Looking for ghosts? Try the usual haunts

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LIVING in a castle or a mansion has to be the top rung on the property ladder for any self-respecting househunter. So it’s not surprising some people, once they manage to acquire such a prestigious address, don’t want to leave. Ever.

In fact, as a new book by Musselburgh author Martin Coventry has shown, there are 450 spectral squatters, in 300 castles, palaces and stately homes across Scotland - and many of them in Edinburgh and Lothian.

Coventry spent nine months researching Haunted Castles and Houses of Scotland - and has uncovered some surprising facts. For instance, 60 per cent of Scotland’s ghosts are female - many young women who were the victims of violence, cruelty or neglect.

Coventry gives one reason for the bias towards ghostly female victims: "Perhaps they are the only means of giving the victim a voice when otherwise the wrongs and injustices that had been done to them would have been long forgotten."

One such tale involves the sightings of a headless woman and baby, seen in a house where James Gillespie’s school now stands. The house, known as Wrightshouses, was home to Lieutenant General Robertson of Lawers at the end of the 18th century. It was his servant who was disturbed from his sleep to find the headless figure of a woman with a baby in her arms.

The image was seen again and again by the same servant and always by the hearth in the bedroom. Remarkably, when the building was demolished in 1802, it is believed the bones of a beheaded woman and baby were discovered.

The apparition is said to be that of the wife of James Clerk, previous owner of the house. When James died in battle at the end of the 17th century his younger brother ensured he took possession of the house by killing his brother’s remaining wife and child.

It’s women again who are said to haunt two of Midlothian’s plushest hotels - Borthwick Castle in Gorebridge and Dalhousie Castle in Bonnyrigg.

At Borthwick the guest who just won’t leave is said to be doomed medieval serving girl Ann Grant.

Coventry reports that Ann fell in love with one of the Borthwick lairds with whom she had an affair, but when it became obvious she was pregnant, Borthwick had her slaughtered. He had her slashed her across the abdomen, killing both her and the unborn child. The re-enactment of her death has since been seen by both a visitor and a former owner of the castle, though the present staff have never been unlucky enough to witness this.

Ann was said to have been murdered in the Red Room. She was held between two women and then cut across the belly by a soldier with a sword and left to die.

Ann manifests herself with sudden drops in temperature, scratching noises, footsteps and sobbing. Unsurprisingly, she is also said to dislike men.

Wilma Martin, manager of the hotel for 15 years, says: "Guests have mentioned that doors have opened and closed on them and lights have gone on and off. I know of one guest who said she saw a lady sitting on the chair in her room. She believed it was a ghost but didn’t know the story of Ann at the time.

"I think the tale about Ann is quite sad but I’m not a believer, although I do feel a presence here. Sometimes I think someone is standing behind me and when I turn around there is no-one there.

"Other members of staff have told me they have heard children playing when there are no children around."

James Martin, accounts trainee at Borthwick, says: "I have worked here for five years and was very surprised to hear about these sightings because I have never seen anything.

"We get quite a lot of tourists, mainly Americans, coming here on the lookout for ghosts, though. I’ve heard tourists talking about a presence but haven’t met any who have actually seen a ghost here.

"Personally, I don’t believe in ghosts but if I was to see Ann then I obviously would."

As for Dalhousie Castle, the author tells how guests’ shoulders have been tapped and a waitress has had her hair pulled.

Coventry talks about the random appearance of a woman dressed in grey as being a regular occurrence at the hotel, thought to be the ghost of Lady Catherine, mistress to a former owner of the house, one of the Ramsay family, in the 16th century.

When the affair became apparent to Ramsay’s wife, she imprisoned Catherine in an upstairs chamber where she was starved to death.

The 13th century castle has seen much of Lady Catherine in some form or other since her death. Her presence can usually be seen on the stairs, in the dungeons and along the corridor, but in 2000 she was spotted in a bedroom during renovation work.

Andrew Sharp, castle steward and piper at Dalhousie, says: "I have seen Lady Catherine three times in the chapel area and what is now a spa complex, as well as on the inner staircase.

"She is always wearing a grey old-style dress with large shoulder pads and is wearing her hair in a double bun.

"She doesn’t do anything at all, she approaches me, moves up to me, looks through me and moves away again. I’ve seen her walk through walls and into a locked door backwards, disappearing through it.

"I think the longest time I have ever seen her for is a minute and a half.

"We believe she is a happy soul although a little mischievous. She likes tapping at doors at the early hours of the morning and, of course, when you go to the door there is no-one there."

GHOSTLY appearances at Dalhousie don’t stop with Lady Catherine. A student who died when the building was used as a school has been sighted. The boy is thought to have jumped from the battlements where a form of him has since been seen.

Similarly, the apparition of a dog, known as Petra, who fell from a great height off the building in the 1980s, is recorded in the book.

Andrew seems to have an eye for the super-natural with his sightings of other phenomena in the hotel.

"Petra is another ghostly figure I have seen more than once. She is a small sandy-brown terrier.

"We have a picture of the dog in the house because she was a previous owner’s pet, so when I saw her I instantly recognised it."

"I once saw a butler but only for five seconds and I don’t know the history behind him."

He believes during the last few years, because incidents have been noted and recorded, there has been a big increase in the numbers staying at Dalhousie. He recalls one wedding photographer’s shock meeting with Lady Catherine.

"The photographer shouted at me to stop moving the chairs as they were fine as they were. When he came over to see me he realised I wasn’t there and instead saw Lady Catherine had been shuffling the chairs."

Edinburgh’s royal palaces are included with their legions of ghostly inhabitants.

David Rizzio, the secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, was murdered within the walls of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The blood stains remained splashed across the interior of the building for years as they could not be washed away.

The palace is also home to a Grey Lady who can be found in the Queen’s Audience Chamber. She is thought to have been Mary’s friend and companion in life. Footsteps have been heard in the gallery within Holyrood by a number of witnesses and again when no-one was visible.

And at Edinburgh Castle drums have been heard when no-one is playing and the sound of bagpipes heard coming from the underground tunnel that links the Castle to Holyrood.

It is believed a piper who was sent to investigate the existence of a White Lady within the tunnel never returned and that his pipes can still be heard faintly along the Royal Mile.

But there are a host of lesser known spooks in the Capital. Craigcrook Castle, on the south side of Craigcrook Road, is known for its suspicious noises, a phantom knocker at the front door and poltergeist activities, such as objects being thrown across rooms.

Dalry House is said to be haunted by a one-armed ghost. And the tale of Johnny One Arm, as he is known, was given some credence when the skeleton of a one-armed man was unearthed in 1965.

Liberton House in Liberton has more of a modern-minded ghost which likes to turn electrical equipment, including a fan heater and a burglar alarm, on and off, whereas Lauriston Castle’s ghost, in Davidson’s Mains, sticks to the more traditional ghostly footsteps.

And there are ladies of all colours - the now demolished Corstorphine Castle was said to have been haunted by a white lady, Pinkie House in Musselburgh is said to have a green lady and Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian a blue lady.

But as to whether his readers will believe the tales, Coventry says he is aware the sceptics will remain dubious and leaves people to draw their own conclusions on the ghostly sightings.

He says: "Like all things in life, the believer will continue to believe, and the doubter continue to doubt. So much in these stories depends on the point of view of the witness.

"What is incontestably true is that there are hundreds of these fascinating grim, gruesome, enigmatic or simply sad stories of ghosts."

• Haunted Castles and Houses of Scotland will be published by Goblinshead, 7.95, later this summer