By Greg Mansfield

Hound Tor, Dartmoor, Devon
Image by Greg Mansfield

Devon is famous for its rolling hills, dark forests, and the windswept wilderness of Dartmoor with its craggy tors. It’s a land steeped in history and enchanting legend. And in Devon you can visit the ruins of medieval castles, haunted inns, and ancient monuments.

Here are my recommendations of the best mysterious places to visit in this beautiful part of England.

Haunted Places in Devon

Berry Pomeroy Castle

Berry Pomeroy Castle
Image by Carolyn Mansfield

Location: Off the Totnes Road, 4 kms northeast of Totnes
Open: Various times
Admission: Some charge, with free parking nearby

Located in a secluded and heavily wooded valley, Berry Pomeroy Castle is actually a fortified mansion. And while there are other English castles that host more ghosts than Berry Pomeroy, some say it’s the country’s most haunted fortress.

The vast plot of land where Berry Pomeroy Castle is located was given to Rafe du Pomeroy in 1068 by William the Conqueror. One of Rafe’s decendents, Henry Pomeroy, enclosed a deer park there in 1207. But it wasn’t until the late 1400s when the Pomeroys built the fortified mansion.

The original castle consisted of a dry moat (now mostly filled in), a gatehouse, a curtain wall with ramparts, and a few towers. Its residential buildings hugged the curtain wall on the inside.

In 1547, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, bought the castle from Sir Thomas Pomeroy. Edward’s sister was Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry the VIII. Despite that connection, Edward was beheaded for treason in 1552 and his lands passed to the Crown.

In 1558, Edward’s son, Lord Edward Seymour, gained title to Berry Pomeroy castle. Between 1560 and 1580, he had the residential buildings inside its walls torn down. He then erected an imposing, four-storey Tudor house at the northern end of the courtyard. The stone shell of that building survives today.

In 1688, Lord Edward’s great-great grandson, another Edward, inherited the castle. His mother, Lady Anne Seymour, lived in the castle until she died in 1694. But he didn’t live there himself. As a member of Parliament, he preferred to live closer to London.

After Lady Anne’s death, the castle fell into disrepair. And by 1701 it was a ruin. Today, it’s managed by English Heritage on behalf of John Seymour, the 19th Duke of Somerset.

Of the many ghosts that haunt Berry Pomeroy Castle, the most infamous is that of Margaret Pomeroy. It’s known that Margaret was imprisoned in the dungeon at the bottom of one of the castle’s towers. She and her sister, Eleanor, both loved the same man. And Eleanor felt so threatened by her sister’s beauty that she had the castle guards seize Margaret and lock her up in the dungeon. Poor Margaret starved to death in the damp depths of what’s now known as Margaret’s Tower.

Margaret’s whispy, white apparition is sometimes seen in the ruins of the tower, even during daylight hours. Some people have pebbles thrown at them by invisible hands while they explore that part of the castle.

But the white lady doesn’t stay confined to her tower. Her spirit has also been seen outside the castle walls, gliding past the cafe near the front entrance.

The most frightening aspect of poor Margaret’s ghost is the loud scream she sometimes makes. Unsuspecting visitors and even experienced ghost hunters have run trembling from the castle after hearing Margaret’s terrible shriek.

The other well-known phantom at Berry Pomeroy Castle is the apparition of a girl dressed in blue. She haunts the hollow shell of the large 16th Century manor house inside the walls. Her true identity is unknown, but it’s said she became pregnant by her father and smothered her unwanted baby right after it was born. She wanders the ruins in a sad state and is sometimes seen in one of the high windows of the manor house.

Other ghosts encountered at the castle include a pair of knights on horseback, a cheeky-looking guard seen through one of the entrance tower’s windows, a soldier patrolling the ramparts, and a Cavalier (the castle was briefly inhabited by Royalists during the English Civil War).

When you visit Berry Pomeroy Castle, be sure to take a camera. Several of its ghosts have been photographed over the years, and so you’ll have a good chance of recording one!

Churston Court Hotel

Churston Court Hotel
Image by Carolyn Mansfield

Location: Bascombe Road, Churston Ferrers
Open: All times
Admission: Free, reservations required for accommodations

Churston Court hotel, restaurant and bar is situated in the village of Churston Ferrers, near Brixham. Originally a manor house, there has been a building on this site in one form or another for at least 1,000 years.

The village of Churston (originally Cyrictun) was founded by Saxons. It first consisted of a timber-frame manor house where the hotel now stands, a small chapel next door, a home farm, and small wattle-and-daub houses.

After the Normans arrived in England in the late 11th Century, the manor house was rebuilt in stone. Records from the 1200s show that the manor served as a dower house for Lady Nonant of Totnes. In 1303, one of her desendants, Alice Bozun, married Hugo de Ferrers, at which point the village became known as Churston Ferrers.

In 1405, Joan Ferrers married Richard Yarde. The Yarde family lived in the house and held the seat of power there for the next 350 years. In the late 1400s the house, by then officially known as Churston Court, underwent major reconstruction. Its interior was largely remodelled 200 years later. The results of this later work can be seen to this day in its staircases, inglenook fireplaces, stone windows, oak panelling, and flagstone floors.

The Yarde family’s domain over Churston Ferrers ended in 1763 when Susanna Yarde married Francis Buller. Their son, another Francis, adapted his surname to Yarde-Buller.

In the 1900s, the popular murder-mystery author, Agatha Christie, was a regular guest of Lord Churston (a Yarde-Buller descendant) at Churston Court. In 1967, Lord Churston sold the property to a local hotelier and moved away. The old manor house has been a hotel ever since.

Churston Court Hotel’s grounds are beautiful, and the front of the two-storey, white-washed hotel is decorated with lovely greenery. Immediately next door, to the north-east, stands the magificent Norman tower of St. Mary the Virgin Church.

The great age and characterful history of Churston Court hits you the moment you walk through its entrance at ground level. It’s like stepping through a portal to the late 17th Century. Rich oak panelling lines the entrance hall, and a well-polished suit of armour stands guard at the top of the staircase before you.

As you turn immediately right into the hotel bar, you’d swear you’re stepping into the Elizabethan era. The walls are painted ochre and decorated with tapestries, gold-framed mirrors, and old portraits of such historical figures as King Henry VIII and Admiral Nelson. Long and very old wooden tables beg you to sit at them. And the blackened oak bar at the back of the room beckons you forward.

The Bar at Churston Court Hotel
Image by Greg Mansfield

As you roam around the rest of the main floor and view its suits of armour and numerous artifacts from centuries past, you feel as if you could only cut the atmosphere with a medieval sword. And you just know there be ghosts in the place.

Many guests and staff members of the 19-room Churston Court Hotel have reported seeing the phantoms of cowled monks. Two monks are often seen together. At other times only one of them is present. Some witnesses have eyed the ghostly pair walking the grounds and then vanishing through an exterior wall of the hotel. Others have spotted the monks walking down the inside of the hotel’s hallways. And on at least one occassion, one of them seen to walk out of an interior wall, turn around, and disappear back into it.

Staff members have been startled by walking through one of the monks as his apparition suddenly appears in front of them. In the dining rooms, candles are blown out by sudden blasts of cold air and then re-light of their own accord. And some guests have reported being woken in the middle of the night by the two monks. They see the frightening pair standing together at the sides of their beds, staring down at them with disapproving glares.

When my wife and I visited Churston Court Hotel on an afternoon in 2021, we had the pleasure of meeting its management team — Simon and Nikki. When I asked Simon about the hotel’s ghosts, he was happy to tell me about his personal experiences.

Simon recounted that one night in the spring of 2021, he and Nikki had plans to drive home after working a long day at the hotel. But it got so late and the drive home was so far they decided to stay in the hotel’s staff quarters on the ground floor.

At about 2:00 a.m., Simon got up to relieve himself. While walking down a hallway towards the toilet he heard footsteps walking behind him. Thinking it might be Nikki following him, he stopped and turned around. But the hallway was deserted. And while he was in the toilet he distinctly heard a female voice say, “I thought you were going home tonight?”

Simon also revealed that he has witnessed some strange things in the hotel bar. He has seen glass beer mugs hanging on hooks high up behind the bar start to swing violently on their own. And at other times he has seen drinking glasses fly off the bar and smash on the floor.

On one particular occasion, Simon saw a shadow figure move through the bar’s seating area. The strange form passed right through the bar and then through the exterior wall, as if it was headed towards the church next door.

If you’re looking to visit a centuries-old building that’s steeped in history and properly haunted, you absolutely must visit (and stay at) the intriguing and welcoming Churston Court Hotel. It’s one of my favourite haunted locations, anywhere!

Jay’s Grave

Jay’s Grave
Image by Greg Mansfield

Location: About 1.6 kms northwest of Hound Tor, near Manaton
Open: All times
Admission: Free
Website: N/A

Known as Jay’s Grave, the raised grave at the side of the road near Hound Tor is mysterious for several reasons. The first reason is that it’s not actually known whose grave it is.

Many believe it’s the grave of Kitty Jay (a.k.a. Mary Jay). According to local folklore, Jay was a servant girl who worked on a farm in Manaton in the late 1700s or early 1800s. She fell deeply in love with the farmer’s son and the two had a love affair.

Jay became pregnant and eagerly told her lover and his family the news. But she had over-estimated his feelings for her. To save his and his family’s reputation, he strongly denied the affair and that the baby was his. Jay was then banished from the farm. Spurned by the family, desperate, and alone, she hanged herself in a barn.

In those days, suicides were considered a crime that deserved spiritual punishment. And so it’s said that Jay’s remains were taken to the place where the grave is. This location was chosen because it was at a crossroads. Her body was unceremoniously buried at the crossroads so that, it was believed, her spirit would be confused and not know how to return to the world of the living.

In 1851, a local man was surprised when he came across human remains while widening the road at the gravesite. After digging the bones up, he apparently put them in a box and reburied them in the raised grave we see today. Its only marker is a small granite headstone with no eptitaph.

Another mystery attached to Jay’s Grave is the notion that fresh-cut flowers appear on the grave every day. But it’s not known who places the flowers there. This has gone on for many decades. And despite attempts to find out who leaves them, nobody has been seen doing it.

Some investigators have tried to stay up all night to keep an eye on the grave while others have set up camera traps. But for one reason or another nobody has been caught placing the flowers there. This could all be nonsense, of course, but it certainly adds an intriguing spookiness to the place.

Lastly, it’s said that Jay’s Grave is haunted. There are reports of a grey woman who floats eerily above the grave. Others claim to have seen a hooded figure in a black cloak kneeling at the side of the tomb. And some say a phantom hound has been seen there, too, keeping guard.

Lydford Castle

Lydford Castle
Image by Greg Mansfield

Location: Silver Street, Lydford, Okehampton
Open: Daylight hours
Admission: Free

At Lydford Castle, the ruins of a low tower standing on a mound aren’t actually the remains of a medieval fortification. Instead, it was a courtroom and jail that’s located near the site of what was once an actual castle.

The earlier castle was a small fort, erected soon after the Norman conquest. It sat on a corner of the former site of a fortified Saxon village. The Norman fort was abandoned by the mid-1100s, and all that remains of it is an earthen mound.

The lower, underground floor of the stone tower we see today was built in 1195 to house prisoners. After fire struck the building in 1238, it was rebuilt and enlarged by Richard, Earl of Cornwall. He added two storeys to the structure and heaped soil around the ground floor. This was to give the impression that the tower sits on a motte, or mound, like a castle. As such, it stood out as a place of authority and power.

The courthouse operated on the top floor of the tower. It enforced the laws of the Forest of Dartmoor and the Devon stannaries (divisions or regions). The stannary laws governed the local tin-mining industry. At the “castle,” hundreds of people were sentenced to death and hanged for such crimes as theft, poaching, and tax evasion.

Prisoners were kept on the ground floor of the tower, which was essentially a dark and damp dungeon. By the 1300s, the justice meted out at Lydford Castle was generally so cruel it had gained a dreadful reputation. Complaints about “Lydford Law” were voiced across the country. Conditions in the jail were equally horrible. Prisoners were kept in the dark, chained in irons, and fed only bread and water.

During the English Civil War in the mid-1600s, Royalists used the tower to imprison Parliamentarians. Some were hanged there. It’s also believed that, in that same era, a few women were tried in the courtroom for witchcraft and were burned at the stake on the grounds behind the tower.

In 1809, Dartmoor Prison was opened and became the legal-administration center of the region. Subsequently, Lydford Castle was abandoned and fell into disrepair.

In 1932, Lydford Castle passed into the hands of the state. Today, the tower is administered by English Heritage. The earthworks of the old Saxon town and the Norman castle, which can be seen at the rear of the tower, are owned by the National Trust.

Rumour has it that the ghost of Judge Jeffries of the ‘Bloody Assizes’ haunts Lydford Castle. While he held court in many Devonshire towns in the late 1680s, there’s no record that he ever vistited Lydford, however. That combined with tales that he haunts the castle in the form of a large, black pig leads me to conclude this is folklore.

Actual ghosts do haunt Lydford Castle, though. At various times, witnesses have reported seeing one of the apparitions of three women who wander oustide the tower. One wears a red dress, another a grey dress, and the third wears a white top and a long, grey skirt with no shoes.

Inside the tower, people have heard ghostly wails, moans, and screams that seem to come from the old dungeon. The sound of a judge’s gavel has been heard in the ruins, too, pounding on a bench that no longer exists.

Three ghosts have been seen in the ruins — the apparition of a hanged man at the top of the upper stairs, a lady in green who walks the same steps, and the shadowy figure of a tall man who lurks in the dungeon.

In 1996, the British Psychic and Occult Society did an overnight investigation at Lydford Castle. While there, a well-trained German Shepherd froze at the top of the wrought-iron stairs that lead down to the dungeon. It continually barked at something below and refused to go further. When one of the investigators carried the dog down the steps, it cowered in a corner and whined.

Later that night, just before 3:00 a.m., several investigators saw a dark, bear-like shape materialized in an alcove of the former jail. It glided for several feet and disappeared below a stone archway.

Stained by human suffering and death, Lydford Castle has an eerie atmosphere and numerous ghosts.

The Waterman’s Arms

The Waterman’s Arms
Image by Greg Mansfield

Location: Bow Bridge, Ashprington, near Totnes
Open: 7 Days a Week, 11am – 11pm
Admission: Free; reservations required for accommodations

There’s nothing in the paranormal realm I like better than to have a pint of ale in a haunted pub. And my favourite haunted inn in Devonshire is the Waterman’s Arms.

The Waterman’s Arms is a traditional 17th Century coaching inn that’s located in a idylic setting near the Bow Bridge that spans the Harbourne River. Its pub has a bright, casual atmosphere with a roaring fire in winter and a lovely outdoor terrace for sitting by the river on sunny days.

Before it became an inn the building was variously used as a smithy, a brewhouse, and a base for press gangs. The press gangs were infamous for forcing men to enlist in the Royal Navy between the late 1600s and early 1800s.

The Waterman’s Arms is said to be haunted by the ghost of a lady dressed in grey. Known as “Emily,” she wanders the premises clutching a bunch of keys. Noone knows for sure who she was in life. She may have been a former lady of the house or just a humble servant. What is known is that this sad-faced phantom looks so real that those who see her don’t know she’s a ghost until she dissolves into thin air, right in front of them.

Ancient Ruins in Devon

Spinster’s Rock

Spinster’s Rock
Image by Greg Mansfield

Location: On Shilstone Farm west of Drewsteignton, off the A382
Open: All hours
Admission: Free
Website: N/A

If you enjoy seeing Neolithic monuments and marvelling at how ancient people managed to move and position their stones, you should put Spinster’s Rock on your must-see list while in Devon.

This stone structure is known as Spinster’s Rock due to a fanciful legend that says the large stones were put there by three spinsters one morning before breakfast.

Spinster’s Rock is set in a lovely green field, and is the best example in Devon of a Neolithic burial chamber known as a dolmen or cromlech. Archeologosts believe it was built between 3,500 to 2,500 BC and contained multiple burials.

Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a long earthen mound, or barrow. The barrow at Spinster’s Rock has weathered away, however, leaving only the large stones. The remains of the dolmen fell down in 1862 and were reconstructed that same year.

Suggested Reading

Ghostly Almanac of Devon and Cornwall