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Haunted Places - Goodrich Castle, beautiful medieval fortress but with well mannered resident ghosts.
Goodrich Castle - Herefordshire
While on holiday, a few years ago, my wife and I decided to visit this tranquil looking castle which stands on a wooded hill overlooking the River Wye flowing through the valley of Symonds Yat, Herefordshire.
Firstly I feel I should give you a brief history just to provide some background.
English landowner Godric (from whom the castle takes its name) started the building in the late 11th century. A generation later the well preserved square keep, which formed the core was added, almost certainly in the time of Richard 'Strongbow' de Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Goodrich 1148-76.
Under King Richard 1 (also known as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittan. He was also known as Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart) both Goodrich Castle and the earldom of Pembroke were granted to William Marshal. He was a castle builder of great renown who may have been the person who started work on the inner ward. Marshal had four sons, who inherited the castle in turn, the last dying without issue at Goodrich in 1245.
Following on, the castle and earldom passed to Henry III's half-brother, William de Valance, who modernised its defences and living quarters adding improved kitchens, a solar and piped water to supplement the castle well.
At Goodrich castle there are still the most complete sets of medieval domestic buildings surviving in any English castle. After William's death his widow Countess Joan frequently entertained her relations and friends in a most lavish style.
Goodrich Castle was held successively by both sides in the Civil War and was the scene of one of the worst sieges of the English Civil War. Sir Henry Lingen's Royalists eventually surrendered in March 1646 under threats of tunnelling and a deadly mortar, the famous 'Roaring Meg', which fired gunpowder filled 200lb cannonballs. It is the only surviving Civil War mortar, which was returned to the castle after 350 years and is currently on show together with some of its cannonballs discovered in 1920.
Eventually the castle was purchased by the Countess of Kent who received £1000 in damages but the castle was uninhabitable and it was never rebuilt.
Now to continue with our visit, the castle has a tranquil feel and the swallows nesting in the stone structure circle and wheel with their familiar high pitch cries. Unlike most castles of this period a great deal of the structure remains in its original medieval condition and you can really feel what such a place would have been like nearly 400 years ago.
The first unsettling incident happened at entrance to the castle grounds. There was a kissing gate beside the large 5 bar gate and my wife jokingly said “I wonder if the big gate would open if I asked it nicely”. So she did and we watched in amazement as the large gate shook itself and smoothly swung open. Shocked we looked around to see if anyone was playing tricks but there was no one in sight. We swiftly slipped through and my wife said “thank you very much”. To our greater amazement the gate hesitated a moment, stopped swinging open and gently closed behind us.
Walking the battlements there are beautiful views of the surrounding area and the plan of the inner buildings became evident, including the floor of the stables which held 60 horses. It also has a well preserved chapel with a lovely stained glass window. Goodrich Castle has some excellent examples of a garderobe, which is a medieval castle toilet. Garderobes are small rooms built into the outer walls of castles with a hole in the floor leading to a chute which empties into the dry moat. Farmers (Gong fermors) cleaned out the chutes on a regular basis but if blocked, small boys with a stick had to climb up the chutes to unblock them.
The route took us to the roof of the entrance between the two portcullises. Set into the stone path were the murder holes where attacking forces would be trapped between the portcullises and boiling water, oil or pitch would be poured onto them to kill or injure them. In addition set into the entrance wall were arrow slits for longbows and crossbows.
The castle has at least two ghosts, the first of which is said to be that of an Irish chieftain imprisoned in the dungeons which were housed in The Great Keep and were known as Mac Beth’s Tower. Legend has it he died attempting to escape and his ghost has been said to haunt the tower. A ghostly haze can be seen sometimes in the dungeons for which there is no explanation, but it has been captured on film.
The second and most famous is that of two lovers, Alice Birch and Charles Clifford. She was the niece of parliamentarian Colonel Birch and Clifford was an enemy Royalist. During the March 1646 siege they became trapped in the castle but managed to escape together during a fierce storm. While trying to cross the raging River Wye, which runs by the castle, their horses stumbled and they were swept away and drowned. Variously their screams are still heard and their broken bodies seen tumbling in the water if the river runs high. Also on the anniversary of their death their mournful figures are seen on the battlements, clutching each other before plunging into the dry moat.
Despite its violent past the castle had a warm feel to it and the abundant wild flowers, shrubs and singing birds gave a peaceful air.
We left feeling quite uplifted and made our way back to the entrance. Reaching the kissing gate and large 5 bar gate alongside, I jokingly said “let’s see if it will open for me”. “Open the gate” I said in my best commanding voice – nothing, except it became very quiet and a little cold, with no people or birds to be seen. We looked at one and other and my wife quietly said “would you open the gate please”. Again the huge gate trembled a little and swung open slowly as if it were being pushed. I have to say this unnerved us greatly and we quickly passed through, casting a backward glance to see it closing again.
If you have a chance, pay Goodrich Castle a visit, it is well worth it but remember to give due respect to its ghostly guardians.
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© 2012 Peter Geekie