What is a Scottish castle without a ghost (or two)?
Luckily for us, there seems to be at least one spooky inhabitant lurking within almost all the haunted castles in Scotland. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the place is well-maintained as a family home or falling into ruin… these single-minded spirits just keep treading their way across long-gone floorboards with their bagpipes in full flow… or their head tucked under their arm.
Just in time for Halloween, here’s a clutch of the finest phantoms of the haunted castles in Scotland, guaranteed to make your blood run a little colder…
Which of these haunted castles in Scotland would you visit?
Ghosts of St Andrews Castle
Overlooking the wide expanse of the Firth of Tay, St Andrews Castle stands in ruins – but its crumbling walls and notorious bottle dungeon have witnessed dreadful human suffering. This makes it our first of six haunted castles in Scotland. In the mid-16th century Protestant preachers stood bravely against the powerful Catholic church – and many paid dearly, with a long and painful death. Cardinal Beaton, a representative of the Pope, had several ‘heretics’ burned at the stake, but he ended up being murdered by a vengeful Protestant mob who hung his body over the walls of the castle.
The castle is open to visitors, but it seems that the Cardinal hasn’t left… his ghost is said to haunt the castle and the street that runs alongside. One witness reported seeing a man in ‘fancy dress‘ (presumably the ornate gown of the Cardinal) while in 1978 a visiting teacher saw a shadowy figure moving from one window to the next in the gatehouse – on an upper storey, which no longer has a floor.
And, if this isn’t enough, the phantom coach of Archbishop Sharp, another harsh and unpopular man who was murdered here in 1679, is said to glide noiselessly along the streets of St Andrews on dark and foggy nights, drawn by four black horses.
St Andrews Castle is maintained by Historic Scotland. Visitor information can be found on their website, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
Lying in the shadow of the Lomond Hills in Fife, Falkland Palace was once the pride of the Stewart kings. This is where, in 1402, the ruthless Duke of Albany imprisoned his nephew, the heir to the Scottish throne, and reputedly starved him to death.
Although it’s still used as a family home, there’s definitely an atmosphere about Falkland Palace. A walk through its dark paneled rooms, with their imposing oil paintings and heavy oak furniture, will have you checking over your shoulder for uninvited followers.
And with good reason… in the Tapestry Gallery, the ghost of a lady has been seen pacing and down, anxiously waiting for the return of her lover. It is believed he was a soldier who rode off to battle, and never returned. This makes Falkland Palace number two of our six haunted castles in Scotland.
Falkland Palace is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland and is open from 1st March to 1st November. More information can be found at www.nts.org.uk
Few castles sound as romantic and spellbinding as Tantallon… and, believe me, this one really lives up to its name. Built in the mid-14th century by the Earls of Douglas, it stands precariously on a clifftop overlooking the Firth of Forth. Although it’s in ruins, it still offers plenty of dark, winding corridors to walk down and breathtaking towers to climb – if you dare!
Tantallon Castle is famous for an unnamed ghost – a man wearing period costume, who seems to like having his photo taken. He appeared first in a tourist photograph taken in 1977, and again in a photo in 2008; on both occasions, the photographer was unaware of the phantom photo-bomber until the snaps were developed. This makes the Tantallon Castle number three of our six haunted castles in Scotland.
The most recent image was published in this article on Sky News.
Tantallon Castle is in the care of Historic Scotland. Visiting times and admission prices can be found at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk
The hereditary home of the Dukes of Argyll, Inveraray is every inch the fairytale castle.
In 1644, the first castle on this site was burnt down by the Marquis of Montrose. The Duke escaped, but legend tells that his harpist was left behind, and died in the attack. His ghost is often seen wandering through the rooms in the present castle, dressed in the Campbell tartan, and his music is often heard in the Library. Visitors say that he appears more often to women than to men. This makes Inveraray Castle number four of six haunted castles in Scotland.
And that’s not all… In 1758, a physician was walking in the grounds of the castle with two friends when all three of them witnessed a ‘ghost battle’ which appeared to be taking place in the sky. Highland soldiers were in retreat after attacking a French fort, and many of their number lay dead. Days later, two ladies saw the same phenomenon. In the weeks that followed, news reached them of an attack at Ticonderoga in Canada, where 300 men of the Black Watch regiment – including many Campbell clansmen – had died in an attack on a fort held by French troops.
Also famous for its appearance in ‘Downton Abbey’, Inveraray Castle welcomes visitors from April to October. You can read more by visiting www.inveraray-castle.com
Dunollie Castle stands in a commanding position overlooking Oban Bay on the west coast of Scotland. Now almost entirely covered in ivy, in the 13th century it was one of the key fortresses of Clan MacDougall, descendants of the Lords of the Isles.
In 1971 a group of boy scouts were exploring the ruins, having spent the night camping close by. While they were looking around the armoury, six or seven of them, including their leader, saw a figure of a piper pass by the window outside. He was in full Highland dress but appeared to be semi-transparent – through his body, they could see the trees in the background. Having mentioned this to the castle’s owner, they learned that the piper was a familiar sight, and was “quite accepted by the family”. This makes Dunollie Castle number five of six haunted castles in Scotland.
Dunollie is still in the possession of Clan MacDougall. Visitor information can be found at www.dunollie.org
Standing in splendid isolation amid the rolling hills of Dumfries & Galloway, Drumlanrig Castle is the ancestral seat of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry. It is still used as a family home, but this doesn’t seem in any way to inhibit the activities of its spectral inhabitants.
One of these is said to be the spirit of Lady Anne Douglas. She is dressed in white, and carries a fan in one hand. Rather distressingly, she carries her head in the other. A monkey-like creature has been seen in the Yellow Room, and there are reports of a phantom dog resembling an Alsatian… and finally, like all good Gothic ghost stories, there’s a blood-stain on the floor of a passage that cannot be removed. This makes Drumlanrig Castle number six of our six haunted castles in Scotland.
Would you stay there? I’m not sure I would!
Drumlanrig Castle is open for guided tours during the summer months, and it may be hired for weddings and private events. Visitor information: www.drumlanrigcastle.co.uk
Have you ever been on a ghost tour?
Some Scottish castles (not necessarily all of the ones mentioned here) organise their own ghost tours, especially around Halloween. In the ancient city of St Andrews, paranormal phenomena seem to just ooze out of the walls, and you can join a ghost walk of the many haunted sites and buildings.
Have you ever been on a ghost tour or ‘fright night’? Were you spooked?
About the author…
Jo Woolf is a British writer with a keen interest in history and the natural world. She lives in Central Scotland, and is never happier than when she’s wandering around the ruins of an ancient castle or pottering along a pebbly shore. Jo writes an online magazine called The Hazel Tree.