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Issue 44 - Fortress of Blood & Stone

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 44
April 2009


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Fortress of Blood & Stone

Fortress of Few places have witnessed a more bloody history than Stirling Castle. Unsurprisingly, it is home to restless spirits. Dominic Roskrow reports.

Of all the magnificent castles of Scotland, Stirling Castle is arguably the most impressive.

Oh sure, Edinburgh’s mighty and imperial fortress might lay claim to that honour, and when it is lit up at night there are few more impressive sights not just in Scotland, but anywhere in the world. But with the Royal Mile and its army of tourists running up to the castle gates, and the commercial shopping centre that is Princes Street just below, it is somehow cushioned and comfortable.

Stirling is not. It is a stark and rugged army It is recorded that King Alexander I of Scotland built a chapel here in the early part of the 12th century, and he died in the castle in 1124.

Since then, Stirling Castle’s history has been troubled by battle and siege, and it has witnessed more than its fair share of death and cruelty. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that it is associated with a number of ghosts.

But what is perhaps surprising for a place that is so ruggedly masculine is that two of the principal ghostly apparitions are those of women.

The green lady, a woman enveloped in a ghostly green hue, has a habit of appearing unexpectedly, and often just before a tragedy is about to occur. Several fires at the castle have broken out shortly after she has appeared. On one occasion, dinner in the Officer’s Mess was delayed after a chef sensed that someone was watching him and turned to find the green lady standing over him and observing him intently. He fainted.

There are conflicting views as to who she is.

Some believe that she is the spirit of an attendant to Mary Queen of Scots, who spent a great deal of her childhood at the castle. The attendant saved Mary’s life when she dreamt that she was in danger, and, waking up, rushed to the Royal bed chamber where she discovered the Queen’s four poster bed on fire with the Queen sleeping in it.

Others believe that the ghost is that of the daughter of one of the governors at the castle.

She was engaged to an officer there, but her father accidentally killed him, and, in anguish, the lady threw herself off the castle ramparts to her death.

Another ghost that is sometimes seen is that of a lady dressed entirely in pink and with a pink glow. If you are going to have a ghost, then you might just as well have a famous one and there are those who believe that this is the ghost of Mary Queen of Scots herself. But others believe that it is the ghost of the only person to escape when Edward I of England layed siege to the castle in 1304. Returning in search of her slaughtered husband, she walks from the castle esplanade to the nearby church at Lady’s Rock and, when seen, cuts a lonely and tragic figure.

The most commonly-sighted ghost at Stirling Castle is that of the man dressed in traditional Highland dress, and there is something almost comical about him. He appears to tourists and resembles a tour guide so that many people seek his advice on directions. When spoken to, though, he turns away, giving visitors the impression that he is very rude, before walking down a ramp to a dead end where he passes through a wall and disappears from sight. One wall he passes through is said to have been sealed off for health and safety reasons, but would have originally led to an old prison within the castle walls.

The Highland ghost at Stirling Castle has even been filmed. In 1935, a cameraman visited the castle when it was closed to the public to film it without people. But when the film was developed, the outline of what is said to be the Highland ghost can clearly be seen passing under an archway.

Other supernatural happenings have more sinister associations. There have been reports of strange events to the east of the castle where the Elphistone Tower once stood. Here the ghosts of conjoined twins have often been seen. They are said to have been kept in the tower by James V and used as an oracle by him, even after one of them had died.

Strange events also take place on the roof of part of the castle. Footsteps have regularly been heard through a ceiling in the Upper Square. But above there is just an area of roof now sealed off and inaccessible. In pre-Victorian times, the area was used for sentry duty, and, on one occasion, a guard came across one of his colleagues lying dead on the roof, his eyes wide open with a look of sheer terror on his face. It was never discovered what caused his death or what he might have seen, but there have been reports of many other terrifying and inexplicable incidents at the spot.

Stirling Castle, has a formidable reputation as a haunted site. By day it remains one of the most potent symbols of Scottish independence. But when the sky starts to grow dark and the battlements are shrouded in shadow, it becomes a forbidding and intimidating place, weighed down by its history. Anyone who thinks that talk of phantoms and supernatural happenings is a load of old tosh and nonsense should spend a few minutes alone after the tourists have departed and the great walls and walkways turn dark and silent.

Brave heart? You’ve got to be kidding!