Yonder Castled Cliff (A Ghost Story)


Watching the river
east of the scarp
maimed by munitions
that wartime morning
of seventy souls taken

on a sullen
mudstone promontory
through an ivy veil
the ravaged keep
stands witness
to the centuries
a story warden.


Wraith swans glide
the languid waters
above the mill
pale, silver
as Lancaster’s hoard.

In the great hall’s bones
faraway merriment chimes
as Gaunt feasts
while Chaucer
scratches a verse
for Constantia.

Fettered Mary
primacy stunted
to a choked-off sigh
dreams, plots
in forlorn confinement.
Mere castles in the air.

A Regency baron
surveys his ruin
a trinket
a petty adornment
of a landscape
that needs none.


Truant boys
pick sides
on the grass
beneath the motte
and bloody battle
is joined.

And so begins
the siege
that will decide
once and for all
the new lords
of yonder castled cliff.


This poem’s title refers to Tutbury Castle and is taken from Francis Noel Mundy’s The Fall of Needwood, one of two epic laments that he penned at the turn of the 19th century as a protest against the proposed Inclosure Act (enclosure in modern parlance), which became law in 1803 and led to swathes of Needwood Forest being cut down and replaced by farmland.

Munitions: On the morning of 27th November 1944, the underground ordnance depot at RAF Fauld was destroyed in an explosion, leaving a vast crater that scars Hanbury Hill to this day. 70 people lost their lives in the disaster.

Lancaster’s hoard: Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster and Tutbury Castle resident, is reputed to have buried a hoard of silver coin on the banks of the River Dove after his defeat by Edward II at the Battle of Burton Bridge in the Despenser War of 1322. Much good it did him if true, as he was executed in Pontefract the same year.

Gaunt: John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, had his seat at Tutbury Castle. He was married to the Infanta Constantia of Castile to whom, it is said, Geoffrey Chaucer (whose wife Phillippa was one of Constantia’s ladies-in-waiting) dedicated The Man of Law’s Tale.

Mary: Mary Queen of Scots was held at Tutbury in 1569-70 and 1585.

Regency baron: In the late 18th century, Lord Vernon turned the ruined castle into a romantic folly to impress visitors to his seat at nearby Sudbury Hall.


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