I went with my husband John, our son Paul and his girlfriend Jan to visit Berry Pomeroy near Totnes. For several months we had been interested in the place and had read about the psychic phenomena which are reputed to have been witnessed in and around the castle which is said to be the most haunted one in England. It is intersected by ley lines which may have something to do with it.
The castle dates from the 15th and 16th centuries but the site has probably been occupied since the 11th century when Ralph de la Pomerai received the manor of Beri from William the Conqueror as a reward for his services at the Battle of Hastings. The Pomeroys, as their name became, held the manor until 1548, then it was sold to Edward Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour who was the third wife of King Henry VIII. He became the first Duke of Somerset and was Lord Protector during the brief reign of the boy king Edward VI. He planned and began to build a new wing of state rooms at the castle. After his execution in 1552 the castle passed to his son Lord Edward Seymour who with his son, spent large sums of money continuing the building which was never finished. The castle was abandoned by the family and by 1730 had become a ruin. The castle still belongs to a Seymour - the 19th Duke of Somerset.
Many strange tales have grown up around the castle, of apparitions, freezing air, shadows of unseen objects, feelings of fear, lights and unexplained sounds, so it was with great curiosity that we drove into the leafy grounds of the castle and parked the car. We went for a pleasant woodland walk with our two dogs where a steep slope lay below one side of our path. On our return we left the dogs in the car then Paul, Jan and I walked towards the castle whilst my husband John took some photographs and kept his eye on the dogs.
A Gatehouse with two towers, a curtain wall with a small round tower at the end and the remains of a large three storied medieval mansion rose in front of us. We entered the Courtyard through the Gatehouse then walked along the Rampart to the small tower called Margaret's Tower which fascinated us as it is haunted by the ghost of Lady Margaret Pomeroy. She had been imprisoned there by her jealous sister Lady Eleanor as both sisters had loved the same man. Inside the tower we went down a steep spiral staircase to a dark damp chamber, a dungeon in which small slit-like gun loops let in some light. The ground was wet and it seemed a very eery place. On a dark night it would be positively macabre.
The ghost of Lady Margaret, known as the White Lady because she is dressed all in white, has been seen to leave the tower and walk along the Rampart Walk. Among the many reports of her appearance is one of a terrifying experience which a man had one night in 1987. For months he had spent nights visiting the castle in the hope of seeing something then one night he entered the castle, walked along the Rampart to Margaret's Tower where he descended the spiral staircase to the dungeon. It was completely dark then a brilliant light appeared, illuminating the chamber and the White Lady appeared in front of him. He was so frightened that he ran up the stairs and out of the castle as fast as he could, and nothing will make him visit the castle again.
In other parts of the castle we saw fireplaces stranded where other floors had once been, and we peered into one fireplace at ground level where we saw the sky a great distance away.
Many jackdaws were flying around the ruined walls and uttering their harsh "chak chak". The walls were draped with the plants of Ivy-leaved toadflax, Herb Robert and small ferns which had found a scanty lodging in crevices in the ancient stone.
Whilst standing in the former kitchen and looking up past the towering walls to the sky we noticed that the clouds were moving very fast overhead. Both Jan and I had a strange feeling that time was passing unnaturally quickly outside but in the castle we were caught in a time warp. It was almost as though we were disconnected with the outside world.
A ghost with an evil reputation is that of the Blue Lady whose appearance is a portent of death, not necessarily of the person who sees her. She is supposed to be the daughter of one of the barons of Berry Pomeroy and had given birth to a child sired by her own father and whom she strangled.
She has been known to beckon a man from the summit of a lofty wall and when he tried to reach her thinking that she would fall, the masonry gave way and he almost fell headlong to a great depth. Luckily, he managed to cling to a ledge and was eventually rescued. When he mentioned the lovely woman he had tried to save he was told that she was not a real person but a phantom.
The presence of another evil ghost was felt by a group of people who were ghost watching at the castle one night in 1983 and as a result they were all in a state of terror. Later when one of them used an ouija board in his home the ghost came through and answered some questions. She said that her name was Isabella and that she was nine years old. She then appeared with an evil grin on her face and caused much panic, going from one person to another to taunt them and to frighten them.
The south face of Berry Pomeroy Castle, showing Margaret's Tower on the right.
Photograph by P.Vigay
They contacted her for nine months through the ouija board and found out who she was and how she had lived. She had been born a Pomeroy but was illegitimate and had spent all her time within the castle walls. She had been well cared for and had the best of food and clothes. One evening she entered the kitchen and saw her mother, who was a maid, about to be raped surrounded by drunken men who had gone there to gorge on food and wine after a successful day's hunt. She tried to drag her away but one of the men hit the girl and she fell head first on the stone floor dying instantly. At first she did not know that she was dead. She tried again to save her mother but when she tried to pull her mother's arm her hands kept going through her mother's hands and body. She made many attempts but all in vain. She saw her mother raped repeatedly and slowly she realised that she herself was dead. For over five hundred years she was tortured mentally by the horror of that night and she remained earth-bound and in a negative state. Circumstances had turned an innocent little girl into a ghostly monster. Gradually after the nine months of contact in a family environment she was introduced to a greater more positive spirit from a higher plane and she was reunited with her mother. She is at last free of Berry Pomeroy. Later it was discovered that there were another twenty-six negative spirits in and around the castle.
The sky was blue and the sun was bright making the castle ruins seem peaceful and innocent and I didn't feel at all uneasy. (I even went into the dungeon of Margaret's Tower again on my own). The reports of spine-chilling experiences mean that the castle can invoke other feelings. With this thought we left the castle meaning to return on another day.
Two days later we were at Berry Pomeroy castle again. This time I took our dogs Sally and Dusty close to the haunted Margaret's Tower to see their reaction. It has been found that dogs often refuse to go near but our dogs could not get close enough and tried to get through the narrow openings of the gun loops. Either our dogs do not possess the reputed sixth sense or the ghost was away for the day !
Paul wandered around by the walls with his gadget which records electrical energy to see if he could get a reading. The tall trees nearby shook in sudden gusts of wind and I felt very cold although the sun was shining and I had felt quite comfortable until I had arrived at the castle.
We spoke to a man who was photographing the tower and who was curious to know what Paul was doing. The man was a photography teacher from a nearby college and had brought a group of students to practice their skills. One of the boys later told us that he had seen a shadow move out into the sunlight from the deep shade of the Gatehouse, and one of the girl students said that she had felt a tingling in her hand when she touched a fireplace in the castle kitchen.
This time John entered the castle with Paul whilst Jan and I, with the dogs, sat in the forecourt of the nearby tea house. We met the teacher again and spoke to him. He said that he often visits the castle. In spite of it having an evil and frightening reputation he likes it and it doesn't give him any bad feelings, although his dog has refused to go near Margaret's Tower. He told us that he had known one of the builders who had worked on restoration of the castle for about five years. This man had had many ghostly experiences and had witnessed a manifestation of one kind or another nearly every day. Apparently, the present builders continuing with the restoration have seen nothing. Many of the manifestations take place during the day.
Some people have had films come out blank or their cameras have jammed. Sometimes ghosts have appeared on film even though none were seen at the time. When I.T.V. cameramen came to take shots of the castle at night for a documentary all their cameras jammed. This happened again the following night after the cameras had been checked and were working properly. On the third night the floodlighting would not function so the filming never took place. Car engines have also failed in the vicinity of the castle.
I asked the woman in charge of the teahouse if she had experienced anything ghostly, to which she replied that once when she was in the shop alone she had felt a hand placed on her shoulder yet there was no one else there. Another time her husband was opening the shop early in the morning when a shadow passed across the door, but again there was no one there.
Jan and I stared at the Gatehouse seeing John and Paul wandering around beyond. The castle is a fascinating ruin and we felt we had to keep gazing at it, our eyes inevitably focussing on the small Margaret's Tower with its dark secrets.
Eventually John and Paul re-joined us, Paul saying that his gadget had recorded slightly less than normal electrical energy in Margaret's Tower where the White Lady is said to roam.
After having had a snack and drinks at the tea house we took the dogs for a walk along a wooded path which joined a narrow road which led round the castle's eastern and northern sides. From here can be seen a dramatic view of the castle ruins on top of a high wooded precipice. It was here that two Medieval horsemen, who were Pomeroy brothers, were supposed to have leapt with their steeds to their death so as not to surrender to their foe who was besieging the castle. The ghostly sounds of galloping hooves and cries have been heard.
Further on we came to the castle mill house beside a stream and I thought of an account I had read of two women out for a drive who apparently went back in time and they saw the mill house and its surroundings as it once had been, with a girl in peasant dress sitting on a wall.
Retracing our steps we went back to the car and drove away from Berry Pomeroy. Noticing some fields of young green corn I was reminded that crop circles have appeared there in recent years and are more prolific than in other parts of Devon.
Besides ghosts and crop circles there is another inexplicable thing in the area - an ancient stone which is connected with a legend. It is named the Brutus Stone and is set into the pavement near the East gate in the main street of Totnes.
In his History the 12th century historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, tells of Brutus who was a great-grandson of the Trojan Prince Aeneas. Brutus captured the King of the Greeks and forced him to set the enslaved Trojans free and to provide a fleet of ships for their departure. He embarked on a long voyage, seeking a permanent home for himself and his people. Eventually he arrived at Totnes on the island of Albion (Britain) which was inhabited only by a few non-human giants, such as Gogmagog, etc. After disposing of them Brutus peopled the land with Trojans and re-named it 'Britain' after himself.
What can we make of the non-human giants? This is a mystery that cannot be solved. Were they some kind of alien beings as has been suggested of the goblins and elves of folklore ?
Geoffrey of Monmouth was not a reliable historian. He coloured his facts to embellish a story and it is thought that he invented the legend, or most of it, to give a boost to the ancestry of the Britains. What gave him the idea of the giants? The saying 'There is no smoke without fire' makes me wonder.
Berry Pomeroy and the surrounding area is one of great interest and beauty, and to the seeker of unexplained phenomena, one certainly worth visiting.