Guys Cliffe: A Haunted Mansion & the Last Resting Place of a Mythical Hero
Guys Cliffe is a strange complex of buildings and caves clustered on a cliff overlooking the River Avon in Warwickshire. The ruin of Guys Cliffe House dominates the area, first built in 1751 by Samuel Greatheed but by the 20th century the estate was broken up and sold off. As the 1900s wore on the house was used variously as a private school, a hospital for wounded troops then a home for evacuated children before falling into dereliction. Although plans were made to convert the great house into a hotel this came to nothing and the state of the building became worse, eventually being half burned down after a pyrotechnical accident. This bizarrely happened during the filming of an episode of “Sherlock Holmes” starring Jeremy Brett where the legendary sleuth faced a vampire, adding to the eerie reputation the house now has.
“Ghost hunts” are a big hit here at Guys Cliffe House with dozens of videos and pictures of alleged spectral encounters uploaded to Youtube and the infamous Most Haunted show having one of their noisiest episodes here.
The site was first occupied during the Anglo Saxon era when a tiny chapel was built and solitary monks took to living as hermits in the naturally occurring caves below where the house is now. These caverns were extended out with one of them in particular being carved and built into many separate cells, and an inscription from this period is still visible at the back of this chamber. Above the caves is a chapel dating to the early 1400s which is on long term lease to the Freemasons. It is exclusively for their use and definitely not open to the public but open days are occasionally held so you might be lucky this year perhaps. Definitely one of the most “secure” sites I have been to, forcing me examine the place from the other side of the river where it narrows.
So why is it called Guys Cliffe? When we think of English heroes from myth and legend the names Robin Hood and King Arthur spring to mind but here is one that deserves to be known more...Guy of Warwick. Not Guy Beauchamp, the 10th Earl of Warwick, this Guy predated them all and may possibly have an Anglo Saxon origin. Guy fell in love with Felice, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick but although she loved him too, because of his common birth she could not accept his proposal unless he could somehow prove himself exceptionally as worthy of her.
Guy set out to do this in spades, first killing the Dun Cow. This was a monstrous auroch bull that terrorised the area before Guy finally defeated the beast on nearby Dunsmore Heath. A rib from this monster (a whale bone in reality) was kept on display in Warwick Castle until recently along with the sword he allegedly used to slay it. Guy then left for Europe where he first killed a dragon that was terrorising some villages before moving on to slay a giant boar, help a king to win two wars by single handedly killing 10,000 men then down to the Holy Land where he led a Crusade. Returning to England with a pet lion he had adopted there was just time to defeat the giant Colbrand, champion of invading Danes, then finally to marry his beloved Felice and inherit her father's earldom. Racked by remorse for the violence and death of his past. Guy returned to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage and there renounced his knighthood, returning to England as a penniless monk. He took up residence as a hermit in the caves overlooking the Avon and there lived out his days in peace.
Another perhaps more historically plausible version has Guy leading an army in several battles to help European kings allied to his future father in law, therefore earning her hand, before returning as marauding Vikings led by an Anlaf or Olaf descend from the north to threaten the last kingdoms of England. He challenged their giant champion Colbrand, killed him then led his now fired up Saxon army to defeat the Danes then settled into the life of a married nobleman. Guilt tormented him at the death he had dealt and he made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, returning in secret and disguise to become a “beadman”- an old retired monk who prayed all day for his sponsor – to Felice then moving into the cave. It was at his death that he revealed his identity, causing poor Felice to throw herself off the cliff in shock and sorrow.
In either case the legend became a part of the place and Guys Cliffe was born. The archetype of the heroic dragonslayer is woven permanently into the culture of England beginning with the ancient figure of Sigurd/Siegfried from early Germanic lore, then through Beowulf and onto later figures such as Smith of Deerhurst, Piers Shonks and John Lambton joining the ranks, explaining in part why St George was accepted so readily after adoption by Edward III.
The brooding ruins of the old Guys Cliffe House can easily be seen from the opposite riverbank and a walk along this route is a very pleasant way to spend a morning, crossing the bridge by the Saxon Mill inn with it's medieval cobblestones still in place. Haunted or not, it certainly looks the part, it might be a good idea to examine any pictures you take closely...
The ruins of Guys Cliffe House with some of it's caves and passages visible
Guys Cliffe House, some of the caves and entrances that overlook the river
Catacombs underneath the ruined house
The legendary cave of Guy of Warwick - allegedly.
Sword on show in Warwick Castle, in legend used by Guy of Warwick to slay the Dun Cow
Spooky Guys Cliffe House
Medieval cobbles by the bridge leading over the river
Woodcut image of Guy of Warwick, pet lion in tow, parading the head of a giant boar he slew