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Tragedy at Alton Court

Our tale this week takes us down to the south of the county near to Ross-on-Wye. To Alton Court a 17th century house, which was the former home of the Bishop of Hereford’s huntsman in the medieval park of Penyard Chase.

In the 17th century this lovely black and white timber building was owned by the Markey family. Mr Markey himself was a hard taskmaster, a harsh man and not one to be crossed. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and was known for sacking staff who didn’t meet his expectations. One poor chap who was acting gardener at the time was let go because a late frost had killed off some of Mr Markey’s best plants. In Mr Markey’s eyes there was no excuse for this, so he sacked the man and replaced him with a young chap called Roger Mortimer.

Now Roger being a youthful, vibrant chap, full of energy and fun had caught the attention of Mr Markey’s daughter Clara. Roger and Clara found they had a lot in common, they laughed all the time and enjoyed being in one another’s company and their relationship grew. But their relationship would never be able to develop into anything further, not where her father was concerned. Mr Markey was already in the process of arranging a marriage for Clara to a member of the wealthy Rudhall family. Roger and Clara were of course distraught at the news, they had become very fond of each other and Roger could not bear the thought of Clara marrying another. He became very distracted in his work and distant with his parents, they were sure that he had been bewitched.

As Clara’s wedding loomed things took a tragic turn, Roger’s body was found floating in the River Wye near Wilton Bridge. Everyone assumed it was a suicide due to a broken heart. At the time those who had taken their own life were buried at a crossroads with a stake through their heart. These places were known as Corpse Cross.

It was a crime to take your own life and the bodies of those that did were not interred in consecrated ground but were usually buried at busy junctions in an effort to prevent malign spirits rising from the grave. It was believed that the traffic at the junction would keep hostile forces away and if a supernatural entity did manage to escape the burial site then it would be bewildered by the choice of potential paths offered at the crossroad.

Clara was devastated at the news about Roger, but even though her heart was broken within a couple of days she was presented for marriage at St Mary’s Church by her father, who was ever more determined that the wedding should take place. As the ceremony proceeded Clara continued to act strangely and when she was asked if she took this man for her husband she let out a terrible wail and fainted on the spot. She was immediately returned home but went missing soon after and was found at the grave of her beloved Roger.

Time after time she was brought back from Corpse Cross and locked away but managed to escape and return to Roger’s grave. After desperate attempts by her family to keep her contained they eventually gave in and no longer stopped her visits. It was told that Clara’s mind was forever tainted, she was not the same again and never ever recovered. Apparently right into old age Clara would make the journey to Roger’s grave and over time the route she took would be known locally as Old Maid’s Walk.

There are reports from people who have walked down Old Maid’s Walk where they have seen an old lady looking upset and distraught. She never responds to their offers of help but continues on her journey. Could this still be Clara?

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