Prestbury walk: A stroll through the most haunted village
PUBLISHED: 16:35 19 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:35 19 February 2020
Kirsty Hartsiotis and Anthony Nanson
A short stroll through possibly the most haunted village in England, taking in many ghosts and no less than three pubs
Prestbury battles with Pluckley in Kent for the crown of England's most haunted village. A visit there soon shows you why. It's full of gorgeous chocolate-box houses that date back, many of them, to medieval times, when Prestbury had a market and fair and nearby Cheltenham was just as small.
The old chap who haunts Walnut Cottage on Tatchley Lane was once a handyman there and in Field House. He likes to appear in the dining room and once told a visitor, 'Here's Old Moses. You see, I likes to look in sometimes.' He doesn't say from where! Young Lizzie in Prestbury House on the densely haunted Burgage also wants to be helpful. She was a waitress there in the 19th century when it was a tearoom serving racegoers, and likes to check that any current employees are doing a good job. Opposite is Sundial House, where a girl would be seen playing a spinet in the garden. During the Second World War she was heard by some children of the family who'd moved in; their mum, unimpressed, moved into their bedroom, only to be kept awake by the music herself! Music may also be heard on the High Street - this time a woman singing.
Wars have brought ghosts to the village. Horses' hooves can be heard clattering all over the place. During the Civil War there was a skirmish here; bullet holes can still be seen in some houses. When a Royalist dispatch rider was racing through the village from Sudeley - bearing news to the King at Painswick while he was besieging Gloucester - a rope was strung across the Burgage, the rider flew from his horse… and the ghostly hoof beats stop abruptly. Earlier, in the Wars of the Roses, another rider was carrying news to the forces at Tewkesbury, where a terrible battle would be fought. He was shot as he galloped through the village, near Shaw Green Lane. In 1901 a skeleton was found there with an arrow between the ribs. He's heard and sometimes seen… a white ghostly outline.
Horses' hooves can be heard by the Plough on Mill Street, too, but who knows what it is that scares animals there on foggy mornings… or whose are the marching feet you can hear? A legless, faceless man has been seen here with a light shining from his palm, a white lady slips along into the churchyard, an old lady gathers firewood, and old Mrs Preece flits about in the fields beyond the crossroads to Mill Lane. As for the High Street - nearly every other house has had a poltergeist! None's as terrifying, though, as the strangler of Cleeve Corner, whose ghostly hands choke sleepers in a certain room. A young bride was strangled there and her wedding goods taken.
Even the church hasn't been spared. The manor belonged to the Bishop of Hereford, who granted taxing rights to Llanthony Priory, so there'd have been many monkish visitors collecting those taxes. Prestbury's most famous ghost is the Black Abbot, a hooded figure who would appear inside the church at Easter, All Saints' Day, and Christmas. The clergy had the building exorcised, and nowadays he's seen instead in the churchyard, from which he walks to Reform Cottage on Deep Street, thought to have been Llanthony Priory's tithe barn.
However, Prestbury's most famous son haunts a town the other side of England. Fred Archer was perhaps the greatest jockey of the 19th century. Born in Cheltenham, he lived from the age of two in the King's Arms in Prestbury, where his jockey father was landlord. Fred moved when he was ten to Newmarket. There he was trained and became a huge success. In 1887, ill and grieving the loss of his wife, he committed suicide. His ghost is known all over Newmarket. But maybe Fred does haunt Prestbury too. One Gold Cup day in the 1970s, some women saw a jockey waiting to cross the street in front of the King's Arms. He vanished halfway across! Then he did the same thing again on the corner. Was it Fred - or, it being a race day, had there been a tot too many of gin?
1. From the Women's Institute Hall by the roundabout, head down Tatchley Lane. Observe Old Moses' haunt of Walnut Cottage before you turn right on to the Burgage.
2. After the library on the right stands the imposing Prestbury House, where Lizzie drifts around the grounds and may haunt a room upstairs that once had to be closed up because the staff were so terrified. In Sundial Cottage opposite you may hear the strains of the ghostly spinet. Listen out for horses' hooves by the Royal Oak next door.
3. At the crossroads by a fine timbered house, Fourways, turn left down Lake Street. The road bends to the right. At the end there's a gate on the left into a field. Cross the field towards the racecourse. Keeping the stream on your right, pass the new houses till you reach a bridge.
4. When you cross the bridge, the racecourse is right in front of you. Turn right along the path outside the perimeter fence, towards a fine view of Cleeve Hill.
5. Shortly after a house with a conservatory, turn right into a small nature reserve. Walk along the right-hand edge of the field, passing a moat that once enclosed the Bishop of Hereford's manor house but now is home to a flock of alpacas.
6. Turn right on the road, then left at the roundabout on to Shaw Green Lane. You're now back in the territory of ghostly hoof beats. Turn right on to a public footpath and proceed across a field towards the church.
7. Turn left on Mill Street, alert for horses' hooves and marching feet as you pass the Plough, and for the white lady heading into the churchyard. Turn right down the Bank to the war memorial, opposite which is Idsall House, where in the 1980s a workman was pushed by an unseen hand and the owner was haunted by 'the apparition'.
8. Turn right on the High Street, where the butcher's shop is one of many poltergeisted properties, where stock moves around, a figure glides about upstairs, and whistling and sighing may be heard.
9. Past the King's Arms, turn right up the path to St Mary's Church, which today is tranquil, with its beautiful east window of Madonna and Child by Arts and Crafts artist Henry Payne.
10. From the church porch, bear right - a bearing of two o'clock - to Church Lane, following the path of the Black Abbot. Bear right again on Deep Street, to the little weatherboarded Reform Cottage into which he disappears, only to crash about in the attics. You, however, can head back to the King's Arms for a calming drink!
Local info: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prestbury,_Gloucestershire
Need to know
Distance: 2 miles
Duration: 2 hours
Level: Easy walking on footpaths and roads. Some stiles and steps.
Parking: Road parking in the village.
Toilets and refreshments: The King's Arms, the Royal Oak, and the Plough.
Transport links: Several Stagecoach services from central Cheltenham; 606 Marchants from Cheltenham to Winchcombe.
Maps: OS Explorer 179: Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud; A-Z Street Plan of Cheltenham.
Take a walk with your phone...
Distance: 4 miles (6.4km); Approx. time: 2 hours
This route begins in the Cotswolds town of Wotton-under-Edge so named because of its position below the steep limestone escarpment of the Cotswold Edge.
The walk begins with a climb up Wotton Hill to the collection of trees planted in the 19th century to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo. These are on the site of one of the early warning beacons used t warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada. The route continues along the top of the valley (the Cotswold Way national trail), through woodland to Tyndale Monument.
The monument is open to the public most days. 121 steps lead to the top of the tower and spectacular views. After enjoying the views from the monument, return to Wotton-under-Edge.
Download the Cotswold Walks app and let your mobile guide you around the route. It shows your location on the map as you walk and even works without a phone signal.
To download the app, search 'Cotswold Walks' on the iPhone or Google Play AppStore. For more information visit pathranger.com/cotswold-walks