A DECENT NIGHT'S UNREST
St Briavels Castle is a magnet for ghost hunters, and few who cross its threshold in search of ghostly encounters leave disappointed.
Indeed, such is its reputation for otherworldly happenings that it has been dubbed the most haunted castle in England.
The castle was begun in 1131 by Milo Fitz Walter, Earl of Hereford, to "curb the incursions of the Welsh."
It was Milo who established one of the castle’s oldest traditions, that of the ‘St Briavels Bread and Cheese Dole.’ Each Whit Sunday, locals dressed in medieval costume gather outside St Briavels Castle to catch bread and cheese that is tossed from its walls.
Originally a ‘Dole Claimer’ was one who had paid a penny to the Earl of Hereford for the right to gather firewood from nearby Hudnalls Wood. Some believe that these titbits are imbued with magical properties – local miners, for example, thought they could protect them against accidents – and, therefore, preserve them for good luck.
On Christmas Day 1143 Milo was killed by a stray arrow whilst hunting and St Briavels Castle passed to his son.
Over succeeding centuries, the castle became the administrative centre for the Royal Forest of Dean and the residence of the Royal Constable.
It was visited by several kings, most notably King John (1167 – 1216) who used it as a hunting lodge, and who is today commemorated by the Solar being named King John’s Bedroom in his honour. This room was later used as a courtroom, and notches on the stone of its huge fire place are reputedly the result of it being struck with a sword whenever someone was sentenced to death
Those awaiting sentence, and those who had been sentenced, would be kept in the prison room situated in the gatehouse.
Many who enter this room today comment on its decidedly "strange" atmosphere, their feelings of unease no doubt compounded by its walls being adorned with graffiti carved into them by long ago prisoners. 'Robin Belcher. The Day will come that thou shalt answer for it for thou hast sworn against me, 1671,' reads one intriguing example.
Since 1947, St Briavels Castle has been one of Britain’s most unique Youth Hostels where seekers of rural solitude can bed down for a restful night.
Meanwhile, those who come in search of more ethereal pursuits can most certainly look forward to a decent night’s unrest.
King John’s Bedroom is home to one of the castle’s most persistent ghosts, an unseen baby whose pitiful cries frequently disturb the slumbers of those sleeping in it.
In the Hanging Room, so called because it was where prisoners who had been sentenced to death were brought to await their fate, the psychically inclined often experience the terrifying sensation of been gripped by the throat.
In the Oubliette Room a rug conceals one of the castle’s most chilling secrets. Pulling it back, and lifting a wooden trap door, you find yourself looking down into a sinister oubliette - a small dungeon, the name of which is derived from the French word oublier meaning ‘forget’ – into which unfortunate captives would be cast and left to die.
Visitors to the room have felt their clothes being tugged at by unseen hands, whilst guests sleeping in here have been known to suddenly depart in the middle of the night unable to stand its oppressive feel any longer.
Other spirits that lurk at the castle include a black dog that trots around the rooms; a grey lady who glides along the top corridor; and a knight in burnished armour who appears in the grounds.
History has most certainly left its mark on the time-wearied walls of St Briavels Castle, and tales of its ghostly goings-on help illuminate dark corners of its brutal and eventful past. It is a place of creaking floorboards where the past and present co-exist and occasionally merge with truly alarming results.