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Issue 14 - Visiting those old haunts...

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 14
May 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Visiting those old haunts...

Roddy Martine, author of the book supernatural Scotland, picks Scotland's ten most haunted places

Through the violence of its history, and the contrasts of its landscape, Scotland ideally lends itself to haunting.

Haunting is universal. Every story has its stories of phantoms and psychic phenomena, but Scotland is somehow special.

It may have something to do with the weather, the rain, the mist and the wind.

It certainly has a lot to do with the light of the landscape. Ghosts are not usually associated with sunlight. Multifarious shades of grey offset by browns and greens and purples, the sudden shaft of silver on the surface of remote lochans, the sense of isolation that pervades much of the countryside, the ink black nights and the long winters.

Then there is the architecture, from the rubbled remains of Highland shielings and fortified keeps and castles to the cobbled streets and more recent modernist pretensions of our inner cities. Souls in limbo do not like to be disturbed.

In such a small country densely allocated with historic sites, the ghosts of the past are more often than not laughably dismissed or taken for granted.

Make fun of it if you must, but there are more things in heaven and earth than mankind can possibly begin to understand.

The Abbot House in the Maygate sits beside Dunfermline Abbey which dates from the 12th century. Ten years ago it was lovingly restored, and it has since become a heritage centre. While the repairs were taking place, however, strange things occurred. An architect working on site claimed to have vividly seen a figure wearing robes emerge from one of the stones in the wall. A member of the Abbot House staff insisted that somebody unseen had tripped her on the staircase. A young boy, one of a group with learning difficulties, refused point blank to go down the same staircase, and visitors often comment on the sudden drop in temperature.

A visiting clairvoyant who had never been there before spoke of a room full of children in the east tower, saying that it was accessed only by a one-way staircase. On investigation, it turned out to have been the room used for sick orphan children who were taken there when they were not expected to recover.

Do not let this put you off visiting as most people find the Abbot House a friendly place. The one sensation you do, however, come away with is that you have not been alone.

The childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, is an enchanting, turreted building made of red sandstone, yet is said to be the most haunted house in Scotland.

The one that is most often seen is the ‘Grey Lady’, believed to be the spirit of the Queen Mother's ancestor, Lady Glamis, who in 1537 was found guilty of witchcraft and burned at the stake on Edinburgh's Castlehill.

A‘White Lady’ and a tongueless woman are also seen, and there is the legend of the 1st Lord Glamis playing cards with the devil in a secret chamber. Another secret room features in the story of the Monster of Glamis, allegedly a hideously deformed child born to the 3rd Earl of Strathmore and kept hidden away.

There is an apocryphal story of a house party taking place at Glamis and, while the Earl and Countess were absent of a morning, the guests hung towels and sheets out of all the windows. From the outside it could be seen that one window had no towel or sheet, but at that moment the Earl arrived home and was furious at his guests' behaviour.

In 1746, more than 800 Clanranald, Glencoe, Glengarry and Keppoch clansmen of Clan Donald fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden Moor, and many of them were butchered in the aftermath of their defeat. It is a bleak landscape where a great sadness prevails to this day. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland there is a visitor centre, but many of those who go their find it unsettling.

The well-known Scottish crime writer Alanna Knight, whose mother was a MacDonald, suffers from headaches as soon as she comes into the vicinity.

Wendy Wood, the Scottish patriot who died in 1981, recorded in her memoirs Yours Sincerely For Scotland that she had once leant over to look into the Well of the Dead, where the dying and wounded from the battlefield had gathered for their last drink.

As she peered into the darkness she saw the face of a man staring back at her. “It was not reflection or distortion, for he had a starved face, huge eyes and long black hair,” she wrote. “It quite unnecessarily terrified me and I went scurrying back to my friends.”

Lying 40ft beneath the quadrangle of Edinburgh's City Chambers, is a mediaeval street which was sealed off following a outbreak of the plague during the 17th century. Named after the owner's daughter, Mary King's Close lay unoccupied for almost 100 years with one exception.

Thomas Coltheard, a wealthy businessman, knew a bargain when he saw one and despite its history, moved in.

To begin with all was well, and then one night he was awoken from his sleep by a loud knocking at the front door. When he opened the door, a disembodied hand moved forward to shake his own.

The terrified Coltheard retreated into the hallway and fell on his knees to pray.

More recently, with Mary King's Close now a major visitor attraction, a little girl has been seen. Ten years ago a medium who came across her asked her what she was doing there. The little girl told her that her family had become ill and been taken away and that she had returned to find her doll.

The medium immediately sent someone to buy her a new doll, and since then the little girl has not been seen again.

When he was 12 years old, Jamie Walker, the young entrepreneur behind the Adelphi Whisky Company in Edinburgh, was putting the dogs out for a run at his family home in Ayrshire when, through the mist, he noticed a small gathering of black hooded men standing around what looked like a hanging tree.

“They were chanting something, but I couldn't make out the words,” he says.

“The dogs ran off in the opposite direction and, according to my mother, I ran back into the house as white as a sheet!”

Four hundred years ago, the Benedictine monks of nearby Crossraguel Abbey, south of Maybole, were large landowners, and Gilbery Kennedy, 4th Earl of Cassilis, the dominant political figure locally, wanted the abbey lands for himself. When the Abbot refused to come to an agreement, he had him seized and roasted on a spit over an open fire.

Naturally, the “black monks”, as they were known, were none too happy about this.

Could they have been the black hooded men seen by Jamie? And could he have been witness to a re-run of some dreadful act of revenge inflicted upon the Kennedy family?

In a secluded corner of the Forest of Rothiemurchus is the burial place of Seath Mor Sgor Fhiaclach, a chief of the Clan Shaw, who lived in the 14th century.

Shaw was by reputation a formidable warrior, standing over 6ft tall with a twisted smile that struck terror into the hearts of even his own followers.

Over the centuries, travellers through the woods, passing through a certain wooded glade, have spoken of encounters with a gigantic figure challenging them to battle.

If they accept, no harm is done to them and the figure disappears.

But the saying goes that if anyone shows fear when they meet him, they will never be seen again.

The tomb of Seath Mor lies close to the kirk of the Doune of Rothiemurchus, and upon it are five-cylindrical stones which resemble white cheeses.

Local tradition has it that anyone who dares to tamper with these stones will suffer the terrible wrath of the guardian spirit, an elf called Bodach an Duin (Goblin of the Doune). In the early 19th century, a man threw the centre stone of the five into the River Spey.

The following morning, the stone was back in its place and the man was found floating dead in the river.

More recently, similar behaviour by local youths, as some sort of rites of passage initiation, has prompted the authorities to place a wrought iron grate over the grave making it impossible to remove the stones.

For Neil and Mary Blackburn, who own Fernie Castle Hotel at Letham, in Fife, objects being moved around are part of everyday life. While renovation was in progress, Neil was on top of a ladder in the midst of decorating a room when the paintbrush he was using fell to the floor.

In the meantime, a member of staff came into the room ands placed some keys on the mantelpiece. Neil carried on working with another brush and then turned to find that the first brush had been placed on the mantelpiece while the bunch of keys had somehow attached themselves to his tool belt.

A young couple who stayed overnight complained that their bed had started shaking in the night. The Blackburns appear unfazed about this, and most of their guests do not seem to mind. Sometimes they even claim to have enjoyed the experience.

One lady who had retired to her bedroom in the west tower after a superb dinner was just about to fall asleep when there was a knock at the door. When she opened the door, there was nobody there.

The following night it happened again, but this time a lady came into the room wearing a green dress, and then disappeared through a wall.

Borthwick Castle, now an hotel, and exorcised, dates from the 15th century. It gained notoriety when, in 1567, Mary Queen of Scots spent eloped to stay there with the Earl of Bothwell. More recently a Scottish Television camera team stayed overnight to make a documentary film.

While the cameraman set up his lights in the Red Room, the presenter and producer were having a nightcap in the Great Hall. All of a sudden they heard an extraordinary noise coming from the staircase and, going to investigate, found the cameraman lying unconscious on the bottom step with a gash on his forehead and blood all over his shirt.

An ambulance was called and the cameraman seen to by two paramedics who took him upstairs to bed. The following morning, the presenter and the producer were having breakfast when the cameraman arrived smiling, and not looking at all the worse for wear.

They asked him what had happened to his cut, and he appeared astonished. When they explained, he said that after he had set up his lights, he had gone off to bed and slept soundly until daylight.

When the presenter called the hospital to ask about an ambulance being called out, they said that they had no such record. Meanwhile, the documentary was completed, and no further mention made of the incident.

“I know what we saw,” said the producer afterwards. “It was either a monumental hoax or something totally inexplicable.”

ominating the centre of Scotland's capital is Edinburgh Castle, 1,000 of history on a rock. Although open to the public, the castle is also the headquarters of the General Officer Commanding Scotland, and has a permanent contingent of soldiers on guard.

On one particular night, not so very long ago, there were eight soldiers in the Guard Room when a sudden clattering of horses hooves was heard. When they stepped outside to see what was going on, they saw that the castle gates had been opened. This was particularly odd since it normally takes between two and four men to perform this task.

As they stood there. The noise of the horses grew louder and there was a sudden surge of energy as something invisible and very large swept past, blowing them against the Guard Room door. What made it even more astonishing is that, at that very moment, the castle gates began to close.A report was made the following morning, but when the commanding officer read it, he announced that it was to go no further. He had no wish for the regiment to be held up to ridicule.

Ten million bricks were used in the construction of Glasgow's City Chambers, officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1888. The lavish use of stone, marble and mosaic predominates throughout this Italian-style renaissance palace which is in everyday use as the city council's administrative headquarters.

It was during the 1970s that Eric Hamilton served as Lord provost's secretary and was so highly thought of that following his death during the 1980s, a plaque was hung on the office wall in his memory.

Two private secretaries followed him, but when Ian Easton took up the post in 1996, he removed the plaque.

That was when the trouble started. Ian was sitting at his desk, which has formerly been Hamilton's desk, when it suddenly fell apart. On another occasion he was working late and the water machine in his room began to gurgle and would not stop.

When he went into the Lord Provost's dining room, the large central window suddenly blew open. At Christmas, prior to the Lady Provost's Christmas party for children, Ian entered the room where the presents were stored and all the toys that made noises suddenly started up on their own.

“I don't think Eric Hamilton likes me very much,” he says.