16 December, 09.32AM
TALES of ghosts at Warwick Castle are many, but is there really anything of substance to them? And can a self-confessed cynic be swayed?
After visitors and castle staff had gone home for the night, Observer deputy editor Kevin Unitt bravely spent the evening wandering around the cold, snow-covered, deserted castle in a bid to discover for himself.
IF ghosts do exist, and are anything like humans, they probably won't like journalists very much. Which makes me think they will haunt me with a little extra vigour this evening.
The castle takes on an undoubtedly ominous feel by nightfall, and tonight the senses are further heightened by the bone-chilling cold and the fact no one else is around.
Armed with a torch I first walk through the Kingmaker attraction - the story of the War of the Roses - complete with scarily life-like waxwork participants. They are creepy enough by day, but a whole lot more now.
One darkened room on the route is said to echo the crying of a mysterious young girl. I heard nothing.
I don't mean to be cynical about all this, but during my research beforehand I had watched a visit to the castle by the team from ghost-hunting TV show Most Haunted.
The closest they came to the 'paranormal' was a man, sitting down in a dungeon, getting a drop of water on his head. At no point was the all-too-logical explanation of condensation considered.
Next I headed down the old gaol dungeon, a place of genuine misery many years ago for imprisoned soldiers. The scraping of captured French soldiers' finger nails on the stone walls, as they were left there to rot, can supposedly still be heard. Again not by me, but I did begin to feel the sort of dizziness which other visitors speak of down there. It was lonely, oppressive and certainly not somewhere I would want to spend any sustained period of time. Much the same as I feel about London as it happens.
Emerging back into the courtyard I next walked up the winding, snow-covered path to the top of one of the towers, which offers a grand view of the castle and all below.
Suddenly I saw a movement, a head at one of the dimly lit windows to my right. Was this it? Was this the vision of a ghost to dispel my cynicism and make me believe?
No. I later learned it was someone in I.T who had stayed late to get more work done. Alleged castle spook Sir Fulke Greville may (or may not) have been murdered here but either way he certainly never had to deal with spreadsheets.
Moving inside I walked through the great hall and surrounds, briefly terrified by my own reflection in an enormous mirror at the end of a grand hallway. The paintings on the wall, of yesteryear young boys and girls, were particularly unsettling to look at by torch light, and though their eyes followed me around none of them winked at me, which was a relief.
Emerging from another hallway I bumped into the castle security guard, who told of particularly strange occurrences up at the gatehouse entrance to the castle, with people regularly “hearing footsteps and seeing a mysterious black cat.”
The possibility that those footsteps are those of living and breathing humans, and that the mysterious black cat is in fact an equally real black cat, can surely not be ruled out.
At this point I decided I had seen enough, had wandered down every darkened hallway and pathway open to do so. And I'd seen nothing, which paradoxically was slightly disappointing for a cynic who was not expecting to.
Perhaps you do indeed have to be on the right wavelength to experience paranormal phenomena. Or just see what you want to see, stretch something you think you may have seen into an actual event, or be so cold and dizzy and out of your comfort zone that everything seems odd.
I'll certainly retain an open mind. Perhaps the ghosts of Warwick Castle do indeed exist, but they just weren't doing any press appearances tonight.
To find out more about Warwick Castle, which is hosting a series of events in the run up to Christmas, visit www.warwick-castle.co.uk