Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Britain's scariest castle

Rather than a location that has been featured in a horror film, I thought I'd introduce you to a location that hasn't been used in a horror film but should have been.
To the best of my knowledge, the only time that Berry Pomeroy Castle in Devon has been featured in a movie it was in one of those ballboilingly witless Comic Strip Presents Famous Five parodies.
Never, so far as I'm aware, has it been recognised for what it is: the greatest unused standing horror film set in Britain.

In the book James Herbert's Dark Places, the great Mr H writes: "It's said that present-day visitors to the site frequently shiver from inexplicable chills, even on bright afternoons."
You can't see it from the main road. You arrive by turning down a long, winding road shrouded on both sides by overhanging trees that entirely obscure your view both left and right. Then, suddenly the road widens, you come to a clearing, and there she is...
True, it is no longer as eerie it was. Built in the fifteenth century, and at one time the home of Edward Seymour, governor of the boy king Edward VI and brother of Henry VIII's wife Jane, it has been a ruin since the early eighteenth century.
For generations after, its origins and history were lost beneath a mantle of ivy and neglect. When I used to visit it as a young boy it was still in total, untended disrepair; you could drive up and wander in at any time, and watch bits fall off the walls. At dusk especially, the atmosphere was extraordinary.
Lately it has been purchased by English Heritage, who have done some excellent renovation (and discovered a splendid late medieval wall painting beneath a thick growth of moss) but also quite a bit of restoration, which always seems to subtract at least as much as it adds. Now you have to pay to get in, everything is signposted and labelled, the dangerous bits are fenced off, and something of the romance has inevitably gone.
But it's still an amazing place; every young boy's dream of a spooky castle, with ramparts, dungeons, narrow concealed passageways, and a wealth of ghost stories which, if I believed in such things, I'd be bothered to tell you about.
If you'd like to see some more great photographs of Berry Pomeroy Castle, please click here.


Kimberley said...

I can't believe you were able to just walk into this castle as a boy! How amazing that must have been! Seeing it now is probably a bummer though, all full of tourists, signs, and such. At least you were able to experience it as a child, though.

Living in the states, we're kinda short on spooky castles, but I did get to visit Vlad the Impalers' actual castle when I went to Romania. It was pretty amazing. I'm betting you would love that trip. You should look into it if you haven't gone already. It's a really good time.

Matthew Coniam said...

You kidding!!! I'd LOVE to go to Vlad's pad! The closest I've got is that documentary Christopher Lee did where he's hanging about the place in authentic costume.
I was amused to learn that Stoker's Dracula has only been legally available in Romania since it stopped being Communist, and it became a massive bestseller! Better late than never, I suppose.

Kimberley said...

I have pics up on my photography blog but they don't do Romania justice. I've never seen the Christopher Lee doc you mentioned (although I'll be trying to get a hold of it now) but I have a feeling it was done in the castle they call Dracula's castle. If it was fancy and full of gorgeous furniture, then that's the one. We visited there and I have pics up from the tour but it's not actually the home of Vlad at all. He was held captive there for a short time, however, and we were able to see where he was held.

Vlad's real pad, Poenari Castle, is amazing! It's out in the middle of nowhere and you have to climb a zillion steps to get to it. The castle itself is crumbling. There's no entrance fees or staff, it's just this massive ruin out in the middle of the woods. There is definitely a creepy air to the place. Maybe it's the stillness of such a large, crumbling, structure. Of course, it could just be a lack of oxygen to the brain after climbing all the steps...

You can check out the trip I went on at www.dractour.com