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Dorset’s Dark Side - ghost walks

PUBLISHED: 14:15 27 November 2013 | UPDATED: 14:15 27 November 2013

Alistair Chisholm on one of his Dorchester Ghost Walks

Alistair Chisholm on one of his Dorchester Ghost Walks

Archant

A ghostly ape and a heartbroken daughter walled up by her vengeful father are just a few of the spine-chilling tales that make Dorset a magnet for ghost hunters.

Ghosts are something that intrigues all of us, whether or not we believe in them. For anyone interested in the paranormal, Dorset’s pubs and stately manor houses do not disappoint. There are at least twenty establishments in the county that boast their own resident ghost or ghosts and historical towns such as Bridport, Shaftesbury and Weymouth offer numerous ghost tours around their ancient streets.

Many Dorset houses whose history spans the centuries are still host to spectral residents, insistent on occupying bedrooms, cellars and living areas. Some establishments have even reported so much paranormal activity that investigators have been invited to come and observe the unexplained happenings with some surprising results.

One such establishment is Ye Olde George Inn in Christchurch. This 14th century coaching inn in Castle Street boasts an eventful past that includes a priest hole used during Henry VIII’s reformation and access to medieval tunnels that run from the pub to the castle. It was also the scene of a fateful love story played out against the turbulent background of the English Civil War when the alehouse was a popular watering hole for Royalist soldiers.

Margaret Moore, the daughter of the inn’s landlord, fell in love with a Royalist soldier called Rupert. He was performing his duties as a soldier under Lord Goring whilst the Royalists held Christchurch Castle. In 1644 as the castle was being besieged, Lord Goring retreated but Margaret and Rupert were able to use the secret tunnel between the pub and the castle to continue their love affair.

Margaret fell pregnant by Rupert, much to the disgust of her father Henry, a staunch Parliamentary supporter. Unwilling to taint the family name, he bricked up his daughter and grandson in the cheese pantry leaving them to starve to death. It is said that, in the dead of night, you can hear a new born child crying in the darkness and Margaret scratching at the bricks in an attempt to get out. But she’s not the only unquiet spirit to haunt the pub as Tom, an employee of Ye Olde George reveals.

“The ghosts here are prolific. They include the Grey Lady and the ghosts of some Romeo and Juliet-esque lovers.”

Fast-forward a hundred years or so to the early 19th century when smuggling had become widespread throughout Dorset as many sought to protect the right to buy and sell without interference from officialdom. Samuel Johnson, author of the first English Dictionary, defined a smuggler as ‘a wretch who, in defiance of the laws, imports or exports goods either contraband or without payment of the customs’. Authors such as J Meade Falkner, Daphne Du Maurier and Robert Louis Stevenson were all inspired by smugglers tales but the Anchor Inn at Seatown saw first hand the confrontation between smugglers and the solitary guard whose job it was to stop them.

“Those who were caught smuggling were routinely thrown off Chideock cliff which is right next to The Anchor Inn,” explains David Mills, who works there.

Throughout its 300-year existence, history has trickled through the Anchor Inn’s floorboards like sand, allowing for some tall tales to be told. As the Napoleonic Wars raged and smuggling became more prevalent, cottages were built behind the Anchor Inn for the Coast Guard and the Night Watcher. One guardsman was shot on the Anchor’s staircase while he was eavesdropping on some smugglers below.

“His ghost still wanders the grounds lamenting his fate. Its said that pint glasses rattle as the murdered man’s spirit passes through the pub,” says David.

Our next hot spot for paranormal activity takes us to a magnificent 15th century Tudor manor house outside Dorchester. Athelhampton Hall (also known as Athelhampton House) is regarded as one of the ten most haunted houses in England.

“I have no doubt that there is more than one ghost here,” says Andrea Cooke, who has lived at Athelhampton with her husband Patrick and their family for the last 16 years. “All the family has had a sense of being watched, things have been moved; we’ve even heard noises and a feeling of being followed. My eldest son has had attempts for his door to be forced open from the outside. It’s not always easy to live here.”

One of Athelhampton’s most unusual paranormal residents is an ape that belonged to Nicholas Martyn during the late 16th century. When its master died in 1595, the ape pined for weeks and legend tells of the beast being trapped in a secret staircase that leads from behind the library where it starved to death. The ape’s ghost has been seen and heard for centuries by both visitors and household members. It’s not uncommon to hear the scratching of Nicholas Martyn’s ape on the wooden panels that line the library walls.

Dorset’s tales of the unexpected never cease to fascinate and intrigue. They will surely continue to attract curious visitors and ghost hunters for years to come.

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