Bolsover Castle Rated English Heritage's Spookiest Site by Staff

  • Staff survey reveals the charity’s top 10 spookiest sites across England

Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire has topped the list of English Heritage’s ten spookiest sites, as voted for by members of staff across the charity’s 400 plus castles and abbeys, historic houses and palaces.

From opening up these sites in the early, sometimes eerie hours of the morning to closing them in the dead of night, English Heritage site staff are uniquely attuned to the sometimes strange and spooky atmosphere of their properties, from creaking doors to unexplained noises to even finding objects inexplicably moved. Immersed too in the history of their sites, the team are keenly aware of both the legends of ghosts and stories of hauntings associated with certain properties.

Ahead of Halloween and its programme of After Dark events, English Heritage asked its 1,800 staff to rate their individual sites on a special spooky scale. Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire - built on an ancient burial ground and overlooking a town once described as "the Satanic capital of Britain" - topped the poll. The extraordinary 17th century aristocratic retreat has long had a haunting reputation for the unexplained. Staff reported mysterious footsteps and muffled voices, slamming doors, cold sensations, and even being pushed. Night security guards have been alarmed by unexplained lights while a little boy has been seen holding the hands of visitors as they walk about the site, his living companions unaware that he is at their side. When locking up late one night, one member of staff heard a scream which got louder and louder as she walked away from the castle, only for her to rush back and find no one there.

Lucy Hutchings, Regional Director at English Heritage, said: "Our sites are soaked in history and from bloody battles to dark deeds, not all of their stories are sweetness and light. Our castles and palaces, especially on these Halloween nights, can be eerie places and some of our team have seen and heard things they can't easily explain. With Halloween fast approaching, who better then to decide which site is the spookiest of them all than those people who are there from dawn to dusk, who know the sites' history and its ghostly legends inside out?

"Bolsover Castle, the magnificent former home of William Cavendish, definitely has a dark side. Over the years staff have reported time and again unexplained occurrences of objects moving, orbs of light, pinches and some have been told by visitors that they have seen William himself, wandering the lonely corridors. It's no wonder that it has been voted English Heritage's spookiest site."

Coming in a close second in the English Heritage spooky site survey was Warwickshire’s Kenilworth Castle, a remarkable red-brick medieval fortress converted into an Elizabethan palace in 1563 after it was granted to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I. Staff have reported seeing several ghostly figures at this 900-year-old castle including a young boy running across the top of the stables where the hayloft would have been and a mysterious disappearing woman. The distinct smell of pipe smoke has often been smelt in doorways around the castle, running steps have been heard coming down the wooden staircase, and the antique cot in the Elizabethan bedroom has been seen rocking by itself.

From an Elizabethan artillery fortress to a king’s prison and a royal summer residence, placing third in the spooky survey was the Isle of Wight’s Carisbrooke Castle. The deep well at Carisbrooke is perhaps one of the Isle of Wight’s most tragic locations – the watery grave of Elizabeth Ruffin, a young girl who tragically drowned there many years ago. It has been said by staff that on occasion they thought her pale disembodied face could be seen peering up towards the light. Other mysterious figures reputed to have been seen wandering along the castle walls are the ‘Grey Lady’, a phantom wearing a long cloak and accompanied by four dogs, and Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Charles I, who died whilst imprisoned at Carisbrooke.


1. Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire
Bolsover is one of the most widely reported haunted sites in the care of English Heritage. Members of staff and visitors often report being pushed, having doors slammed on them and finding objects inexplicably moved. Night security guards have been alarmed by unexplained lights and movement in the empty property, and two workmen were terrified when they saw a woman disappear through a wall. A member of staff who once locked up the property reported hearing a scream which got louder and louder as she walked away from the castle, only for her to rush back and find no one there.

2. Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
Staff have reported peculiar happenings in the gatehouse – things missing or moved once the castle has been closed to visitors, and the antique cot in the adjoining room rocking by itself. A night watchman reported that, while patrolling the grounds one evening, he witnessed a ghostly figure walk through his colleague, who went cold as it happened.

3. Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight
When opening up the drum towers in the morning, staff have reported that the faint but detectable sound of children’s laughter has often be heard, and that each time they enter a new room the laughter moves to the previous room entered. The children have never shown themselves but some nights staff wish them a good night.

4. Pendennis Castle, Cornwall
Pendennis Castle was built by Henry VIII to protect the Carrick Roads from invasion by France and Spain. In 1646 the castle was the site of a siege and Royalists were trapped inside for six months, forced to eat their horses and dogs for survival before eventually surrendering. The piercing screams of a kitchen maid who fell to her death whilst carrying food have been heard by visitors, as well as strange footsteps on a staircase that no longer leads anywhere.

5. Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire
Perched high on a cliff, it's easy to see why the haunting remains of Whitby Abbey were inspiration for Bram Stoker's gothic tale of 'Dracula' and why there are so many strange tales of ‘hauntings’. Staff have felt unexplained cold draughts in the middle of staircases, stock flying off the shelves and strange taps on the shoulder seemingly from no one.

6. Beeston Castle and Woodland Park, Cheshire
Staff at Beeston Castle have reported seeing a shadowy figure standing by the inner ward gates, lights flickering on and off and hearing knocking on the walls. The caves have drawn some particularly odd stories with visitors claiming to have seen light in their depths and a woman on a rocking chair barring them entry.

7. Dover Castle, Kent
Dover has sheltered many thousands of lives within its walls over its long history. In the great tower, the lower half of a man’s body was seen by two members of staff in the doorway to the King’s chamber. Another staff member, while cleaning the basement, saw the figure of a Cavalier, and another has seen the figure of a woman in a red dress on the stairs and along the mural gallery.

8. Framlingham Castle, Suffolk
At the former home and fortress of ‘bloody’ Mary Tudor, staff have seen the figure of a man in 17th-century dress and a mysterious dark figure with a white face following them across the site. Outside what was the Workhouse ‘Naughty Cupboard’, a bell has been heard ringing, similar sounding to the hand bell that would have been used when the building was a functioning Workhouse.

9. Clifford’s Tower, North Yorkshire
Clifford’s Tower is almost all that remains of York Castle built by William the Conqueror, and has served as a prison and a royal mint in its time. Staff have reported strange banging coming from ceilings, mysterious footsteps and the sound of children running in the courtyard when the site has been closed. Doors have swung open by themselves and once a dog barked so furiously at an empty corner in the chapel that the poor creature had to be taken outside to calm down.

10.  Home of Charles Darwin – Down House, Kent
Even the former home of renowned scientist Charles Darwin has not been immune to strange goings on. A staff member has reported that when entering the study once and brushing past Darwin’s desk to close the shutters, a quill that lay on the desk suddenly stared spinning and wouldn’t cease until she left the room.

English Heritage After Dark Events 2017
Feeling brave this Halloween? Come along to one of our spooky castles or eerie houses for the fright of your life. Explore our historic sites after hours to discover spine-tingling tales of ghostly apparitions, dastardly deeds and ghoulish goings-on.



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