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Ghosts, Spirits, and Horrors of Scotland's Castles

by Wendy Zollo

Spirits and slayings, secrets and sightings. These are the stories of Scotland's castles.

For example, Fyvie Castle, just north of Aberdeen, is said to have a curse planted upon it by Thomas the Rymer, a legendary rootless diviner of the 1300's. Thomas stopped at the castle while one of the many towers was being raised.

Three stones garnered from a nearby house of worship had been recycled in the building of this particular tower. An eldest son would on no account inherit Fyvie, the Rymer foretold, until the stones were reinstated to their proper location. The Rymer must have truly had 'magical' insight, for from 1433 not one oldest male heir lived a life long enough to inherit. The stones even now, despite the many centuries that have passed since the Rymer's day, still remain in Fyvie's tower. One is laid in the tower's foundation. This unique stone remains dry while the adjoining stones are sodden and wet.

The second stone is set-aside on display. It is kept in a sizeable bowl for the reason that at times it generates an adequate amount of water to fill the bowl.

The third stone's whereabouts are unknown, though it is rumored to rest in a river close to the castle.

Fyvie is also in possession of its own 'murder room' where a virtuous maiden was confined. Her gaolers butchered any and all who endeavored to unfetter her, the limp and bloody bodies hurled from a tower window to ensure their deaths!

The identity of the 'fair one' is a mystery and no credentials of her imprisonment exist. Nevertheless, the tale tells us she grew insane with the passing years and died of starvation. Her spirit frequents the castle to this day.

Another notorious castle haunted by a willful, mulish ghost and drenched in Scottish history is Dunstaffnage Castle in close proximity to the city of Oban.

Here it is said the famous Stone of Destiny was kept when first brought over from Ireland. A green lady identified as Ell-Maid or Glaistaig who appears and warns the Campbell Clan of both pleasant and dreadful tidings disturbs the castle proper. Why she appears is simply not known.

In the Grampian area lies Crathes Castles, a famous, frequently visited dwelling. The ghosts of Crathes was sighted by none other than Queen Victoria, giving Crathes' haunt more than its fifteen minutes of fame!

The spirit is of a youthful woman and her infant and appears only in a fireplace in one tower, then hastily vanishes.

Who is she? The tale of Crathes tells us this; during renovations (present-day), the remains were revealed in this same tower, next to this same fireplace.

Also in this same lovely, peaceful room lives a second green lady; what self-respecting castle would choose to have only one when two would be ever more intriguing? Ahhh, but this handsome green lady comes accompanied by an actual name!

Alexander, heir to Crathes, fell in love with a beautiful young woman named Bertha. She was a guest of the family, but not of their social rank. He returned from a trip abroad eager to greet his ladylove. This was not to be as his beloved had died on his long journey.

His glacial mother, Lady Agnes, made an effort at solace and offered a grand meal to ease her son's pain and welcome him home. Alexander, while reaching for a goblet, was shocked when the object was hurriedly snatched and tossed into the loch adjacent to the castle. His mother had made a grave error indeed in failing to remember to rid the castle of the poisoned chalice she'd used in Bertha's death.

The parents of the deceased Bertha came to retrieve their daughter's remains and were met with a gaunt, anxious Lady Agnes screaming 'She comes, she comes!' Within moments of their arrival Agnes was struck dead. Sightings of Bertha, the loved and wronged, are usually seen on the anniversary of her death, in keeping with all customary ghostly traditions.

DunRobin Castle in Satherland also has a haunted tower room. A daughter of the house was isolated in one of the rooms for the 'heinous' crime of falling in love with a lowly stable groom. The prisoner, Margaret, struggled to escape by climbing down the uneven stonewalls by means of a rope. She was almost immediately discovered. Her father was alerted by servants and he saw her clinging to the rope. A terrible argument ensued whilst she dangled there. Margaret, forlorn, flung herself from the tower wall, meeting her death on the embankment below. In the very room of her captivity some can still hear her screeching spirit to this day.

A castle teeming with wraithlike specters is Pencaet, close to the coastal town of Aberdeen.

Alexander Hamilton is one such haunt; he was a wandering beggar who had been rebuffed food and scant shelter. Hamilton, a practitioner of the black arts, cursed the castle and all in it. Soon enough the Lady of Pencaet and her eldest daughter died of a baffling fever. Hamilton was captured (his curses heard by the ever-faithful guards) and killed. His unsettled, miserable spirit roams the grounds still, seeking shelter for a night's rest.

Pencaet also hosts a spirit named 'Gentleman John'. His real name is alleged to be John Cockburn. There is vagueness as to whether he committed suicide or was murdered. His immortal presence is boisterous and rowdy and the tale of the Gentleman tells us he can be silenced with a firm, uncompromising declaration by a human voice.

Just about every castle in Scotland has its own phantom, but the title-holder of the most haunted is Glamis, the childhood home of the recently deceased Queen Mother. Ancient as the ages, its history goes back to the time of Macbeth.

Its most well known specter is a gray lady who patronizes the castle's chapel. She is Lady Janet Douglas of Glamis. None other than the king himself, James V, accused her of witchcraft. The Stuart and Douglas Clans were rivals, as ever. If truth be told, Lady Glamis was tried on ludicrous allegations that stemmed from a mere insult to the King. She was burned alive (deprived of the usual strangulation that accompanies this horror) at the stake in Edinburgh. Her spirit reveals itself when a dreadful ordeal is about to happen to the Bowes-Lyon Family.

Legend tells us Malcolm II was slain in Glamis in 1034. A blot of blood rested on the floor of a diminutive stone chamber for hundreds of years said to be in the precise location of the great man's murder. Every conceivable remedy was attempted to remove this gruesome souvenir with no success. The granite floor was at last boarded over. One would think this would resolve the macabre dilemma, on the contrary a first-rate ghostly tale tends to carry on - and the boards themselves groan and screech when walked over on the anniversary of Malcolm's death!

Unsurprisingly, Glamis has a haunted room. The anecdote is this, one frosty evening a gathering of members of the Ogilvy family arrived at the castle thrashing on the door, seeking shelter from their deadly enemies, the Lindsays. The Earl allowed them entry and offered them a safe haven in a secret chamber. The wily, wicked Earl bolted the door and there they remained, screaming, wailing, and howling with starvation. On windy nights their shrieks can still be heard. Years later a future Earl stumbled on a number of keys, one which opened a locked chamber…. the room was bursting with decaying bodily remains!

Glamis additionally houses the phantom of the tongueless woman. This account indicates she observed an act of overwhelming wickedness and was found out. To prevent her disclosing the evil she had seen, those who carried out the vile act severed her tongue. Could it, perhaps, have been the massacre of the Ogilvys?

For those who plan an outing to a Scottish castle, of which there are well over twelve hundred, perhaps one ought to memorize this old Scots prayer:

'From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggety beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!'

Scots prayer - Ghosts, Massacres and Horror Stories of Scotland's Castles/Margaret Campbell/Lang Syne Pub. Ltd.

© 2002 Wendy Zollo


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