Spooks, Spectre-stallions, and other Ghostly or Ghastly Goings-on at Golub-Dobrzyn
Golub-Dobrzyn Castle, Poland
Golub-Dobrzyn castle is known all over Poland as the host every year (July) to medieval games – jousting being the main item. These competitons are fiercely fought, and winning can bring great prestige to the competitors. The casual tourist can visit Golub-Dobrzyn any time, and the best time to admire the breathtaking view and the flower-strewn hillsides is during May.
The castle, standing perched on its hill overlooking the double town, is quite small by Polish standards, but impressive and very interesting. Built originally in the 14th century, in the early 1600s it was home to Anna Waza, sister of King Sigismund III, who was a tobacco fan and was rumoured to have been the first importer of that weed to Poland. She turned the castle into a baroque pile, which is how it still stands after some post-war restoration.
I went there with a group of Polish friends – Ela, Beata, Slawek, Zbiszek – and we entered the courtyard and glimpsed crossbow archers rounding off a local tournament. Before we had a chance to comment, we were taken in hand by a guide. This is obligatory, and part of the price of the ticket, but worth it if you can understand the Polish, or have someone to translate for you. The place buzzes with rumour and legend. It is said to be haunted by Anna’s ghost, and a suitably spooky portrait of the royal with ice-grey eyes lingers in the banqueting hall. An alcove lurks at the side, and the guide told us to stand in here and make a wish. If this is not chased too hard, it should come true within a year. Hardened sceptics rose to the challenge, and were as busy murmuring or perusing magic as the most superstitious. Of course, I joined in the spirit of it all – who can resist a haunted castle which also has powers for making your wishes come true…
We were informed by the guide to take care going down the steps that led from the banqueting room, because it was up these steps that people used to ride their horses, before dismounting at the top. This practice has resulted in a cornucopia of fables. One is that if you turn your head while descending you might hear neighing horses striding up; another maintains that if you walk up the steps, you might suddenly neigh yourself, as if possessed by the spirits of the equine beasts. I was disappointed as I clambered down, then turned back up momentarily: there was no neigh issuing from the ether, nor did I startle people by suddenly turning into a horse myself. Oh, to hear the clippety-clop of ghoulish hooves in the courtyard!
After touring the various rooms – one had an impressive display of armour and weaponry, and old industrial tools, we re-emerged into the overcast courtyard. Here we were treated to some faux-medievalism (at an extra price, of course). Ela was made to dress up in Middle Ages Polish national costume, which suited her; Zbiszek had to put on armour and clasp a sword, which did not suit him; Slawek was hurled into the stocks, though no one had any rotten tomatoes to throw at him, and so instead he had to cope with the jeers of the ‘crowd’ and the insults of the court jester who doubled as the master-of-ceremonies. Beata, all giggles and winks, was, rather inappropriately, put into a sort of iron maiden, and mock-soulfully looked out while she was teased by the jester and his sidekick. Maybe because I was the foreigner, I was spared all of this, and anyway, the helmet on the armour couldn’t fit my head; I’ve always had a bit of a swollen head, but this was probably not the reason; maybe they had much smaller heads in medieval times. In the crossbow joust that followed, I had every opportunity to make my head swell further, but actually all the Poles were better at crossbow shooting than me.
Firing a crossbow is much easier than it appears. Aim with the end of your crossbow a little higher than the bullseye of the target. Judging how much higher to level your bow is the art – but it’s not difficult to master. By the second shot I was hitting the target; by my third I had hit the bullseye, and I am a terrible shot.
Just below the courtyard at the side is a cafe, and here I was made to try medieval-style pancake (grey looking, and fairly disgusting, if wholesome, but worth it for the adventurous), washed down with mead. This variety was an alcoholic honey-based syrupy drink, but with a kick twice as hard as the horses who are supposed to charge up and down the steps of the castle or possess people.
Tired but happy, we emerged from the castle and had a last look across the plains below, walked past its cannon at the front, and made our way to the car.
All in all, Golub-Dobrzyn is well worth a visit for the architecture alone, but add in mysterious women, ghosts, wishes and medievalfest, and you have an enjoyable afternoon ahead of you.