Month: October 2015

Warkworth hermitage & the… ghost?

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Flintstones-esque Warkworth hermitage

Warkworth hermitage, Northumberland
Built: 1400-ish
Price: £3.60 or get in on your castle ticket! Would be silly not to
Notable features: Possible ghost

This little beauty of a hermitage was built around 1400, probably by the 1st Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy (father of Henry Hotspur). Everyone was called Henry in the Percy family, don’t worry about it.

“Henry!” Elizabeth would say. “Shall I put your tunic on with my white wash?”

“Oh cheers love, nice one”, Henry, 1st Earl would reply.

“Not you, you bellend” Elizabeth would shout back, “I meant Henry Hotspur.”

So confusing.

Is she doing a wild wee? Only she knows.

Is she doing a wild wee? Only she knows.

The hermitage sits on the riverbank and has been cut into the natural rock. Conversely, it probably wasn’t a hermitage but rather a private chapel, where a priest would perform services for the Percy family. Our particular interest in the site lay partly in the fact that we’ve been reading a historical romance novel by author Carol Wensby Scott.* It’s surprisingly fruity and describes in great detail the relationship between our 1st Earl and his first wife Margaret Neville. In the novel, (*spoiler alert*) the Earl buries Margaret (after she’s died, obviously) at this very hermitage. 

Sadly, we don’t think Margaret is actually buried there, but we were intrigued nonetheless. The hermitage lies across the River Coquet, so we had to wait for the official Warkworth boatman to row us there. What a thrill! Mick the boatman took us onto his grand vessel and we sailed the 8 yards across to the other side. As this would ordinarily take about 20 seconds, Mick drifted around the river a bit to give us the full boating experience, for which we were very grateful.

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By the time we reached the other side, we were such good mates that Mick called us into his office (a shed). He claimed to have a very interesting photograph to show us. This was when the day took an ominous turn. No, it wasn’t picture of his grandson or his new kitchen. Something much more ominous. It was a photograph taken from inside the very dark hermitage, which we were about to enter… All very dark and ordinary, except in the top right hand corner, we could just make out a little white face! Ghost!

Could it be the ghost of Margeret? Perhaps Hal himself? Gender was hard to distinguish but what we did know was that it made us keen as a pair of badgers to look inside the hermitage.

Filled with enthusiasm, we climbed the set of stairs into the hermitage, which was comprised of a chapel and other small chambers. One of these chambers may have been where the Earl would have sat to view the services. It was peaceful, although a little eerie, particularly after what Mick had shown us.There was an altar with what looked like a carving of a lady (Margaret?) and another carving of a Nativity scene, though this was tricky to distinguish. All was calm and quiet.

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Tragically, this peace was broken by the arrival of an older lady called Margaret and her Church group, who had apparently been given the job of preparing a PowerPoint presentation on the hermitage for the benefit of the congregation. We know this because Margaret shouted about it loudly. We scurried away quickly but not before getting a few shots inside the hermitage and a couple of selfies.

Back down by the riverbank and flicking through the photos we’d taken, we discovered some rather unsettling white spots on one particular photograph of the altar. Had the ghost had made another appearance? Decide for yourselves.

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No, not my fingers at the top. Just BELOW my fingers…

*If anyone has any info on Carol Wensby Scott, please let us know. Or if you are Carol Wensby Scott, let us know. We’re trying to get in touch.

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Warkworth & the rogue shrew

11750633_10155965222265454_4412860271380371361_nWarkworth castle, Northumberland
Built: mid 12th century
Price: £5.40 (adult)
Notable features: very well preserved keep and brilliant audio tour

Warkworth! Home to the Percy family, Kings of the North! More importantly, home to our heroine, Lady Percy. We were particularly enthusiastic about Warkworth because we think this was where Elizabeth spent most of her time whilst married to Hotspur. Incidentally, Mairin and I spend most of our time (too much) thinking about what Elizabeth and Hotspur’s marriage might have been like. It can be said with confidence that he was a ballsy man on the battlefield, and we presume that this would have translated into the bedroom. One can only speculate; and spending time in their family home encouraged us to speculate about this a great deal.

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We were thrilled to learn that alongside our entry tickets we received headphones and a free audio guided tour. Now, we don’t usually have high hopes for these but the one at Warkworth is fantastic. Apologies to real-life guides Barbara and Pam whom we met at a later date, but this was just better and you can rewind the tour if necessary. You can’t force a retired member of the National Trust to repeat that crucial bit of info about the dating of the stonework, as French tourists gaze on, confused; it’s just not practical. However, this audio guide takes you, alone (and French tourist-free), across the bailey and into the keep, explaining the past use of each room. It even guides you to where the toilet would have been (very thorough).11144960_10155965222410454_727844960390782922_n

The first thing to say about this castle is that the keep really is in excellent condition. The design is from just after our period, when the castle was redecorated by Elizabeth’s son, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland, some time after 1416. However – fear not – it was apparently very similar in design to the earlier Medieval castle. It was amazing to see where the family bedrooms would have been (facing North – and where the wee 2nd Earl was conceived?) and to look out at the beautiful views of the Estuary and the sea that the family would have had. Looking out the other way, towards the view of the bailey, it was hard to imagine it busy and bustling with life. Warkworth has a strange, haunted quality and only the remains of the Great Hall are left. However, it would have been its own little town, with soldiers and cooks and knights milling about, busy at work.

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We thought about this as we ate our boiled egg picnic. It was eerily quiet and all you could hear was the flapping of the flag on top of the keep. The wind was getting up so we decided to have a nice, warming cup of tea, but unfortunately, Mairin (eager to prevent any leakage) had screwed the lid of our flask so tight it was quite literally fused shut. We decided to ask a passing male and then preceded to emasculate him when he too found it an impossible task. Finally, after handing the flask back, ‘Muscles O’Hagan’ did the impossible and opened the flask. We told the man he had probably loosened it, but the truth is, Mairin just has the strength of a buffalo.

You would think this enough excitement for one day; however, after taking a little rest on a bench just outside the castle, we witnessed a lot of drama over a very small shrew.

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A gentleman and fellow castle enthusiast began grabbing at the rogue shrew, who had been minding its own business and chilling on the grass and occasionally, (for funsies) the pavement. The man insisted that it shouldn’t be there because grass isn’t a shrew’s natural habitat. I don’t think this is true and the shrew looked happy enough to me, apart from when the said gentleman kept poking it. Next, a woman’s dog tried to eat the shrew. However, the shrew didn’t give a shit and basically stuck two fingers up to everybody by milling about playfully, clearly displaying its devil-may-care attitude for all to see.

The frenzy over, we returned to Warkworth to buy a couple of very useful books:

‘Medieval Women’ by Henrietta Leyser
‘The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England’ by Ian Mortimer

I did try to look on Amazon to see if they were cheaper, but due to Northumberland’s county-wide lack of signal, I gave in and bought them from the gift shop. Also, I felt bad because as a castle enthusiast, one should support castle gift shops.

Let that be a lesson to you all.

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