Friday, April 25, 2008

Dracula's Castles

April 1912 was an eventful month; on the 20th of that month (just 5 days after the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic) Irish novelist Abraham 'Bram' Stoker died. His legacy was to leave to the world possibly the most popular, enduring horror novel ever written - 'Dracula'. Although a novel, it was not written lightly, for Stoker conducted considerable, serious research into vampire stories, folkore and East European legends; and as we all know, legends tend to have their base in a truth somewhere. So it is with Stoker's main character, Count Dracula who, in the story, lived in a remote medieval castle on the border between Moldavia and Transylvania.

But who was the real Dracula? Did he really have a spooky castle? Was he really a vampire?

Many scholars have sought to find the answers over the years. What we can tell you is that there was once a Prince Vlad Dracula who was born in the heart of medieval Transylvania in the 15th century and who became famous (or infamous) for his acts of cruelty and violence; so much so that he is today remembered by the nickname Vlad the Impaler.

Vlad Dracula became associated with a number of medieval castles including the famous Castle Poenari which he had built in an incredibly remote mountain top setting - there 1480 steps leading up to it! Then there was Bran Castle where he often stayed (see photos of Bran Castle) and the palace of Tirgoviste which he built and where he developed underground cellars, allegedly used as torture chambers.

For all the horror of some of Vlad Dracula's real exploits, he ironically did many positive things for his country which are still remembered today - indeed he is regarded as a national hero in Romania. Read about Dracula's legacy.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ghostly Dunstanburgh - Haunted Medieval Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle is not an easy castle to reach. Its location on the Northumberland coast of England is fairly remote, beautiful though somehow eerie and desolate.

It was whilst driving back from a visit to Bamburgh Castle that we had the opportunity to see this magnificent medieval ruin for ourselves. As soon as it came into view in the distance, it seemed to loom with a striking, almost ghostly silhouette against the skyline. The 'ghostly' part of that description is very apt: Dunstanburgh Castle is reputed to be haunted - and by more than one ghost!

Once the largest castle in Northumberland, Dunstanburgh Castle was built in the 14th century by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, nephew to the then King Edward II. Having led a rebellion against his king, Thomas was executed for treason in 1322. His execution, however, was not quick and he died an agonising death because of the executioner's inexperience. It's because of this that his ghost is said to haunt the castle that he built - Dunstanburgh.

Another ghost reported to haunt the castle's grounds is that of Sir Guy, a knight who sheltered nearby during a storm. His legend tells of a wizard and Sir Guy's attempt to rescue a young woman from the castle to no avail only to become a ghost without a shadow, searching throughout the centuries for the lady he sought to rescue.

There's more on haunted Dunstanburgh Castle in our haunted English castles section for anyone interested in reading further.

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