A local ghost story

Overlooking Galashiels, Buckholm Tower stands, ruined and looking a little forlorn. Inhabited into the twentieth century the tower could yet be saved, but a feeling of neglect and the passing of time almost overwhelms. Built in 1582, the tower was typical of the fortified towers that can be found throughout the Borders, but this one is still more or less complete, which makes its abandonment all the more melancholy.

The home of the Pringles of Buckholm, lairds in these parts, Buckholm is famed for its hauntings more than its architecture. One of these lairds, James Pringle, has become as notorious in death as he was, by all accounts, in life.

This story is very well known locally, so you might have heard it, but as Christmas is a time for tales of ghosts, here it is.

James Pringle lived in the second half of the 17th century and was feared for his temper, his cruelty and his debauchery.  His wife and children would flee from him after years of torment and no woman was safe to visit Buckholm Tower. His reputation for evil was known for miles around and his favourite pastime was said to be hunting Covenanters – religious rebels in the eyes of the government –  trailing them with his great hounds, as other lairds would hunt foxes and deer.

Ladhope Moor was a secret meeting place of the religious dissenters, anxious to worship far from the eyes of the State. Pringle knew of this and led a band of government troops there, keen to capture these Covenanting troublemakers. The Covenanters heard of the attack and fled, but one old man, Geordie Elliot – once a servant in the house of Buckholm – had fallen badly from his horse.  His son, William, stayed by his gravely ill father.  The Elliots were captured by the troops and Pringle was keen to execute them there and then.

The Captain of the troops, however, hoped to force details of their Covenanting friends from the men, so asked Pringle to hold them in the prison-like cellar in Buckholm Tower overnight. Pringle agreed.

With the Elliots held fast in his cellar, Pringle ate and drank alone. His brandy cup was filled and emptied several times and his sense of power and cruelty grew stronger by the cupful.

Pushing past those few servants in his employ, gathered outside the cellar door and listening to the cries for mercy coming from within, Pringle wanted to show his prisoners exactly how powerful he was. He entered the cellar, locking the door behind him, his terrified servants listening as sounds of a skirmish were followed by two, different, agonised screams.

Pringle emerged sometime later, locking the cellar behind him, a chilling smile on his face.  He returned to his chamber and his brandy bottle.

Sometime later, a servant disturbed his drunken slumber. A visitor had arrived at Buckholm Tower. Old Isobel Elliot, wife of Geordie, had arrived to beg the Laird of Buckholm for mercy.  With a leer, Pringle led the old woman to the cellar. Throwing open the cellar door, Pringle ushered Isobel inside with a mocking flourish.

A heart-breaking scream was all Isobel could give when she saw her husband and son, hanging from the meat hooks in the cellar ceiling, their bodies impaled like the meat of pigs which would normally hang there.  Sobbing, she fell to the floor, where Pringle spat the insult “Witch!” at her.

Rising up, Isobel cursed the Laird of Buckholm, wishing him harm because of his hateful crimes.

And, from that day, a change was seen in Pringle of Buckholm.  He claimed he had become accursed, haunted by packs of terrible hounds following him wherever he went. Servants would find him in his study, alerted by his screams, fighting off great dogs that no one else could see.  Ghostly dogs would snap at his heels as he ferociously rode his horse back to Buckholm, begging his servants fight off the unseen dogs.

Then, not long afterwards, James Pringle of Buckholm died, in agony. Writhing in pain, the Laird departed this life, mourned by none.

One year later, as is often the case, on the anniversary of Pringle’s death, a ghostly figure was seen running up the winding path to Buckholm Tower, pursued by a glowing pack of hellish hounds.  Loud banging noises were heard, as if the Devil himself was banging on the great wooden door of the castle, desperate to enter. Terrifying screams were heard from the castle courtyard but, when the door was opened, there was nobody there. And, a little later, screams were heard, coming from the cellar.  Could it be that Pringle was being forced to reenact his terrible crimes, as punishment?

Every June, on the anniversary of his death, terrifying screams have been heard near the tower, ghostly hounds observed in the hills nearby.  And, more dreadful again, heavy loud knocks from the now deserted cellar.

It is said that a Minister from Galashiels once performed an exorcism to rid Buckholm from these terrible torments.

Now, however, Buckholm has been left to its ghosts.

It’s, like, really, really old…

The village of Stow, or, to use it’s Sunday name, Stow of Wedale, is really, really old.  Quite how old seems to be a subject of debate, but, you can be sure it is OLD.   It is, without doubt, a phenomenally pretty little place, with a ruined auld kirk – only 15th century – and the ruins of a house where a Bishops’ Palace once stood.  According to some, there’s been a church here since the 7th century.  Yes, since the 600s! Like I say, really, really old.  Most of the buildings in the village are 18th or 19th century following the removal of the village’s medieval past by an ‘improving’ landowner.  The same landowner built the fancy Town Hall – part of a grand vision to make the village into a smart weaving town, that never happened.

Stow

So we have an over-sized Town Hall, one wonderful local shop (also a Post Office) and a great little cafe / gallery.  And that’s pretty much it.  And it couldn’t be better!  Except, perhaps, for a pub.  Currently, there isn’t one.  The last, The Royal Hotel, burnt down with seeming irony, on the day of the royal wedding in 2011.  The plot stands empty still.  The other pub and hotel have long-since closed, meaning a trek into Galashiels or Clovenfords, the nearest places with taverns and the like.

There’s a rare 17th century bridge, which now stands a little isolated in a field, but once was the entry to the village over the local river, the Gala Water.  It was near this bridge that, in 1649, five Stow villagers were strangled at the stake and burnt.  Their crime?  Witchcraft.  Until moving here, and reading the great book on witchcraft in the Borders by Stow’s own Parish Archivist, Mary W. Craig, I had no idea of how ferocious the witchhunts were in the Borderlands.  Yes, I knew that Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife had large numbers of innocent people burnt as witches, but not the counties that line the border with England.  Sadly, Mary’s book, Border Burnings seems out of print now, but I managed to borrow a copy to read, keen to discover more about the place we’ve decided to call home.  I’d like to learn more still, so will go back to the Parish Archive when I find some time.

You’d never guess, when you take a stroll around this beautiful, tranquil space, of the terrible scene that would have been witnessed 369 years ago, by the river…

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