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25 Feb 2018

Scottish ghost stories – witches, murder and folklore (Part 1)

A ghosted image of a piper in full ceremonial dress is overlaid on a dark photo of Culzean beach, with lightning forking down from the sky.
Spine-chilling tales of witchcraft, the supernatural, ghosts, ghouls, torture and murder most foul ... with over 20 haunted castles, palaces and historic houses across Scotland, we’ve got a story for everyone!

1. Culzean Castle

A view of Culzean Castle seen through the ruined arch in the grounds.

Perched high on the Ayrshire cliffs, this Robert Adam masterpiece is shrouded in tales of terrible deeds and evil spirits. In 1570, the 4th Earl of Cassillis captured the abbot of Crossraguel Abbey and roasted him alive until he agreed to sign over his lands. Sir Archibald the Wicked of Culzean was a man so evil that the devil himself attended his funeral. There are also stories of a ghostly knight dressed in armour who appears to household staff, and of the phantom piper who plays on stormy nights as the waves pound the cliff face below.

2. Brodick Castle

A view of Brodick Castle seen from the wide entrance path, just past the gates. Large trees stand either side of the gravel path.

Beneath the towering peak of Goat Fell lies a castle with 800 years of ghost stories and paranormal activities. There are many accounts of sightings of the Grey Lady and White Stag, as well as tales of murder and the supernatural. Walk in the footsteps of clairvoyants and paranormal investigators and stand on the very spot that castle pets refuse to cross. Visit the hanging tree and the portcullis where plague victims were entombed.

3. Pollok House

A grand entrance hall with black and white checked tiled floor and two wide staircases either side of the hall leading up to a landing area. An octagonal table stands in the centre of the hill with a gleaming chandelier hanging above.

Discover the bloodcurdling tale of the ‘bewitched baronet’ and the ‘witches’ of Pollok. In the 1670s, Janet Douglas, a mute serving girl, arrived at the Pollok estate of Sir George Maxwell, who shortly thereafter fell mysteriously ill. Janet regained the power of speech and immediately accused five local people of consorting with the devil. The story of their trial and subsequent burning at the stake has intrigued historians over the centuries, as has the story of Janet herself. She was reputed to have travelled to America and was involved in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692.

4. Greenbank Garden

A symmetrical, Georgian-style large country house stands at the top of an immaculate lawn, with large yew trees to either side. It is a sunny day with fluffy white clouds across a blue sky.

With several resident ghosts, this wonderful garden oasis is both idyllic and mystical. Look out for the Lady in Red (who’s been encountered in the dining room of Greenbank House), a phantom large black dog and the spectre of a young girl skipping beside the burn – believed to be the ghost of a local girl tragically killed in the courtyard in the early 20th century. Afterwards, settle your nerves in our café with a spirit-raising scone and cup of tea.

5. The Hill House

A view looking down the hallway of the Hill House. Dark wooden beams run along the walls and the ceiling. There is a cream carpet on the floor. Stairs rise to the left. A Mackintosh longcase clock and light fittings can be seen further down the hallway.

This domestic architectural masterpiece was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh in the early 1900s for the Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, who is said to appear occasionally on the upper landing. Dressed in a long black cape, he emerges from the dressing room before vanishing into the main bedroom. Don’t be concerned if you smell pipe smoke in or around the library – smoking was one of Walter’s favourite pastimes.

6. Gladstone’s Land

A gilded statue of a hawk, with a rat in its talons, is attached to the side of a building. It is seen against a deep blue sky background.

The vennels and passageways of Scotland’s historic capital are full of ghostly goings-on, having been home to the murderous Burke and Hare and the scene of many public hangings. Explore our 17th-century tenement, close to Edinburgh Castle, on a special ghosts, witches and murder tour in search of spirits both good and bad. Not for the faint-hearted!

7. Culross

17th-century white painted houses stand around a market square, with a mercat cross in the middle. Narrow vennels lead off the square.

This peaceful 17th-century village is a living open-air museum. Listen to tales of the Culross witches who were imprisoned and tortured in the Town House; of petty criminals branded for life with the S-shaped courtroom key (S for sinner); and of miscreants dragged to the Mercat Cross to have their ears nailed to the town stocks. Culross Palace was built by Sir George Bruce around 1600. Visit its remarkable stone-vaulted strongroom and you may interrupt Sir George counting his money. Although he smiles and waves to children, he wards off adults who venture too close to his fortune. You may also encounter a young and elegantly dressed Mary Erskine, holding a bouquet of lavender as she admires the palace garden. Her family purchased the palace in the early 18th century.

8. Alloa Tower

Exterior of Alloa Tower surrounded by bare trees in winter.

This 700-year-old keep, the oldest in Scotland, is home to numerous ghost stories from across the centuries. Learn of the Abbot’s Curse and visit the dungeon where the spectre of a man in chains is helped by a ghostly serving girl who bandages his rat-gnawed foot.

In the Great Hall you may encounter a young girl trapped in the stone well; a woman dressed in black watching over a cradle; and a maid pacing nervously up and down close to the family portrait that depicts Alloa Tower with an adjoining mansion – the very mansion which burned to the ground in August 1800 when a maid placed a lit candle too close to bedclothes. On the anniversary of the fire, visitors often report the acrid smell of burning.

In the Charter Room you may come across a young boy crying, an armed man with strange eyes or a gaunt clergyman dressed in black. Most frightening of all is the Solar Room, where a man has been seen hanging and where you may be overcome by the physical sensation that you too are being strangled.

9. Falkland Palace

The exquisite Chapel Royal in Falkland Palace

Besieged by Rob Roy and partially destroyed by Cromwell’s troops, the palace has a turbulent history soaked in murder and despair. In 1402 the Duke of Rothesay, heir to the Scottish throne, was imprisoned in Falkland Castle, where he reputedly starved to death. In 1542 James V’s body lay in state in the Chapel Royal for almost a month before being taken to Holyrood Abbey and buried.

Over the years the palace has had visits from the ghosts of Mary, Queen of Scots; the White Lady, who roams the Tapestry Gallery awaiting her lost lover; and the Grey Lady, who walks the ruins of the East Range and disappears through a wall where once there was a door. Most chilling of all are the sinister faces that appear at the window of the Queen’s Room.

10. Kellie Castle

The grand drawing room of Kellie Castle, with several sofas and easy chairs arranged around the outside of the room or in front of the fireplace. A piano stands on the left. A long wooden table stands on a red rug in the middle of the room.

Once home to a daughter of Robert the Bruce, Kellie Castle is brimming to the battlements with spooky stories. Dating from 1360, the oldest tower is said to be haunted by the spirit of Anne Erskine, who died when she ‘fell’ from an upstairs window. Although rarely seen, she makes her presence known by the rhythmic thump of her footsteps on the turnpike staircase. The ghost of Professor James Lorimer, who began the restoration of the castle in 1878, has also been seen seated in quiet contemplation. It’s said that Kellie Castle was once exorcised … without success!

Scottish ghost stories – witches, murder and folklore (Part 2)

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