Voyages with Vampires: Alnwick Castle

From Alnwick to Cachtice, the Tihuța Pass to Whitby, Paris to Sofia, Voyages with Vampires is where I tell you about all the vampire-related places I wish to one day visit.

About a forty minute drive north of Newcastle upon Tyne, in the county of Northumberland and on the south bank of the River Aln, is the market town of Alnwick. While it features a number of columns and towers, and a few museums and markets, the main attraction to tourists is Alnwick Castle.

(It’s pronounced An-ick, in case you were wondering.)

You’re probably familiar with Alnwick Castle even if you don’t consciously know it. Given its appearance and being well-maintained (unlike a lot of other castles that have fallen to the years) it is a popular filming location. The Black Adder, Elizabeth, and Downton Abbey have all filmed at Alnwick Castle.

But most people probably know it from its role as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. The Outer Bailey is the most recognisable, from the flying lesson scene and the scene where Oliver Wood teaches Harry the basics of Quidditch.

That is one reason why people go to Alnwick Castle, and one reason I want to visit it one day. But there’s a second reason why, and that is the Alnwick Castle Garden – or rather, the sub section known as The Poison Garden.

I first learned about the Poison Garden back in 2010, when I received a copy of The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood for review, which was based on a concept by Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland who created the Poison Garden at Alnwick itself. I was fascinated by the concept of a poison garden (not mention enjoyed the book) and so would love the chance to visit the poison garden at Alnwick one day.

A few years later I would learn the third reason I want to visit Alnwick, and the reason it’s on my Voyages with Vampires list.

Yes, Alnwick Castle has a vampire story.

According to William of Newburgh, who learned of this “from a very devout old priest of high authority and most honorable reputation”, an awful man came to Alnwick from Yorkshire to stay with the lord of the castle. He proceeded to be just as awful as before, but somehow managed to find himself a wife.

When he heard rumours that she was engaged in an affair, he took it upon himself to set a trap and catch her in the act. He pretended to be going away on a long journey, one of several days, then snuck back in to hide somewhere in the ceiling. When he saw his wife being “well-served by a lusty youth”, he fell from his hiding spot in shock and was injured so severely he ended up dying a few days later from his injuries.

It should be noted that his wife attempted to help him after he fell, but he simply raged at her and called her a whore, and when the priest who related this story attempted to get him to repent his sins and receive the Blessed Sacrament, he put it off and put it off and then he was dead. So too late.

Because he was so awful, after his burial – a Christian one, which was noted he did not deserve – he would rise from his tomb to wander the streets to attack the residents and piss off all the dogs, and causing the break out of a plague. After a time, and much consultation between the priest and other wise men of the area, a pair of brothers who had lost their father to the plague decided to take matters into their own hands. Carrying sharp spades they headed to the cemetery where the man-turned-monster was buried and exhumed him. The body’s face was flushed and the body engorged with the blood of the villagers he had drunk from; when they struck the body with the sharp edge of a spade the blood began to flow freely.

After dragging this sanguisuga outside the town and burning it on a pyre, the brothers informed the town who hurried to witness the destruction of the thing that had haunted them. With that, the plague lifted and the air was cleansed, and the suffering of the town ended.

The account of the Alnwick vampire ends there, although some may note that some of the elements of this story are similar to other tales of vampires: the man who became the vampire was an immoral person who died an unnatural death (and failed to receive the salvation of the church), when exhumed his body was in a good state but engorged with stolen blood. Today it’s overshadowed by Harry Potter, and the Poison Garden, and other events at Alnwick Castle, you can be one of a few visitors to take an after dark tour around Halloween and be touched by history… or maybe something darker.

Further reading and related links:

About Author

Catherine is a writer of stories about dead things and hidden folk, a teller of tales of of strange romances and wild places, and still insists that if given the chance would run away to the vampire's castle for the ball - if she was invited, of course.

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