The glory days of Blenkinsopp Castle were back in the latter years of the fourteenth century, but two hundred years later the castle was already a mass of ruined walls and overgrown chambers. Over the years many attempts to restore the fortress took place, but all ended in failure, leading to the only long term resident being its ghostly one.
There are many versions of the origin of the White Lady but the most popular one involves a young knight named Bryan de Blenkinsopp whose only real weakness was his great love of wealth – and his oath that he would never marry unless it was to a woman with a chest of gold heavier than ten of his strongest men could carry. Sir Bryan followed his love of gold and jewels to the Crusades, and then years later returned home with an olive-skinned bride, and a massive chest of gold that was her dowry. The couple were happy at Blenkinsopp to begin with, then the young bride discovered his oath and realised that Sir Bryan had married her for her father’s gold. In revenge she hid the chest deep within the bowels of the castle – an action that she lived to regret.
Infuriated by his wife’s act, Sir Bryan made another vow – to leave and never return. Arming himself, the young Baron headed back off to the Crusades, leaving his young wife behind, alone and suffering terrible grief and remorse, regretting her decision to hide her dowry. It is said she waited years for her husband to return, and when news of hs death in the Crusades reached her, she gathered her retinue and left Blenkinsopp, returning to her homeland.
However, since that day, the White Lady of Blenkinsopp has haunted the castle grounds, ever searching for her estranged husband, or attempting to reveal the location of the hidden dowry.
By the 1820s the fate of the Lady of Blenkinsopp Castle was little more than a fairy tale legend told around the fire in cold winter months. However, it seems that in the early part of the nineteenth century, a herdsman and his family braved the legends of the ghost and set up a rough home in one of the less decayed rooms of the ruined castle.
The story goes that one night the family were fast asleep, only to be awoken by a scream of terror from their son in the adjoining room. Mother and father rushed in to find him awake and shaking in fear, babbling on about ‘the white lady.’ Thinking that he had just had a nightmare, they tried to convince him to settle back down to sleep, but he would have none of it. He told them that a well dressed lady in white had appeared and sat on his bed, waking him up, and had kissed him and asked him to go with her – and if he did he’d be a rich man. The lady then claimed she’d buried a casket of gold in the vaults beneath the castle centuries previously, and that she could not find peace as long as it remained undiscovered. However, the boy had been too afraid, and his cry of terror as she had reached for him had woken his parents – and scared the white lady away. The herdsman then searched the castle in case of an intruder, but found nothing.
The White Lady visited the boy again for the next three nights, with his screams waking his family each visit: finally, they brought him into their room to sleep with them – and the White Lady visited the boy no more.
There were no more reported appearances of the White Lady until apparently some fifty years or so had passed, when an unnamed woman visited the inn at Greenhead, looking for permission to enter the now ruined Blenkinsopp Castle, as she’d had a dream of a lady in white telling her about a hidden treasure in the vaults. However, as the landowner was away at the time, she never got her permission, and left without exploring the ruins.
In the early 1970s it was reported that a tunnel had been found leading to underground vaults deep beneath the ruins of the castle. A workman had gone down into the tunnel to check its stability, and had barely been able to escape with his life when he was nearly overcome by poisoned air or noxious gases, presumably that had been collecting there over the centuries. This seems to corroborate Margaret Tynedale’s account in 1932 that ‘some years ago’ the vaults under the main tower were being cleaned out and a small tunnel was found. In that case the fellow who ventured in was wise enough to get out swiftly when the ‘bad vapours put his light out.’ However, the result was that the tunnel was sealed, possibly taking with it the true fate of the Blenkinsopp Treasure. Discussion with the then owner of the castle (in the late 20th century) confirmed that the tunnel had indeed been blocked and sealed without exploration on health and safety grounds.
To further the tale of the area, Blenkinsopp Hall was built on a hill in the early 1800s one mile to the north of the castle on the site of a medieval tower. It is said that the Hall is haunted by the apparition of a black dog, said to herald a death in the family of anyone who sees it.
– Originally published as an article in Otherworld North East: Ghosts and Hauntings Explored (Author: Tony Liddell, Publisher: Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2004)