By Catie Guitart
Scotland’s castles have spawned many stories of hauntings: bloodthirsty barons, lonesome ladies and many, many Mary Queen of Scots. Here’s a small selection.
Borthwick Castle, Borthwick
Built as stronghold capable of withstanding sustained attack, Borthwick Castle is a twin towered fortress erected in 1403. Its Red Room has reportedly scared so many people that in the 1980s a priest was called in to perform an exorcism.
There are several legends associated with the castle. A young servant girl is said to have given birth to an illegitimate Borthwick son in the Red Room. As mother and child would have been a potential threat to the title, they were both stabbed. In another epoch, a Borthwick Chancellor was found embezzling money and storing it in safes in the niches of the Red Room. Understandably upset, the Borthwicks burnt the chancellor to death, giving a whole new meaning to being fired.
It is also rumoured that Mary Queen of Scots haunts the Red Room as well, disguised as a boy with short hair… or the shorn hair of a woman about to be beheaded. The owners eschew this legend, as although Mary did stay at the castle, she did not spend time in the Red Room.
Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran
Parts of the castle date to the 13th century, and it is thought it may have been built on the site of a Viking fort. A “Grey Lady” is said to haunt the older part of the castle. Supposedly a woman afflicted with plague who was left to starve in the dungeons of the castle, she is said to haunt the Tea Room and back corridor of the castle. Another apparition has apparently been seen enjoying a book in the library and recently a tall dark robed figure was reputedly seen by two people in broad daylight in the castle grounds. As Brodick Castle was the home of the Hamiltons for an extended period, a White Deer is reportedly seen in the grounds whenever a chief of the Hamiltons is about to perish.
Cawdor Castle, Nairn
Although immortalised in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the castle did not exist during the lifetime of either Macbeth or King Duncan, and the play’s events are almost completely invented. Nonetheless, the castle is said to be haunted by a handless ghost in a blue velvet dress. Legend has it that during the first half of the 1800s, the Earl of Cawdor’s daughter fell in love with a man from a rival family. Her father disapproved of this union, and when he encountered the couple at their secret meeting place, he saw red. He became so incensed by what he saw as a betrayal by his daughter that he sliced her hands off to ensure she never embraced her lover again.
Craignethan Castle, Lanark
Craignethan Castle is one of the many castles reputedly haunted by Mary Queen of Scots, one of the busiest ghosts in Scotland. Her apparition is said to appear headless. Other strange happenings include reports of a woman wearing Stuart period clothing, unexplained pipe music, and inexplicable voices of women. Witnesses also claim to have encountered a poltergeist which has thrown objects around. Recently, visitors to the castle have apparently followed a figure dressed in historical costume, thinking it was a tour guide, only for the figure to disappear.
Delgatie Castle, Turriff
The castle itself is thought to date back to 1030 and has been held by the Hays family since the 1300s. Remains were found buried in a wall after a family member had a dream about a body being buried in the castle. The wall was taken down and a crouched skeleton was found, along with some black cloth. The wall was rebuilt, and afterwards the ghost of a monk was seen. After research, it was thought the remains may have been those of a monk called Joseph Hay who returned to Delgatie during the Reformations, when monasteries were being destroyed.
The haunting became so bad that a minister was called to perform an exorcism. The ghost monk has apparently not been seen again. The castle’s other ghost is a red-haired lady. During World War II, an entire detachment of troops stationed at Delgatie reputedly fled in the middle of the night in bare feet at the sight of the ghostly spectre.
Fernie Castle, Fife
Now a luxury hotel, the castle was originally owned by the MacDuffs, but it passed onto the Fernies in the 1400s. The north-western tower is reportedly haunted by a “Green Lady”. It is said the ghost is that of a girl who ran off with her lover. She sought refuge in the castle, but then fell to her death from the tower of the castle. Guests say she tampers with electrical appliances and fiddles with the lights.
Green was apparently considered an inauspicious colour in Celtic mythology and many reported ghosts in Scotland are associated with it.
Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire
Fyvie Castle has been the home of five different Clans – the Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and Leith families. Some say its foundation were in place as early as 1066, but it was completed in 1211 by William the Lion.
In the 13th century, Lady Meldrum died and her body was sealed in the wall of a secret room in the Meldrum Tower at her request. She reportedly cursed anyone who entered the room. During renovations in the 1920s, her remains were uncovered. The castle has reputedly been plagued by weird noises and inexplicable occurrences, and her ghost, known as the “Grey Lady”, is frequently seen.
A second ghost, the “Green Lady”, is believed to be the wife of Sir Alexander Seaton, who starved her to death in order to marry her cousin. Dame Lillias Drummond reputedly scratched her name on the windowsill of the bedroom used by the newlyweds, and it’s said to be visible to this day.
Castle Grant, Grantown-on-Spey
The original tower of Castle Grant was built in the 1300s by the Clan Comyn of Badenoch. The castle was stormed by a combined force of the Clan Grant and the Clan MacGregor. The Comyn Chief was killed during the fight, and his skull was kept as a trophy of the victory. The skull later became a heirloom of the Grant Clan, and, according to clan tradition, disaster will befall if the skull leaves the hands of the family. A ghost is rumoured to haunt the tower. The appariation is said to be that of Lady Barbara Grant. The daughter of a 16th century laird, she died imprisoned in a cupboard after refusing to abide by her father’s wishes for her to marry someone she did not love.
Castle Guthrie, Angus
As Casper the Friendly Ghost demonstrated, not all hauntings are malevolent. Castle Guthrie is a castle and country house, purchased by Daniel Peña in 1984 and opened to the public for weddings, corporate functions and other events. Guests can stay in the “Ghost Suite”, which gained its reputation after a visit from the Bishop of St Andrews in the 17th century. Apparently, the ghost of a former Lady Guthrie returned to make sure he was comfortable. Ever since, she returns to watch over anyone who sleeps there. Guests reportedly experience the most peaceful sleep ever, with some even saying they slept like the dead.
The ghost was last seen by one of the current Guthries when she was a small child, and the Peñas have had other experiences since they inhabited the castle.
Hermitage Castle, the Scottish Borders
Hermitage Castle stands in a strategic area near the border. As such has changed hands many times. The most famous folklore surrounding the castle is that of Bad Lord Soulis. According to legend, he was a warlock and spirited away many local children. His familiar, called Robin Redcap, promised him he could not be harmed by forged steel or bound by rope. The villagers eventually rebelled, took him up to Nine Stane Rigg, a stone circle on a nearby hill, wrapped him up in lead and boiled him in a brass cauldron.
It is alleged that the screams of Lord Soulis’ victims can still be heard in the castle, and one visitor complained of being pushed by an unseen force. During renovations, a workman claimed to have seen a figure at one of the castle’s upper windows. It is not possible to gain access to the upper windows, as the floor has crumbled.
Inveraray Castle, Inveraray
The original castle was burnt by the Marqius of Montrose in 1644. The present castle was commissioned by Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll. It stands on the original site of the village of Inverary, as when Archibald decided to build the castle he had the village demolished and moved a mile away, so it wouldn’t spoil the view.
The castle is reputed to have numerous ghosts, from a phantom harpist to a ghost ship sailing on nearby Loch Fyne. The ghost ship is said to be a harbinger of death to the Chief of the Campbell Clan, going onshore to claim their life.
A ghostly battle in the sky between Highland and French soldiers was also said to have been seen by five different people in 1758. Weeks after, news reached Scotland that a Highland Regiment had lost 1,994 men while attacking the French fort of Ticonderoga in Canada.
Castle of Park, Banff
Part of a 16th century tower house, objects reportedly move from room to room with no explanation. Inevitable, the blame is placed on yet another “Green Lady”. Legend has it that she is a servant who was fired because she was expecting a child. Morose, she committed suicide and now wanders the halls of the castle. The castle’s other ghost is that of a monk, said to have been murdered by being walled up in the castle.
Baldoon Castle, Galloway
On the outskirts of Bladnoch lie the ivy-covered ruins of Baldoon Castle, owned by the Dunbars of Westfield from 1530 to 1800. In the 17th century, Janet, eldest daughter of Sir James Dalrymple, was engaged to David Dunbar, although she did not love him – another common thread in hauntings. Janet went ahead with the marriage out of duty. There are several versions of what happened on the wedding night. Sir Walter Scott describes his account in his novel The Bride of Lammermoor: “The door of the bridal chamber was broken down after hideous shrieks were heard from within and the bridegroom was found lying across the threshold, dreadfully wounded and streaming with blood. The bride crouched in a chimney corner, her white nightgown splashed with blood, grinning and muttering.”
Janet was judged to be insane and died within the month. Her blood-splattered figure is reputed to be seen mournfully wandering amongst the castle’s broken remains, usually on the anniversary of her death.