Halloween: A Knaresborough ghost story

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Is the Royal Oak Hotel in Knaresborough - famously painted red and white for the Tour de France - haunted? Owners Tony and Lori Handley share the building’s secrets.

We waited until we had taken possession of the Royal Oak before asking the previous owners if they could tell us anything about the ghosts in the house.

And on the very day we took possession they confirmed we were correct in our thinking.

The Royal Oak had been on the market for a long time before we bought it and had had many viewers, all of whom had been greeted by the smell of rotten fish in what was the main bedroom when the house was a pub. Despite redecoration, new carpets and steam cleaning, every time someone was shown around, that room stank... until the day we came to view.

Our take on knowing that was that the ghosts didn’t mind us being there. Indeed, they were certainly very active in the first few days and weeks after we moved in, even from day one, when an unseen girl’s voice called out “Hello” and “someone” locked Lori out of the house...

The previous owners had mentioned both of these characters to us and also mentioned a visitor who walked the landing and could be heard climbing the now long-removed staircase into what had been servants’ quarters in the roof void.

Now, it was our turn. The “someone” had always been the most active, delighting in removing items and hiding them.

From the outset we both, independently, had called him Walter and we blamed him for the day he bolted the front door on the inside after Lori had popped out and later for preventing us from hanging Christmas decorations around the very same doorway.

No matter what we did to secure them the chain of silver bells crashed to the floor. He won that round.

And the girl who called out “Hello!”? Her name is Grace.

Walter, Grace, a maid who walked the corridor, a red-nosed man who pressed his bloated face against the window by the back door, a smart gentleman in a blue blazer who was seen in our utility room, quite possibly the same man seen by somebody else, months later, up on the landing, the group of three people seen peering in the back window of the main bar, now a mirrored wall.

All were seen or heard within the first few weeks, not just by us, but by our collective children, their friends, by visiting relatives from both sides of our families. All unsuspecting. All confirming that it was not just us. One of those visiting relatives was our three year old niece who used to disappear upstairs whenever she came round, who when asked “Where have you been?”, would answer “Upstairs playing with Grace”.

We heard about a landlord’s granddaughter who had died in the building on a visit. Some years later guests sleeping in what was the bedroom that stank of fish awoke to see the door open and a white robed man peering in.

At first they assumed it was me in a dressing gown but it wasn’t and we think it could possibly have been granddad checking on Grace...

And what of Walter? Well one day our niece was walking, or rather hobbling, down the High Street armed with two French sticks which she was using as walking sticks.

When asked what she was doing she replied that she was walking like the man who lives in Auntie Lori’s house, “You know, the one called Albert”.

So there you have it. Possibly the same Albert who one day hurled a rather fine artist’s plate from off a window sill in our sitting room within minutes of my showing a visitor my father’s masonic badge which I now know should have been returned to his Lodge in Harrogate after his death.