I guess you could classify me as a skeptic for saying so, but I'm not having an easy time getting my head around the idea of haunted castles. I mean, I get the idea that because castles tend to be the oldest residential structures in the world they necessarily have more history and therefore more chance of having some restless spirit haunt them. That of course is assuming that spirits do haunt their former homesteads…. And that they do so in a way that living persons can observe with the first five senses.
Yes, I'm specifically excluding the ‘paranormal experts' who run around the British Isles or the Antebellum South telling us how they ‘sense' the spirit of some cursed soul – always with the lights turned off and some lackey video-recording the whole charade with a low-light lens. Funny how they always experience some sudden, overdramatic ‘scare' or ‘start' that makes everyone in the room jump, then tell us that some new spirit has entered the room. If they really see with some sixth sense the souls of the deceased, I would expect them to be familiar enough with the whole experience that by now that it's more like, ‘Oh… Hello, nice to meet you, what is your name?'
But my issue really isn't that I don't believe things outside our normal experience can't exist, because there have been times when I've felt like my deceased mother or my late sister were in the room with me when I've stayed at the house our family once lived in, which is barely 41 years old now. My son claims that on more than one occasion when he and I have stayed there he has actually seen his grandmother, whom he loved dearly, standing in her favorite room, the kitchen, and smiling at the grandson she was so proud of.
Rather, my question concerns why all the ghosts of every castle in Europe are so melodramatic. They appear to nearly everyone who stays in a particular room or hall late at night… with an eerie blue glow around them, or holding their severed head in their hands, or wailing mournfully as the sound of hooves clatter past, or cackling like a witch, or walking with a lighted candle in a black lace dress, etc. You don't have to be related to them, you don't even have to know who they are, yet they will be happy to put on a great performance taken right out of Tales of the Crypt.
Everyone that is, except anyone with the necessary equipment and skills to record such events for the rest of us to see or hear for ourselves. The most ‘indisputable' evidence that has ever been provided to anyone who didn't pay an admission fee for the privilege of being terrified out of their wits have been photos with hazy blurs that look suspiciously like an old darkroom effect known as ‘burning'; or a mysterious (and out of focus) hand in one corner of a snapshot that appears to be wearing ridiculously anachronistic attire; or an audio tape filled with a lot of static and background noise, behind all of which it almost appears as if someone is whispering something. “Did you hear it? Did you hear a voice say, ‘Give… me… back… my… head'?” “No. I heard something that sounded like asthma.” “Listen again. I'm sure you'll hear it this time. You can't miss it.”
Still, it is titillating to imagine that if we take a tour of the famous ‘haunted castles' of Europe we will encounter for ourselves real supernatural phenomena that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Certainly, at the very least we will have a thoroughly chilling experience that will send shivers up and down our spines. That's because old stone castles have notoriously bad central heating. (Sorry, had to throw that in…)
So which castles will provide the most terrifying, bizarre, uncanny and ghastly ghost shows for your money?
I've decided to break them down into two categories: the castles haunted by Anne Boleyn, and all the others. It's certainly curious why so many different castles throughout England appear to be haunted by the exact same ghost of the exact same person at apparently the exact same time. Obviously, ‘Anne of the Thousand Days' had a thing for castles. Maybe in death she has opted to be ‘Anne of the Thousand Castles. 'But how does she do it? To answer that question I've developed a theory that there is a theurgical version of Microsoft Windows, which allows Anne to apparently multitask herself when in fact it is merely the illusion of her apparition that you are really (or not really) seeing doing all those things in slices of time. She appears decapitated for 20 milliseconds in the Tower of London in one outfit, puts the head back on and quickly changes clothes (two or three milliseconds – one of the terribly fashionable benefits of being dead) and teleports herself to Windsor Castle for her next non-photo op, then pops the head back off in Norfolk to appear on the road to Blickling Hall for a carriage ride, then snaps her head back on for a walk along Blickling's lake in a grey dress, and so on. Clever, huh? And you thought the paranormal couldn't be explained rationally. Humbug!
Anyway, without further fanfare, here is the list:
Anne Boleyn's favorite haunts (sorry – had to say that) include:
The Tower of London, where she was imprisoned by her husband, Henry VIII and later beheaded (on a trumped up charge of adultery, incest and treason – the real reason was that her baby, the male heir to the British throne that Hank so badly wanted, was stillborn). She appears both with and without her head in different areas of the grounds.
Windsor Castle, where she can be seen standing in the window of the Dean's Cloister (don't ask, I don't know).
Hampton Court (Henry's ‘place in the Hamptons'), where she pals around with the ghosts of Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour and the other former Mrs. Tudors in a blue dress.
Blickling Hall, the family homestead in Norfolk, and the road leading to it, where she likes to ride in a carriage driven by a headless horseman with her own head cradled in her lap; a stroll along the edge of the estate's lake; and a nightcap of making footstep sounds throughout the hall that lead right up to the foot of the bed of this evening's hauntee, suddenly vanishing the moment the lights are turned on.
Hever Castle in Kent, Anne's childhood home, where at Christmas time her spectre can be observed floating ethereally across a bridge on the River Eden.
Rochford Hall in Essex, where her decapitated white form wanders about in white silks, also around Christmas.
Once you've tired of Anne's habit of losing her head all over England, you'll enjoy these sites for a spectral change of pace:
Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland – This foreboding and dark fortress looks eerie even in bright sunlight (which is a rarity on the Eastern coast of Scotland). It is said to be the most haunted place in Edinburgh, which in turn has been called the most haunted city in Scotland. It is particularly known for the massive dungeon underneath the castle with its long tunnels. The number of ghosts is said to be huge, including a winsome piper who plays haunting Scottish melodies in the dungeon.
Malahide Castle in Ireland – This estate of over 250 acres near Dublin claims to have five identified ghosts, including that of the famous Miles Corbet, who was hanged, drawn and quartered for atrocities against the church. On the anniversary of his death he is said to be seen riding around the grounds. At other times he appears standing, then falls into four pieces. Also in the cast are Lord Galtrim (Sir Walter Hussey) who was killed in battle on his wedding day; Lady Maud Plunkett, his wife who remarried twice – the first time almost immediately after Galtrim's death; the ‘White Lady', an unknown woman whose picture once hung in the halls of Malahide; and Puck, a court jester (why are court jesters always named ‘Puck'?) who fell in love with a woman being detained in the castle's prison and was killed for attending to her.
Dragsholm Castle in Denmark – This 12th century palace turned hotel is said to be home to perhaps hundreds of ghosts, but no one seems to have the faintest knowledge of why. The three most recognized are the ‘Grey Lady', the ‘White Lady', and James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, who was imprisoned at Dragsholm for 5 years and finally died of madness in 1578. Visitors can see the post he was chained to and hopefully catch his specter riding into the castle in a carriage.