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Travel

A travel guide to Bob Dylan’s ghost hunting times in the English countryside

@TomTaylorFO

Bob Dylan is certainly an open-minded soul. He trailblazed the sixties into motion, went through a turban-wearing phase and even chanced his hand at rapping. This adventurous outlook of the world is something that underpins his artistry and his daring worldview. Aside from the incomparable music, it is also an attitude that has certainly thrown up a wild story or two over the course of his long life in the limelight.

It would seem that one of Dylan’s more broadminded views once pertained to an interest in ghosts. Whether it was initially just a passing flirtation with the intriguing spirit world through the dark Edgar Allan Poe stories and poetry that he admired is hard to know, however, as Muff Winwood writes in his memoir, Dylan’s interest soon became a fervent belief owing to a comical run-in in England.

Winwood was the bassist with the R&B-inspired rock band the Spencer Davis Group. They formed in Birmingham in 1963 and three years later Dylan arrived in the city in need of some escapism at the height of his electric Judas phase. Thus, the musicians all met up and Dylan mentioned his interest in ghosts. The American troubadour for some reason figured that there’d be “some good ones in England,” because, as we all know, there are inexplicably more ghosts from Victorian-era Britain than from any other place or period in the long history of humans dying. 

Luckily for the band eager to impress the star from the States, they knew of an old, abandoned house nearby, and as fate would have it, the locals believed that it was haunted by the ghost of a dog. Naturally, Dylan was chomping at the bit when he heard this enticing tale and they all hotfoot it over to the typical delipidated spectre abode for a curious poke around its darkened dominion. 

Now, as Winwood writes in Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan, at one point during this auspicious evening, they hear a dog bark. “Now this is likely to happen in the countryside in Worcestershire,” he humorously and, indeed, correctly remarks. “But Dylan is convinced he’s heard the ghost of a dog! He was like a little kid running up to you, grabbing you by the arm, going, ‘This is unbelievable!’” Unbelievable certainly being the operative word. As Dylan once said in his own memoir: “We went out to see a haunted house, where a man and his dog was to have burned up in the thirteenth century. Boy, that place was spooky.”

Whether or not the howl from the Worcestershire underworld/countryside affirmed a lifelong belief in the undead for Dylan is unknown, but it’s categorically confirmed that he caught a bad case of the Pomeranian home spooked blues that evening. And you can follow in his footsteps too if you’re foolhardy enough to brave it. 

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Witley Court may well have burnt down in 1937, but that only adds darkened history of the place. As the English Heritage site boasts: “Explore the dramatic ruins of Witley Court and travel back to a world of lavish house parties. Learn the stories behind the people who once lived and partied here, from servants to royal visitors. Discover elaborate parterre gardens and monumental fountains then find your way through enchanting woodland. As you explore the extensive grounds, remember to keep an eye out for the beautiful birds, including the great crested grebe, which make up Witley’s varied wildlife.”

The spooky site is just an hour south of Birmingham city centre. What’s more, while Witley might be the only confirmed spot that Dylan visited, it is reported that he caught the ghost hunting bug thereafter. Thus, to top off your trip, we’ve compiled a few reportedly haunted places you can visit while you’re in the area, just in case the Witley woofer doesn’t show.

Ghost hunting in Warwickshire:

Coombe Abbey

Ostensibly a plush four-star hotel with stunning country surroundings and all the mod-cons you could wish for, there are some that also claim the fascinating history of the places comes to the fore in the dead of night. The former Abbey is now reportedly haunted by Abbott Geoffrey, a 12th-century monk whose brutal murder proved to be the downfall of the monastery, and the culprit was never caught. 

However, as if one spectre wasn’t enough, rumours of the pit-pattering footsteps of a young girl named Matilda also apparently echo around the cobbled stables at night. With a keen eye for history, Dylan would no doubt have lapped the tales up. 

Warwick Castle

Watch old terrestrial TV for long enough and you can be assured that Warwick Castle and its spooky ongoings will be mentioned soon enough. In fact, the castle from 1068 can claim to be one of the most famous ‘haunted’ locations in the world.

Sir Fulke Greville was horrifically killed by an unruly servant there in 1628 and he has reportedly been at home ever since. However, whether it is Greville’s disgruntled spirit alone that causes poltergeist activity in the dungeons is the subject of fierce debate in the ghost hunting community, albeit Dylan is yet to voice his views.

Edgehill

While lone spectres might prove tricky to hunt down, a whole battalion should be easier to stumble across to quench your thirst for a thrill. The Battle of Edgehill occurred in October 1642 and ghosts began their harrowing re-enactments that same year after shepherds witnessed it play out in spectre form just before Christmas, as both sides of the First English Civil War refused to give up the ghost in a literal sense. 

Nowadays, on the right night, you can reportedly hear canons, cantering hooves and rally cries in the sky. These tales have persisted for hundreds of years and the village nearby swarms with a thousand separate anecdotes that you can catch in the local pubs for the price of a pint. In the song ‘Moonshiner’ Dylan sang, “I go to some hollow / And sit at my still / And if whiskey don’t kill me / Then I don’t know what will,” in Edgehill he may well find his answer.