Windsor Castle is the oldest inhabited castle in Europe. Dominating the town from which it takes its name the castle itself has been the scene of many hauntings but on the walk I’m following, I’m looking at hauntings around the town rather than at the castle.
I start my walk at Queen Victoria’s statue on Castle Hill. The statue was erected here in 1887 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Victoria’s accession to the throne. Rumour has it that the Queen made numerous attempts to contact the spirit of her dead husband, Albert, using her companion John Brown as medium.
Walking away from the statue I walk up Castle Hill to the Castle gates at the top. This is the main visitors entrance to Windsor Castle. It was here in April 1906 when a entry who was on duty became suspicious of a group of men who seemed to come from nowhere and were walking towards him. As they approached he challenged them but they continued to walk towards him taking no notice of him. After another challenge was ignored, he cocked his rifle and fired at the group leader, the group unfazed continued their approach. The guardsman, by now frantic, raised his bayonet and prepared to charge, suddenly the entire group disappeared. After reporting his experience to his commanding officer a full scale search of the castle and grounds was started, but no intruders were ever found.
I double back on myself along Castle Hill and take the second left into Church Street. This pretty cobblestoned street is made up of buildings from various different eras. A short walk down on the left is Nell Gwyn’s House. Reputedly once the home to Charles II’s most famous mistress the house dates back to 1640. Sometimes her ghost is heard, but never seen, wandering about the premises.
The building next to Nell Gwyn’s House was built in 1626 and is said to be one of the oldest inns in Windsor. It is in this very place in 1648 that Parliamentarian Officers met to decide that King Charles I “should be prosecuted for his life as a criminal person”. If you look on the outside of the building you’ll see a reproduction of the signed death warrant.
I carry on walking down until I turn right on to Church Lane where on the left is a restaurant with a marking claiming it was built in 1423. Little has happened here in recent years but when it was home to the Engine House Restaurant in the 1980’s staff reported a ghostly figure that had appeared wearing a stiff white collar, a hat like a Quaker, had long flowing hair and a beard. Without saying a word the ghost just appeared and just as quickly vanished. There were also reports that staff often heard someone moving about upstairs. The strangest thing however, was the large male footprint that would often appear in the bath, even though no men were either living in or working in the premises at that time.
I double back on myself and go back along Church Lane then take a right into St Alban’s Street. As I walk along on the right hand side I spot the dark and eerie churchyard of the Parish Church of St John. As I keep going on the left is the forecourt of The Royal Mews, where several of the Royal Coaches are kept. I keep going straight ahead into Park Street, this was once the beginning of the main Windsor to London road. The street is lined with mostly 18th century houses.
Quite away along on the right I come across Black Horse Yard, named after an old inn that once stood on this site. Legend has it that, at night, a ghostly coach comes galloping from this dark passageway. Drawn by two huge black horses, it turns sharply right and speeds off towards the gates of Windsor Park, where it disappears slowly into the darkness. It is said to contain the ghost of one of the royal physicians who raced to treat the dying King Charles II. Apparently, the apparition is supposed to appear just before the death of a monarch, although its last manifestation was in 1910, just before the last illness of Edward VII.
I continue along Park Street until I reach and go through the Cambridge Gate into Windsor Park. On the left is a locked gate where you get the most stunning view of Windsor Castle. Turn around and you have the stunning Long Walk in front of you, a beautiful place at any time of the year.
In 1927 a young sentry on guard duty shot himself through the head in the early hours of the morning. Weeks later, a colleague of his named Sergeant Leake was given the Long Walk as his sentry duty. Towards the end of a fairly normal shift, Leake was glad to hear the approaching footsteps of what he assumed to be his relief. Instead he found himself looking at the sad face of the young suicide. As he stood staring in disbelief, the genuine relief guardsman marched into view and the apparition vanished. As he relayed the story back at his barracks he was informed others had seen the ghost too.
I follow the Long Walk and look out at Windsor Park, 4800 acres of which was once the fringe of Windsor Forest. The forest was a favourite hunting ground to successive monarchs and also the tale of one of Windsor’s most famous hauntings. The story of Herne the Hunter.
According to legend, Herne was a huntsman during the reign of Richard II (1377 – 1399) who saved the King from being mauled by a stag by throwing himself into the animals path. It almost cost him his life. But, as he lay fatally wounded on the ground an old man, came from the depths of Windsor Forest claiming that, if Richard willed it, he could save Herne’s life by magical means. The King ordered the stranger to do what he could and promised that, should Herne recover, he would make him head huntsman. The hunting party then watched as the old man bound a pair of stags’ antlers onto their injured friends head and carried him off into the depths of the forest.
Herne’s fellow huntsman didn’t like the prospect of his upcoming promotion and so they rode into Windsor Forest and found the old man’s abode where they threatened to kill him should their comrade survive. He told them there was nothing he could do to halt the magic, but promised that although Herne would get well he would not hold the head huntsman position for long. As they mounted their horses to leave, the old man stepped in front of them and warned them that, in wishing ill on Herne they would bring his curse upon themselves.
In time Herne made a full recovery, and just as the King had promised, he was made head huntsman. But he had lost all his skill and proved so bad at locating good sport for his royal master that he was soon dismissed from service and, in despair, hanged himself from the branch of an oak tree in Windsor Forest. His fellow huntsman fared little better as, one by one, they too met with mysterious and violent deaths.
On certain dark and stormy nights, the spectral band of hunters, led by Herne himself, are said to gallop through Windsor Great Park, preceded by a pack of baying hounds, where there appearance is said to always presage a national misfortune or calamity. And Herne himself, was said to appear hanging from the branches of his oak, until that is, it was cut down during the reign of George III.
As I continue the gate I want is across the grass on my right hand side. Just here on more than one occasion those walking this way late at night have suddenly become aware of a man wearing a black cape and tall hat who stands watching them. He stares, unblinkingly, fixing them with a steely, sinister gaze before turning and fading slowly into the darkness.
As I leave the park by the small gate I make my way along Brook Street until I reach the end where I turn right on to Sheet Street. Quite a way up on the right hand side is Hadleigh House. This house dates from the late 18th century and is one of Windsor’s finest Georgian buildings. Footsteps are often heard pacing up and down the staircase, loud, violent knocking noises sound from behind the walls all over the house, and one particular room is said to have a very unfriendly atmosphere.
One story, that came from a former owner, tells of the morning she came downstairs and couldn’t get into the living room. A carpenter was called and he managed to gain access and found that, during the night, someone had locked the living room door from the inside.
Continuing along Sheet Street I keep to the left side. As it swings to the left on to High Street I follow it and keep walking until I come upon the Guildhall on the right. Built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1687, this beautiful building was only initially planned to have a set of outer pillars, this he was convinced would be sufficient to support the upper floors. The town council were not however convinced and insisted on the central pillars. Wren eventually agreed, but if you look closely he left a small gap between the pillars and the roof so that they would never bear any load.
Walk through the pillars to the other side of the Guildhall and you’ll see a charming old building which leans at a strange angel. It is freestanding and the lack of other buildings to offer support has produced this quirky slant.
Inside, near to the fireplace, there is a cold spot that people often notice. In December 1997, a medium told the owners that she could see a little old lady with grey hair stooping over the fireplace at the exact spot where the coldness occurs.
As I walk along the High Street I follow the walls of Windsor Castle until on the left I see the Theatre Royal. The original 19th century building was destroyed by fire in 1908, and a young girl known only as Charlotte burned to death. Charlotte has frequently been seen inside the current theatre, which was built to replace the one that burned down.
I follow the High Street as it continues to the left, away from the castle, it then becomes Thames Street. Cross over Datchet Road and continue along Thames Street, where on the left is the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel. There is no evidence that the great man designed or ever lived in the building but it certainly was built in that period. For much of the 18th century it was owned by a local family called Cheshire, whose tenure here was marked by a run of extreme bad luck. Members of the household would fall seriously ill with disease from foreign lands that they’d never visited. A daughter of the house had an illegitimate child who died in infancy, causing her to suffer a nervous breakdown. Her father nearly died from a serious bout of food poisoning that the town gossip maintained was caused by a dose of poison administered by his mad daughter. Eventually his fortunes took a turn for the worse and he was forced to sell the building.
From the moment his family moved out their bad luck ended. But it seemed anyone who came to live here suffered similar bad luck. The house soon gained a reputation of being cursed and as such remained empty for much of the 19th and on into the 20th century, when it was bought by two elderly sisters who turned it into a hotel. Although they suffered no ill effects, one female guest woke up in the early hours of one morning to see a tall figure standing in the darkened room by a chest of drawers. She watched as the figure crossed the room towards the bathroom and abruptly vanished. Today the buildings curses and hauntings seem to be a thing of the past.
I keep walking and cross over the bridge into the town of Eton, I turn left into Brocas Street where I find the Waterman’s Arms. The area s uffered badly during the Great Plague of 1665 and the cellar of the Waterman’s Arms was commandeered as a local mortuary. The pub suffers from frequent knocking noises from behind the walls and a small boy with long hair has appeared in one of the bedrooms to sit on the end of the bed.
I backtrack along Brocas Street and turn left on to Eton High Street. As I walk along on my right is an old 15th century building. This was once the setting for the barbaric sport of cock fighting. The original cock pit still exists behind the building and is one of the few remaining in England. This building is haunted by a little old lady who flits around as though looking for some lost article. Her manor is unobtrusive, even apologetic, and successive owners have just left her to her own devices.
I decide to continue to the end of Eton High Street where I find the famous college and its beautiful buildings. I take a little wander around the buildings before heading back into Windsor for a well deserved coffee.
You can see more pictures of Windsor & Eton on my Pinterest page www.pinterest.com/mrbelltravels