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  • Writer's picturePaul Jameson

Donnington Castle

As a young man I lived in Newbury. It's where I used to drink myself silly, fell in love, had children and lived with the better part of me. It's a nice place. Pretty buildings and high street, walks along the canal and plenty of pubs and eateries. Besides the racecourse that pulls in a crowd, the town is the home of mobile telecoms, Vodafone founded there, and Highclere Castle is but a ten minute short drive down the road; famous now for Downton Abbey and on many a tourists’ hitlist to visit.

But that’s kind of modern stuff.

All within a couple of hundred years or less.

My advice though, if you’re down this way, is to visit Donnington Castle. As a young man it was my favourite place to be. It is quiet and full of history. Quite beautiful. Just a mile north of town, it stands a hill and looks out over the green trees. It's the best view you’ll get of Newbury. Built in 1386 by Richard Abberbury the Elder it has quite a history of famous guests, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, played a prominent and bloody role in the English Civil War, and is home to a few ghosts to boot.

Donnington Castle

A ruin now, this is pretty much because of its bloody role in the English Civil War. At the outset of the conflict in 1643, it was held by Parliamentarians, only to be captured and taken by Royalists after the First Battle of Newbury. Held then by Sir John Boys, the Parliamentarians besieged the castle for eighteen months and attacked it on many occasions. Twice it was relieved by King Charles I himself, only to be surrendered by Boys in 1646.

In 1647, having been such a thorn in Cromwell's side, Parliament voted to demolish the castle. Thus, only the striking and impressive gatehouse stands tall over the countryside now. That said, the foundations of its original walls and Civil War earthworks for gun emplacements can still be seen, enjoyed, and sat upon too. You might even bump into a ghost or two. There are said to be a few.

Tales tell that some have seen the apparition of a white dog running down the hill, before it disappears. Spectral dogs are often quite horrifying in folklore, but this is not seen as such. Perhaps it runs to find its master. Then there is the guard in period dress who has been seen on both floors, and in the stairwell, of the gatehouse; a soldier whose duty never ends. The most famous ghost of Donnington is said to Lady Hoby (1528-1609). In 1600 she descended on Donnington from out of Wales - a goodly distance - having been named castle steward by Elizabeth I. However, the Earl of Nottingham, who had been previously granted the manor, had taken up residence and refused to leave. Refused entry, Lady Hoby, in her seventies at the time, tried to instigate a pitched battle at the gates in an effort to oust the Earl of Nottingham. Quite the lady. Nowadays, as a ghost, it is said visitors are approached by a lady in a green dress who asks why the gates are closed and locked.

She then disappears.

Unseen, unheard.

Besides these individual ghosts, there is also a Civil War skirmish that takes place at the bottom of the hill along Love Lane. A bloody re-enactment of a bloody period in history. More frightening though to witness, perhaps, are tales of a Royalist soldier who drags a woman screaming by her hair. Any who approach him and come too close are growled ugly at. A threatening creature.

So Donnington Castle is a good place to visit.

At night is best.

I promise.

And not just because of the ghosts. The view over Newbury's lights are quite a thing to see, with the haunting calls of owl and scream of fox to boot. A ghostly atmosphere that's well worth it.


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