This is a castle they will never forget
Scotland has at least 300 castles, many of them in Aberdeenshire in the northeast of the country and many incorporated into the famous Castle Trail. About half have a ghostly reputation, or some ghost story associated with them.
At each castle we visited on recent trips to the area I asked about the ghosts. In the other castles, the guides gave the information, laughing and rather dismissive—but in Crathes Castle the guide was more cautious. She stated seriously that, “Even I’m not sure if it’s true”. I believed her sincerity.
Crathes castle, just 16 miles west of Aberdeen, with its round towers, gargoyles, and overhanging turrets, is evocative of our idealized image of a castle, complete with maidens in distress, dragons, and perhaps dark secrets and ghosts.
We entered through the new wing, rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1966, and passed into the original tower section, behind a small group of Japanese visitors. We toured the castle in a set sequence, and each room has a room guide, who gives much information about life in the old castle and the present Burnett family.
The land on which Crathes now stands was gifted to the Burnett family by the legendary Robert the Bruce in 1323 in return for their loyalty. Their badge of office, the finely carved ivory Horn of Leys, still hangs above the fireplace in the High Hall, the first big room we reached upstairs. The family continues to live on the estate, after deeding it, plus the castle, to the National Trust of Scotland. The present laird (lord) still comes in to update the family records and add to the photo albums. It’s an amazing thought that the castle has been in the same family all these years.
The tower is the original living section, compact, with thick walls and small windows, so it’s never very light. At the entrance are special double iron-grill gates, before a huge wooden door for added protection. Remember, this was built in the 16th century—a turbulent time. Steep spiral stone stairs in the corner turrets connect the floors, and we sensed that it wasn’t easy to get in and out of this place. Some of the rooms still have beautiful tapestries on the walls, some have oak panel walls and the original wooden ceilings and friezes, gorgeously painted with mythical scenes. Small lamps, which burned animal fat, were used, so living here must have been smelly, smoky and rather dark and stuffy.
The first ghost story is linked to the Green Lady’s Bedroom, one of the top bedrooms. The story goes that a young girl was a ward of the laird, and was made pregnant, supposedly by a servant. The laird ordered the baby removed. The baby died and the girl also died of a broken heart. Later, during remodeling, the hearthstone was lifted in her bedroom and a baby skeleton was found. Since then, people have seen the ghost of the girl, dressed in green, carrying her baby and crying. But, the room guide hastened to assure the group that this ghost hasn’t been seen for ages. I asked more questions and noticed the Japanese looking around a little apprehensively.
A couple more rooms and we got to the Gallery on the top floor of the castle. The room guide told us that this is where there’s a second ghost in residence. Sometimes there are sounds of running and footsteps, even when there is definitely no-one up there. She smiled, “Even I’m not sure, maybe even I half believe”.
We were about to move on when there was a series of loud clanking noises, which reverberated through the room. I turned in surprise at the unexpectedness of the sound, but didn’t have any more time to consider my reaction. The Japanese all gasped and jumped, and when the noise came again, some screamed. There was mild pandemonium, as two of them shouted “the ghost, the ghost” and they all prepared to run, to scramble out of the Hall.
The room guide, visibly disturbed by the strong reaction, tried to calm them. “It’s okay. It’s okay. Please. It’s not the ghost, that’s water in the pipes. The pipes are old, and they do this sometimes”. The tension was palpable. We smiled, as it was obvious that the noises weren’t the sound of running footsteps, but I wasn’t sure the Japanese were convinced. They left, chattering excitedly, and I have no doubt that this is how the ghost story is perpetuated.
It is easier to believe in ghosts if you’re in an old castle, full of history and legends, dark passageways, and strange nooks and crannies.
This is the power of suggestion at work: how easily the group created a panic attack among themselves. This is definitely a castle they will never forget.