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As I sit and write this today, it is my birthday. By the time you read this my birthday will be long gone and hopefully the bitterly cold, driving heavy rain will have passed by too.

What better way to spend my special day than to go on a little adventure. I took time away from work to head off on a Weird Wiltshire research and photo trip and I’d like to share that with you today. We are going to explore the history and ghosts of Malmesbury, a very old and very special hilltop settlement in the far North of Wiltshire. I’ve been wanting to do a bit more exploring into areas in the north and west of Wiltshire, and I love a good abbey ruin, so Malmesbury seemed like a good call.

Going back to the middle of the sixth century, after the Saxons laid claim to the land from the Ancient Britons, Malmesbury was a very important place, becoming the oldest borough in England after Alfred the Great gifted the market town a charter in around 880.

It has witnessed some important events in time and it grew in importance with the building of the magnificent Malmesbury Abbey. In medieval times it had the highest spire in the country being 7m taller than the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. The town was home to the first saint of Wessex (St Aldhelm), the first king of England (King Athelstan the Glorious), the first man to fly (Brother Eilmer), the father of modern English history (William of Malmesbury) and the father of English philosophy (Thomas Hobbes).

There’s much to explore.

It’s the end of March, an early Easter just around the corner, but it’s really cold and the rain is big and fat and icy. Looping around the bottom of the hill, on which the town of Malmesbury is built, are the swollen waters of the River Avon. There has been a lot of rain in Wiltshire in the last six months. The ground is sodden and we are desperately in need of a bit of spring warmth to dry the land. A plus side of a bad weather day is the chance to visit a destination without too many other people about, something I am always happy about! Heads were down, collars turned up, people were just going about their business.

I dragged my reluctant partner, Nick along. He’s certainly not into ghosts, but as long as beer and food is involved on a day out, he admits he quite likes our little adventures. Normally, we have dogs and kids in tow, so it’s quite a treat to be just a duo.

Credit: Visit Wiltshire

Malmesbury Abbey

We decided to head up the hillside towards the majestic ruins of the old monastery, built in 1180. It looms high up into the grey sky and is attached to the Norman-built abbey, which is still in use as a place of worship. Originally, there was a Benedictine monastery built around 676 on the land. It’s a wonderful old building and a breathtaking abbey. And, such a bonus for a huge heritage building such as this, it was lovely and warm. I’ve tried my best to capture the beauty of the abbey in my photos, but as always, it never looks quite as good on film than it does in real life.

Eilmer stained glass window in Malmesbury Abbey

The Flying Monk of Malmesbury

The current abbey is the third ecclesiastical building on the site. Back in the 11th century a young Benedictine monk called Eilmer lived at Malmesbury Abbey. Not much is known about Eilmer or his life but there is an account of something quite extraordinary that Eilmer decided to try which led him to be possibly the first person in Europe to take flight!

Eilmer was very interested in Daedalus, the father of Icarus, both characters from Greek Mythology with an interest in flying. Daedalus built the wings with which Icarus used when he tried to escape Crete. He famously failed to heed his father’s warnings not to fly too close to the sun and when the wax on his wings melted, he could no longer fly, and he plummeted to the ground and died.

Perhaps Eilmer should have paid more attention to Icarus’ fate, but instead, he decided to try to build some wings for himself. Eilmer, with youthful exuberance, decided to fasten wings to his hands and feet, so he might fly like Daedalus. He threw himself from the tower of Malmesbury Abbey and, on a current of air, he flew more than a furlong (200 meters). Unable to balance himself in the air, the top half of his body being heavier than his bottom half, he plummeted down to the earth and suffered two broken legs. Poor Eilmer was lame for the rest of his days, but he did go on to live a long life.

Kathleen Wiltshire wrote a short entry about the ghost of Eilmer, seen previously, walking around the abbey ruins and climbing the tower.

Another report of ghostly Eilmer tells of his walking among the gravestones, seemingly searching for something. He then raises his hands to heaven as if giving thanks for whatever it is he seeks before sinking to the floor.

The Tomb of King Athelstan, King of All England

For me, the best part of the abbey is the chance to visit King Athelstan’s, (the first King of England) tomb. His tomb lays, since 939 AD, in the corner of the abbey, but it seems his actual tomb is empty. He was buried somewhere in the churchyard, lost after the reformation, but his tomb stays in the abbey to stop further wear and tear; poor Athelstan has already lost a nose. You can even peep in and see the darkness of his tomb, where once he would have laid.

The First Tiger Killing in England

Exploring the abbey graveyard, we visited the gravestone of Hannah Twynnoy. She was a misfortunate young servant who worked at the White Lion Inn. They kept a couple of wild animals on show to pull in customers and Hannah was continuously told by the keeper not to tease the tiger. However, she did not listen and did this one too many times. The tiger broke free of his manacles, mauling her to death and Hannah earned herself the title of ‘first person to be killed by a tiger in England.’ Poor Hannah died aged 33, on 23rd October 1703, but I’ll be honest, I am not that sympathetic if she was provoking the poor captured beast.

Weird little tyre guy left over from Christmas

Time for a Drinkie

It hit noon and it was time to source a beer to keep Nick happy. It just so happened the next two locations I needed to visit were pubs. I was happy to oblige, given I had come on this trip inadequately dressed once again. Generally, I either bring a thin raincoat so I’m dry but too cold or I bring one of my warm coats and end up warm at first but then wet, and invariably cold or boiling hot. If you can’t cope with the changeable four-seasons-in-one-day weather, like me, you have to factor in warm-up stop-offs in either pubs or coffee shops.

The King’s Arms Hotel

We headed to The King’s Arms Hotel, a 17th-century coaching inn. It’s quite a big place. There’s a lovely view across the South Cotswolds hills from the seating area in the carpark but it’s not a place to sit on a day like this.

Unfortunately, the landlord was quite far from chatty and friendly. Trying to extract any information about the history of the inn was like sucking lemons. All he would say is that he and his equally unhappy wife had not witnessed anything unusual in their five years living and working there.

Two ghosts are supposed to haunt The Kings Arms Hotel. The first is a cavalier who had stopped there for a night’s rest en route to deliver a dispatch from Bristol to Oxford in the midst of the civil war. The cavalier messenger hid this important message up the chimney and it’s not clear why he did not retrieve it but presumably, trouble occurred for him.

Two versions of the finding of the dispatch exist. The first says it was found by builders in the 1920s when they were removing a portion of wall to make an archway from the lounge bar to dining room, and they found it up this chimney.

Another story, published in the Daily Mirror on 17th June 1935, involves Archibald Bouchier, who stayed the night at the inn in the bedroom above the porch. On the night he stayed, he had a vivid nightmare, in which he saw a cavalier being murdered.

So perplexed was Archibald that he did some digging into cavaliers and murders at the property. He managed to find out the murdered cavalier was Sir Ronald Bouchier and he happened to be a distant relative of  Archibald. He insisted on returning to the inn with a friend to make further enquiries and there they found the rolled-up dispatch, tucked up the chimney.

The other ghost that is said to favour The King’s Arms is one of the previous landlords, Harry Jones. He took over ownership of the inn from his father in 1880 and, quite the character, he was a famous landlord of the time, going on to become mayor of Malmesbury. He was a dapper gent by all accounts, smartly turned out with a fine gold hat sitting on top of his large frame. The North Wilts Herald in 1908 described Harry as rather a Dickensian character, preserving and upholding past traditions and old customs. Harry was a happy, portly, vivacious man with a good business going. Being a landlord could make one a good living back then, so I suppose that helped his good spirits.

It was 1920 when Harry passed away in his beloved inn. But it seems he wasn’t keen to leave it just yet. For many years, odd disturbances plagued the hotel, usually in the bar or in Room Nine, where Harry died. Heavy breathing was heard in the room and Harry was said to wander the upstairs corridors. Occasionally, Harry manifests, and a large figure with a broad smile appears.

The previous licensees did believe they shared the building with Harry. They reported a regular occurrence was a couple of little vases of flowers, placed on two of the smaller tables in the bar, sliding across and dropping over the side. The water would not spill and the flowers would stay in place as it landed on the floor. Staff just got used to scooping them up and standing the vases back on the table. Lights and beer taps come on and off when no one is near.

Across the way, on the other side of the inn, is a separate room. In here, on CCTV, an incident was captured where shot glasses flew from a high shelf across the room. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be online.

Harry Jones in his fine golden top hat

Time to get moving

Photos collected and miserable landlord avoided, we had a little walk around the town and visited the charity shops. I am always on the lookout for second-hand books on local history, folklore and ghosts so I was pretty pleased to head away with a little stash, including a couple on Malmesbury.

The Old Bell of Malmesbury

Unbeknownst to me, Nick had booked a really posh treat for me at The Old Bell, a lovely hotel, and possibly the oldest hotel in England (how many claims to fame does this town have?!). There has been a hostelry on this site since 1220. I dare say it was nowhere near as wonderful as it is now. The fantastic interior is both traditional yet modern and with little quirks around the place. It still runs as a hotel but offers food to non-residents and any type of beverage you may wish for. We were there to tick something off my bucket list. I had always wanted to go for a ‘proper’ afternoon tea at a decent hotel. And so, for my birthday treat, that’s what we were off to do.

A lovely welcome was received from the charming staff. They agreed to show us the ‘haunted spots’ and were totally happy to chat about the place and their experiences.

Most activity occurs in the east wing of the building. This sits over the former abbey churchyard, and it’s suspected a sarcophagus is still buried under the bar. Also, down below the ground floor, a passage was found in 1889. Inside the passage was an upright female skeleton, a couple of stone coffins and a pair of 16th-century spurs in a box.

The main ghost at The Old Bell is ‘The Lady in Grey’. She is a sad-looking figure who is seen gliding through the library, through walls, on the main staircase and on the upstairs landing, mainly in the East Wing. She has also been seen passing through a hedge and where this happens, no matter what the gardeners do, they cannot get it to grow.

In the room known as the library is a portrait of a lady who is thought to be this melancholy ghost, but no one knows who she is. Some books say she was a lady forced into an unhappy marriage and hung herself in the James Ody Room. I found, in a book, the same story, but a different painting, said to be this ghostly grey lady too.

In the room upstairs, known as the James Ody Room (Number 15), just recently, a couple of guests staying there, and totally unaware of the hotel’s reputation, checked out suddenly at 2am and left without any explanation. Jamie, the night porter, had discussed with Saoirse, the atmosphere on the top floor was very creepy and scary in the middle of the night with an oppressive atmosphere. In the James Ody room, a hanging black figure has been seen swinging from one of the wooden beams in front of the window. While we were enjoying our cakes and dinky sandwiches, the waitress Nicole told us of her spooky experience in room 15.

When she was a kid, she had to sometimes go to work with her brother who worked at the hotel cleaning rooms. She had spent a couple of hours running up and down the upstairs hallways, by her own admission, taunting the ‘scary ghost lady’ and asking her to ‘do something.’ Nicole admitted she soon got bored and while her brother was finishing off she settled in a bucket chair. She used to sit in front of the window (just below where the swinging black shadow is seen) to watch her iPad. As her brother walked in the door of the room, he flicked the light switch on. The lightbulb smashed above Nicole’s head, glass raining down on her and scaring the living daylights out of her. After a long time, Nicole said she wouldn’t go up to the first floor of the hotel.

Nick happens to be an electrician so we asked him, ‘Is this possible?’ and he says, no. The filament would have to be heated to a very high temperature before it could explode and since the light was not on, it would be cold. He has only ever seen this happen once in all his time fiddling with lights.

By the way, if you say ‘grey lady, grey lady, grey lady’ three times in a row in this room, she will appear. We tried this, with a little nervy laugh, and swiftly exited. To be fair to the grey lady, we didn’t give her enough time to turn up! The room does have an oppressive feeling but I think that could just be the slant of the ceiling and only one small window.

The Faux Room

In The Faux Room, a heavy wardrobe was moved in front of the door from the inside on time. The returning guests were unable to get into their room and they summoned the staff. Forced to put a ladder up the side of the hotel and break in through the window, the staff struggled to get inside. What they found was the wardrobe blocking the door. No one was in the room at that time.

The Danvers Room

In the Danvers Room, a most scary occurrence, which sounds totally terrifying, is when the bedclothes are pulled from the bed in the middle of the night and items rise only to be thrown against the wall in this room.

Cold spots occur, items levitate, and odd noises can be heard, particularly in the bar area by staff doing their nightly rounds. I chatted with Paolo, the nice bar manager and Saoirse, the lovely receptionist. Both told me they felt an uneasy feeling upstairs on the first floor and Saorise said Jamie, the night porter, has had many strange experiences in the middle of the night. I think the recent ghostly experiences just add to the atmosphere of this wonderful place.

After all that ghost story collecting Nick and I were so very ready to sit down and enjoy a load of little biddy sandwiches, scones and patisserie cakes and a big pot of tea. Honestly, it was such a treat. Each mouthful is a joy and thoroughly delicious, but I am surprised to say that I couldn’t eat it all!

By the time we finished, it was time to head back to real life and family commitments. We headed back to the van; the rain had stopped temporarily, and we strapped our precious cakes, carefully packed in a cardboard box, into the backseat of the van with a seatbelt. They needed care, each little delicacy cost nearly a fiver!

It was a really nice day for so many reasons. Malmesbury is a lovely little town and this place is well worth a visit, even if you aren’t interested in the ghosts. There’s plenty of history to keep you busy.

Thanks for joining me in Malmesbury. I hope to see you on another day out soon!


Don’t forget, I’m always on the lookout for spooky and weird stories from Wiltshire and beyond. If you have a tale you would like to share I’d love to hear from you. Contact me via Twitter (or X as we are supposed to call it now) or here.

I’m also now to be found on Bluesky. Hurrah! If you enjoy my weird tales from Wiltshire and beyond and can spare a few pennies, please head over to Ko-fi and buy me a cuppa. Every bit is used to help bring you more stories. I sure would appreciate it.


Wiltshire’s Haunted Pubs and Inns, Terry Townsend

Eilmer, Malmesbury’s Flying Monk, The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey

Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside, Kathleen Wiltshire

More Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside, Kathleen Wiltshire

Paranormal Wiltshire, Selena Wright

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