My two previous articles were on (a) the connection between strange creatures and bridges, and (b) the link between monsters and railroads. With that said, I thought I would turn this into a “trilogy” of sorts. The final article will focus on the admittedly weird link between monsters and castles. With that said, let’s get started. Jon Downes, Director of the U.K.-based Center for Fortean Zoology, says: “A story, which, I am sure, was told me in good faith, and which even now I do not know whether to believe, apparently took place during the Second World War. There had, apparently, been a number of occasions when captured German aircrew and pilots who had been shot down over South Devon or the English Channel were kept, temporarily, in a remote wing of Starcross Hospital – which is roughly ten miles from the city of Exeter – until they could be transferred to the prisoner-of-war camp high above Starcross on the Haldon Hills.” On one particular occasion, says Jon, troops had been searching for a fugitive German airman in the woods surrounding Powderham Castle, which is about half a mile away from the old hospital, and which was constructed between 1390 and 1420 by Sir Philip Courtenay. They had ventured into the deepest parts of the woods in search of their quarry when, suddenly, the small band of elderly men and boys who were too young to join the Army, saw what they believed was the fugitive airmen running through the woods in front of them. It was not. Rather, it was nothing less than a hair-covered “Wild Man.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the military hid the story – and the wild-man, too. It was a definitive cover-up mixed up with a conspiracy. Moving on…
Late one evening in September 1986, Mick Dodds and his wife were driving his mother-in-law back to her place of abode, which was a small but picturesque cottage in the Staffordshire village of Stowe-by-Chartley, England. All was completely and utterly normal until Dodds passed by the ancient and ruined Chartley Castle that overlooks the A518 road. Constructed on land that came into the possession of the Earls of Chester as far back as the 11th Century, Chartley Castle is a stone motte-and-bailey fortress founded in the thirteenth century by Ranulph Blundeville, the then Earl of Chester. Mick Dodds says that after dropping his mother-in-law off at her home, he and his wife began the journey back to their own abode, and what they assumed would be a stress-free, night-time drive through Staffordshire’s engaging countryside. How completely and devastatingly wrong the pair was. According to Dodds, as they drove along the road, and with Chartley Castle rapidly closing in, he was forced to violently and suddenly slam on the brakes as a huge stag ambled slowly – yet majestically, too – across the road directly in front of them. The sight of the massive beast was enough to both amaze and gob-smack Dodds and his wife in equal amounts. But that was nothing at all compared to what supposedly happened immediately thereafter.
Dodds, realizing how bizarre the next aspect of his story was surely going to sound to me, apologized profusely before he even began relating the complex details. In return, I told him that no apology was necessary. Instead, I explained to him, I would much prefer to merely hear the facts, and then try and firmly evaluate them for myself. And so, with that out of the way, Mick Dodds duly began. As the huge stag made its slow yet deliberate way across the road, his wife suddenly screamed at the sight of what looked like a large chimpanzee that bounded after the stag from the darkness of the field that sat to the right of their car. Halfway across the road, the chimpanzee stopped suddenly, looked directly at the terrified husband and wife and, to their utter horror and consternation, charged their vehicle – but, at the very last moment, backed away from actually causing any structural damage to the car, or physical harm to the fear-stricken pair. Dodds said that in his overwhelming panic to quickly put the vehicle into reverse gear, he stalled its engine, and then, even worse still, ended up completely flooding it as he raced to try and re-start the car. As an inevitable result, the Dodds were briefly stranded in the road with a hairy monstrosity looming wildly in front of them. For about twenty seconds the beast stared at both husband and wife, and on two other occasions again headed for their vehicle at full speed, ‘like it was going to attack’, before finally bounding off to the left, and, so it appeared at least, in a direction that specifically followed that of the huge stag – which, by now, was seemingly long gone. Now, onto another case.
Reports of hairy wild men absolutely abound throughout the English county of Staffordshire, U.K., but there is one area of the county that seems to attract a great deal more than its fair share of such activity. Its name is deeply familiar to one and all throughout the area as Castle Ring. Located near to the village of Cannock Wood, Castle Ring is an Iron Age structure commonly known as a Hill Fort. It is 801 feet above sea level, and its main ditch and bank enclosure is fourteen feet high and, at its widest point, 853 feet across. It has to be admitted that very little is known about the mysterious and long-forgotten people who built Castle Ring, except to say that they were already in residence at the time of the Roman invasion of A.D. 43 and remained there until approximately A.D. 50. Some suggest that the initial foundations of Castle Ring may even have been laid as early as 500 B.C. Moreover, historians suggest that the creators of Castle Ring might have represented a powerful body of people that held firm sway over certain other parts of Staffordshire, as well as significant portions of both Shropshire and Cheshire at the time in question.
While its enigmatic builders exited our world millennia ago, and left us with very little solid knowledge of who they were or what they actually represented, Castle Ring can claim to play host to far stranger entities, including…well, by now, do I really have to tell you? Really? I strongly suspect that, at this stage, I probably don’t. On May 1, 2004, Alec Williams was driving passed the car-park that sits at the base of Castle Ring when he witnessed a hair-covered, man-like entity lumber across the road and into the trees. A shocked Williams stated that the sighting lasted barely a few seconds, but that he was able to make out its amazing form: “It was about seven feet tall, with short, shiny, dark brown hair, a large head and had eyes that glowed bright red.” Interestingly, Williams stated that as he slowed his vehicle down, he witnessed something akin to a camera flash coming from the depths of the woods and heard a cry that he described as “someone going ‘Hoo.'”
Good friend and anomalies expert, Neil Arnold, says: “There is nothing like a chilling ghost story,’ adding that ‘one of my favorite ghoulish tales comes via Reverend Archdeacon St. John D. Seymour, and concerns a bizarre entity once said to have haunted an Irish castle.’ The story, Neil notes, “…is mentioned in True Ghost Stories by Marchioness Townshend and Maude Ffoulkes, who comment that ‘the truth of this story was vouched for to Mr. Reginald Span by the Vicar of the Anglican Church, Arizona, as it happened to some friends of his when they once rented a picturesque castle in the South of Ireland.'” So the very weird saga goes, late one particular night, many years ago, a certain ‘Mrs. A’ was sitting alone in one of the castle’s bedrooms, awaiting the return of her husband. Suddenly, there was the distinct and unmistakeable sound of one of the doors banging in the corridor outside the room. More disturbingly, footsteps could be heard, too. Someone or something was creeping around the old castle. Grabbing a lit candle, Mrs. A carefully and slowly opened the door and, to her eternal horror, saw a darkened, shadowy form heading towards the staircase. Evidently, the entity realized its presence had been noticed, and it turned to face the by now fear-stricken Mrs. A. It was at this point that her terror was elevated to stratospheric proportions: the thing was apparitional in nature, and possessed the head of a man, but the body of a mighty, hair-covered ape. For a moment or several, it glared malevolently at Mrs. A, before vanishing into nothingness.
Finally, there is the following account of one Ralph, a monk and an abbot at Coggeshall, Essex, England. Recorded in the year 1200 in Chronicon Anglicanum, it describes the remarkable capture in the area of a wild man of the woods-style creature: “In the time of King Henry II, when Bartholomew de Glanville was in charge of the castle at Orford, it happened that some fishermen fishing in the sea there caught in their nets a Wildman. He was naked and was like a man in all his members, covered with hair and with a long shaggy beard. He eagerly ate whatever was brought to him, but if it was raw he pressed it between his hands until all the juice was expelled. He would not talk, even when tortured and hung up by his feet, Brought into church, he showed no sign of reverence or belief. He sought his bed at sunset and always remained there until sunrise. He was allowed to go into the sea, strongly guarded with three lines of nets, but he dived under the nets and came up again and again. Eventually he came back of his own free will. But later on he escaped and was never seen again.”
That’s quite a connection between castles and monsters!