The Nottingham Castle Hallowe'en Ghosthunt, 2008 - A Field Report
As some of the Post readers might be aware, I work at a castle. Nottingham Castle in fact. So if you weren't aware of that fact, you now are privy to that little titbit of information, just as I was privy to a Ghosthunt of extraordinary proportions this Hallowe'en past - being one of a group of castle staff brave (and perhaps a little foolish) enough to stay up through the Witching Hour of October 31st and November 1st, 2008.
To put things in context, as I work at the Castle, I know a fair bit of its history and also have had a few weird experiences even in the short time I've been employed there. So I felt this was a great opportunity to find out if there was really some supernatural goings-on about the place. The Ghosthunt was co-organised by the NSPCC and Ghost Tours UK, and anybody involved was sponsored - the money raised from the sponsorship went to the charity. So how did it all go?
The night began quite sedately. About 30 members of the public met up with half a dozen castle staff (including myself), the two lovely organisers from the NSPCC, two magicians and three mediums in the old Victorian bandstand in the castle grounds at about 9pm. The bandstand was decked out in fairy lights, and it gave the grounds a nice rainbow like glow in the cold October night. We could see our breath in the air, and everybody went about checking their torches were working. I made sure I nabbed a wind-up one, so I didn't have to rely on batteries - I'd been told in the past that many batteries mysteriously drained during Ghosthunts...
It was here we were broken into three groups; Red, Yellow and Blue. I was in the Yellow Group, and much silliness ensued amongst the castle staff involving Star Wars call signs - 'Red Two, standing by' and the like. The lightsaber duels with our torches earlier had perhaps sparked off this little frivolity. Each coloured group was given a medium to play with, and come 10pm we all set off up into the Castle itself for a brief magic show to get us in the mood for the night's investigations.
The two magicians put on a fine show for us; card tricks, physic readings, and a few spooky goings on with photographs of the dead, all put a nice mist of mystery over the coming night. After the magicians entertained us all, we were introduced to the plan of action. Each group would spend an hour investigating a section of the Castle, and each of these areas would be continuously filmed over the night - a camera set up in each place to keep an eye out for any spirits or 'orbs' that we may miss. The groups would also have some fancy spook-hunting gadgets on hand, such as EMF detectors, laser thermometers and parabolic listening devices! There were four areas to go hunting for ghoulies in:
- The Long Gallery - the top floor of the castle building, the Long Gallery houses many pieces of art and has had some strange events recorded, like a ball of white light bouncing around the gallery in the 1970s.
- The Den, or Basement - A long corridor leads into the Den, part of the 17th-Century wine cellar. Many a castle staff member hates locking up the Den at night, then running along the long corridor before 'something' gets them!
- King David's Dungeon - supposedly where King David II of Scotland was interred in 1346, the dungeon houses stone-throwing spirits and the smell of stale beer and vomit on occasion.
- Mortimer's Hole- the underground passage leading from the castle down the cliff face to the street below, used in 1330 by Edward III to capture Roger Mortimer and take him to London to be executed. Many stories of people being pushed at, as they pass down the tunnel, by unseen hands...
At the stroke of 11pm, Yellow Group's first port of call was the Long Gallery.
Before heading upstairs, we were all inducted into a three minute White Light aura training session by one of the mediums, to protect us from the spirits and keep us grounded in the real world - and prevent us from slipping through the thin veil into the other world, as Hallowe'en is the night when the curtain between the two worlds is at its thinnest, apparently. Me, I decided I'd stay away from veils and curtains to be on the safe side.
Yellow Group met up and we climbed the stairs to the top floor, into the darkened gallery. Once in the gallery, our medium had us hold hands in a circle to try and invoke some spirits. There were a few weird feelings, and a couple of names were called out - but our biggest strikes in the gallery concerned more than one person mentioning a young girl, and the smell of smoke. At this point nothing had been mentioned to the visitors of the fire of 1831, that gutted the inside of the castle building and killed two young children...
Other groups reported similar happenings, but nothing concrete. Some scrying was attempted, and a bit of table-tipping, but altogether the spirits in the Long Gallery didn't appear to want to play an awful lot.
Into the Dungeon
After a brief respite, we all rugged up for the trek down into the Dungeon. We made our way into the dark just after 12.30am, with a different medium this time, and we headed into the section that was a wine cellar first. We all had a bit of a laugh and a joke in here, as the parabolic listening device was described as being able to pick up the sound of a mosquito's fart, but all it did was ensure that the operator knew that the next train to Sheffield was departing Nottingham station! So we quickly descended the steps into the dungeon, and once we were all sitting comfortably in the cold and damp we started off by simply calling out to any spirits. I stood near one of the doorways, and almost straight away I had a sense of someone in the shadows to my right, in the dark corner of the dungeon. Then I heard a shuffling against the wall, so I had to actually ask the group if anyone from our group was there - and to shine a light. No-one was there, but for the rest of our time in the dungeon I continually had the feeling of someone watching me from that corner.
Another flight of stairs had everyone trying to focus on what appeared to be some shifting kind of light smoke on the steps, but this may have just been wishful thinking. However, the strongest event affected at least six of our group, the medium had a figure lurking behind her where she sat and I was able to see a whitish figure, and at times what appeared to be a bearded face, while three others noted a figure dressed in a tunic and white sleeved shirt, while one other went as far as to give an accurate description of a Civil War Roundhead soldier. Some of the others in the group felt a little spooked by this, and mentioned that they felt there were other spirits in the dungeon that to them felt ashamed, and hungry - like a prisoner would. There was a smell of pepper said some, and others were convinced they heard a shuffling coming down the steps at one point. All in all, while we had no mass contact, we all felt that there was definitely something down in the dungeon with us!
Other groups reported the same sense of shame, and one of the mediums even tried to rewrite history down in the dungeon, and the staff who knew the history of the site were hesitant to put her right as it was laughingly entertaining...
After calming ourselves from the weirdness down in the Dungeon, Yellow Group had something to eat, then made their way outside again to wander down the ancient tunnels into Mortimer's Hole at about 2am. We went down the tunnel as far as we felt we could, sat down on the steps, and turned off the lights. We attempted to call to the spirits at first, then asked our medium if he felt anything in particular. He had a strong sense of a young boy who had been killed by two older men, perhaps soldiers, and while I didn't know of anything historically about this, I couldn't refute it completely.
And that's all we got from the medium then - his perception was apparently blinded by this singular event. A few other attempts at calling out spirits and some guesswork as to what kind of people would have used the tunnel came from some of the other psychically-minded individuals in the group, but all in all we left Mortimer's Hole a disappointed, and perhaps a little more cynical, group. Plus it was bloody freezing down the tunnel, and it had got to the time of the morning when most of us were struggling to keep awake.
The other groups were just as unsuccessful, and again history seemed to be go a bit haywire with a medium stating she had seen the spirit of a soldier dressed in khaki with a head wound struggling up the tunnel - but as far as any of the castle staff knew, no soldiers from the time of the Boer or First and Second World Wars (when khaki uniforms were introduced) ever made use of the tunnels in any way...
The Basement Beckons
Come 3.30am we were all pretty bushed, but we were back inside the castle building for the final investigation of the night - the Den. This part of the castle has always given me the heebee-jeebies, so I was kind of looking forward to it, and kind of - not. When everyone was seated, we turned off our torches and it was quite literally pitch black. Our medium explained she could feel a female presence in the room, and it felt completely comfortable in the Den, to me anyway, which was weird, because every other time I go down there it makes me feel horrible. The the medium went on further to explain what the woman was wearing, and I felt an unnatural chill and shudder run through me. The spirit was apparently dressed in Edwardian garb, and very interested in the group, particularly the women who were all wearing trousers or jeans!
This spirit lady then travelled around the group, and three of the girls reported the backs of their necks being touched, and their hair being played with. It was then we decided to try using a glass for communication. Four of us, including me, sat around a table and placed our fingers on an upturned glass. I have always been a bit dubious of this particular activity, but while the medium asked the lady to try and move the glass, it did seem to spin around once, very slowly, with no obvious explanation! Throughout this time though, there were also numerous occurrences of noises in the corridor, some that sounded like footsteps, and others that sounded like simple tapping.
Other groups reported being touched and even poked in the Den and more successful glass moving exercises, with one group having the glass do full circles around the table - the spirit apparently a rather portly old man who may have worked at the Castle. As indeed our Edwardian lady could have, so I may do a little bit of research to see if there's any truth to these claims by the mediums - who are altogether very unfamiliar with the Castle's history.
Come 4.30am everybody was pretty much shattered, so the public went upstairs and claimed their Ghosthunting Certificates, the Ghost Tour team packed away their equipment, and the Castle staff were left to lock up the Castle and set the alarms. I eventually crawled into bed at about 6am, not completely dissatisfied with my Hallowe'en entertainment. All in all, it was an enjoyable night, if not a little disappointing from a really spooky and supernatural perspective, but will I be doing it all again next year? You bet!