Ghostly Happenings at a 12th Century Scottish Abbey
After my father died, my mother and I went on several trips together, but the best one of all was a nine-week trip through Great Britain, where we rented a car and drove the back roads from Chester to Findhorn and Wales to Canterbury. Since my mother was an avid reader and I was a reformed English teacher, I made it a literary tour of Britain, taking extra care to go to the settings of favorite books as well as the homes of many of England’s most famous writers. I took the books of many of these writers along so if my mother had not read them, she could read them in preparation of our visits.
In addition to this literary research and preparation, I took special care to book us into a variety of different lodgings, from the best London hotels to rooms over pubs, inns set up in homes, castles, and even two lodgings alleged to be haunted. One was a hotel in the Cotswalds and the other an 12th century abbey near Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland. It is this second “haunted” place that I am going to tell you about.
The abbey, built in the early 1100’s, became a refuge for priests hiding out during the Jacobite uprising of the 1700’s. Later in its history, it became a hotel named the Lord Crewe Arms. One room, which overlooked the cemetery, still housed a “priest hole” that had hidden priests during the uprising and which was said to be haunted.
When my mother and I read about this room in a brochure we picked up in the hotel lobby as we checked in, we asked to sleep in this room, but alas, it had been procured for a bride and groom on their honeymoon. When we learned it was not booked for the next night, however, we decided to stay an extra night so we could sleep in it.
We spent the second day of our stay by returning to Hadrian’s Wall and then retired to the pub where various locals regaled us with tales and helped to stir our already vivid imaginations over a night’s stay in a haunted room by telling us of the sacking of the abbey, various sightings of the ghost and other local stories. About 10 p.m., we retired to our room.
Determined to see the ghost, my mother remained awake as long as she could, but then surrendered to sleep. I, on the other hand, could not sleep. I lay reading in bed, then switched off the lights and fine-tuned my ears to detect any movement, spectral or otherwise. At one point I opened my eyes to see a flash of light on the drapes next to the uncovered windows and moved to the window. The moon was fully up, reflecting off the gravestones down below.
I stood gazing at the unnatural plays of light that seemed to be emanating from behind some of the gravestones, and then I saw it—a flicker of white from behind one of the gravestones! Then another from a grave a few dozen feet away from the first. Then I saw a white figure dash out from behind one gravestone to duck behind another. Then another and another. Then, a few hoots and hollers that revealed to me the practical joke that some of our new friends from the pub had decided to play on the visiting Yanks. We had told them we were staying in the haunted room and obviously, they wanted to make our stay a success and up to our expectations.
I returned to the big double bed I was sharing with my mother, turned over and tried to sleep. Her soft breathing assured me she was already fast asleep, and yet I could feel something sit down at the foot of my bed. I turned on the light. Nothing. My imagination. I pulled out the sheets at the foot of the bed. It was a particular irritation to me to have anything pulling down on my toes, and the sheets had been tucked in tightly. Turning off the light once again, I got into bed and willed myself to sleep.
As I had just started to drift off when again, I felt a light pressure at the bottom of the bed, as though someone was tucking the sheet in. My imagination. I wiggled my feet and raised the sheets with my knees, trying to finagle some more space for my toes. Closed my eyes. Did I remain awake or was it in sleep that I continued to feel the tucking movement, the tightening of the blanket and sheet, a slight pressure as though someone was sitting at the foot of the bed?
The next morning, when we checked out, the clerk asked about our evening. My mother assured them we had felt no disturbance, but, curious, I had to ask why it was called a haunted room and what experiences others had had in the room. The clerk then told me the story of the priest hole used to hide priests, the sacking of the abbey, and what stories the maids in the hotel had told of making the beds and returning to find them pulled apart and the sheets in disarray or on the floor. Of guests who told of unseen presences sitting on the foot of the bed or tucking in the sheets.
Coincidence? Overactive imagination? Who ever knows with ghosts? But this is my story and I’m sticking to it.
A bit of history of the Blanchland Abbey from Wikipedia:
Blanchland Abbey at Blanchland, in the English county of Northumberland, was founded as a premonstratensian priory in 1165 by Walter de Bolbec II, and was a daughter house of Croxton Abbey in Leicestershire. It became an abbey in the late 13th century. The 16th century former Abbot’s house (now The Lord Crewe Arms Hotel) is a Grade II* listed building and the whole site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The abbey granges were pillaged during the Anglo-Scots wars, in particular during 1327, but the abbey itself was apparently left unscathed. There is however a legend that during one raid in the area, the monks prayed that the abbey would be spared. Subsequently, a mist descended which shielded the valley and monastery from view and was overlooked by the Scottish raiders, who passed by. The foolish monks upon hearing this, proceeded to ring the abbey bells to signal to every one in the valley that it was safe, that the invaders had passed. During their celebration of bell ringing, the Scottish invaders heard the bells, turned around and ransacked the Monastery.
(Go to Wikipedia for more of its story.)