There were priest rooms, stern portraits and strange rapping noises when there was no one in sight
It’s a brisk afternoon under a slate grey sky when I step onto the crunchy gravel at Samlesbury Hall.
At first glance, the ancient, black and white, Tudor building certainly looks chillingly atmospheric. A sharp gust of wind lifts some leaves and I shiver, wondering what might be peering out from behind those centuries-old, stained glass windows.
But any spooky misgivings are swept away like cobwebs when I walk through the imposing, dark entrance. And that’s because young voices are peeling out of the entrance hall and the parlour is packed with children on a school visit.
Actually, I’m rather glad. I’m such a wimp, I’m not sure I’m quite ready for a full on Most Haunted experience just yet, even though the place is reputedly one of Lancashire’s spookiest destinations.
I head into the parlour. The chandelier in the Great Hall is magnificent, while the gorgeous panelled walls, tapestries, decadent fireplaces and mounted carvings in the rest of the ancient building really make you realise just how ancient this place is.
There are spooky carvings, a priest room, complete with an eerie, life sized model of a hooded priest and a deconsecrated chapel. Also chillingly atmospheric are the bedrooms and children’s school room.
The hall itself was originally home to tragic Dorothea Southworth, who was caught in the act of eloping with a forbidden lover in the 17th century, who was brutally killed on the spot. The heartbroken Dorothea sadly died some time later after being sent in disgrace to a nunnery for her misdemeanour.
Yet the village of Samlesbury itself is no stranger to haunted happenings, as it is said to have been home to the three women tried as ‘Samlesbury witches’ just after the Pendle witch trials. Thankfully, unlike their unfortunate Pendle counterparts, the Samlesbury witches lived to tell the tale.
Last time I came, almost ten years ago with the youngest, we drank hot chocolate in the house and marvelled at its spooky atmosphere, while the hall’s resident ‘witch’ Janey regaled us with tales of times gone by.
There’s no resident witch when I return, although she is there regularly, I am told, but I am pleasantly surprised by a new addition to the venue in the form of Dottie’s Wafflery. Of course, given the cosy and welcoming interior that I can see from outside, I just had to try it out
I could go for the Cherry Bakewell waffle, complete with jam, almonds, vanilla ice cream and a cherry, the delicious sounding Banoffee one, or the ‘Extra Chocolatey’ waffle. But instead, I opt for the berry compote waffle, at £8.95 and wash it down a pot of tea for £2.95,
It’s a light waffle that’s literally oozing with hot red berries, and set off with a scoop of cool ice cream. I don’t even try to kid myself this time that I will ‘only eat half,’ as on previous occasions. I polish the lot off in little under 15 minutes, to the somewhat surprised glances of fellow customers.
The purpose built Heritage Cafe offers more substantial fare in a gorgeous, airy venue at the other side of the grounds, overlooking the beautiful garden. Saying that, it totally felt more of a treat to wolf down a cheeky, berry laden waffle.
Manageress Maria dos Santos Martins who actually lives in a ‘gorgeous little cottage’ on site, tells me she loves working and living at Samlesbury Hall. She says: “I’ve been here 14 years – I absolutely love it, and it’s like we’re all one big happy family. I live on site in a lovely little cottage; it’s a wonderful, wonderful place to work and live.”
The stunning, ancient building is nestled in verdant grounds complete with herb garden, an ancient Mayflower-themed children’s play area and even its own eco camping pods. There are rumours of ghosts, says Maria, although she says she’s always so busy, she never notices any strange goings on herself.
That said, she admits, visitors are ‘always’ reporting spooky goings on. “People do feel something; I have had people say they had their hair pulled in the ladies, or, ‘I felt this presence in the priests’ room,’” she adds. “People do feel something – especially the clairvoyants, and at the end of the ghost nights, people always tell me things that make me think, there must be something.
“People bring these flashlights that light up in the presence of spirits, and it’s usually children that make the lights flash, at the top of the stairs. But saying that, if there are ghosts, they’re nice ones.”
I head back into the main entrance and look around. The school trip has left the building – and in its place is a distinctively chillier ambience. I end up in a deserted seated area. I must have come the wrong way, I think.
Then I hear a distinctive rapping from behind a glass panelled door, like someone knocking, briskly. I turn to look and the door is most definitely moving slightly.
It happens again, only slightly louder. I peer behind the door: Still not a dickie bird in sight. That’s it: I quickly return to the Great Hall. “Is there anyone back in there?” I ask a member of staff. “No, it’s just the door creaking!” comes the breezy answer.
But as beady eyed portraits stare down sternly, I’m not convinced. One thing is for sure: you could certainly be forgiven for thinking you’re not on your own at Samlesbury Hall.
- 09:22, 30 OCT 2022