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  • Karen Hamilton-Viall

Castle Ghosts

Britain is a country littered with ancient castles. Over the centuries, hundreds of souls have lived, loved and died within their walls. Here a friend relates the strange experiences she had during her time working in one. Who was the strange shadow man and what did he want?:

In 2005, I worked in the office of a local castle. The place was privately leased, open to the public, and had recently become well known for appearing on the show Most Haunted the previous year. The job was interesting enough and is what eventually led me to my life as a fifteenth-century Re-enactor, but it was the almost constant spiritual activity that really made life there interesting.

There were three times in the year when things would seem to flair up. Mild occurrences that would normally happen once a month would happen multiple times throughout the day. We never found out why, but Easter, August and Christmas were the “Hot spots” of the calendar year for ghostly happenings.

Doors would slam without warning or reason. We would hear scratching like fingernails down the main castle door, footsteps, screaming, shouting, banging, things flying off shelves, sightings of figures, shadows and darkness in corners without explanation, etc.

I remember very early on I was alone in the office on the phone with a client who was looking to book an event. My eyes were down on my notepad when I suddenly felt I wasn’t alone.

I looked up and standing on the other side of my desk, clear as day and solid as any physical person, was a slender woman in a grey Victorian dress. I remember her so vividly. The dress was tightly fitted with lacing at the sleeves and neck. Her hair was grey and tied in a messy bun, with strands falling across her face. She was elderly and was standing bent forward with her hands on the desk, looking at me with an expression of pure rage.

I jumped back in my seat and stood up. She was gone before I left the chair.

Another very brief encounter was as I left the castle very late one night after helping with a ghost hunt. The event itself was uneventful, except for one visitor hearing what they described as “Something metal being dropped” into the large ceramic bowl in the Great Hall. I knew the bowl was used to hold wedding rings for couples getting married, something that you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t been present at these weddings. They were describing the sound of the rings being placed.

As I left the castle with a colleague at around one am, we walked towards the gatehouse to reach our cars on the other side. On my right, a shadowy form suddenly rushed towards me. It was brief and aggressive, and in my haste to get out of the way, I collided hard into the side of my colleague, who had seen nothing.

That spot is known to have sightings of a man who yells at visitors or jumps out at them. I found out that it was a common occurrence when I mentioned it the next day.

While locking up the South Tower one evening, I heard the desperate screams of a man in pain; I opened the door and ran in, but it was empty.

One afternoon I was again working alone in the office, my colleague was away, her desk stood against the far right wall and the phone rang. I walked over and answered, my boss was on the other end of the line and as I said hello, the corner behind me grew darker, like when a cloud passes over the sun on a bright day, only the rest of the office remained unchanged. It grew darker and darker until there was a deep patch of shadow there and from within it something growled loudly. I froze and my boss, overhearing it on the other end of the phone, simply said, “Where are you? Get out and call me back!”

I left the office and went to the next phone to return her call. She’d heard the growl and was concerned enough to ask if I wanted to leave early.

A few days after, I was in the office working with one of the ground keepers, who was mending a piece of the office equipment. There was only one other person on site, the other groundskeeper. As we worked, we heard a man shouting at the top of his voice. We both stopped, as it seemed to come from above us in the Great Hall. I asked my colleague if he would find out what was wrong. He left, and after a while, I heard the shouting again. He came back a few minutes later with the other groundskeeper, who he’d found outside. He had no idea what either of us was talking about, as he’d been nowhere near the building.

One more pleasant encounter happened after I waved my boss away for their Christmas holiday. I was completely alone on site and feeling a little lonely about it. As I walked past the main stairs to reach my office, I heard lots of feet running up and down them and the sound of two children giggling. I was standing at the bottom of the staircase and could clearly see there was no one on the stairs, but the sounds were so clear. Two children running up and down, giggling as they went. It stopped, and I felt much better because instead of being strange and terrifying, it felt familiar and comforting. Just the idea that wherever they were or whenever, those children were happy and having fun.

Of all the things I experienced at the castle, there were two encounters that were terrifying and seemed to be from an entity that, for some reason, fixated on me specifically.

I call him the Shadow Man, for the purpose of recounting the story. It is only in recent years I have connected the two encounters.

The first took place on Halloween. I used to have Thursdays off as my Saturday was taken up with being the guide in the Great Hall for visitors. This particular Thursday, Halloween of that year, a radio station was broadcasting from the castle and interviewing people with strange or supernatural stories. My boss asked me to come in as the resident witch.

I came, had my interview and as I was about to leave when one of my colleagues asked if I had any plans that night, as he was scheduled to run a private ghost hunting group that evening and he knew I hadn’t done one yet. He said I could bring a friend if I wanted.

It sounded like a great idea, so I called up my best friend at the time and we met the group at the gates that night. There were around twenty of us in total, with two of my colleagues and a guest medium.

We started the hunt, hearing stories of all the encounters, standing in the darker rooms of the towers with candles. Nothing much happened until we reached a room in the castle where some of the more extreme encounters have taken place. It was a fairly small room with a staircase beside the door that went up into another small room we used for storing stock for the gift shop. We all filed in and stood against the wall in a circle. I ended up next to the guide with my back to the staircase. The guide did his talk on the history of the room, the encounters that people had experienced there and, with everyone’s consent, he turned off the lights to see what might happen. Immediately, I saw someone standing in front of me.

The room wasn’t pitch black. As our eyes adjusted, you could see the other people standing around the room and pick them out fairly easily. No one had moved. Everyone was quiet and looking around, but this thing in front of me was made of deep black, slender and so tall I had to crane my neck to look up. I could see the outline of shoulders, neck and head. It stood staring down at me. I could feel it standing too close.

The guide asked, “Is everyone ok? Does anyone feel anything?”

I must have made a sound because he turned to me and said, “Beth, are you ok?”

The moment he said my name, the Shadow Man surged forward, and I was plunged into that blackness. It felt like something solid was crushing my body against the banister of the stairs behind me. I felt smothered, as if a pillow was over my face.

I gasped out, “No! Turn on the lights!”

The lights came on and it was gone. The weight was lifted, I could breathe again and everyone in the room was staring at me, confused except the medium, who was nodding at me. I told the guide and everyone what happened.

He asked if I was comfortable doing it again. I agreed, and he decided not to use my name this time, as that seemed to be the trigger for the attack.

So, we stood around once more and the lights went off.

He was there immediately, towering over me, staring down at me.

The guide asked “Is everyone ok? Lass, are you ok?”

Again, the moment he drew attention to me, the same rush and smothering darkness. It was like the Shadow Man became a blanket over the top of me.

I said “No, Light!”

The light came on and I explained what had happened again.

The guide asked a girl on the opposite side of the room to switch places with me. She agreed, and I crossed the room to stand directly opposite the stairs where I had been before.

The lights went out. Across the room, I could see the Shadow Man towering over the girl. After a moment, it seemed to bend like it was looking carefully at her face. The whole feel of it changed immediately, and it stood hunched over at face height to her. I could see everything that was happening from where I stood. The girl didn’t seem to notice him, but I saw the way he stared at her and then slowly, still hunched over, the Shadow Man moved to the person beside her. He didn’t straighten up, just stayed bent over, awkwardly stalking as he went from face to face. It was as if he was looking for me. He went to each person and stared at their face for a moment before moving on.

I looked over at the medium and saw her looking at me. She nodded and pointed at the figure to confirm she was seeing it, too.

We both watched and then, after it had looked at a few people, it moved to the space beside the medium and sat in a crouch against the wall like a sulking child with his arms wrapped around his knees.

That was when the girl who traded places with me asked for the light to be turned back on.

The guide turned on the light, the figure vanished, and the girl said the left side of her face and neck hurt as if someone had slapped her.

I went over with the guide to look and sure enough, the left side of her face and neck were bright red, more disturbing as we all watched, three lines suddenly appeared there, like someone was dragging invisible fingernails down her neck.

I watched the skin raise and split into lines of blood. It looked like cat scratches.

That was when the guide called it for the night. That was my first encounter with the Shadow Man. It was a month later that he appeared to me again.

The castle was on a hill overlooking the town. That far up there were no street lights, so in the winter it got pitch black when you locked up in the evening. One night, there was only myself and the groundsman in the building and I needed to lock up. This was always the creepiest time because it meant walking the length of the building, turning off lights as I went, which left total darkness behind me at all times. I’d done it many times before with no issues, but that night felt off. I was already tense when I walked out of the office and turned to lock the door. My back was to the large main castle door, which was locked from the outside. The moment I turned my back on it, I felt something behind me. I glanced back to see the Shadow Man, in my periphery, over my right shoulder. I froze. I was absolutely terrified but knew I had to lock up and get out, but to do that I had to turn off the light and go to the next room on my right. I took a breath, turned the key, hit the light, and ran.

I could feel the thing behind me and dared not look back. I ran as fast as I could, slamming my hand on the light switch in the next room and sprinting towards the one after it. This was a small passage that led to the kitchen. Again, I hit the light switch as I passed through. The thing was chasing me. I could feel it like a wall behind me, just a presence dogging my heels as I raced through the kitchen.

This was where I knew it would get worse. The kitchen door opened into a small hall with the door to the café immediately opposite, the stairs to the Great Hall to the right and the back door out of the castle on the left. As I ran, I knew the café door would be locked. The moment I left the kitchen, I would be trapped in this small space, and forced to turn my back on the staircase with the pitch-black kitchen behind me.

I had it worked out in my head:

Open the door, then turn off the light, open the door, then the light…

If I did it that way round, I would be ok. I made it through the kitchen, opened the door, entered the small corridor, switched off the kitchen light without looking back and shut the door, only to catch sight of him standing on the stairs to the hall staring down at me.

I was standing with the door to the kitchen closed behind me, the locked door to the café in front. He was on the stairs to my left and the way out was through the closed door on my right. There were no windows in this small space. The only source of light was the one I needed to turn off on my way out. If I turned off the light before opening the door to get out, I knew I would be in total darkness with whatever was chasing me.

All of this took seconds.

I spun to face the door, turning my back on the thing on the stairs, and reached out.

Door, light…

Only my fingers slipped on the door handle…

The light switch clicked off and everything went black.

I screamed and threw myself at the door, feeling the Shadow Man rushing at me from the stairs. I was clawing at the door, frantically searching for the handle in the darkness. Finally, I hit it with my arm; the door swung open, revealing the grounds still partially lit by the sunset. I tumbled face-first out of the door and onto the castle’s picnic patio area, landing at the feet of the astonished groundsman who watched me turn over on my back and kick the door closed behind me. I caught my breath, then stood up calmly, locked the door, bid the groundskeeper a pleasant evening and with a “See you tomorrow.” Walked to my car.

I never had another encounter with the Shadow Man and left the job the year after for financial reasons. I never knew why that entity had reacted so strongly towards me. I hope I never find out.

There were other, less ghostly and more psychic incidences while I worked at the castle. I was a witch in my later teen years. I practiced Wicca and had taken the chance to join a spiritual healing course being held at a local spiritualist church, along with my friend. The course was heavily based on psychic development through meditation and visualisation. We practiced sensing and seeing auras, that kind of thing.

As I did this, I found I became more sensitive to things and had gleanings of things people thought or felt, most especially I saw and experienced many of the ghostly encounters in the castle.

I remember recounting a dream I had to my colleague and boss where I described a coffin with my boss’s name on it, covered in flowers, so only the plaque was visible.

They both stayed quiet for a while and my boss laughed, muttering “Bloody Witch.”

My other colleague explained that the day before, my day off, they had been having a conversation over lunch where my boss had said when she died she wanted the coffin to be completely covered in flowers so no one could see the coffin itself.

I had precognitive dreams of events before they happened. Small things like playing with an archer figure at my desk and the next day we had the exact figure I’d seen, delivered from someone hoping we’d want to stock them in our gift shop.

I remember my boss at the Castle using dowsing rods as we walked the ground and laughing when we realised if I stood within a few meters of her, they would always turn to point at me.

“Bloody witch.” She’d say laughing and would just shoo me away so she could keep looking for the well that was supposed to be in the grounds.

The most troubling things that happened surrounded a man. We often had volunteers at the castle. People who wanted to do anything to be a part of the place. My boss took some on happily. One of them was a man who was very much older than I was and began to stalk me. I was very young and naïve; I didn’t know what he was doing at first, nor how to tell him to leave me alone without being impolite. He would appear when he knew I was alone. Sometimes he would leave his friend on guard; He somehow found out where I lived and would wait outside in his car for me or follow me home at one am when he knew I’d been working late for a ghost hunt. I didn’t know who to tell or what to do. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I wanted him to leave me alone. He took an interest in the spiritual things I loved. He used it to get me alone with him and manipulate me. He even called me when I was away on holiday with my friends.

One day at the castle, he left his friend on guard and things escalated. I don’t know what he would have done if someone hadn’t come.

That night I lay in bed, and I saw in my mind a ball of white light. I focused on it and saw it growing larger. I saw it flying through the sky like a comet and then I saw his face and it hitting him. A moment later, even though it was late, my phone rang. It was him. He said he felt he needed to call me because the strangest thing had just happened. His bedroom window had exploded inwards. He said it had shattered like someone had thrown a brick through it, but he couldn’t find a sign of anything. I never told him about the ball of light. I made sure I was never alone with him and he moved on to someone else who welcomed his attentions.

I rarely tell anyone about those things that seemed to be caused by me. How do you bring that up in conversation? The ball of light and the window were an extreme that could be a coincidence, and I’ll never really know what actually happened there.

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