval character has always been retained.
The 18th and 19th centuries have seen decorative refinements, with the gardens and grounds laid out by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville - fresh from his triumphs at Windsor Castle.
The grounds are beautiful, and there are great views of the surrounding Northumbrian countryside. As you walk to the lake you will see seasonal flowers as well as an Elizabethan Topiary garden. I particularly enjoy walking along the woodland walks which lead to the lakes, and have been lucky enough to spot red squirrels and plenty of rabbits. Deer and badgers reside there also.
Chillingham castle I have always thought is very aptly named, as 'chilling' is a word I would use to describe it when standing outside looking up to the castle, which I think gives off a sense of foreboding.
It is said to be one of the most haunted places in Britain and was named the most haunted castle in Britain. Indeed it has been subject to many ghost hunting vigils. Living TV's Most Haunted have visited to film an episode there, which they said was one of the scariest they had ever done. The castle has also featured on 'Ghost Hunters International, I'm Famous And Frightened and also Scariest Places On Earth.
Here in the North East, local radio DJ and author Alan Robson has staged many vigils here.
Inside the castle, a visit to the dungeon and torture chamber is not for the faint-hearted. On display are gruesome implements of punishment , including a stretching rack, cages, a bed of nails, nailed barrel and a spiked chair. The very thought of them being used sends a shiver down my spine!
The serene looking face of the Iron Maiden is supported by a large, hinged and spiked casing to hold a live body. The thumb screws, chains, leg irons, cages, man traps and branding irons on display to remind you of what went on way back then.
The Castle Dungeon is lit by one small arrow slit in the thick wall, the chamber is marked with the crudely-cut letters carved by the prisoners. A trap-door in the floor reveals the bones of a child in the vault below. Early inmates have also scratched their 'diary' with lines, one for each day.
The castle itself runs ghost tours, where you may catch a glimpse of the ghosts of the Blue Boy, Lady Mary Berkeley, John Sage the Torturer and others.
The family had no less than 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 'luckier' members of the family, simply had their heads chopped off!
So it is no wonder the castle has a few ghosts rattling around!
Guided tours of the Castle can usually be arranged all year round. A minimum group of 4 is required. During the open season (Easter to October) tours are scheduled for the morning.
Group Admission Prices:
Cost, per guide, is £25.00.
The castle is open from April - November, 12pm - 5pm, but closed on Saturdays.
Admission prices :-
Under 5's: £1.00
Family Ticket: £18.00
During the closed season, the castle welcomes Groups by special appointment.
You can also stay at the castle (not sure I'd want to!) in the apartments. Some of which are in the actual castle and others in the nearby refurbished Coaching rooms.
Of course, visiting the castle is not all eerie and chilling. You can visit the Great Hall which is very impressive with its stone floor, tapestries, armour and weapons. You will see active restoration of the masonry and plaster as the great hall and state rooms are being brought back to life.
The Edward 1st Room is the most ancient State Room in the Castle. Here, the Lords of the castle were secluded up high and 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.
The James 1st Room, named after the King's Royal visit to Chillingham in 1603, is one of a suite of three rooms (James 1, Plaque, New Dining Room) built specially for the future King. It is famous for its Elizabethan ceiling with the gilded ribbing and moulded pendants.
I found the library was one of my favourite places to visit. There was just something special about it. Small and cosy, with its fascinating carved stone fireplace and chimney piece surmounted by an intricate 16th century plasterwork armorial plaque.
Chillingham castle is also a popular wedding venue, with weddings held there all year round.
There is a tea room serving home cooked food and sandwiches, and also a gift shop to purchase souvenirs of your visit.
Overall, Chillingham Castle is a fascinating place to visit. It does feel quite eerie as you approach it and also visiting the torture chambers and dungeons add to the atmosphere, but it is also a beautiful castle set in an equally beautiful landscape.
Chillingham Castle is signposted from the A1 in Northumberland. After turning off the A1 the castle is approx 4 miles away, just follow the signs. The castle can also be accessed via Wooler and Chatton.
The postcode for sat nav is NE66 5NJ
Tel. 01668 215359 for further info.
Visited Chillingham Castle at Easter. Castle was the most welcoming aspect of the trip. The castle & grounds are stunning. The promised access was not granted and the staff were rude and very above themselves, including the owner. We paid good money to stay in the Courtyard apartment which was misleading. The locals do not make you feel welcome. Will not return. Samantha. Wigan
Today Chillingham Castle is one of the most important examples of fortified domestic architecture in England. It is a stunning medieval fortress with Tudor additions and has been the home of the Lords Grey and their families for over six hundred years. During the 13th Century it was little more than a tower with mansion house used as a resting place by Henry lll in 1255 on his return from the Borders, and in 1298 Edward I stayed at Chillingham on his way to Scotland. In 1344 Sir Thomas de Heton was granted a Royal Licence to fortify Chillingham Tower and he extended the building and erected battlements around the perimeter to create Chillingham Castle. The work was completed in 1348. The Castle played an important part during Northumberland's bloody border feuds, and was often besieged. During the reign of Elizabeth I it underwent extensive alterations; the main entrance was moved to the north, where it is still found today and the fortification was strengthened. Sir Jeffrey Wyattville who was also responsible for the grounds of Windsor Castle originally designed the Estate. Its 300-acre wooded park is noted for its unique herd of fierce creamy-white cattle. The beasts are descended from prehistoric wild oxen that lived in the nearby forests and are believed to have become trapped here when the park was walled in 1220. Other features of the Estate include an Elizabethan topiary garden, private lake, lawns and beautiful woodland. There are breathtaking views of the surrounding Northumberland countryside and the Cheviots. Since Elizabethan times alterations have taken the form of adapting rather than rebuilding, resulting in the old buildings remaining behind the new, creating a house of many secrets. Some of these secrets are only now being discovered thanks to very patient research. Old stairwells have been found in the deep walls of the southern towers, original floors have been traced behind the old east hall. A
ncient windows and fireplaces, long lost behind plaster have been retrieved, and one walled up Tudor fireplace has been found containing over one hundred documents, letters and the oldest writ in Northumberland, dating from 1540. Some of these documents are currently on display in the Castle Museum. After 1933 the Castle stood uninhabited, neglected and decaying until recent years. Sir Humphrey Wakefield Bart and Lady Mary Grey took over the estate and began the task of restoring it to the ancestral home of the Grey family. This massive undertaking has been going on for a number of years now and it is hoped that within the next few years Sir Humphrey and Lady Mary will have restored the Castle to its former glory. Visitors to Chillingham Castle are allowed to rummage around its disordered rooms, filled with furniture, possessions and ancient documents. You have the opportunity to view exposed walls and beams from earlier building work. You can view active restoration of complex masonry, metalwork and ornamental plaster going hand in hand with a family enjoying everyday life in a remarkable building. The tour of the castle allows you to experience just how onerous and courageous a task it is restoring a property over 700 years old, but also how bewitching the restoration work is - a true labour of love. In 1344 the owners of Chillingham were granted a licence to crenellate, in other words to build battlements, this was something that was not often granted because it meant royal troops would find it difficult to mount an assault. William Wakefield, secretary to King Edward III, drew up the licence, and it is on display in the castle along with 13th Century armour, furniture, weapons and other implements of the time. Some interesting rooms include The James I Drawing Room, named after the king who visited Chillingham in 1617. The room has a recently restored Elizabethan ceiling with gilded ribs and pendants. All of the staterooms
are a magnificent mix of antique and modern furnishings and the walls are lined with patterned silk screening, paintings and enamels. The Library is as interesting as the staterooms with the addition of a very elaborate chimneypiece and a display of family memorabilia. The Great Hall is the venue for Mediaeval Banquets and it has a stone flagged floor, tapestries, armour, weapons and heads of deer and wild cattle, not my idea of something decorative although it all adds up to making an ancient mediaeval atmosphere. The Hall also houses many valuable paintings of historical interest. Probably the most alarming part of Chillingham Castle is the Dungeon and Torture Chamber. The only light in the Dungeon is from a narrow slit in the thick wall, the wall itself is marked with crudely cut scribbled letters from previous inhabitants - not a happy sight. There is a trap door in the floor through which you can see what looked to be very genuine bones of a child in the vault below, a horrible thought. If the Dungeons were not bad enough the Torture Chamber is definitely not for the faint hearted. There are some very gruesome implements of punishment on display, including a stretcher rack, bed of nails, nailed barrel and a spiked chair - with a label on warning you not to sit down! There is also an Iron Maiden with a serene face and larger than life hinged metal casing for a live body, thumbscrews, chains, leg irons, cages, mantraps and branding irons. A real insight into how barbaric we once were. Chillingham Castle is also thought to be one the most haunted buildings in Britain and regularly holds all night ghost vigils. Some of the ghosts said to haunt the castle are The Blue Boy, it is said there are cries and moans of a child in pain and fear and sightings of a boy dressed in blue. The bones of a young boy and fragments of blue cloth have been found close to these sightings. Lady Mary Berkeley, the wife of a previous Lord Grey,
is said to wander the corridors of the castle and the rustling of her dress can be heard. There is the White Pantry Ghost, the Ghost in the Chamber, and numerous Ghosts of War, plus many more tales of psychic experiences. Open January to December for Groups at any time, by appointment - Tel: 01668 215359 Open from Easter weekend until 30th September Grounds and tearoom open 12 noon - 5:00pm Castle open 1:00pm, last entry 4:30pm Closed every Saturday Entrance Fee varies depending on time of year - for details please Tel: 01668 215359 Directions: Take the A697 3 miles south of Coldstream; at Longframlington stay on the A697 12 miles north towards Powburn; at Powburn continue on the A697 6 miles north; turn right onto the unclassified road 5 miles east through Newtown to Chillingham Castle.