The Ghosts of Lydford
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If you believe everything you read then Lydford must be one of the most haunted places on Dartmoor. Spend a night there and it is possible to see why. True to an old moorland village, Lydford has not been ruined by the intrusion of street lighting. On a clear night you can see the star laden heavens in all their glory. If the mist is down you will see a murky darkness that is only pierced by the occasional beam of torchlight as some villager scurries home. It is on these occasions that the spirits of the departed tread the the night-world of mortals. The first thing to remember about Lydford is that it dates back to Anglo Saxon times. As you walk down the main street you are strolling along what would have been the main thoroughfare of the Saxon burgh. Lydford can boast two castles, the site of a Norman stronghold and the standing structure of a castle dating back to Medieval times. The term 'castle' is somewhat misleading because for most of its life the edifice served as a prison.
Lydford Castle - P. H. Rogers - 1826
Is it such a wonder that such a heinous place is haunted? The number of poor souls that suffered within its walls would be numerous. The first ghostly apparition that you may meet is that of a black spectral pig. This abomination is said to snuffle and snort around the village and is thought to be the ghost of the famous hanging judge - George Jefferies. The second phantom takes the form of a dark, misty outline of a man who haunts the fern clad dungeons deep in the recesses of the castle. Another animal ghost that has been seen in the castle is that of a bear or something that resembled one. It was seen to walk along and disappear through a stone archway, leaving an icy chill in its wake.
Adjacent to the grim castle is amazingly the Castle Inn, the old hostelry has stood on this site for centuries as parts of the structure will testify. Supposedly the original building served as the gaolers quarters and one of them is meant to still pay the occasional visit. Described as being a "broad muscular," man who is attired in "workman's clothing." His perambulations take him from room 6 and along the creaky corridor where he then departs the building. Other ghostly activities at the inn include an opaque mist that suddenly forms and then wafts around before disappearing. Some photographs that having been taken inside the building show strange blobs and blurs that show up only after developing.
On the edge of the village tucked neatly into the corner of a field is a lowish mound which is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as a tumulus. This part of the settlement is known as 'Gallows Hill' and was reported to have been the site of execution for those poor souls sentenced at the prison. On still, dark, nights, moans and wails are said to emanate from the area and be the dying moments of those swinging at the end of a rope.
Roughly three quarters of a mile from the village is the famous Lydford Gorge where the river Lyd cascades through the steep granite ravine. As with any place that has fast flowing waters there are going to be fatalities. The occasional ones lead to a haunting and here is no exception for the ghost of 'Old Kitty' or 'The Red Lady' has been seen by a pool known as Kit Steps. Her she lurks around the water's edge and stares into the cascading river. People that have seen the ghost describe her as variously wearing a red, kerchief or shawl.
The nearest Judge George Jefferies ever got to Lydford was Exeter so why would his ghost want to haunt the castle?
On numerous occasions I have stayed at the Castle Inn, sometimes even in room 6 and I can confirm that many strange events have occurred on my visits. I too have seen misty cloud-like forms suddenly appear and icy cold temperatures unexpectedly descend. There have been times when items in the bedroom have mysteriously moved, once the wardrobe door slowly swung open of its own accord.
One co-incidence I have noticed is that every supernatural experience has followed many, many pints of Guinness and usually a bottle of Merlot all culminating in a secret visit from the 'Tavistock Badger'.
With regard to the Ghost of the gaoler appearing in what were his quarters, this seems highly unlikely as when the castle was being used as a prison it consisted of two floors, the lower was the prisoners quarters and the upper has been considered as the keeper/gaolers quarters. Saunders, 1980, pP.162-4, states that: "Room VIII on the same floor (second) also has a garderobe and the evidence for the partition wall could indicate that this served as the keeper's quarters."
Lydford Castle - 2005.
Saunders, A.D. 1980 Lydford Castle, Devon, Medieval Archaeology, No24