A bright full moon hung over the West Midlands town of Dudley at the weekend. While most were tucked up in bed, I joined a team of ghost hunters hoping to find proof of the paranormal at the town's oldest and most prominent landmark. I've been on quite a few ghost hunts before, but this was the first time I'd spent a night in a haunted castle.
Dudley Castle, now in partial ruin, is said to be home to many spirits including a phantom drummer boy, a Grey Lady who is often reported in the castle's keep, and the spirit of one of the castle's former residents, John de Somery.
The event was hosted by Most Haunted Experience, an offshoot of the long-running paranormal television show, fronted by Yvette Fielding. Although the star of the show wasn't at this particular event herself, two of the show's other investigators were - Karl Beattie and Stuart Torevell.
The ruins of the castle sit on a limestone hill locate at one end of Dudley Town centre. They date back to 1071 following the Norman invasion in 1066, but are built on a site of fortifications that go back hundreds of years further. The castle was of such strategic importance that it was once visited by Queen Elizabeth I herself.
The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. What we see of it today dates back to its use as a Royalist stronghold, when it was partially dismantled by Parliamentarians in 1646.
The hill the castle is situated on was extensively quarried during the Industrial Revolution, resulting in a labyrinth of mines and canals running beneath the castle, that brought many deaths and injuries to quarrymen.
The castle was inhabited until 1750, when a fire destroyed the residential parts of the castle. Today the castle makes up part of the grounds of Dudley Zoo. The most prominent remaining part of the castle is its keep which dates from the rebuilding that started in 1262.
Dudley Castle is said to be home to many spirits including the Grey Lady who is believed to be the ghost of Dorothy Beaumont, who once lived in the castle and died there following complications after giving birth to her daughter. Her ghost is most often reported in the castle keep in the form of unexplained sounds and icy blasts of air, which are often accompanied by a strange blue mist.
However, the most haunted part of the castle is the chapel undercroft, where you'll find a stone coffin which is said to have once held the body of one of the castle's most infamous residents, John de Somery. His ghost has been spotted as disembodied legs beside the coffin, perhaps because his coffin was split in half while it was being transported to its final resting place at the castle.
Dudley also has the ghost of a drummer boy who was said to have been killed by a stray bullet during the Civil War. He allegedly haunted the battlements and the keep and is heard at night beating out drum rolls as if in battle. According to legend, it's a bad omen if you should see or hear the boy.
People have also reported seeing dark shadowy figures, and hearing strange sounds throughout the castle. Could the ghost of a witch who has also been sighted be responsible for these occurrences? Others have reported feeling tugs at their clothing as they walk through parts of the castle.
Although this was the first time I've visited Dudley Castle, the Most Haunted team are very familiar with this paranormal hotspot. Not only do MHE hold regular ghost hunts here, but Yvette, Karl, Stuart and the team have embarked on two investigations for the television show here.
The team's first night at the castle was in 2002 for the first ever 'Most Haunted Live!' show. Yvette was joined by her usual team of paranormal investigators, as well as a 500-strong audience in the castle's ground, who followed their antics along with the viewers at home on Halloween night.
Probably the best piece of evidence caught on camera during the live investigation appeared on the webcam that was placed in the kitchen. Viewers alerted the team to a shadow, which is seen passing by a doorway. It looked very much like a human walking by but the whole area was cordoned off and secure.
Yvette and the team returned to Dudley to investigate the castle for a 2018 episode of the show. The gang had a pretty active time at the location and heard plenty of odd knocks, bangs and what sounded like footsteps. But perhaps the thing fans best remember about the episode is Karl's moment of madness at the top of the keep.
During one of the vigils Karl got brave and climbed on the battlements and asked the spirits of the castle to prove they were there by pushing him. He was stood with a drop in to a spiral staircase on his right-hand-side and the long fall to the foot of the castle on his left. Karl noted that there was "certain death on one side and severe injury on the other." Luckily Karl wasn't pushed, but if he had fallen and survived, Yvette would definitely have killed him.
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We arrived at the castle at 9pm on a warm summer's night and were given a friendly greeting by the MHE team. We were then taken to one of the oldest parts of the castle, the undercroft. Here we took a seat in front of a projector screen for a welcome and orientation video. Like with all these events you have to sit through health and safety rules.
With the video out of the way, the event's organiser, Jenny, introduced the stars of the show, Karl and Stuart. Stood in front of the audience of about 30 guests, the duo told us what we could expect from the evening, spoke a little about best practices on a paranormal investigation, and cracked a few jokes - including one tongue-in-cheek warning not to stand on the castle walls.
Before the ghost hunt got underway, Karl and Stuart spent 10-15 minutes mingling with the guests. As the number of attendees at this venue wasn't too high, it seemed that most people got a chance to talk to the celebs.
With the meet and greet out of the way, we head out side for a group photo before being split into two teams to start our investigation. Although Karl and Stuart were at the event, once the ghost hunt begins you are in the capable hands of the MHE team. However, Karl and Stuart often walk around the location and join in with the guests' vigils.
Our team were sent back to the undercroft to start our investigation. A room where the stone coffin of John de Somery lies. A fairly small but atmospheric arched, stone room. There was only one way into the room, no windows and a complete lack of natural light.
The good thing about events like these is that they are suitable for guests of all levels of experience. Pete and Carly, the husband and wife team who were facilitating our first investigation took the time to talk us through the array of ghost hunting gadgets that were available for us to use during the event. Everything from dowsing rods to a thermal imaging camera.
We had a very promising start. As soon as we got stuck into the investigation we heard a crash at the back of the room. Carly checked the area but the source of the sound couldn't be found. This was followed by several unexplained sounds including an odd metallic noise that sounded like it was coming from a point between two guests.
Our team was then split into smaller groups. One half tried some table tipping, a method of communication that involves encouraging spirits to move a small wooden table. Meanwhile, our half of the group went to the back of the undercroft to conduct an experiment called the "human pendulum." This involved one volunteer from the group standing in the middle of a circle while we called out and encouraged the spirits to move her - forward to indicate 'yes' or backwards to indicate 'no'. There was someone stood in front of her and behind ready to catch her in case she was pushed too far.
According to the movement of the volunteer's body, the spirit was that of a male, but the rest of the information they shared with us was a little contradictory, leading the group to the conclusion that the spirit was playing with us.
After about an hour investigating the undercroft, we moved on to our next paranormal hotspot.
We next climbed the spiral stone staircase to the top of the castle's keep. I'm not sure this was the best place to investigate as there was a lot of noise from the busy town below, the wind rushing through the battlements and a flag that was flapping loudly in the breeze.
However, it was a memorable experience to be stood on the battlements of a castle at almost midnight. Dudley might not be the most picturesque town in the world, but seeing it lit up at night from our vantage point was well worth climbing the stairs and braving the wind for.
Even though it might not have been the best spot to investigate, we were teased by some minor occurrences that got our hopes up. At one point an EMF meter started to flash wildly. This device detects increases in electromagnetic field strength, a phenomenon some think is associate with ghost manifestation. However, there didn't appear to be any communicative intelligence behind the incident and moments later the device fell silent.
We were also a little excited at one point when we repeatedly heard what sounded like cannon fire echoing around the battlements. This sound baffled us for a few minutes, until one member of the group looked over the wall in the opposite direction and spotted a firework display on the horizon, which was clearly the cause of the sounds.
After making our way down from the battlement, we were heading for a break, but one of the team received a call on their radio and they announced, "can you move back into the undercroft, they've got some loud bangs going on."
So, we all excitedly headed back to the undercroft where we found Karl stood on the small wooden stage at the end of the room where he was experiencing loud knocks, that sounded like they were coming from beneath the stage.
Karl called out to the spirits, "can you copy this" before stamping his foot three times. Eerily thee almost identical knocks were heard coming back. By this time we had joined Karl on the stage and I could feel the knocks vibrating through the stage.
Then the sound seemed to move, while the vibration could still be felt coming from the stage, the sound now appeared to be emanating from the wall behind Karl. The vibrations were so pronounced that it felt as if someone was under the floor knocking the underside of the stage. However, the front of the stage was open and it was easy to see that this wasn't the case.
For more than ten minutes we listened to the strange knocking sounds. Karl then asked the spirit to try to communicate using knocks. He said, "can you knock two for 'yes', one for 'no'. Did you die here?" There were two knocks in response. Another guest then asked, "is there more than one of you?" And there were six knocks in response.
After a while the knocks seemed to die down and then stop all together, which meant it was time for a break. We headed to the castle's Courtyard Cafe, where during the event free hot and cold drinks and an excellent array of snacks were available. I had an orange Club biscuit.
For the final part of the night, MHE team members Mark and Sandra guided us through a part of the castle that doesn't just have ghosts, but also some little furry residents. The 'Castle Creatures' exhibit contains a series of rooms walking visitors through the history of the castle, before introducing them to some of the creatures you might associate with a castle, such as mice, rats and bats.
Because of the zoo animals in this part of the castle, it did smell a bit, but we soon got used to it - in the same way that our eyes adjusted to the dark. The second half of the investigation started out in much the same way as the first, calling out to the spirits and encouraging them to respond - moving from room to room of the exhibit as we did.
In the first room we conducted another human pendulum experiment. This time the guest taking part swayed back and forth in answer to our questions and became quite responsive. The group were able to determine that the spirit was connected with the land the castle was built on and was here before the castle, but apparently only died in the 1900s.
The guest acting as the human pendulum had been pushed back and forth so much that when he experiment ended, he had to be taken to one side to recover as he was still swaying and seemed to be close to toppling over - but he seemed to enjoy the experience.
Before the night came to an end, we did some more table tipping and plenty more calling out, but it seemed most of the night's activity had already occurred.
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Having investigated haunted houses, prisons, pubs and all sorts of other types of location, I've been wanting to conduct a ghost hunt at a castle for a long time. As Dudley has been named the most haunted castle in the UK by the press, it seemed like the perfect choice of location and I wasn't disappointed.
Dudley Castle was a fantastic location and it was fun to be able to explore the various areas of the ruins during the free time at the end of the night. The team from Most Haunted Experience were very friendly, professional and knowledgeable and all of the guests got stuck into the investigation.
The highlight of the night had to be the moment with Karl in the undercroft when we heard clear and loud knocks and bangs. I was pleased to have been given the chance to get involved with investigating this activity, as it was the most responsive knocking I've ever heard at a haunted location. I got to call out with Karl and scattered a couple of my ghost hunting gadgets across the floor that could detect the vibration from the knocking sounds.
While for many having members of a television show's investigation team is what the event is all about, it can slow down the evening a little for those who want to get stuck into investigation. Whichever your preference, MHE can cater for you as they offer both "celeb" and "non-celeb" events.
Over all it was an excellent night. I really enjoyed it and would like to give a massive thanks to the MHE team for putting on the event and making it so much fun. If you'd like to book your own ghost hunt at Dudley Castle, you can find more information at mosthauntedexperience.com.