A Little Off Base Haunted Heritage Trail
October 24, 2007
Alan Judd doesn’t really see the ghost of Betty Radcliffe, landlady of the Bell Hotel in Thetford during the 19th century. He smells her.
From nowhere, a lavender scent will waft through areas of the hotel, said Judd, who has managed the hotel for six years.
“Paranormal [investigators] pick her up all the time,” Judd said. “She sits in the lounge, we think.”
The Bell Hotel is just one stop of 17 haunted spots on Thetford’s Haunted Heritage Trail. Starting from the tourism office on King Street, brave souls can check out all the ghoulish spots in this riverside town.
The Bell Hotel was built centuries ago on top of an 11th-century building, and according to Judd, some older residents have stuck around.
One night, coming out of his office, Judd said he saw a hooded monk who frequents the area.
“One time in the cellar, I saw a man walk across and go through a wall that used to be a doorway,” Judd said. “He was only visible from just below the knees.”
The experiences have left him “quite affright” in the past, he said.
“The hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and my heart races,” Judd said. “Then after he’s passed by, you think ‘why didn’t I get a grip on myself and try to make contact?’”
Female guests have had to be moved out of one room, after they reported feeling a pressure on them, he said.
“We’ve had complaints lately of women sleeping in rooms on their own and feeling a pressure on them,” he said. “It’s certainly not a staff member.”
Other spots on the trail include number 14 in the 17-point tour, the Priory of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre.
In 1937, a group of ghostly monks was heard singing in Latin among the ruins of this building, followed by a single reading from an unknown text. No explanation has ever been reached about just what this all meant.
Monks also have been seen around the Thetford Priory, ghostly hooded figures walking obliviously among their living counterparts.
Stuart Wright, a Thetford councilor, said his grandfather used to tell him tales of seeing ghostly figures while tending to his pigs near the priory.
“He went down to check on his pigs and saw this figure,” Wright said. “When the figure disappeared through the wall, he wasn’t too worried about his animals.”
Or see Nuns’ Bridges, the haunting spot for a boy known as Little Lord Dacre, who is seen in the area riding a headless rocking horse.
Centuries ago, the little boy had died when he fell from his favorite wooden horse and shattered his head. In the 18th century, there were reports that bloodstains were found on the wall of the house where the boy died. Bloodstains that wouldn’t wash away for 100 years, despite all efforts to remove them.
As the sun sets, make your way to Castle Hill, midway through the trail.
Castle Hill is known as England’s tallest earthwork, and it’s believed that a wooden castle once sat atop the mound. Though that castle is gone, many myths abound about the site, surely made stronger by the advent of Halloween.
According to town literature, one story says the hill was created by the devil scraping his boots after building a medieval dyke known as Devil’s Ditch elsewhere in East Anglia.
For the stout of heart, legend says that walking around Castle Hill seven times at midnight will result in a meeting with the devil himself.
Back at the Bell Hotel, Judd said he also suspects that some American airmen from World War II still frequent the establishment.
“We get voices in the bar that sound like a party’s going on,” Judd said. “It sounds like a radio that’s not tuned in. You’ll pick up one word, and it sounds like an American accent.”
What: A 17-point walking tour of all types of haunted spots in the town of Thetford.
When: Whenever you want. Trail brochures are available at the Thetford Tourism and Heritage Partnership office on King Street. An online version is available at: http://explorethetford.co.uk/shared/trails/pdfs/6.pdf.
For more information, call 01842 820689, or log on to www.explorethetford.co.uk. The Bell Hotel also offers tours for patrons staying in the hotel or dining in the restaurant.