Had I known we’d spend a night at a haunted castle, I might have brought some holy water to sprinkle about, but it was my husband’s idea of a wedding anniversary surprise. Rather a nice one, as Dragsholm’s uneven walls house a Michelin-starred restaurant featuring tasty titbits by former Noma chef, Claus Henriksen, and fine wines from the cellar.
First built in 1215, Dragsholm served as a jail between 1536 and 1664, incarcerating any aristocrat who insulted the king. For 10 years, James Hepburn, Scotland’s 4th Earl of Bothwell and third husband of Mary Queen of Scots, was chained here to a pillar ‒ still on display ‒ until his death aged 44 on April 4, 1578. Hepburn is just one of 100 ghosts said to haunt Dragsholm, now a boutique hotel in Hørve.
Some claim to have glimpsed Hepburn’s ghostly funeral carriage conveying his coffin to the nearby Fårevejle church that displayed his mummified remains until recently, but I witnessed no such thing. Neither did I see the famous White Lady wandering the corridors, said to be the ghost of Celestine de Bayonne Guildenstern impregnated by a stable groom. Her father had promised her to a nobleman and, on discovering her condition, drugged her at a celebratory dinner and had her bricked up inside the castle wall. Her skeleton in a dirty white dress ‒ jaw frozen in a petrified scream ‒ was uncovered during 1910 structural renovations and remains in situ. That I did see, and the horror haunts me still!
Kronborg, Egeskov and Frederiksborg in Denmark are strong King of the Castle contenders, but Dragsholm in the northwest of Zealand has the most ghoulish guests.
In the wee hours, I awoke with a start. Something ‒ or someone ‒ kept switching on the bathroom light. It would shine for minutes, then go dark. My husband snored on despite my prodding, so I got up to gaze across the moonlit garden and fields, listening for clanking chains or deathly moans. Nada. (Ikke noget, in the vernacular.) Spousal groans came the next morning on inspection of the DKK7 000 (R14 000) bill for a one-night stay with dinner and breakfast.
Comparable to Egeskov in Funen, Frederiksborg in Hillerød is Europe’s best-preserved moated castle. Constructed in the 1600s on the orders of King Christian IV on an island surrounded by a lake, Frederiksborg offers cobbled walkways, Baroque gardens and a grand chapel, still used for royal weddings. A three-floor museum showcases historical portraits, furniture and the first Danish Bible.
Then it was on to Helsingør, 48km north of Copenhagen, to see Kronborg, Hamlet’s 16th-century castle, famous for its Shakespearian productions staged in the courtyard. Playing Hamlet and Ophelia here, kickstarted the affair between Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, although I wouldn’t describe the place as ‘romantic’. Even though the cannons are now just ornamental, its austere, wind-blasted looming countenance seems to warn off Swedish, or any, potential invaders.
To flee, or not to flee. That is the question.