In general body size and shape they are, effectively, medieval cattle

5 mins read

This is evident in their small stature – the bulls weigh in at around 400kg, less than one-third that of modern continental breeds – and in the cows’ small udders, which only have to produce milk for one calf at a time. “In general body size and shape they are, effectively, medieval cattle,” said Hall.

Chillingham Castle is said to be the most haunted castle in Britain (Credit: Chillingham Castle)
Chillingham Castle is said to be the most haunted castle in Britain (Credit: Chillingham Castle)

It was the medieval fervour for blood sports that meant the Chillingham cattle were originally enclosed in the park around 800 years ago – and left to live in a wild state. “They were treated like a large game animal,” explained Crossley. “The residents of Chillingham Castle would have come across on horseback with packs of hounds and lances, and they would have chased them through the park. That’s why they were kept wild in the first place – they wanted that fight-or-flight response.”

The cattle’s spectral form fits in perfectly against the backdrop of the castle, located next to the cattle park but now under separate ownership and said to be the most haunted castle in Britain. Dave Godfrey, a tour guide in one of the castle’s opulent state rooms, spoke of disembodied voices that babble incoherently in the chapel, ghouls flitting across moonlit courtyards and a frail figure who approaches guests in the pantry, begging them for water.

“Then there’s the Blue Boy, who heard some wrongdoings being plotted and was encased in a wall while he was still alive,” said Godfrey.

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Reports of a ghostly boy seen in the castle’s Pink Room were just another part of the estate’s folkloric fabric, until workmen in the 1920s made an unexpected discovery while excavating a wall. “They found the remains of a boy, with the bones on his fingers worn down. They gave him a Christian burial, and his ghost hasn’t been seen since.” My girlfriend and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend the night in the castle’s old guard room, although we didn’t experience anything spooky. Nor has Godfrey, in several years of working there. “I frighten the ghosts off, I think,” he said with a chuckle.

The Chillingham cattle’s characteristics may have been frozen in time in the medieval era, but theories as to their earlier origins are manifold and colourful. A 2nd-Century terracotta oil lamp, depicting a bovine with a curly forelock like that of the Chillingham breed, was found on the grounds of the castle. The discovery ignited speculation that the Romans, known for their religious veneration of white animals, might have sacrificed Chillingham cattle in the Mithraic temples along nearby Hadrian’s Wall.

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