A Hatful of Hauntings

Magic and mystery looms large in the Borderlands.  Tales of the Good People, the Quiet Folk – the Fairies –   have been told here for hundreds of years, through stories by the fireside or the long, elegant ballads still performed today by folk musicians.  Tales of witches, the Devil and chilling hauntings feature strongly in the local lore and cultural identity of this sometime turbulent place.

Today, a grey, gloomy and colder day than in recent weeks, I feel in the mood for some old-fashioned ghost stories.  Outside of the window, the rain is falling steadily and the tops of the trees are shrouded in mist.  A shiver is in the air.

Here, then, are a few of my favourites from the Border lands.  Place to visit, perhaps, when the current restrictions end?

Abbotsford

Mentioned in previous posts, I include it again not to note once more that Sir Walter Scott himself it said to haunt the place – which has been reported – but to remember that Sir Walter was pivotal in preserving many of the old tales and ballads, which he heard as a child and which he copied, adapted and embellished in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, his novels and other works.  Without Scott, part of the rich detail of the ancient songs  and legends would have been lost.

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The Library, Abbotsford

In addition to collected objects and artefacts from the past, Scott’s library is full of historical and historic books, tomes on witchcraft, hauntings and legends.  There’s a little occult section, just by the window overlooking the Tweed, where I hope his children peeked a look at the stories of ghosts and witches – like I did in the seventies, pouring over my parents’ copy of Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain.  I’m certain that Scott would have told them stories, sitting around the fire.  The library is a beautiful room, like his study and drawing room and all can be explored as part of the self-guided tour.  I like the anecdote that says Scott called his study room Edinburgh so that, when callers visited his house to meet him (as they did in annoyingly large numbers), his staff and family could honestly say that Sir Walter was in Edinburgh and sadly unavailable.

Knowledgable and friendly volunteer guides are on hand to add to your tour.  There’s a great exhibition, shop and restaurant and the gardens and grounds can be explored at your leisure. I can’t recommend it enough. The audio tour, featuring his cat and dog, is extremely well-done and really adds to the atmosphere during a visit!  The audio guide featuring Sir Walter ‘himself’ is also engrossing so a repeat visit is recommended – and cheap, as a ticket can last you an entire year!

Peebles

I love Peebles.  It’s a shame that the town sign with its “Peebles for Pleasure” motto has gone; the 1950s zingy-ness of the slogan always raised a smile!

There’s something very homely and welcoming about the place.  Maybe  it’s because the town has an attractive, bustling high street devoid of many of the chain stores that towns usually have: walking through Peebles, you can see independent butchers, grocers, bakers, craftspeople – and a bookshop! –  among many others.  It feels like it has an identity that chain stores erode.  There’s a lot of history, too.

The haunting of the Cross Keys Hotel, a coaching inn dating back in part to the 17th century, is well known.  If planning a stay and of a nervous disposition, it is recommended you avoid room 5!   So too, is the figure of a woman who walks the chambers of nearby Neidpath Castle.  When I was younger, this magnificent tower overlooking the Tweed, was empty and open to visitors.  It quickly became my favourite castle in Scotland and I always looked forward to a return visit.  The Earls of Wemyss’ family have found new uses for it more recently,  so visitor access is now limited.  But, then, castles were built to be used, not preserved as well-manicured ruins.  The ghostly woman, said to be the shade of Jean Douglas, was a daughter of a laird of Neidpath who fell in love with a man from a rival family.  Forbidden by her father to have anything to do with him, she pined away and died.  Her ghost, said to be  wearing a brown dress with white collar, has been reported ever since.  Scott wrote about this, popularising the poor Maid of Neidpath.

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Neidpath Castle

Scott also wrote about a sometime Minister of Peebles, John Scott (everyone’s a Scott down here!) who was an expert in ‘reading down’ spirits, or exorcising them.  Clearly troublesome sprites have been a problem in Peebles for quite some time.  The Reverend Scott, however, is said to have met his end when another, younger, more rash Minister started the ceremony without him.  The toll of dealing with the angry phantom, wrecking the house in which it had manifested, was too much for the cleric.  The effort

“…occasioned his falling into a lingering disorder, of which he never recovered.”

I’ve written in a previous entry about the haunting of Buckholm Tower.  If you prefer, you can also listen to the story in our Wyrd Scotland podcast – available wherever you find podcasts and also on YouTube.  Another ancient Borders home which may have had a more peaceful haunting is…

Traquair House

Another favourite place, Traquair House is alleged to be one of the oldest houses continually inhabited in Scotland, with a history stretching back some 900 years and having welcomed 27 kings or Queens!  I’ve featured the place in an earlier post, looking at the weirdness of the 1968 film The Ballad of Tam Lin, which used Traquair as the filming location for exterior shots.   Traquair has a fascinating history and is one of the most wonderful places to visit in the Scottish Borders.

The house is beautiful and grand, but in a very homely way.  The rooms feel authentic and welcoming, probably because they date mostly from the 17th century final phase of construction.  Although redecorated since, the layout is that of 300 years ago.  There’s a wonderful mural in one chamber, depicting a hunting scene – painted in the 1530s.  It is beautifully atmospheric.  The building has strong associations with the House of Stewart and the family remained loyal to the Scottish royal house after they were deposed in 1688, remaining Jacobite despite the cost.  Their Roman Catholic faith also marked them out as defiant and faithful, again, despite the costs.  There is a wonderful 19th century chapel in the courtyard of the house and inside a secret staircase through which priests could come and go during the harsh days of the Reformation and Covenanting times.  And although I’ve mentioned it before, it’s worth stating again that the restored 18th century brewhouse is a highlight of the visit: the Jacobite Ale being a particular favourite!

Traquair
Traquair

For a house of such an age and with such history, it’s surprising that there are not more tales of ghosts here.  The only spectral figure reported is said to be that of Lady Louisa Stewart, the last of the Stewart family ennobled as Earls of Traquair by King Charles I.

Lady Louisa died in 1896, just short of her 100th birthday.  She was seen walking in the grounds in the early 20th century by one of the outdoors staff, watched gliding effortlessly through a closed gate and vanishing!

There are few other tales of the supernatural I can find.  Given the feeling of peace and tranquility there, maybe that’s not surprising.

Littledean

On the bank of the Tweed, not far from Maxton, stands the shattered, romantic ruin of Littledean Tower.  Built in the 16th century, the tower stands surrounded by the earthworks of a (probably) prehistoric fort.  Lives were lived and lost here, then, for a very long time and unlike Traquair is said to have an unfriendly, desolate feel. The house was lived in until the 18th century, but was abandoned, it is said, when the head of the house was gored to death by his prize bull!

The tower was said to be haunted by the spirit of a previous lady of the house, throughly disliked when she lived as

a covetous, grasping woman, and oppressive to the poor. Tradition averred that she had amassed a large sum of money by thrift or extortion, and now could not rest in her grave because of it.

according to William Henderson in his 1879 ‘Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders‘.

The spirit appeared to a servant girl in the castle, who took pity on her bedraggled cold appearance, bidding her to sit by the fire.  The girl noticed her feeble shoes and cold feet, offering to dry and clean her shoes.  On this act of kindness, the spirit confessed to her identity, offering to show the girl where she had hidden the gold that would not let her rest.  She told the girl to command the Laird to split the gold in two: the first half was for him as head of the house; the second half was to be halved again, with the poor of Maxton to benefit from one share and the girl herself the other. If this was done, she would be able to rest.

The girl did indeed follow her instructions and she and the Laird uncovered the gold. The Laird obeyed the requests and all was well.  The spirit had said she would

rest in my grave, where I’ve no rested yet, and never will I trouble the house mair till the day o’ doom.’

Let’s hope that, given the way of things, no-one should see the phantom lady any time soon.

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Another of the Lairds of Littledean was said to be a strikingly handsome, dark-haired man.  A notorious drunkard and womaniser, he treated his poor, devout wife terribly.  He killed his young stable boy, for a minor misdemeanour and soon was being shunned by all except those who shared his cruelty and debauchery.  He sounds very similar to the Laird of Buckholm, mentioned before.

One dark and stormy night (!) he rode his horse off into the woods, having drunk far too much to be sensible.  As the storm worsened and as the cold, driving rain helped sober him up, he looked for shelter realising he had rode too far from home.  At last, he came to a clearing in the woods and spotted a humble-looking cottage, with light shining from it’s little window.

He entered the single room within to beg for shelter, and was immediately transfixed by the beautiful women sitting spinning by the fire.  Something bothered the Laird, though.  There was something unnatural about the women, whose eyes sparkled with humour.  As dawn broke, the Laird hurried back to Littledean, relieved to have escaped from harm.  And yet, he could not, in the days that followed, get the mysterious woman from his mind.  He started riding out, searching for the cottage but could not find it.

Then, when all hope had dwindled, he saw from the castle battlements the haunting figure of the woman – standing close to his home.  He ran to meet her, she leading him to the edge of the woods, and there he would meet her again and again to satisfy his urges but only – at her insistence – within site of the castle and at the very same time of day.  He was truly bewitched by her.  He taunted his wife with his new hobby and she, powerless, resorted to prayer.

The Laird left Littledean on business, leaving his wife behind.  A servant, loyal to the lady, spotted the dark-haired woman that the Laird had been meeting, walking to a patch of woodland near the castle.  Summoning her servants the lady immediately rushed to the woods: there was no chance the stranger had escaped.  However, on entering the woods, there was no sign of the woman.  Only a large hare was seen, watching the party approach and then running off.

The Laird returned home on his horse, some nights later.  As he neared Littledean in the gloom, he spotted a large hare running towards him.  Soon, another hare joined the first and ran behind the Laird.  Several more appeared and, to his horror, the Laird realised they were trying to surround him and his horse.  The horse, terrified, almost threw the Laird, but he kept hold and tried crushing the hares with his horses hoofs.  When that failed, as they scampered closer and closer, he drew his sword.   He managed to hack off a paw of a hare that had leapt on to this saddle.  The injured hare retreated, followed by all the others, leaving the Laird to hurry home.

White-faced and trembling, the Laird reached the safety of his castle.  As he removed his long cloak, he and his servants were horrified to see a human hand tumble to the floor – hacked off at the wrist.  The Laird, realising that the hares had been witches transformed,  picked up the severed hand using his sword and hurried down the slope to the river, throwing the hand into the running water.  He hurried back to the castle and bolted the heavy door shut with a bang.

The next day, he set out to find the cottage and, as these stories go, happened to find it.  Inside, the beautiful woman he had been dallying with was gone, transformed into a wizened hag.  In front of her body she held her right arm, which ended in a bloody stump wrapped with rags.  Hate filling  her eyes, she screeched at the Laird that as he had taken the hand so he would never be parted from it. He returned, horrified, to his chamber in his tower and there, on the stone flagstone floor, was the bloody, severed hand.  Terrified, he threw it out of the window and retreated to his bed.  On lying down, he found the hand under his pillow.  He picked it up and threw it on to the fire, watching it burn away.

In the morning, his servants discovered him quite dead on the floor in front of the fireplace.  Marks around his neck showed he had been strangled by hand(s) unknown.

It is said that his ghost, riding frantically on his horse, can still be seen racing towards the tower on stormy nights.  Two other spectres, both young women in white, were reported walking towards the tower from the river.  They are said to have been victims of his, killed after he abused them for fun, buried in unmarked graves.  In the 19th century, two skeletons were found buried under rough stone slabs near the riverbank.  They were given proper burials in the graveyard nearby and the spectres were not seen again.  It is little wonder that locals avoided Littledean Tower and its reputation for hauntings was very well known.

This interesting and unusual castle, with a massive D-shaped tower, is not very well-known now, and worth a visit – but not on dark and stormy nights.

Jedburgh

Jedburgh Castle was once an important royal defence guarding the route from the south and was easy prey for invading forces during the long years of war with England.   King Malcolm IV died here and Alexander III was married here – a spectral figure with the face of a skull, said to have appeared as portent of the doom which his death would plunge his poor little kingdom into.  Being so close to the border, Jedburgh would be frequently attacked and was burned by invading troops at least six times, most cruelly during Henry VIII’s Rough Wooing in the 1540s.  The magnificent 12th century Abbey was last attacked then and has remained a romantic ruin ever since.

The site of the castle may have been fortified from prehistoric times and the route of the Roman’s Dere Street nearby suggests so.   During the Wars of Independence, the Scots used their vital tactic of regaining the castle from the occupying garrison and then demolishing it, to render it useless.  The original castle was destroyed by the beginning of the 1400s, and remained a ruin for centuries.  In the beginning of the 1800s, the site was cleared and a fort-like prison, in the fashionable Gothic style, was built.

Like Inverness, the mock-castle dominates the landscape of the town.  The prison lasted a mere 60 years, but has been restored as a museum of prison life in the 1820s.  The design was considered at the time to be revolutionary, showing an enlightened approach to penal reform.  Despite its grand design, it’s fair to say that inmates did not enjoy their time inside, especially those whose crimes were met with execution.  Designed by Archibald Elliot, who would design the grim mock-fortress jail on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, the museum includes the original cells and Jailer’s House – now a museum which looks at the long history of the burgh.

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Jedburgh Castle Jail

Many visitors, though, are enticed to the jail because of its haunted reputation.  Ghost-hunter groups, armed with electronic beeping machines and ouija boards, have been here a number of times, convinced of the supernatural activity.  These groups claim on their websites to have encountered many unhappy spirits, including those condemned to death.   Other visitors have felt uneasy in parts of the gloomy building, with one young visitor from a primary school failing to take a great selfie, but capturing what may be one of the condemned, looming in a corridor! The photo featured in the local Border Telegraph newspaper – and is, certainly, intriguing!  Another photo, taken by a member of a ghost-hunting group, made it as far as the Daily Record.

Before the virus, there appear to have been ghost-hunting vigils regularly.  Once the current lockdown ends perhaps they’ll begin again, socially-distanced, of course.  The appeal of “Scotland’s most haunted jail” looks set to continue.

A Walk in the Woods – part one.

We set out to take a walk around Saint Mary’s Loch, the largest freshwater loch in the Borders.  It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday, blue skies overhead and a slight breeze keeping the atmosphere fresh. We drove the fifty minutes or so through some spectacular scenery, but noticed as we went that the roads were much busier than we’d expected.

When we got to the loch, we were horrified to see how busy it was:  the narrow A-Road was even narrower, thanks to all the cars parked on the verge; the dozens of tents pitched on the lochside showed that a lot – a lot – of families had decided to make this their Covid-19 summer holiday location; there seemed to be a rally of middle-aged blokes on motorbikes, modern-day Vikings of the Road, each vying to have the loudest silencer;  a charity sponsored walk looked like it was about to start.

The drive became a real life videogame, where the object of the game is to avoid the drivers in their cars pulling out in front with no warning or awareness of anyone other than themselves. It was horrible. It was crowded.  My natural dislike of crowds kicked in, but amplified through a TheyretooclosetogetherdonttheyKNOWtheresapandemic?! huff.

Looking online later, reading the local complaints about litter and people defecating by the lochside and in the rivers confirmed that we made the right choice.  Like at so many other natural beauty spots, the pandemic seems to have given free-reign to a selfish, stupid and utterly moronic section of society who clearly don’t give a shit about the environment or anyone else.  Ancient trees burned or felled for barbecues in the Trossachs, litter, tents and empty bottles abandoned where they fell in dozens of places; stuff like this makes me think that a chunk of humanity is incapable of change and undeserving of any sympathy.   We turned around sad and disappointed and headed back along the busy road.

We stopped off, though, not too far from the loch.  Nearby, stands a place I’ve long wanted to visit:  the little castle of Dryhope.

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A ruined, 16th century tower house, one of hundreds that stood tall in this turbulent part of Scotland, Dryhope stands some four storeys, but is an empty shell.  Unlike many which have been reduced to mere lumpy foundations covered with coarse grass, or built into new farmhouses, or which have entirely disappeared, Dryhope has been consolidated as a ruin and is free and open to the public.  The situation is pretty, although the modern farm buildings nearby are a reminder of the 20th century, so no chance of any time-travelling Outlander stuff here.  Turn around, away from the farm, and the quiet situation above the Dryhope Burn is a romantic one:  JMW Turner drew sketches of the tower on his way to the Yarrow Water and lochs, which are held by the Tate in London.

Standing on private land we followed the obvious path, not straying too close to the sheep and cattle grazing quietly nearby.  The place was utterly empty of people and tranquil.  We felt better immediately, compared to the frenetic feeling on the over-busy roads.  It was a short, easy walk to the tower, passing over the small burn with ridiculously picturesque Rowan, and up to the castle’s entrance.  I was pleased to note the Rowan guarding the approach to the castle, some stepping stones crossing the running water of the burn – two ways of keeping the witches out!

Dryhope is surrounded by history: immediately nearby are prehistoric hut circles and cairns and slightly further afield, the remains of old gold workings. Not too far from here stood once the castle or possible hunting lodge of Craig of Douglas, the earthworks of which stand prominently by the road.  This, part of the empire of the mighty Douglas family, was destroyed by James II as the Crown sought to curb the strength and ambition of the Douglas lords.  Dryhope, however, would be destroyed in part on order of a later king, James VI, following the involvement of its owners – a branch of the Scott family – in with some of his more troublesome courtiers.

There’s a thoughtful interpretation panel at the approach to the castle, right next to where the Southern Upland Way passes by.

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The tower is devoid of internal features:  all the floors have long-since fallen as has the original turnpike staircase.  However, what makes this tower different to most other similar ruins is the modern spiral staircase installed when the tower was consolidated at the turn of the century.  This allows the visitor access to the roof ,which is a rarity, especially for ruined towers that are privately owned.

Inside, modern construction is helping to keep the tower standing, so imagination is needed to get a glimpse of life when the tower was complete.  All internal floors and rooms have long-vanished, but the vaulted ceiling at the top remains.  It’s this floor that you can climb to, via the modern stairs, to reach the top. From there, the views are lovely.  After visiting the top, we walked back to Olga and set off for Thornielee.

Lost origins of stones. A walk around Lauderdale.

Lockdown has now lasted for some five months, with the opportunity to spend only very little time spent outside of our small village.  The early enthusiasm for walking, cycling and the great outdoors has dwindled a little, as the repetition of the walks became too frequent and too familiar.  Instead, trashy movies, trashy books and chocolate digestives seem to have taken up more of my spare time of late, meaning shorts and t-shirts have become a little less roomy.

With waistbands tightening at an alarming rate,  I thought it was time to become reacquainted with the great outdoors, so have set off on a few slightly longer walks recently.

One walk, organised by the great Scottish Borders Walks group, started off in the small town of Lauder, some five miles from home.   Socially-distanced and limited in size, I was lucky to be part of the group of a dozen or so participants in this five hour gentle walk.  Covering around ten and a half miles, the walk invluded roadside, moorland, fields and woodland.

Starting on the outskirts of Lauder, we walked around the estate of Thirlestane Castle – an interesting building and once home to the mighty Earls of Lauderdale.  Lauder itself is a pretty wee town, a Royal Burgh, no less, and one that is blessed with picturesque architecture and independent businesses.  Special mention to Flat Cat Cafe and Gallery and Purple Plum, both of which have been managing to survive the difficulties of the last few months.

Thirlestane Castle
Thirlestane Castle

We then slowly climbed upwards, skirting the plantation known as Elsinore (?!) then passing by the intriguingly-named Wanton Walls farmhouse which was marked as a castle on Blaeu’s famous map of the 17th century.  It can be clearly seen as Wantonwaes.  The hills that dominate the map, under the title Thirlstain, are more rugged and stern than the rolling hills that actually exist, but artistic licence is forgivable given how evocative and intriguing Blaeu’s maps are.

Many of the farms, castles and churches shown by Blaeu have long-since vanished or, at least, have become less obvious.  Wantonwaes is seemingly hidden beneath where the solid farmhouse is today.  Many of these had lasted for centuries, but the advance of larger estates and agrarian improvements from the 18th century onwards brought about the demise of hundreds of medieval farms and townships across the south.

Lauderdale. Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654.
Detail from ‘Lauderdale’. Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

We continued towards our destination, the tallest hill in the area Dabshead Hill.   Dabshead gives impressive views of the surrounding country, looking down to Lauder and Thirlestane Castle, towards the Lauder Common which leads to Stow and beyond.  The hill is also one of the hundreds in the Borders which feature the remains of a prehistoric fort.  Dating back some 2-3,000 years, the fort here is of an impressive size: 600′ by 435′.  The earthworks which once were ramparts are clear, although very difficult to capture on camera on the ground.

In the centre of the fort is a odd-looking ‘standing’ stone, although ‘drooping’ may be a better adjective.    Placed here in the 19th century to celebrate a local aristocrat’s wedding, it is suggested that the stone itself – wherever it came from originally – is a much older monolith.  There are several supposed cup marks on the stone, which will be familiar to anyone interested in prehistoric art.  Original?  Opinion seems a little divided on this.  Given that the stone was set up here, on a new mound of rubble with iron supports (now rusted and failed), that’s understandable.   One suggestion claims that it may have stood next to a nearby neolithic burial site, at Borrowston Rig.  There bronze urns have been found under a low-lying stone circle, near a small number of cairns and further cup-marked stone.

This gives a possible origin of the droopy stone, in which case it has had a very long history indeed and is linked to the unknown rituals or knowledge of our long-forgotten ancestors.

The hilltop may look very rounded, soft even, from the valley floor, but the views are truly worth the climb.

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We then proceeded downwards, towards the hunting lodge of the Duke of Northumberland, one of the many aristocratic landowners who own much of southern Scotland.    His lodge at Burncastle stands roughly where another old peel tower once stood – the tall, gaunt defensive castles of the Borderlands, which can still be seen throughout southern Scotland and northern England.  Burncastle, which also appears on Blaeu’s map, has disappeared apart from some tumbledown foundation stones in the grass.  So too has has the adjacent medieval village of Earnscleuch at the head of the small river that shares its name.

After a fairly shoogly crossing of the Earnscleuch Water by way of old, shiny stepping stones, we followed a track alongside the Duke of Northumberland’s grouse fields.  I was delighted to later discover, but wish I’d known at the time, that we were now following the Herring Road. This is a historic route, used mostly in the 18th and 19th centuries by the herring cadgers, carriers, walking from Dunbar and East Lothian to the Lauder marketplace.  Quite a journey of some 28 miles, carrying creels of herring!  More information can be gained through the wonderful Heritage Paths website.

Leaving the Herring Road, we walked close by the medieval farmsteads of Newbigging, and Huntington – with its prehistoric barrow – and crossing the Lauder Bridge back into town.

This was a great walk, organised by passionate, enthusiastic people and I’m very glad to have taken part.  It reinvigorated my love of walking and encouraged me to go out again.  It also reminded me just how much history – hidden history – is to be found just in front of our eyes.  All we need to do is look.

Windydoors

Having spent a very lazy week, when all thoughts of the government-sanctioned daily exercise was replaced with just one more chocolate digestive and a cup of coffee, I decided that exercise was in order today.  It was sunny, too, for the first time in days and so we went on an eight-mile round trip walking out of Stow to the little farm of Windydoors.

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I’ve cycled up here before, some of the hills almost finishing me off as they are pretty steep. The views of the surrounding countryside are worth the effort, though, looking out over the Selkirkshire countryside towards the Eildon Hills.  Hare, pheasant, sheep and cattle were the only inhabitants we saw on most of our trip, although nearer to Stow cyclists and walkers were all out for their exercise time, too.

We were hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the many ruined tower houses that can be found throughout the county.  There are some forty or so, listed – whether standing or mere marks in the turf. Ancient, tall castles, so emblematic of Scotland and remnants of turbulent times, many fell into ruins as more peaceful times and more elegant fashions took hold.  Some, like Neidpath, outside of Peebles, are still lived in, but most lie shattered in ruins, or have vanished utterly, beneath the ploughs of later farmers.  Others, like Kirkhope and Aikwood – connected in legend to the great southern wizard, Michael Scott – have been restored.

I’m hoping we visit as many of these ancient places, when time allows.  I’ve always loved visiting castles and once hoped to restore and live in my own!  Alas, the lottery win has yet to happen, so not quite yet.

But, today, Windydoors Tower was our destination.  The place, ‘Windiduris’ was first recorded in the year 1456, but the current tower was begun in the following century. The name simply means ‘windy pass’.

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Probably three or four storeys high, little remains above the ground floor, cellars.  The rest was plundered to build the adjoining farm steading and house and two doors have been broken through into the old castle cellar.  The remains are not particularly impressive, but they are more substantial than many other sites which once had a castle.  The setting is particularly pretty, however, overlooking the sloping fields and Stantling Craig reservoir.

It’s worth pointing out that the ruin is situated within a working farm, so we didn’t want to intrude, taking a quick photograph from a distance.

In 1797, a Thomas Gibson was listed as the proprietor of Windydoors in the Dog Tax returns.  Having two dogs, he was taxed 10 shillings (his neighbour, the Duke of Buccleuch at Bowhill House, had four dogs listed and was taxed £1).

I haven’t found much else about Windydoors.  Unlike Buckholm, there doesn’t appear to be a haunting to investigate.

One thing I will need to remember, though, is a plastic bag in my backpack.  The verges have more litter than the last time I cycled past – clearly from drivers throwing fast-food wrappers and plastic bottles out of their car windows.  Grrrrrr.

A Pious Massacre

The Scottish Borders is a land rich in legend, myth and all too real history.   Some seventeen miles from where we live, in the valley of the Yarrow River, stands the gaunt shell of Newark Castle.  Here, one of the most awful chapters of Borders history took place, ostensibly in the name of God.

Newark

Newark Castle is a large, strong tower which was built by the Douglas family in the 15th century. Sir James Douglas, whom the English dubbed The Black Douglas due to his success at fighting the invading army of England’s Edward I, fought with King Robert at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  Folk in the north of England would recite the little poem

Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye. Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye. The Black Douglas shall not get ye.

to children, as a soothing lullaby!  Good Sir James, as the Scots called him, would take his comrade King Robert’s heart to the Holy Land in crusade, a promise made and almost fully kept after the sovereign’s death.  Douglas was killed in battle, but the heart was saved and returned to Scotland.  It lies buried in a lead casket at Melrose Abbey, not too far from Newark.

The Douglas family would become too powerful for the Scottish royal house of Stewart, almost eclipsing the royal family in power and prestige.  In 1440, the 16 year old William, 6th Earl of Douglas and his younger brother, were invited to a feast in Edinburgh Castle, in the presence of the ten year old puppet-ruler King James II.   All was well until a black bull’s head was carried into the Great Hall.  A bull’s head was a potent symbol of death and this was placed before the Earl.  The two young men were then dragged into the courtyard and after a mock trial, beheaded for treason.  The event would live on in infamy as The Black Dinner, and inspired George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones’ ‘Red Wedding’.

A short rhyme commemorates the event:

Edinburgh castle, toun, and tower,
God grant ye sink for sin;
And that even for the black-dinner,
Earl Douglas gat therin.’

The Douglas power was extinguished for a while.  Newark Castle was taken in the name of the King and became a royal hunting lodge, surrounded by the dense Ettrick Forrest.  The arms of King James III and his Queen, Margaret of Denmark, were emblazoned in stone above the entrance.

The almost continual wars with England in the 1500s saw many churches, towns and castles in the south burned and Newark was one of these, but it was restored again.

Worse was to follow, though, during the brutal Wars of the Three Kingdoms. In 1645, a Great Plague year, a horrible travesty of justice would take place.   As the civil wars in Scotland and England and the Irish Wars played out, around 100 Royalist soldiers, their wives and children were captured and held in the castle’s courtyard in the aftermath of the battle of Philiphaugh (although some say as many as 400 in total).   There, they had faced the Army of the Covenanters, under the command of David Leslie**, a professional solider for hire, who had previously served the Swedish Empire and the Tsar of Russia.

(Left)David Leslie.  (Right) Marquis of Montrose

The Covenanters were Scottish Presbyterians, galvanised into a movement following the disastrous attempts of King Charles I to impose perceived Anglican forms of worship on the Church of Scotland.  This, less than a century after the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, was a catastrophe from which King Charles would never recover.  Although born a Scot, in the royal Palace of Dunfermline in Fife, Charles was very much a King of England who continually failed to understand the religious or political landscape in Scotland.  From riots in the streets, to fully-fledged armed conflicts with the Royalist forces of the king, the Covenanters were fully embroiled in civil war in Scotland.

At Philiphaugh, on the banks of the Yarrow, the two sides met in the early morning mist.  Some 4,000 Covenanters faced a Royalist force of half that size, under the leadership of the poet-soldier, James Graham, Marquis of Montrose.   Montrose’s hopes would end at Philiphaugh, although he himself would live to tell the tale, for a short time, at least.

The defeated Royalist troops and their camp followers – often the wives and children of the soldiers, in addition to merchants, laundry workers and the like – were shot, executed by the Covenanter Army  where they stood, in cold blood.  The Covenanters perhaps paused, briefly, before committing this terrible act, but they were, after all,  an army convinced of their righteousness and Godliness.  It no doubt helped that many of the prisoners were Irish and, or Catholic.  Leslie would order a strikingly similar massacre at Dunaverty Castle, Argyll, in 1647.

A mass grave was seemingly discovered in the early 1800s in a field near Newark named Slain Men’s Lea, which seems to have become the victims’ final resting place.

On the anniversary of this dreadful deed, September 13, the cries of the victims are said to echo still.  Their terrifies screams, echoing through the gaunt ruin.

Newark was damaged further during the war years that followed, but restored again for Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch – apparently the last inhabitant.  On her death, the Castle was stripped of its finery and abandoned.  The new mansion of Bowhill, nearby, a more comfortable and modern residence.  Slowly, Newark fell into ruin, although still stands more or less complete to the wallhead.

Sadly, Newark seems to be open very rarely.  Perhaps, the echoes of the past are louder inside than out! It is a remarkable building, with a fascinating story.  Maybe one day, more can be made of it and public access allowed.   But perhaps a place to avoid in mid-September.

 

**Changing sides, like many nobles, Leslie was ennobled by the restored King Charles II, as the first Lord Newark. This new title was named after the Leslie family’s Newark Castle in Fife, not this one!  However, was a title that also – however inadvertently – recalled a massacre a sly judgement from the new King?