A Most Haunting Castle
Berry Pomeroy Castle, near Totnes, is widely known as one of the most haunted ruins in England.
Its story has been told many times, but here, Totnes author Bob Mann explores the mysterious influence it can have on the mind and imagination. He takes a new look at the ghosts and legends and describes the ways in which writers as diverse as Eden Phillpotts, Elizabeth Goudge and Robert Graves have responded to the castle’s strange spell, before introducing a varied collection of new poems and stories by Helen Ashley, Valerie Belsey, Peter Cowlam, Laurence Green, Deborah Harvey, Sue Hinds, Idris W. Izzard, Anna Lunk, Debbie Miller-Wright, Wendy Ruocco, Pamela Sandry Gorman, Catherine Smith, Ken Taylor, Susan Taylor and Simon Williams.
Some authors draw on the traditional tales and legends, others simply take the castle as a starting point for their own creative journeys. All testify to its powerful atmosphere and unique ability to haunt the mind.
From Bob Mann’s introduction
‘The story, I feel, ought to commence in a solemn, old-fashioned, even rather portentous manner. Maybe, with apologies to John Cowper Powys and other favourite writers, something like this:
On a certain mellow afternoon in September, a little over forty years ago, a woman and two children might have been observed alighting from a green Western National omnibus onto the narrow road which winds between thick Devon hedges from Berry Pomeroy to Marldon, at the point where a lane leads off to the left, and a signpost directs the curious traveller to the ancient ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle. Something must have occurred at that moment: a sympathetic vibration, too tenuous and elusive to be fully apprehended; a strange connection, made or remembered, between the mysterious forces that pervade the environs of the castle and the consciousness of one of the children which has – through chains of causality impossible, with our present knowledge of the universe, to unravel – resulted in the book which you now hold in your hand.
I remember it all clearly. It was 1968, and I was about two months short of my tenth birthday. My sister, Fran, was two years younger. I remember the brief walk up the hill, and the group of old stone cottages, at one of which our mother paid for us to go in, and how we entered through the gateway onto the gradually descending wooded drive, and into the dream.
I remember the dappled sunlight as we walked along, and the first, sudden view of the castle rising before us, grey and massive. Although the thick ivy that covers the ruins in 19th and early 20th century pictures was no longer there, this was still before the excavations and restorative work of the 1980s, and the courtyard, as we went in through the towering gatehouse, was grass-grown and uneven, full of mounds and tussocks, with some strange little wooden seats dotted around. We went into the gatehouse, where there was, at the time, no hint of a hidden 15th century wall painting, and descended to the rooms on either side (which cannot be called “dungeons” because they are not underground), and then into the narrow passage leading off to one side for as far as we could. It was there that I had a sense of past movement, and seemed to hear ancient voices somewhere ahead of me, at the end of the passage.’
From the reviews
‘Combines historical accounts of this romantic and atmospheric Devonshire castle with new supernatural fiction and poetry inspired by it. The editor provides a personal introduction and afterword… with many fascinating diversions and much intriguing out-of-the-way information. The new work does justice to the place described as “one of the most haunted ruins in England.” ‘
‘The book provides an amazing insight into the enduring legends that shroud the castle walls. Bob Mann’s introduction is a literal archaeological excavation of Berry Pomeroy’s myths and legends, and their links with fiction and saint-lore. I also loved the short stories and poems: an amazing collection of work. Having had many strange and inexplicable experiences there myself, I understood and liked the links to creativity and universal consciousness, and the synchronicities that lie therein.’
Berry Pomeroy Castle has loomed large in my imagination since I first went there in my teens. In this fine collection of his own and others’ writings, Bob Mann brings the castle back to life from across the span of years and distance, fills in the gaps in my knowledge – and provides me with a hugely entertaining read. The book is a necessary addition to the literature of place.’
‘An extraordinary place like Berry Pomeroy Castle should be celebrated by an extraordinary book, and this is exactly what Bob Mann and his talented team have put together. The tales and poems are deeply satisfying. Just don’t read some of them if you are alone at night!’
Bob Mann truly puts the “I” into literary history. I feel the engagement of one whose ancestors worked the neighbouring lands for hundreds of years. He builds our awareness of the legends with wry analysis. The examination of twists and turns, from history to horror, from myth to mystery, leaves no slab unturned.