Is this the only un-haunted castle in Scotland?
As the light fails on a dark afternoon, the castle can sometimes seem a little eerie to sensitive souls. Mist creeps up from the river towards the end of the day,
drifting inexorably through the woods,
until its cold breath has reached right up to the castle windows and we seem to be marooned in vapour, the familiar trees dissolved into looming shadows in the gloom. Soon we are alone in the dark.
On this particular weekend the mist seems all the more atmospheric, with the clocks going back tonight and Hallowe’en (or Samhain) upon us. Let’s close the shutters against the darkness (yes, they do creak as we shut them), stoke up the wood stove and consider that question which is so often asked by visitors to our home.
Is the castle haunted?
Footsteps have been heard on one of the landings, just where a much-loved member of the family died last century. But of course, old houses are full of creaks and little noises, caused by anything from mice in the wainscot to timbers shifting as the temperature changes.
The boys will not go up the front stairs at night, scared of the skulls of long-dead stags hanging in the hall, and the unused corridors stretching away into blackness. But that is entirely understandable: skulls and dark corridors are unnerving even to adults. There’s nothing really there, of course.
Then there is the bedroom where everyone had nightmares. For a while it was my sister-in-law’s room. She eventually begged to move rooms, however, after being awoken night after night by awful dreams, or by the tread of invisible feet across the room, or by the strong sense of a presence near her bed. She is quite the most down-to-earth, matter-of-fact person I know. When I moved into the castle, this room always made me feel unhappy, although I never slept in it. I put its atmosphere down to the bed being under a blocked up window: bad feng shui, if you like. Sure enough, once we redecorated the room and re-arranged the furniture, its atmosphere changed completely. It is now a warm and welcoming little bedroom, one of the nicest in the castle. And if guests occasionally sleep badly in it, or arrive down to breakfast haggard from nightmares…well, unfortunately, that can happen anywhere.
At one end of the dining room, there is a double doorway with a couple of feet of space between the doors, like a tiny chamber between two rooms. It was built that way to accommodate an extra thick wall, where the castle was extended in the seventeenth century and an outer wall became an inner one. I absolutely hate going through that doorway. I find it extremely unsettling and will go out of the dining room by another door and round a long detour to avoid it. My father-in-law eventually told me that several other people have found that doorway similarly unnerving and, indeed, that a ghostly woman used to be seen coming through it and exiting through the opposite wall of the dining room. However, the phenomenon was explained to me by a friend who specialises in historic building conservation. The difference in stonework in the join between the old castle and the newer extension must give rise to an infinitesimal drop in temperature, perhaps even a subtle current of chill air, in this doorway. While humans do not consciously notice it, our subconscious picks up on the difference and sends our imagination haywire. So there is a perfectly rational explanation for why I still won’t willingly go through it, and why my dog once backed away growling from that doorway.
On the whole, I have always thought that this house has a benign atmosphere. Despite the odd dark corner, it has given us a happy family home. One just has to learn to keep a lid on one’s imagination.
To return to our question, then: is the castle haunted?
I would say that the answer is no.
No more than any other castle in Scotland…