Undoubtedly the most haunted castle in Scotland is Glamis in the county of Angus. Glamis is a late 17th-century castle built in French chateau style around the remnants of a 14th-century keep whose 5m. thick walls proved too difficult to dismantle. The site itself is thought to have been occupied by a royal residence since the 11th century. There is some documentary evidence to support this, as Fordoun and other chroniclers maintain that Malcolm II, the grandfather of Duncan, was assassinated at Glamis in 1034. This incident was immortalised in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but considerable poetic licence was used by the bard and most of the events described in the play lack historical foundation.
Glamis castle has been owned and lived in by the same family for over 600 years. The brief break in the continuity of this record began after 1540 when Jane Douglas, Lady of Glamis was burned at the stake for witchcraft and for conspiring to poison James V. This trumped-up charge was brought about because of the King’s dislike of her family and his desire to see Glamis Castle forfeited to the Crown. The King eventually occupied the castle, but on his death, young Lord Glamis, son of Jane Douglas, regained his inheritance. The ghost of the unfortunate Lady Glamis has been seen many times since her death; she is said to appear in the turret of the clock tower, still wrapped in the flickering flames in which she died.
In all, Glamis has played host to at least a dozen ghosts throughout the ages. Most famous of all is the Grey Lady, still seen regularly in a castle chapel in the heart of the building. One of her recent appearances was verified by a female guide to the castle who watched in amazement as a figure in a grey robe rose from a kneeling position at the back of the chapel and walked straight to the altar whereupon she vanished into thin air. The guide described the Grey Lady as being of solid appearance, clad in a grey hooded gown made of rough material, with a rope or braided belt around her waist.
So many ghosts have been seen at Glamis that one wonders if some of the sightings reported are of the same ghost described in a different way by its startled viewers. The first ghost you might encounter at Glamis is the phantom White Lady who appears on the long tree-lined avenue leading to the castle. She once startled a countess and her two nieces who were out walking at the time. There is also a woman who runs through the grounds with a hand held to her bleeding mouth, and a man nicknamed “Jack the Runner” who is sometimes seen in the parklands on moonlit nights. The pale face of a frightened girl has materialised at a window half-way up the old tower, and inside the castle there is a phantom man in armour, a butler who frequents the room in which he hanged himself, and a tall, bearded highlander who was seen walking through walls and passageways by a former Lord Provost of Perth. Even the roof of the castle is haunted. A ghost reputed to be that of a mad earl has been seen on winter nights on the rooftop walk known as the Mad Earl’s Walk.
Field research in the environs of the castle revealed surprising facts. One and a half miles north-east of Glamis Castle stands the famed St. Orland’s Stone, a 2.5m high monolith decorated by a cross on one side and mysterious Pictish symbols on the other. This stone is situated in direct alignment between Glamis Castle and a prehistoric earthwork 14 miles away at Baldoukie. Not far south of this alignment another ley runs straight from the castle to a group of standing stones at Carse Gray. (Neither the stones nor the earthwork are on 1:50,000 scale O.S. maps). From there the ley continues right on over the hill and through Finavon Castle, which happens to be haunted by the spectre of Barefoot Jock, a gillie who cut himself a walking stick from a tree on the Earl of Crawfords’ estate in the 16th Century. Unfortunately for Jock, he took a branch from the Corin Tree, which the Earl believed had grown from a chestnut dropped by a Roman soldier. The Earl was incensed and ordered that Jock was to be hanged from the Corin Tree as a warning to all those who did not respect private property.
Almost every castle with the prefix ‘dun’ in the name is haunted. Above is a drawing of Uisdean MacGillespie Chleirich, said to haunt Duntulm Castle, eight miles north of Uig, on the Isle of Skye. Uisdean (Hugh) was a cousin of the Lord of the Isles, who plotted to take over the leadership of the Clan MacDonald, but failed because of a careless mistake. In the throes of his conspiracy, Uisdean wrote a letter to a friend outlining his plans to overthrow his cousin. On the same day he wrote a letter to his cousin declaring eternal friendship. Somehow the messengers were misdirected and the Lord of the Isles received the letter that was meant for Uisdean’s friend. Uisdean was captured, imprisoned in a room in the highest tower of Duntulm, and left to starve.
The most popular tourist attraction in Skye is undoubtedly Dunvegan Castle, home of the famous Fairy Flag of the MacLeods. The Fairy Flag is said to have been given to the clan by a fairy woman who promised aid in any emergency provided that it was waved no more than three times with an interval of at least a year and a day between each use. So far, the flag’s powers have been called on twice; once at the Battle of Glendale in 1490 and once at Trumpan in 1580, where the Flag brought victory to the MacLeod fighting men when defeat seemed inevitable. The 27th chief, Sir Reginald MacLeod, took the flag to the South Kensington Museum for analysis and was informed that it was made of silk woven in Syria or Rhodes and could possibly be a holy relic brought back from the Crusades. Strange celestial music has been heard in the room where the flag is kept, and the skirl of the pipes has resounded through the South Tower though no piper was in residence at the time.
Open to the public, but check the visiting hours before you go.
Dunstaffnage is a 13th-century curtain-walled castle built on a natural pedestal of conglomerate rock above Dunstaffnage Bay, three miles north of Oban. This ancient site was where the kings of Dalriada kept the Stone of Destiny until its removal to Scone in the 9th Century.
The castle itself was originally built by the MacDougalls, but after their defeat by Robert Bruce at the Pass of Awe in 1308, it passed into the hands of the Campbells. During the centuries of Campbell ownership, Dunstaffnage acquired the reputation of being haunted by a glaistig known as the Green Lady. It is said that the Green Lady always appeared before a member of the family’s death, wringing her hands with sorrow.
Like many more of Scotland’s haunted castles, Dunstaffnage stands on a ley-line. In this instance, the ley-line runs to distant Ben Cruachan, passing through Inverawe House on the way. Strangely enough, Inverawe House has a well known ghost story of its own. It began one stormy night in 1740, when Duncan Campbell, Laird of Inverawe, gave shelter to an unknown fugitive from the law. That night, as Duncan lay in bed listening to the wind, an apparition of his cousin floated into the room, bleeding from hideous wounds. “Inverawe,” it said. “Blood has been shed. Shield not my murderer.” Duncan was shattered when he realised that the fugitive beneath his roof had murdered his cousin, but under the strict code of Highland hospitality he could not hand his guest over to the authorities, nor could he take revenge himself. All he could do was to lead the man to a cave on the slopes of Ben Cruachan next morning, and leave him there to fend for himself. That night the ghost of Duncan’s cousin appeared again. When dawn broke, Duncan armed himself and set off for the cave where the stranger was no longer his guest and could be challenged to a duel. But the stranger had gone for ever. Duncan went to bed that night with a heavy heart. Once again the ghost of his murdered cousin appeared before him. It pointed a blood-drenched finger and whispered, “Farewell, Inverawe, farewell till we meet again at Ticonderoga.”
In the morning, Duncan told the whole story to his family. No-one had heard the name Ticonderoga in either Gaelic or English, but they wrote it down and kept it in the family records for future reference. Four years later, Duncan joined the army. He rose to the rank of major, but his career was cut short in 1758 when he died of wounds after an attack on the French-held Fort Carrilon near the Canadian-American border. Duncan’s regiment, the Black Watch, suffered 647 casualties in the action and to commemorate their gallantry they were granted a battle honour which remains on their regimental colours to this day. Students of military history will note that the name on the flag is not Fort Carillon, but Ticonderoga, the Indian name the fort reverted to when the Seven Years War was over.
Dunstaffnage Castle is open to the public during standard visiting hours.
One of the outlets for the ghost book was Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, seen in the photograph above. Sales there suddenly increased when the film ‘Ghostbusters’ came to town. It seems that some local schoolgirls who had seen the film got hold of a Ouija board and took it to the castle to see if they could raise a ghost. They came back saying they’d been in touch with a ghost called ‘The Grey Lady’.
The story spread round schools , rumours started and the newspaper clipping (dated 16.3.85), tells how an unruly mob of schoolchildren converged on the castle graveyard in darkness. Some of them were apparently carrying my book so the book was banned from the castle shop by Kilmarnock and Louden District Cultural Services for six months!