|Spring Daffodils at Chillingham Castle|
My first visit to Chillingham Castle was last June when, despite the fields being filled with glorious summer poppies, it was rainy and chilly both outside and in. Things were to prove not much different this April when I returned for a second time. It was chilly and rainy again with the added atmosphere of a lovely damp dense fog which thickened as the afternoon progressed. As one of the most haunted castles in England (it’s been on the ‘Most Haunted’ programme) I suppose it was quite appropriate really. We are on the border with Scotland after all.
Anyway, Aristocrats I’m told are use to living in draughty piles as they know it’s all a bit pointless to try and warm up a castle with walls of stone several feet thick. Not for them the the easy dial of the central heating thermostat. Suffice to say I was prepared this time with my ski jacket on top of my all weather fleecy, I remained cosy.
|Rocking Horse stable|
Chillingham Castle is an Aladdin’s cave of memorabilia, historical items and fascinating objects from throughout the ages. Sir Humphry had recently acquired some new items of interest including several impressive African bongo drums. They had apparently been left over after Lady Mary’s birthday party last week and other additional eccentricities were spotted which I missed during last visit. The jockey weighing machine for one, the automatic gun re loader and the beautiful golden bat weather vane.
|Does Bruce Wayne live here?|
Bats appear on the Wakefield family crest and are to be spotted all over the castle. Apparently Sir Humphry is a big bat aficionado and there are many types of bat hanging about the estate. Visitors had reported strange rustlings, squeaking and movements in the drawing room over several months and it was assumed that it was another ghostly presence making itself felt. It turned out to be a small colony of bats roosting in the curtains. ‘They’re still there.’ one of the stewards told me ‘ but it’s not so bad now that we know what the noise is.’ I asked if Sir Humphrey had a Bat mobile too, but he didn’t seem to think that was funny. The steward said he had been the gardener at the Castle for thirty years and retired three years ago but he got bored and has come back as a guide. He was cleaning the plate in the dining room which he said helped to pass the time. He’s only seen a ghost once there in thirty years – an old lady in a long dress who just appeared and then walked into the wall. A poor record for thirty years I thought, although to be fair he probably spent most of his time in the herbaceous border.
|Giant Elk – antlered to excess|
The great hall is a very medieval affair which has a real Minstrel’s Gallery, where minstrels sang to entertain the company below and Sir Humphry’s family continue to use it for this at evening functions so they say. On the wall are the real antlers of the biggest giant Elk in the world. He was a pre-historic specimen and eventually died as he ‘cast’ his antlers each year and had to find food to grow them again bigger and better and there was not enough food around. The two huge fireplaces once had turning spits for roasting wild animals and the family still use them for this, ‘if Health and Safety are out of the way,’ says Sir Humphry. The great hall is now the Tea Room in the season and it comes back to family use in the Winter and for occasional week-ends, concerts and plays.
The dungeon and torture chamber are always fun for a revisit. There are executioners blocks and an Iron Maiden, with her vile interior spikes, and a ‘scold’s bridle’ for gossips and a set of very nasty tthumb screws. Things with spikes seemed particularly popular back in the days of war, and there is also a spiked wheel which people would be strapped to and turned on, adding dizziness no doubt to the already unpleasant fate of bleeding to death.
|The spiked wheel – ow!|
This 12th century stronghold has played its part in the history of England. In 1298 it became ‘base-camp’ for the conquering attack on William Wallace by “Hammer of the Scots”, King Edward 1st. Wallace had raided the previous year, burning the women and children to death in the local abbey. The Castle was given permission to add battlements by King Edward III in 1344 (you can still see the actual License in the Castle). The Elizabethans added ‘Long Galleries’ and Capability Brown designed the park in 1752. there have been many royal visits here including our own esteemed Duke of Edinburgh – Sir Humphry’s chum.
|Ideal for entertaining – the drawing room|
Chillingham Castle is a real family home as well as a piece of living history and Sir Humphry has done much to salvage its fabric as both the ceiling and floors had to be replaced when he bought it from his wife’s brother (the Greys of Earl Grey fame) in a state of disrepair. There were even trees growing through the wall. The things that appeal to me the most are the domestic details and the eclectic collection of random curiosities. In a world where everyone seems to be obsessed with the new, the latest craze, gadget, gizmo or celebrity fashion – it’s nice to be somewhere where the past is appreciated and celebrated in such a charming, if higgledy piggledy way.
|Aristocratic accessory annex|
I love the hat and boot room which I actually quite covet – I do love a boot. I love the dog collar rack where there is a display of fearsome and rather cool dog collars. They must have been big, impressive hunting dogs retrieving things from about the estate and biting intruders. No Shih tzus or labradoodles here! I love the playroom stuffed with toys and comics and ‘Boys Own’ paraphernalia. And I do like the tiger’s head which growls out of a large copper bowl. I wouldn’t want it in the living room mind you.
|Annoyed of India|
You can get married in the castle, hire it for functions or stay in the grounds in the adjoining apartments. You can go on an evening ghost walk or stay up all night on a vigil hoping for a supernatural encounter. Because the castle has been largely unaltered structurally since its ancient battling days it has retained its ghosts who have not been disturbed. The Blue boy, poor, wandering, Lady Mary, a tortured child, and even the Royal procession are all said to have been seen and heard at one time or another
|Not for Chihuahuas…|
There’s even a job going there if you fall totally under the spell of this magical place. Anyone fancy cleaning the armour?
Anyone interested please email a cv and a covering letter for the attention of Victoria Curry at firstname.lastname@example.org