We spent a week exploring this popular region of England looking for ghosts, delving into the history, and eating excellent local food. We prefer to travel to tourist hot-spots in the off-season - happily trading warm and flowerful weather for the allure of exploring such a magical place in solitude.
Haunted Sights: 2
Potential Ghost Encounters: The "Grey Lady"; ghostly apparition of a lady at the Catherine Wheel
Haunted Hotel: The Old Bell, Malmesbury
We arrived at Heathrow in the morning, eager to get started on our Haunted Tour of the Cotswolds. On the drive west, we saw dozens of red kites hunting in the grey morning sky. These powerful birds of prey seemed to follow us all the way to the Cotwolds. Our first stop was Bibury, an iconic Cotswolds town. We popped in to the Catherine Wheel to have a pint, and warmed up by the log fire, hoping we might catch a glimpse of the “ghostly lady” there… but she didn’t appear. Perhaps she doesn’t work the lunch shift?
We drove just a few minutes away to have lunch in Barnsley, at the Village Pub. They’ve made a lovely effort at this gastropub to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. We availed ourselves of two huge, comfy chairs right by the fire, and tucked in for a delicious lunch.
After lunch we headed to Malmesbury. This small market town’s twisty roads reveal charming views round each turn. Pubs, cafes, and brightly lit shops gleamed in the blue of the early evening. Before the day’s light was out we took a walk through the Cathedral’s graveyard, to find the headstone of Hannah Twynnoy, the first person eaten by a tiger in England! Apparently she taunted the circus animal while it was caged, but it accidentally got out and… Sadly, Hannah did not have nine lives. Dinner and bed awaited us at The Old Bell, England’s oldest hotel. We were placed in the James Ody room, which the “Grey Lady” haunts. With its storied past and its view over the graveyard, the room can be spooky, if you allow your mind to wander. So we headed downstairs for dinner.Choosing a few comfy chairs in one of the gorgeous lounges, we settled down to an excellent meal. One of the staff was knowledgable about gin, and helped us choose some local varieties to enjoy with our food. Properly sated, we headed back up to our room, and enjoyed a restful night’s sleep… with no visit from the Grey Lady.
Haunted Sights: 4
Potential Ghost Encounters: Motley crew at The Ancient Ram Inn; Children at Charfield; the Clavers family at The Ragged Cot; ‘woman in lavender’ at The Butchers Arms
Haunted Hotel: The Ragged Cot, Minchinhampton
Day 2 began with a fantastic full English breakfast at The Old Bell, which set us up nicely for a day of ghost-hunting. Our first stop was the Ancient Ram Inn in Wotton-under-Edge. A motley crew of various ghosts famously haunt this 12th-century pub. It’s closed these days, but even standing outside, one feels the power of this building. Maybe it’s the history, maybe it’s the lopsided way the pub clings to the street, maybe it’s the warning notes in the windows from the owner. Brian, a local resident, stopped to chat us up for a few minutes, told us some local history, and confirmed that he believed the Ancient Ram to be haunted indeed.
Our next stop was Charfield, site of a railway accident that reportedly left two unnamed children in ghostly form. We searched for them in the graveyard of the church of St James, a lonely and eerie walk now that the church has been made redundant. Our next destination was The Butchers Arms pub in Sheepscombe. We arrived just a few moments before they closed for the afternoon, but they were kind enough to let us in for a quick pint. This beautiful country pub is said to be haunted by a ‘woman in lavender’. The staff there knew nothing of her, but they did say that in the wee hours they had heard a baby crying from the far room, when, of course, no one was there. We continued to a site that one would expect to be haunted - an ancient burial tomb. It has no ghostly reputation, but we love to visit ancient megalithic sites, so we were sure to stop at the Uley Long Barrow. This 5000-year-old tomb is free and open to the public. It’s advisable to bring a flashlight (and maybe a flask!) as the inside of the tomb is quite dark. A tour here is literally taking a step into pre-history.
Our final stop of the day was our haunted hotel: The Ragged Cot in Minchinhampton. In the 1700s owner Bill Clavers killed his wife and child here before heading out to rob a stagecoach; it is said that they haunt the building. Today the old part of the building is converted to a great bar and restaurant, so the only spirits here are the ones in the daily drinks specials. We chose the cocktail of the week, made with local quince gin.
Haunted Sights: 5
Potential Ghost Encounters: Bookstore poltergeist; ghostly pub monk; “evil lady” at the Black Horse, “Grey Lady" carrying fresh cut flowers St John’s, Dame Creswyke
Haunted Hotel: The Manor House Hotel, Moreton-in-Marsh
We woke to the Cotswolds’ first heavy snow of the season as we drove to a nearby farm field to see the Minchinhampton Long Stone. Our coats got blanketed with snow as we walked to this ancient, holed megalith through which mothers used to pass their babies as a ward against measles - perhaps the earliest example of the anti-vaccination movement.
The snow quickly melted off as we drove to bustling Cirencester to visit several “haunted" sites. including the WH Smith bookshop, Saint John’s Church, the Black Horse Pub and the King’s Head Hotel. At each of these places we met people with the same general story - they don’t believe in ghosts, but they have stories of happenings that they can’t explain. For our part, we did notice several times that, that after receiving our pints, within ten minutes the glasses were “mysteriously” empty.
We had lunch in the tiny and adorable town of Poulton at the Falcon Inn, where the proprietor serves up excellent food and also a wealth of local history. He directed us down the road to the nearby “Betty’s Grave”, the “haunted” site of the crossroads burial of a woman scorned. We had previously read about this site in 1905 Cotswolds guidebook that we had brought with us. It amazes us that, over a century later, so many elements of this book remain unchanged.
In Moreton-in-Marsh, our haunted hotel, The Manor House Hotel, we were hoping to see the ghost of Dame Creswyke, who haunts the second floor, and Room 8 in particular. We didn’t get to meet her, but we were treated to a 30-minute pealing of the bells from the church tower next door over our dinner in the hotel’s brasserie.
Haunted Sights: 8
Potential Ghost Encounters: ghosts of Tweenbrook Avenue; the Bleeding Friar; hair-pulling ghost in Pinchbelly Alley; ghosts in nearly every shop on Westgate Street; Bishop John Hooper; basement pub ghost; team of monks in a cafe; full staff of ghosts at the The New Inn
Haunted Hotel: The New Inn, Gloucester
The next day found us in Gloucester, a treasure trove of reported paranormal activity. Residents have been known to flee their homes in the unassuming Tweenbrook Street. Each place has its tale: Mysterious sightings have been reported at Blackfriars Abbey (the “Bleeding Friar”) and Dick Whittington’s Pub (a ghost in the basement), and the ghost of Bishop John Hooper frequents St. Mary’s Square. It’s hard to find a shop on Westbrook Street that isn’t haunted. Across from AG Meek shoe shop (also haunted) is Pinchbelly Alley, where walkers report feeling their hair being pulled when no one is there. We saw nothing in the alley except for an admittedly scary mural on one of the doors.
For a change of pace for dinner, we chose the Bangkok Canteen, whose chalkboard wall proudly indicates the local sourcing of most of their key ingredients.There’s a full “staff" of ghosts at the 15th-century (and deceptively-named) New Inn; its medieval courtyard makes one feel that you’re the one out of place there, not the spirits.
Haunted Sights: 4
Potential Ghost Encounters: Brown Monk and Charging Horseman of Prestbury; Queenly ghost at Sudeley Castle; drummer boy in Tewkesbury
Haunted Hotel: Tudor House Hotel, Tewkesbury
Day 5 found us in the small town of Prestbury, said to be England’s most haunted town. The “Brown Monk” is said to haunt Prestbury’s graveyard (he no longer haunts the church, after an exorcism was performed). A “Charging Horseman” is said to gallop down Mill Street. We didn’t encounter either, but it is said that they appear most frequently at Christmas and Easter, and unfortunately this year we’re otherwise booked for both holidays.
For lunch we called in at the countryside gastro pub The Royal Oak, in Gretton. Lit candles on every table and beautiful views of the hills from the glass-paned patio offer diners a lovely setting with which to enjoy their top quality fare; we particularly enjoyed the crispy pork belly with black pudding mashed potatoes.
After lunch we visited Sudeley Castle, final resting place of Queen Katherine Parr, who is said to haunt the grounds. (She didn’t come to greet us, but to be fair, we are commoners.) Winter is an ideal time to visit this castle - the gardens may not be in full bloom, but they are still quite beautiful, and not crowded at all.
Our final stop of the day was Tewkesbury. We took a long evening walk around this charming market town, then checked in to our haunted hotel: The Tudor House. The Tudor House has everything we love in a hotel: history, unusual and interesting layout, friendly staff that make you feel like you live there, comfortable rooms, affordable prices. We were hoping we might get to meet the "little drummer boy" who haunts the hotel; but perhaps it was for the best that he didn’t play through the night, so we could get a good night’s rest.
Haunted Sights: 3
Potential Ghost Encounters: George the pub ghost; Brown Monk and Gamekeeper of Burford
Haunted Hotel: The Priory B&B, Burford
Day 6 found us back in Moreton-in-Marsh, to visit the Christmas market. We listened to some angelic carolers, drank mulled cider, and got a funny photo-op with a woman in a fuzzy reindeer costume. For lunch we headed over to the hamlet of Upper Oddington to eat at the Horse and Groom, a fine gastro pub, and the only business in this tiny Cotswolds village. “George” the ghost is said to haunt room 5. We didn’t see him, but the staff told us that there is one painting on the wall that is always crooked, no matter how many times it gets straightened. Was George having a laugh?
Our lodging for the evening was the cute market town of Burford. On the way we stopped just outside of town at the Upton Smokery, a lovely little market selling artisan foods and drinks, including, of course, smoked fish and meat from their smokery. Our “haunted" hotel in Burford, the Priory B&B, isn’t really haunted: but it's just right next door to Burford’s haunted Priory. The Priory is said to be haunted by a Brown Monk and a Gamekeeper, who roam the grounds. We didn’t encounter them in the churchyard, so we broadened our search to a few of Burford’s fine pubs, in hopes that they were lingering at a bar. Just in case.
Haunted Sights: 2
Potential Ghost Encounters: Lord Lovell of Minster Lovell Hall; crying child at Bear Hotel
Haunted Hotel: The Macdonald Bear Hotel, Woodstock
The final day of our Haunted Cotswolds tour began with a full English at The Priory B&B - this was far and away the best breakfast we had on the entire trip. Our first stop was the Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote, haunted by Lord Lovell himself. The hall sits in ruin, surrounded by woods and walking paths in the lush countryside. We delighted to find that the hall looked no different than the pencil drawings featured in our 1905 Cotswolds guidebook.
Our next stop was the village of Bampton. We weren’t searching for ghosts here, just stopping in to see if Bridget Jones might have popped in for a scone. The we pressed on to The Devil’s Quoits, a stone circle just outside of Stanton Harcourt. Of the dozens we’ve visited, this massive megalithic site may be the largest we’ve seen. WWII runways and agriculture damaged the circle, but it’s been carefully reconstructed today.
Our final stop was the little town of Woodstock, where we had an excellent dinner at the gastropub The Crown Inn. The “haunted” hotel here, the Macdonald Bear, is both elegant and inviting, and we enjoyed drinking tea in our expansive and comfortable room.