Into the night, Windsor Ghost Tour
PUBLISHED: 16:06 14 March 2011 | UPDATED: 12:08 08 October 2015
Fancy a night out in Windsor? How about taking to the streets for a ghost walk? Karen Bowerman stepped out after dark to discover the other side of this historic, riverside town...
Windsor Ghost Tour
Fancy a night out in Windsor? How about taking to the streets for a ghost walk? Karen Bowerman stepped out after dark to discover the other side of this historic, riverside town…
He points it out, the black smear, high on the stone walls. I’d like to think it’s a particularly dark shadow or a trick of the light that will vanish as we pass by. But it remains, like the stain on Lady Macbeth’s hands, from whatever angle we view it.
We’re staring at Curfew Tower, built in 1229 as part of the original defences for Windsor castle in Berkshire. Nowadays it’s home to eight bells which are rung on royal birthdays. But in the 16th century it housed a gibbet where corpses were left, dangling over the ramparts, as a reminder to townsfolk to behave. Their entrails splattered the walls.
Our guide, Pete Hamill, tells us this simply and undramatically. His matter of fact manner seems to make the revelation even more gruesome. He goes on to recount the story of a butcher, Mark Fenwolf, who in 1536, his tongue loosened by drink, spoke ill of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s favourite wife.
The King’s guard who happened to be enjoying a drink in the same ale house overheard him. The next thing Fenwolf knew he was being dragged in front of the monarch. Legend has it Henry VIII shouted, “You’re a butcher, so how about I butcher you?”
As you might have guessed Fenwolf met his end off Curfew tower. He died, after having parts of his intestine rearranged, overlooking his butcher’s shop – now the site of Macdonald’s.
The fate of Mark Fenwolf isn’t the most endearing story I’ve heard about Windsor but it’s certainly one I’ll remember - and you can’t expect anything too rosy if you’ve signed up for a tour based on gore and murderous happenings…
I’m on Windsor’s new Ghost Walk which winds through the cobbled back streets of Windsor as dusk begins to fall. But this isn’t your typical after-dark experience - there’s no jumping out or howling from the shadows. Pete says he “doesn’t do dramatics” preferring instead to focus on the stories. It’s a bold approach, but one that seems to work, thanks to his informal style and amazing knowledge.
Our tour began outside the Horse and Groom pub, where, as people brushed past to get a quick pint, Pete took out a ukulele and began playing an 18th century pagan tune. At this point, I have to admit I did wonder what I’d let myself in for. I also felt a little self-conscious as we wandered about, shining our torches on various doorways and crossing roads at specific points (following “routes” ghosts are believed to use).
But when we’d left the pubs and bars of the High Street behind and the surroundings got quieter and the night darker, the walk became quite an intimate and took on the feel of a conversational stroll more than a guided tour.
Pete told of ghosts and witches of old as well as present day “happenings”: of the shop storeroom that untidies itself (Edinburgh Woollen Mill), the inexplicable tobacco smells that waft from a drawer in a confectionary shop (Hotel Chocolat) and the sound of footsteps above the local Chinese, once the home of Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynn. It’s thought she still paces the floor waiting for the King to visit.
Then there was Pete’s personal story too – how, as he stood in front of a former plague house (the home of a meddling ghost), his microphone went dead before amplifying sounds of heavy breathing.
“The group thought I was having a joke,” he said, “until I removed the batteries and the breathing continued.”
The tour’s tailored to suit each group’s ages and interests and if anyone begins to find it a bit unnerving Murray throws in the odd joke. He treated us to a taster: “See the Harte & Garter hotel? The only spirits you’ll find there are those behind the bar!” It certainly did the trick…
Towards the end of our walk we strolled down what appeared to be one of the most sought after streets in Windsor and paused outside a massive white Georgian house. It stood in a wide, no-through road, opposite a pretty 17th century pub and just a few feet away from the gates of the royal park.
The house was empty. Boarded up. Pete said it had been like that for five years, its details passing from one estate agent to another.
He didn’t have much more to say here except that a woman, Anne Groom, is thought to have committed suicide in one of the rooms and that her presence is often felt on the pavement outside.
As we stared at the house he turned to Murray, rubbed his arm, and mentioned casually that he “didn’t feel anything.”
“No goose bumps tonight,” he said with a wry smile.
When I asked what he meant he explained he believed he could sense ghosts, something he became aware of after a very close relative died and began “appearing” to him.
As we stood on the pavement talking I felt a churning sensation high in my chest, like heartburn in the wrong place. I dismissed it as psychosomatic and didn’t mention it. But it vanished the moment we crossed the road.
It was then I was quietly relieved there weren’t dramatics to deal with as well.
Windsor Ghost Walk by Pete Hamill & Murray Northwood: tel 0754 1356035 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Walks run Tuesday, Thursday & Sunday from outside the Horse & Groom pub, Castle Hill at 8pm. £7 per person. Typical walk not recommended for under 10 year olds because of the content of some of the stories, but it can be tailored to suit. Please ring to book beforehand.