The West Country’s Most Haunted Residences

With All Hallows’ Eve only a few autumn moons away, we thought we’d share with you some of the West Country’s most haunted residences, all of them renowned for their paranormal activities…

Set in the bleak but beautiful Cornish moorlands is The Jamaica Inn, a former staging post and smugglers’ tavern, and also setting for novelist Daphne du Maurier’s famous murder mystery about a gang of villainous wreckers.

Dating back to 1750, the inn lies close to the hamlet of Bolventor at the foot of Two Barrows hill and is a Grade II listed building. It’s well-known as being one of Cornwall’s most haunted locations and visitors continue to report strange and troubling experiences; anything from angry mutterings and the mysterious sound of pacing boots in the night, to the clatter of horse hooves across the old cobbled courtyard and the sight of a coachman in a tricorn hat. Others have sworn to have seen the apparition of a salt-rashed Kernow sailor in the bar by the fireplace, drinking a bottle of bootlegger’s rum.

When it comes to paranormal activity and unexplained sightings, few settings can rival the historic ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle in South Devon. Hidden in the Castle Woods and overlooking the valley of Gatcombe Brook on the outskirts of Totnes, the location for the ruins couldn’t be more eerie and atmospheric. The first reference to the mansion does not appear until 1496, built on lands dating back to the de la Pomeroy feudal barony, as recorded in the Domesday Book.

Ravaged by the English Civil War and later devastated by fire, Berry Pomeroy Castle is believed to be amongst the most haunted buildings in the United Kingdom. One of the most eminent and notorious ghost stories to haunt these crow-cackled ruins is that of The White Lady. Believed to be the spectre of the late Margaret Pomeroy, The White Lady is said to haunt the dungeons, rising from St. Margaret’s Tower and leaving those who encounter her troubled spirit crippled by fear.

From a white lady to a grey one, only this time the setting is the impressive ramparts of Powderham Castle near the cathedral city of Exeter. Built in the 14th century by Sir Philip Courtenay, Powderham Castle is said to be one of the West Country’s most haunted estates with a chilling omnibus of visitors from beyond the grave. The castle’s most permanent guest is The Grey Lady sometimes witnessed floating through the castle library. She’s believed to be the ghost of Lady Frances, wife of Viscount Courtenay, and although not aggressive, her visitation is said to be a bad omen and a forewarning of the impending death of the head of the household. A sadder story was unearthed when building work, undertaken some 200 years ago, revealed the remains of an unknown mother and child. A proper burial was carried out but the ghost of a despairing young woman with a child in her arms has been seen, on occasions, wandering the grounds ever since.

At the seaward end of the shingle spit, a mile or more from Milford-on-Sea, lies Hurst Castle,  well-known for its spectacular views of The Solent and also for its chilling array of ghostly tales and alarming visitations. Originally built by King Henry VIII as a sea fort protecting the seaway into Southampton, one of its oldest guests is a spectral monk, said to haunt the narrow walkways and believed to have suffered a grim fate during the tumultuous years of the Protestant Reformation. Those that have witnessed his presence are said to have felt a chill that lasted for days. Perhaps the most famous of the castle’s visitors is King Charles I, who was held prisoner at the castle before his trial and execution at the hands of Oliver Cromwell. The king has been seen walking the lookout posts, perhaps still waiting for a gunboat fleet of royalists come to rescue him.

It’s hard to find a ghost story more spine-chilling than the tale of The Screaming Skull of Bettiscombe Manor. The skull is believed to have once belonged to one of the house servants who became seriously ill with tuberculosis. As he lay in his death bed, he vowed that his spirit would never rest if his body wasn’t returned to his homeland of Nevis; an island in the Caribbean. However, his owner, Jon Frederick, ignored his loyal servant’s dying wish and refused to pay for either his repatriation or burial, instead having the body interred in the grounds of the local parish church.

After the burial, the village of Bettiscombe is said to have been plagued by ill-fortune and many villagers spoke of being disturbed by harrowing screams and crying from the graveyard. In desperation, the villagers marched on the manor house demanding that the body be exhumed, only to discover that the Frederick residence was also being tormented, only this time by a cacophony of rattling windows and slamming doors. This is where the scent of the story goes cold; the skeleton of the servant is said to have vanished from all records, but the skull was later found back in the house, perhaps hidden there by an indignant villager to teach Jon Frederick a lesson. To this day, screaming is sometimes heard from the chest where the skull is said to be kept and legend has it that if the skull is ever removed from the house, the foundations will rock and the walls will crumble, while the person responsible for such an act of desecration will drop down dead before the year end.

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