Getting taken at sword point by Robin Hood, getting lost, exploring Nottingham’s caves and admiring the beautiful men. Views. Beautiful views. We had an unexpected weekend away ghost hunting in Nottingham with fellow writer and ghost hunter, Lesley (AKA L K Jay).
Earlier in the week, we decided to meet up for our annual ghost hunting weekend, which usually takes place in October. All we had to do was pick a place in England. Lesley lives in Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, so usually our jaunts are somewhere in the fens. After staring at the road Atlas and jumping on Google, we decided on Nottingham. The three of us went there three years ago, to the Galleries of Justice for a day trip. Although the most memorable part of that was driving through our first ever pedestrian zone. We would be arriving Saturday lunchtime. Late Friday night, we booked a hotel. We like winging it on this show.
We arrived in Nottingham and found our way to the hotel easily. This always makes us suspicious. Fate’s never kind to us unless she has something nasty planned. Within five minutes of leaving the hotel, a guy shouted abuse at us from his car window. Listen, people, we get abuse shouted at us a lot and 90% of the time, we cannot understand you. If you will insist on abusing strangers for walking down the street, please make your insults clearer, otherwise we can’t post them on Twitter and Facebook for other people to enjoy your stupendous vocabulary.
Nottingham castle was first built in 1067, the year after the Battle of Hastings, on orders of William the Conqueror. During King Henry II’s reign 1150-1189, the castle was rebuilt in stone. In 1194, King Richard I, Lionheart, returned to England to quash King John’s rebellion. The castle surrendered after only a few days. In 1346, King David II invaded England but was wounded in the Battle of Neville’s Cross and was taken to Nottingham Castle en route to the Tower of London. Richard III spent most of his reign in Nottingham Castle, until 1485 when he left for the Battle of Bosworth and became the last king to die in battle. In August 1642, Charles I chose the castle as his rallying point for the Civil War and shortly after he left, it was seized by parliamentarians. In 1651, John Hutchinson applied to parliament to have the castle destroyed so it could never be used in war. The request was granted.
In 1678, Henry Cavendish, the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, built a ducal palace on the grounds, but it was burnt down in 1831 during the Reform Act Riots, and the rioters sold off the tapestries. It remained derelict for 40 years until 1875 when it was leased to the Corporation of Nottingham for 500 years. After being remodelled, it opened to the public in 1878 as a museum of fine art.
caves below the castle
The castle was a 25 minute walk so we headed off. Only took one wrong turn. As we were buying our tickets, the guy behind the counter said “just flash these at the gentleman on the gate.” Lynx “flash what at the gentleman?” Cat “We can’t flash gentlemen!” Don’t think he was expecting that response. He soon stopped laughing to say “you can flash whatever you want.” We chose to flash our tickets to the gentleman on the gate. We wanted to see the castle, not get frogmarched out by security. A guy dressed as Robin Hood lurked nearby. A Japanese couple nabbed him for a photo, so we decided to do the same. Robin “where do you want me?” Lynx “Well!” Robin *stands behind us for the photo* “Do you want to hold my sword?” Cat “You can’t ask ladies that!” He laughed. Lynx “Can you take us at sword point?” So he did. The next time we encountered him, he chuckled after we greeted him. Sorry Nottingham, we probably should’ve warned you we were coming.
We headed up to the castle and booked ourselves on the cave tour. It takes you under the castle, into the caves known as Mortimer’s Hole (we kept ourselves amused making inappropriate remarks about Mortimer’s hole), which Edward III used to capture Sir Roger Mortimer after his part in Edward II’s death. Queen Isabella is heard shouting in medieval French “Fair son, be kind to gentle Mortimer,” and her cries have been reported for 600 years in the caves. Mortimer was taken to London, and on 29th November 1330, he was hanged, drawn and quartered and his head put on a spike on Traitor’s Gate. He took two days to die. Clearly Edward III and Isabella have different ideas on ‘gentle’.
Friar Tuck was leading the tour, so we asked him if he’d ever experienced anything spooky down in the caves. He was actually part of a ghost hunt down there and witnessed one of the monitors they were using fly across the cave.
The caves were brilliant. We sadly didn’t encounter Queen Isabella or Mortimer and we kept getting left behind to take photos of the caves without tourists blocking our artistic shots. We then returned to the castle to tour the museum exhibitions and discovered one thing – Nottingham castle was full of good looking guys. Model worthy guys. The types of guys you don’t often see wandering about in the wild. Most of them appeared to be French. We have a cousin in France who keeps asking us to visit… As we loitered by Robin Hood’s statue, waiting for a photo opportunity, we watched a young family posing by the statue. The father, a young Frenchman, was gorgeous and had tattoos, which is always a bonus. Cat “Whenever I see a hot guy with kids, I always think ‘what a waste.'” Lynx and Lesley were in agreement.
There’s a curse hanging over the castle involving the Welsh. When King John was hunting from Clipstone, his favourite place of residence, his sister Joan, who was married to Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, warned him of a Welsh uprising. He summoned the barons to meet him under the Parliament Oak and demanded they consent to executing 28 hostages who were being held at the castle. These were noblemen’s sons, some of which were children. John rode to Nottingham and demanded the Governor tie up the boys. They were then hanged from the castle walls. John rode back to Clipstone in time for supper. Legend states if you walk past the Castle Gatehouse on a winter’s night, the boys’ cries and the sound of their feet kicking the castle wall can still be heard.
Inside the castle it said no photography was allowed, but there were two incidences where we were forced to break this rule: when we found dressing up clothes and when we spotted another exceedingly handsome young man amongst the WWII displays. The fact he appears in the only two photos we took of the displays was entirely coincidental. We like taking photos of beautiful things ;) Sadly though, he was way out of our league. And no, we didn’t speak to him. That would’ve been weird.
After the castle, we headed to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, England’s oldest Inn, built in 1189. Crusaders en route to the Holy Land would stop there and King Richard the Lionheart is rumoured to have stayed there. This also has caves below it and is fact, carved out of the caves. The smell of burning tallow haunts the chambers, lingering for twenty minutes before dissipating. The far side of the cellars is a rusted iron gate before a doorway carved into the rock. It’s believed to be the castle’s prison condemned cell. Men were shackled to the walls, with some left to die of starvation or dehydration. This is where Mortimer was temporarily held. A former landlady saw a grey mass walk past her by this cell and her husband once felt icy fingers on the back of his neck when he ventured into the cell without turning on the light. Two regulars, after plenty of Dutch courage, decided to sleep there. They soon fled and were violently sick. In the Rock Lounge, keys disappear then reappear in strange places. Glasses and bottles fly off the shelves and smash when there’s no-one around. The staff hear breaking glass from the bar but when they go to clean it up, there’s nothing there. There’s also the smell of perfume, like lavender or rose water. Tourists who asked to see the cellars apparently saw two soldiers walk through the wall. A medium who visited the pub told the landlord and landlady a clock in the bar was possessed by two evil spirits. A previous landlady’s Dobermans apparently hated the clock and would bark at it. Another landlady’s Doberman apparently would howl whenever he was out in the office. This is where an entrance to Mortimer’s Hole is. She said previous landlords had seen and heard ghosts. She and her husband heard people calling when there was no-one there and a woman wearing a crinoline skirt has been seen walking down the stairs into the cellar.
Between 1894 and 1914, the landlord was George Henry Ward, known as Yorkey. He is believed to haunt the inn and the cellars and has been seen on several occasions.
A cursed galleon sits in a glass case above the bar in the Rock lounge. Sailors used to carve the models while at sea. The last three people who cleaned it, died within a year, so no-one is allowed to touch it. We always knew dusting was bad for you. We had a drink there and were going to order food, but it was so crowded we decided against it. Lesley had spotted a leaflet for a ghost tour that happens to be every Saturday, leaving from Ye Olde Salutation Inn. Suddenly we had plans for the evening.
In the Trip is a pregnancy chair – women who sat on it would become pregnant. This needed testing. Seeing as we’d rather be trapped in a jail cell with the cast from The Only Way Is Essex than have a child, Lesley sat on the chair. We’ve given her a year to fall pregnant. Mark your calendars. Lesley “I’m 43, this would be a bloody miracle.” Could these be famous last words? We’ll keep you posted. We’re putting forth name suggestions now: Trip or Jerusalem. Maybe Robin. Though we think Jerusalem Jackson is a worthy hero’s name.
We left the Trip and headed for Ye Olde Salutation Inn. As we walked in, The Beatles’ Paperback Writer started playing. How did they know we’re all writers? We explored the pub, which also happens to be haunted and got drinks. Sadly they didn’t serve any food. We’d forgotten to bring certain food items with us, so were surviving on chocolate biscuits and vegan gummy bears. We’d also forgotten Cat’s phone, our foundation, phone charger, hair wax and Cat’s ice patches for Linus (her bad knee). But we brought more Red Bull than we would possibly need.
We hung out in the pub for an hour, where Lesley came up with a great idea. She’s going to write a blog detailing a series of experiments taken from The English Book of Magic. And we’re going to participate in these experiments. The first one will be done on Friday.
We spied a guy in the pub wearing pirate style boots and carrying a dagger. We figured he was either our tour guide or the most obvious mugger ever. We were right the first time. There were loads of people on the Nottingham Ghost Walk and we were all given numbered orange ghost stickers to wear. We weren’t sure whether they were to identify interlopers trying to join the tour for free or to identify one of the group should they happen to get mown down by a bus when crossing the roads. We hoped for the latter: ‘sorry gang, 692 was got by a Peugeot.’
The guide was very entertaining, especially when telling the more risqué ghost hunting stories as there were kids on the tour, so he was using euphemisms, which made it funnier. When he was recounting Mortimer’s brutal death, he needed a volunteer. French tourist Benoit stepped forwards. He was hilarious and took being hanged, drawn and quartered like a pro. And it was apt, as Mortimer was also French. When the guide asked who was on the throne in 1327, only two people guessed Edward II correctly – us. He was impressed and said only three people had ever got that right. And one was French. Lynx “we’re Welsh, does that matter?” For shame, English people. For. Shame.
Then we went down into the caves below Ye Olde Salutation Inn. A lady is rumoured to haunt them and she always sits in the same spot and people who see her, describe her in the same way. But the guide never tells them where she sits or what she looks like. No-one on our tour spotted her. That’s because they were sharing their tour with the Spirit Blockers (until we can think of a cooler superhero name).
After the tour, we headed for a curry house so Lesley could eat. A drunk guy came over to us brandishing a handwritten sheet of A4 saying ‘peace and love’ and explained he and his mate were spreading it and free hugs. Free STIs more like. We sidled away. Although we overcame our aversion to hugging a few years ago, we will only hug people we like. We will not hug strangers. We will definitely not hug people wielding A4 sheets and threatening to spread things. He asked if we believed in peace and love. Us “No.” If he’d tried to hug us, he would’ve quickly learned how unpeaceful and unlovable we can be. Fortunately, Cat had accidentally filmed the whole thing. We escaped into a curry house. They cooked their chips with the meat so we ate a chocolate biscuit when they weren’t looking. The waiter brought a hot towel over afterwards. We stared at him. This seemed odd to us. Lesley explained curry houses do this after your meal. This is the first time we’ve been in a curry house. Bizarre.
Francis on Twitter told us about the Bell Inn, built in 1437, which was also rumoured to be haunted and like most of Nottingham, sat on top of the caves. So we headed there, after a slight wrong detour up a side street. It was really noisy, with everyone trying to outdo each other in the shouting department. In the toilets, women were discussing where the best looking men hang out club wise and one said she only ever goes out to Nottingham. We thought this strange. We go out to lots of places over the UK. Then we realised for her, ‘going out’ was ‘going out clubbing’. For us, it means ‘travelling the UK ghost hunting.’ And clearly, the best looking men were hanging out in Nottingham Castle.
We called it a night and got a cab back to the hotel. We never take cabs but we were tired and Cat’s knee was making her regret forgetting the ice patches. She had her walking stick on hand but a cab was quicker. The cabbie asked if we were going out. We told him we’re too old for that. Plus nightclubs are our idea of Hell. Give us a haunted dungeon any day. While Cat was fetching our soya milk from the hotel fridge, a guy left the kitchen on his mobile phone. He looked at her then went out into the hall. Where Lynx was waiting. He stared at Lynx then looked back over his shoulder at Cat then tripped over a display stand. Our work here is done. His thought process clearly wasn’t ‘oh twins’ but ‘how can you be in two places at once?’ even though we dress differently and have different fringes. How we laughed.
On Sunday, we had to check out at 10:30 a.m., so headed to Wollaton Hall. Except Lesley’s SatNav took her to Wollaton Hall’s car park and our SatNav (who Laura named Helen) took us round the back of the deer park in a housing estate. Thanks, Helen. That was really helpful. We found our way back to the main road and followed the tourist signs. There happened to be a food festival on. Our ability to show up to places when there are massive events on is quite legendary. Luckily it meant parking was free. And everyone was at the food festival, not the Hall. No, we didn’t go into the food festival. We were happy with our dwindling supply of chocolate biscuits and gummy bears.
Designed by Robert Smythson to be the home of Sir Francis Willoughby, building on Wollaton Hall began in 1580 and was finished 8 years later. Following the death of Michael Guy Percival Willoughby, 11th Baron Middleton, Wollaton Hall was passed to Nottingham Corporation and is now a natural history museum.
Wollaton Hall was used as Wayne Manor in The Dark Knight Rises. We didn’t bring Batman costumes with us sadly, but we plan to take over the hall and rename it Raven Manor. We booked to go on the hidden house tours then wandered. The Hall is now a natural history museum. There were these kids there who were running from room to room, shouting. Don’t get us wrong, we were glad they were excited about being in a museum, but please, tone it down. We were tempted to dump them in the hissing cockroaches tank (live cockroaches, not a display). Us and Lesley were in agreement – kids are the best advertisement for contraception.
The museum was interesting, but once you’ve seen one display of stuffed British wildlife, you’ve seen them all. Also, we find taxidermy rather creepy. Who first thought ‘that’s a beautiful dead animal; I’ll stuff it and put it on display so everyone can see its corpse’? There would be outcry if you did that to your relatives. “Oh don’t mind Uncle Steve, he’s been dead fifty years. It’s ok, we replaced his eyeballs with glass ones. He just loved that chair.”
At 12 was the first of the tours – the Prospect room and the half roof. While we waited, a guide was showing a couple around who were thinking of hosting their wedding there. We didn’t hear much of the conversation, apart from the groom-to-be saying “we’re very flexible.” Quite frankly, what you get up to on your wedding night is none of our business, sir.
The Prospect room is where paranormal activity occurs, in the form of an orange glow seen emanating from the windows when there’s no-one inside and the electricity is off. An attendant at the Hall, Don Wyatt, said in the newspaper report that he’d witnessed the light. In 1971, the gardener, Richard Barlow was returning home with his wife and saw the light in the window. He fetched Don and they went to investigate. The Hall was empty and the electricity was off at the mains. Don saw the light again in 1974. The half roof is haunted by a white lady. She hasn’t been for many years, possibly since the ’70s. Though like the dodgy hairstyles and dodgier fashion, she’s sure to make a comeback. A newspaper story in 1975, the then curator, Cyril Halton said even though he’d been employed there for many years, he’d never seen the white lady. Directly below the half roof is the Prospect room. This was the bedroom of Lady Jane Middleton, who was paralysed following a fall and later died in the room. We asked our guide, Dave if he’d ever experienced anything paranormal. He said “we all think we hear voices don’t we?” We were the only people on the tour, which was wonderful. We loved the Prospect room. It had a really nice atmosphere to it. There were boards there with photos from when Batman was filmed. It was fascinating seeing how they’d changed things.
We then went up onto the half roof. During WWII, soldiers on fire watch were too scared to come out onto the half roof because of the white lady. We found this funny. They were in the middle of a war, with constant threats of being bombed, yet a ghost scared them? Dave told us there was a statue of Charles I, which was built after he visited. Us “we’ve visited now, are they going to build one of us?” Dave pointed out niches in the tower where our statues could go, terrifying generations to come.
While we waited for the next tour, we explored the old stable blocks. We all imagined ourselves as ladies of the manor, galloping around the grounds on horses and hiring stable boys based on aesthetics and not their ability with horses. ‘You set a bale of hay on fire? Don’t you worry your pretty little face about it. You have other talents.’ ‘Now take your shirt off and get shovelling.’ People had their dogs with them, off the leads. We couldn’t help eyeing them enviously. No way could Bandit be trusted at a manor house off the lead. He’d be thieving from people, running off and leaping in the lake. Coincidentally, our mum then posted a facebook status about Bandit leaping in a pond five times.
We returned inside for the next tour, which was the Tudor kitchens and the caves, where the Admiral’s Bath is. Admiral Sir Nesbit Josiah Willoughby of Aspley Hall bathed there, apparently. Dave brought us over a photo he’d taken during a previous tour. In the corner of the photo is what looks like a ghostly face. It’s really cool. We were joined by 5 people for this tour. We were taken in to what used to be a study. Sadly, none of the books in the bookcases opened a secret passageway. We tried. Seriously, we did, selecting books that seemed out of place on particular shelves. Gutted. Yet again, films have lied to us. Dave pointed out a trapdoor which led to an area under the floor where important papers were kept. We asked if ‘important’ meant ‘title deeds’. He said yes. We eyed the trapdoor. Suddenly we had plans for tonight. The Tudor kitchens were really cool. Apparently, back when they were in use, only men were hired in the kitchens. We couldn’t help wondering if the lady of the manor had adopted the same attitude as us when hiring staff.
Then we headed down to the caves. There was a doorway to the Admiral’s Bath that even we had to duck to get through. We debated the possibility of tunnelling our way up into the manor house from the caves at night. Tunnel plots always go well in history.
We loved Wollaton Hall and highly recommend doing both tours. It made a massive difference to our visit. Plus we enjoyed going through secret doors while other tourists looked on jealously. Not for you, peasants. And it meant we got to visit the haunted areas of the Hall. And now we know all the secret layouts…
We concluded our ghost hunting weekend with a trip to…Ikea. Lesley needed bookshelves. Then we went to Nandos where we were finally able to eat food that was not chocolate biscuits or gummy bears. On our way home, Helen panicked when we pulled into Hopwood services. We always seem to stop at Hopwood. Helen kept trying to make us go out, convinced we’d taken a wrong turn and were lost. Helen “slight right, slight right.” Calm down, Helen, we needed a wee. And you’re the one who keeps getting us lost. We have already planned our next ghost hunting weekend with Lesley – Stratford Upon Avon and Warwick castle. Haunted Shakespeare. Ghosts to be or not to be, that is the question.