Sightings of a young girl in an old-fashioned petticoat, and a 16th-century gent in tunic, waistcoat and hat, are among the sightings reported in the National Trust for Scotland’s intriguing “ghost audit” -- a list of phenomena encountered by staff at castles or gardens it owns and runs.
The list, the publication of which has been timed to coincide with Hallowe’en, will doubtless make the venues, which include Culzean Castle in Ayrshire and Falkland Palace in Fife, more attractive to visitors who are drawn to the supernatural.
The NTS says ghosts were “a big growth area” and a huge opportunity to extend its visitor season -- and attract younger people to its properties.
Scotland has a lucrative “horror economy” that extends to ghost tours and accounts of the body-snatchers Burke and Hare, the subject of a new dark comedy starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.
Experiences reported to the NTS range from strange noises, draughts and smells to full-blown encounters with lifelike figures.
Marketing manager Ian Gardner said: “One thing that surprised us most is that, far from seeing vague mists and vapours, many people are reporting that the entities they’re seeing are solid and recognisable. As much as we’re dedicated to conserve the fabric of our properties, it’s also important to celebrate the oral traditions surrounding them, and we’re delighted that so many of our staff have been happy to help out in this way.”
The Trust is inviting members of the public to mark Hallowe’en by sharing their tales on Facebook (www.facebook.com/NationalTrustforScotland) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/n_t_s).
Greenbank Garden, Glasgow
Graham Duncan got up at 5am needing to answer a call of nature and opened the living room door to go upstairs. The very last thing he expected to see in front of him was a girl. But there she was, looking all too real, although her clothes were anything but modern.
“I knew immediately what it was,” said Duncan. “It wasn’t entirely clear, but it was clear enough. She was aged maybe about 12, and was wearing a bell-shaped petticoat that looked heavy. She had straight hair down to her shoulders, almost like a bob. She saw me and then in a flash she disappeared through the bottom of the stairs. I just thought, ‘Oh my God ...’”
Duncan, 43, the senior gardener at the Greenbank educational garden in Clarkston, Glasgow, was aware that the ghost of a young girl had been glimpsed at various points of the property before his own encounter in Greenbank’s Lodge House, around a year ago.
Greenbank’s property manager, David Ferguson, says a volunteer has seen a young girl skipping by the burn in the woodland area: “The girl, who is dressed in the fashion of the early 20th century, disappears behind some bushes. We know at about that time that a young girl was killed under the wheels of a cart in the courtyard.” Duncan adds that the apparition has also been spotted around the old coachyard area.
He said he once knew someone on the island of Mull who convinced him that he had seen the figure of a headless horseman. “The figure was well-turned out in leather boots and that sort of thing. My blood ran cold when I heard the story.
“I was still a bit sceptical about ghosts, but after seeing the wee girl, I now think there is something there.”
Three sightings have also been reported of a lady in a red crinolene dress at Greenbank’s dining room; and one regular visitor was spooked when she saw a large black dog on a stone bridge -- though her husband was unable to see it.
There does seem to be something at Greenbank.
“There was an occasion about four weeks ago,” Duncan says, “when I was woken at the back of 12 o’clock. Our dog was whining. I heard the wardrobe door creaking backwards and forwards and there was something there, but as soon as I put the light on it went away.”
Culross Palace, Fife
Former head gardener Nick Hoskins recounts a “rather strange” experience in 1997: “A man in 16th-century clothing walked from the main door of the North Block of the palace into my bothy. I assumed it was a staff member or volunteer who had donned historical clothing -- something we did quite often at that time -- but when I got to the bothy there was no-one there. And no-one had been dressed up that day.
“It was an upper-class gentleman, and it was a bright sunny day at about 11am. I have no explanation for it. He was wearing baggy trousers, long socks, tunic, waistcoat and hat. It may have been George Bruce himself. I saw him as plain as day and went to see what he wanted.”
Culzean Castle, Maybole, Ayrshire
Collections care officer Gordon Nelson: “Housekeeping staff over the past few years have had a few experiences of the ghosts of Culzean. On two separate occasions, unknown to each other, two cleaners at the top of the Oval Staircase felt someone touching their shoulder and, on turning around, they found no-one there. Another cleaner had her apron tugged from behind while she was working on the top floor. A cleaner saw a female on the first-floor gallery of the Oval Staircase. She described it to me as a lady with a long dress and it looked as if she was floating around the gallery. This spirit looked like a very hazy grey mass”. Falkland Palace, NR Cupar, Fife
Sonia Ferrás Mañá, head gardener: “I’m a great believer that old houses have ‘energy residues’, or ghosts. One day I was coming up the drive at dusk after a bike ride when I saw a thick, very real shadow moving on the East Range. I’m told a ghost called the Grey Lady walks in that area.
“A second experience was different: I was looking around a bedroom in Lord Bute’s flat, a lovely one, with fantastic ceiling decorations. I was there with a companion and we felt very ‘unwanted’ in the room, as if we were intruders. We had a very bad feeling, like some energy was surrounding us. It was not nice and we knew we had to get out of there.”
Fyvie Castle, Turriff, Aberdeenshire
Sally Eastgate, former property manager there: “I used to live in the butler’s apartment on the tearoom side of the castle. I had a little dog at the time, Skye, a shih tzu. I had the job of locking up the castle’s public areas and Skye would follow me. One evening Skye was sniffing about in the Exhibition Room. As I finished closing up a room and was coming out on to the corridor, he shot past the doorway at high speed. He looked like a cat with his fur all fluffed up. I shut the door quickly and got a whiff of old rose scent on the air and a blast of cold air on my left-hand side from the direction of the Exhibition Room.
“Skye was snarling and snapping and there was obviously something behind me, so I took the wussy ghosthunter’s option of walking very quickly down the corridor. I got to the end, turned around, saw a flash of white then shut the door.
“The other experience was quite pleasant. One lovely, calm summer’s evening, when we were walking on the gravelled area in front of the main entrance, I was taken with how loud and echo-ey the sound of my footsteps were crunching on the gravel. I didn’t think much about it but as we circled the castle, I noted that the crunching, military rhythmical footsteps had also followed, and they continued to do so until we’d past the Yett, at which point they veered off to the left.”
Canna, Inner Hebrides
Stewart Connor, property manager: “According to residents, there are many ghost stories associated with the island. The ghost of a woman has been seen wandering in the field below A’Chill. Keil was the old monastic settlement on Canna and there is a local tradition at the time of the Clearances that some who refused to leave were herded into the old ruined church and burned alive. Whether this is a ghost from that time is not known. A resident once told me that her dog, when out walking, refuses to pass near the old settlement.
“A man working on the island, on returning one night from the telephone box, was given a fright when something came over him from behind and caused him to be startled so much that he fled along the road. He refused to walk out at night after this. This happened close to the field where the woman’s ghost has been seen.”
Drum Castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire
Naomi Mandel, duty manager and guide: “Staff and volunteers have seen a figure which we believe may be Anna Forbes, wife of the 20th laird. The figure looks very similar to her portrait, but is wearing a different dress. Anna’s first son, Alexander, died in 1856 when he was six. On the anniversary of his death, people have heard the sound of children laughing, when there have been no children in the property on that day.
“I have only been scared once while in the castle. I was in the office on my own, finishing up for the day, when I heard footsteps coming down the corridor. The floor is stone and the footsteps were very distinctive. It was as if a heavy male figure was pacing up and down -- they would reach a certain point in the corridor and then turn back. It was really quite unnerving. I locked up quickly and left.
“I have also experienced inexplicable smells in the castle, including perfume and a foul, putrid smell.
“The other experience I’ve had was in an upstairs room called the Chintz Bedroom. We believe it was where one of the laird’s wives had been imprisoned for a time. It is a very cold room. One of the chairs in the room has a throw on it. There have been several times when I have smoothed out the throw, locked the room and come in the next morning to find the throw crumpled as if the chair had been sat in. Also, items on the dressing table will have been moved.
“One of the guides and I set a trap one evening. We smoothed the throw and arranged the items on the dressing table in their usual way. In the morning the items were at right angles to how we left them.”
Haddo House, Ellon, Aberdeenshire
Sally Eastgate, former property manager: “Every morning we would find cocktail sticks on the rugs at the back of the desk and also in front of the right-hand fireplace in the library above the North Wing.
“Previous managers have also reported a known ghost, ‘Archie’, in his plus-fours at the foot of their beds. He’s thought to be the ghost of Lord Archibald Gordon who died in 1909 -- one of the first people in Britain to be killed in a car accident.
“A few years ago the attics were being cleared out and tidied up. Afterwards, a baby was heard crying and the sound was tracked to the attics. Apparently, a medium was called in and it was ascertained that a spirit of a service girl with her baby was ‘trapped’ and, provided all the items were restored to their previous place, all would be calm.”
Hill House, Helensburgh, Argyll
Karen Fenwick, retail manager: “The housekeeper and the previous manager have both experienced strange goings-on. Our housekeeper, Elaine, told me that when the house was closed over the winter a couple of years ago, she was alone and walking towards the stairs on the upper landing when a tall, slender figure appeared from Mr Blackie’s dressing-room. He was dressed in black with a long black cape which covered part of his face and head. He went into the White Bedroom and vanished. She said it was not a frightening experience at all.”
Moirlanich Longhouse, near Killin, Stirling
Gillean Ford, volunteer: “I have twice ‘seen’ a previous resident, Lizzie Robertson, while on duty. The first time, I was alone in the house and standing in the kitchen looking out of the back window when I was aware that there was someone behind me. When I turned around, there was Lizzie sitting at the table next to the front window, wearing a white apron and mixing something in a bowl. It was a fleeting glimpse then she was gone.
“The second time, I was again alone and standing looking at the hanging lum when I was aware that someone was behind me, having entered the room from the byre. I turned around and there was Lizzie, in her white apron, carrying a bowl. Just a fleeting glimpse again and then she was gone.”
Weaver’s Cottage, Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire
Christine Macleod, property manager: “A well-known psychic visited the cottage in 2006 and talked of a woman who was present around the loom. He described the woman and mimicked her actions, which were those a weaver would perform when setting up the loom. He described specific postures, with the resulting aches of years of working at the loom. He asked if things went missing in the loomshop, which they do all the time -- until then we’d always blamed each other for moving items. Apparently this is the spirit letting herself be known. Another visitor commented upon spirits around me as I weave -- the tartan loom is made of wood and is more than 200 years old.”
If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood...who you gonna call?
The team members at Scottish Paranormal carry out investigations at allegedly haunted locations, among them private homes, business premises and such places of historical interest as Mary King’s Close and the vaults in Edinburgh.
Last year, during an investigation of a “ghost train” crossing the Tay Bridge on the anniversary of the 1879 disaster, they heard gulls, and people shouting from the far shore, and at 7.15pm, the approximate time of the disaster, the sound of a train passing overhead on the bridge. It was a moment before they realised this was a scheduled train from Edinburgh.
But they point out that, in the right conditions, such as a misty or foggy night, such a collection of events could be perceived as phenomena related to the disaster.
SP’s specialist equipment includes digital and analogue recorders, voice recorders, temperature and atmosphere gauges and DVR (security type) camera set-up.
Mark Smallman, SP investigator and web-master, says: “For 99% of occurrences we can explain with logical answers using past experiences, and the experience of fellow investigators through a number of high-profile associations.
“We are sceptical but open-minded, and we have to rule out all possible natural causes before determining the cause for any phenomena.”