At this time of year in England, there is something healing about walking in the woodlands. I always feel that some of the loveliest flowers of all are cow parsley and bluebells.
I am also lucky enough to be a member of Songlines, a local community choir, and as the pandemic lockdown rules have been eased, we have been singing in Foundry Wood, Leamington Spa.
There are few things more beautiful than singing in a clearing in the middle of a woodland rich with fresh spring greenery. Of course, the birds do sometimes compete with us – not to mention the sound of the trains going past on the nearby railway line! Best of all is when a friendly and curious robin redbreast alights in the middle of our circle.
Perhaps I might capture a picture of him to include in a future post!
Today we visit the Saxon Mill,now a well-loved pub, bar and restaurant, and formerly the mill belonging to the Guy’s Cliffe estate. And after we have explored and enjoyed all that the Saxon Mill has to offer, at this scenic and atmospheric location on the river Avon, we will then head across the road and further up towards Leek Wootton, to wonder at the curious monument of Gaveston’s Cross.
Here’s an extract:
The original mill belonged to the Augustinian St Mary’s Abbey in Kenilworth. The abbey owned the mill until the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. It then formed part of the Guy’s Cliffe Estate, and remained so up until the Second World War during which time it was known as The Old Mill.
In 1813, Bertie Greatheed added the picturesque balcony, which forms the scene for a present-day paranormal tale.
James, a former member of staff, takes up the story.
“I was employed as a grill chef at the pub when Harvester owned it. One hot summer night, whilst working on the grill in the front of house, I went to open the side door and let some air through. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a white figure pass along the balcony beyond the small window. Thinking someone had come up the outside stairs, I waited for them to come through the door. No one came through. I looked out through the window to see who it was, but saw no one there. About ten to fifteen minutes later I saw another figure moving towards the door again. I poked my head out once more and still saw nothing. I told my colleagues, who said, ‘that’s Monty, the pub’s ghost. He often knocks things over, slams doors and such. He’s quite entertaining!’”
Rebuilding work was carried out on the Mill in 1822 and it was a working mill until 1938. It was converted to a restaurant and bar in 1952. The water-wheel, now restored, is visible to all who pass by; the mill-race can be seen through a glass panel in the floor of the pub.
On the other side of the Avon, you may take the riverside path for a good view of Guy’s Cliffe across the water.
Nearby, Blacklow Hill became the scene of a notorious summary execution on 1 July 1312. Guy de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, had lured Piers Gaveston, King Edward II’s favourite, to Warwick Castle. Guy had long wanted to get rid of Piers, who had insulted him personally, and was exerting far too much influence over the king. Also he had flouted commands to leave England and stay out, if he valued his life. The earl’s men dragged Piers in a cart to Blacklow Hill, where they ran him through with a sword and beheaded him. The place of his execution is now occupied by Gaveston’s Cross. [image]
It was Bertie Greatheed himself who caused the monument to be erected on his land. Today the land is in different private ownership, and not open to the public. However, by special permission it is possible to visit Gaveston’s Cross, in the heart of the woods.
The area where the monument stands is, according to several accounts, a centre of paranormal activity. James remembers an incident from his early teens. “Some friends and I walked up into the woods opposite the Saxon Mill to try and find Gaveston’s Cross. Being a bright summer’s day I thought nothing of the potential fear factor. We hadn’t got further than a few feet into the wood when day turned into the pitch black of night, with a cold clammy feeling to boot. Needless to say we didn’t hang around long and burst back into bright sunshine feeling rather relieved and more than a bit shaky.”
Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman, pub Amberley 15 Nov 2020
To find out more about the history and the curious tales surrounding these and many other locations in Shakespeare’s county, do order your copy of Paranormal Warwickshire here.
Today let me take you to Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick. This poignant and atmospheric ruined mansion is the first place local people think of when I speak to them about my book. “Have you included Guy’s Cliffe?” they ask. I reply, “Yes – the first chapter is devoted to it. I took a tour with the custodian Adrian King and have recorded many of his stories.”
Here’s an extract.
Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick
Leave not the mansion so long tenantless
Lest, growing ruinous, the building fall
And leave no memory of what it was!
Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 5, Scene 4
What could be more poignant than a great house, surmounting a cliff, abandoned and desolate? Clinging to a cliff alongside the river Avon north of Warwick, you may find the ruins of just such a mansion.
Many stories linger within these imposing ruins and their environs. As you wander around you may wish to climb those gaping staircases, or gaze at the view down the Avon, beyond the Saxon Mill to Milverton Hill from those stone balconies; or imagine you see a shadowy figure flit past that empty window-frame.
Adrian King, the present Custodian of Guy’s Cliffe, told me: “Years ago, my father told me a story, which first drew me to this estate. He said that whilst standing on the bridge further down the river at the Saxon Mill, looking toward Guy’s Cliffe, he noticed a woman standing on one of those high balconies. He said ‘she had a green aura around her’. Then to his horror she threw herself off the balcony down onto the ground.”
This story piqued Adrian’s interest and he began to research the history of Guy’s Cliffe. Years later he took up an appointment as custodian there.
The known story of the estate spans ten centuries. Well before any structures existed here, Christian hermits were attracted to the caves by the mystical qualities of this location. 16th century historians described the area as an idyllic glade with many clear springs above a steep rock full of caves….washed at the bottom by a crystal river.
Even before those hermits, it is probable that ancient Celtic people would have come here.
“Water has a strong influence on this place,” says Adrian. “The attraction would have been not only rock – a wooded area with caverns in it – but springs as well. Those two aspects alone, rock and water, are spiritual; they would lend a reverence to the place. Very early on, a spring would have been attributed to a deity. The Romans came along and they melded their gods with the local deities, and so forth.”
Adrian feels sure that people from the very distant past knew where to find centres of energy, or sites that you would consider sacred.
“They seemed to home in on them.”
He believes that the stone or rock here, and the water, work together rather like a battery. The stone tape theory proposes that stone possesses a certain unique property whereby human events and emotions are imprinted upon it and will later replay.
Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman, pub. Amberley, 15 Nov 2020
Adrian goes on to share many of the curious anecdotes associated with Guy’s Cliffe, and the strange events visitors continue to experience, right up to the present day.
To find out more about the history of this fascinating place, and about the many strange stories that cling to the house and estate, preorder Paranormal Warwickshire here.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre stands on the banks of the River Avon on a site formerly occupied by Shakespeare’s own garden, in the final decades of his life. He bought the house at New Place with his London money, and there he lived to the end of his life, bequeathing the house on to his daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall. It is thought he wrote The Tempest there.
The land upon which the house once stood was probably occupied by a smallholding rather than a pleasure garden. Nevertheless it is very appropriate that the theatre, (known in its earliest incarnation 1879-1926, as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre) should be located here.
Beloved by generations of great actors and devoted audiences, the theatre gives rise to many haunting tales. Strange events have been experienced by front-of-house staff, audience members, actors, other members of staff, and even construction workers on the scaffolding above the stripped-out skeleton of the upper circle, during the time of renovation for The Transformation Project completed in November 2010.
Discover more about the intriguing history and the strange events at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.
Ettington Park is a gothic mansion outside Stratford-upon-Avon, now a luxury hotel. It stands in extensive grounds beside the River Stour. The estate has a long and fascinating history from the time of the Domesday Book, and for many centuries it was in the hands of the Shirley family. In the grounds you may also find the poignant ruins of a medieval church.
Many strange tales are told of Ettington Park, both in the house and grounds. Numerous reports have been forthcoming, from guests and staff alike, of apparitions, dramatic drops in temperature, and other phenomena. Unsurprisingly the property also often receives the attention of paranormal investigators.
To all new visitors the house itself makes a powerful impact; certainly I found it to have a commanding presence, and not only is it a magnificent example of romantic architecture, but it bears that out fully with its strong atmosphere. This again is a property I greatly enjoyed researching, not least because of the highly-recommended afternoon tea to be taken here! (but sadly no paranormal events were experienced over the cakes and scones).
I knew little of the ghosts of Rugby until I joined a fascinating town tour one afternoon led by Matthew, an entertaining and well-informed raconteur. Those who had booked for the tour gathered outside The Black Swan pub in Chapel Street. We were all to discover a rich history and a wealth of colourful and curious paranormal tales.
Famous of course for its school, (founded by the Elizabethan merchant and philanthropist Lawrence Sheriff) and for the popular sport to which the town gave its name, Rugby is to be found in the pages of the Domesday Book of 1086, when it was an Anglo-Saxon hamlet known as Routbie.
Over the years, it slowly grew until, following the Industrial Revolution, the town experienced swift growth with the arrival of the railways. In 1838 an early part of the present West Coast Mainline was built around the town. Soon after that, many wagon works and engineering facilities were opened.
A history tour of Rugby’s centre will provide a wealth of strange anecdotes. Several relate to the terrace of period properties in Chapel Street, foremost among which is the oldest house in Rugby, the 14th century building which once housed Tew’s the Butchers, famed for its appearance in the pages of Thomas Hughes’1857 novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
Other eerie and intriguing tales cling to the terrace of shops formerly occupied by the Lawrence Sheriff Almshouses in Church Street; the Rugby Theatre; a certain residence in Castle Street; and several buildings in the High Street, including the Lawrence Sheriff pub and two properties now occupied by retailers but which formerly served as locations for the Town Hall.
Finally several strange stories emerge from the memorial garden at St Andrew’s Church, and the gardens behind the church, an area which has a recorded history dating back to 1130 in the reign of King Stephen.
This magnificent church has stood at the heart of Rugby since the 14th century, with its west tower believed to be the town’s oldest structure. Here, in St Andrew’s Gardens, you may find many historical graves; and the land is believed to have formerly been occupied by a manor house protected by guards.
This is the third in my series of glimpses into the subject of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.
Guy’s Cliffe claimed its hold on my imagination from the first time I saw it, not long after I moved to Warwickshire twenty six years ago.
Clinging to a cliff alongside the river Avon north of Warwick, this ruined gothic mansion nearly fulfilled Shakespeare’s words in Two Gentlemen of Verona Act 5, Scene 4:
Leave not the mansion so long tenantless,
Lest, growing ruinous, the building fall
And leave no memory of what it was!
As in the case of all grand historical houses, this one has been vulnerable to the changing fortunes of the families who held it over the centuries, and in particular the use to which it was put, and the way it was treated, during the two World Wars. Some of these grand houses were saved, others not.
In this case, the mansion at Guy’s Cliffe, first built by wealthy landowner Samuel Greatheed in 1751, has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – but only in a ruined state. Today it teases and haunts those who view it, with its gothic architectural flourishes, thanks to the romantic imagination of its most colourful owner, Bertie Greatheed, whose influence is felt everywhere in Warwick and Leamington Spa.
The full story is told in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, in which I repeat many curious anecdotes about this atmospheric ruin and its environs. During the course of my research, I interviewed the custodian Adrian King whose love of the history and the spiritual ambiance of this location is very evident; not least in the facts that he currently leads a major fundraising effort to restore the site, and also hosts popular ghost-hunting tours at this location.
The present ruinous condition of the mansion serves only to feed the imagination of all those who view it from the Saxon Mill, further down the river, and all those who tour the ruins as I did, with Adrian’s expert guidance.
The land on which Guy’s Cliffe is built attracted ancient Celtic people and Christian hermits long before any structures existed here. According to 16th century historians, the combination of an idyllic glade with many clear streams above a steep rock full of caves… washed at the bottom by a crystal river proved irresistable to the Romans, cave-dwelling hermits, the Earl of Warwick, and chantry priests; and to many others.
The enduring legend of Guy of Warwick is centred upon this location, and the tragic tale of his wife, the lady Felice, and her fateful plunge from the cliff has imbued the site with its poignant aura.
Now, the grounds of Guy’s Cliffe receive loving attention; clearance work and restoration of the formal gardens is underway and in the not too distant future, visitors may gain greater access to this beguiling location with its ruined mansion, the Chapel of Mary Magdalene with its statue of Guy of Warwick, its mysterious grounds and outbuildings, which never cease to deliver curious experiences and strange stories, right up to the present day.
Check out my previous posts on the subject of Guy’s Cliffe estate.
This is the second in my series of glimpses into the subject of my new book, Paranormal Warwickshire, which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.
Here is the classic view of Warwick Castle, seen from the town bridge as you enter Warwick from the south. This magnificent medieval fortress makes a dramatic impact upon the visitor, a romantic vision crowning a cliff above the river Avon. Of course, I couldn’t write a book called Paranormal Warwickshire without including Warwick Castle.
The history of the castle spans over 1,100 years, as the first fortification was built here by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, in the year 914. A rich succession of stories and characters has kept this castle at the heart of English history ever since: by no means least among them being Richard Neville known as Warwick the Kingmaker (earl from 1449 to 1471) whose final battle is commemorated in The Kingmaker exhibition at the castle.
The castle is now owned and looked after by Merlin Entertainments and is one of England’s top tourist destinations. Whether you tour the castle’s State Rooms and Great Hall; descend into the dungeons; climb to the battlements and admire the view; stand atop the summit of Ethelfleda’s Mound; or view the majestic edifice from the island whilst enjoying a reconstruction of the Wars of the Roses – this site breathes glory, drama and high emotional stakes.
So, we might say, few paranormal tales here – and they have been reported by many – could escape the charge of being conjured up by the imagination.
But is that true of every single story told here? With such a large number of independent curious anecdotes, the weight of accumulated evidence tends to suggest “there are strange things going on behind the scenes.” I recount several stories about the castle in my book Paranormal Warwickshire. I examine the evidence for the most famous one, and consider whether or not it was conjured up by a cunning Earl of Warwick in order to attract visitors. I also come across a few new tales told by recent visitors.
Check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.
The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:
Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick
Gaveston Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick
St Mary’s, Warwick
Abbey Fields, Kenilworth
St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton
Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick
Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations
Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
A giant gunnera tunnel, lush subtropical vegetation, vibrant flowers of many colours, and a journey through an imaginative and intriguing landscape: as you will find when you visit this lovely part of Cornwall, Trebah Garden becomes a series of portals to different worlds.
The path draws you into the heart of different areas which yield up a variety of feelings, memories, reflections. In the centre of the garden we come upon an auditorium used for theatrical performances.
Though no performances were taking part at the time of our visit due to the recent Covid19 lockdown, we could imagine ourselves into the acting arena, into the responses of the audience, as we contemplated this empty space full of creative possibilities, taking a rest before breaking out into a reawakening.
Your journey tempts you on through glorious shrubs, trees and exquisite blossoms past a quiet pool and an inviting white bridge…
… and ultimately leads you down to Trebah’s own private beach at Polgwidden Cove.
In addition to this, you’ll find an excellent restaurant at Trebah: the post-Covd19-lockdown arrangements were immaculate, and the vegetarian tart we chose for lunch a perfect taste sensation.
The previous post in this series describes the glorious gardens at Trellisick National Trust, on the Fal Estuary. From Trellisick, motorists and pedestrians may take the King Harry ferry across the River Fal, and then travel on to St Mawes.
We found St Mawes a peaceful and charming fishing village, on the Roseland Peninsula opposite Falmouth. It was quiet when we visited, as the UK Covid9 lockdown had only just been relaxed, and few visitors were to be seen.
As we strolled through the village, we were particularly struck by the fresh, gleaming appearance of the seafront cottages. It seemed to us that all the owners of those cottage must have made good use of the lockdown, and were now looking forward to welcoming new holidaymakers.
As we strolled along through the centre of the community, we noticed a painter at work on the scaffolding and were tempted to ask him if he was working his way through every house in the village!
We gazed ahead to the castle of St Mawes as we made our way along the seafront: the twin of the castle opposite, across the water at Pendennis Point.
The atmosphere was dreamlike and tranquil; a contemplation of space through the vistas of water, beach, boats, and seafront flowers, which all contributed to this vision of a small community and an unhurried pace of life.
Later, we drove around the Roseland Heritage Coast to Gorran Haven. Again, we delighted in the tranquil atmosphere, as we walked along the harbour wall.
Although these small communities need their visitors and tourist trade to flourish, nevertheless we did value the opportunity to experience them in this brief, precious interlude before people start gaining the confidence to go on holiday again after the lockdown.