A cannon pointing at Rothesay Castle

Walter Scott wrote many stories set in sites we look after. His poems, like the plots of his novels, are works of imagination and wild flights of fancy, but often reflect local tales and traditions. Here’s a story of Rothesay Castle, in the spirit of Halloween.

The round towers at Rothesay Castle

Rothesay’s round towers

The Bluidy Stair

Oh, Rothesay’s tower is round about,
And Rothesay’s tower is strang;
And loud within its merry wa’s
The noise o’ wassail rang.


A scald o’ Norway struck the harp,
And a good harper was he;
For hearts beat mad, and looks grew wild
Wi’ his sang o’ victory.


A dark-eyed chief has left the board
Where he sat as lord and liege;
And he called aloud amidst the crowd
For Thorfinn, his little foot-page.


‘Go, tell the stranger Isabel,
That she stir not from the bower
Till darkness dons her blackest dress
And midnicht the hour.


‘And tell the Lady Isabel,
To come when the feast is o’er,
To meet upon the chapel stair
The chieftain of Rory Mhor.’


When the feast was o’er, and a’ was hushed
In midnicht and in mirk,
A lady was seen, like a spirit at e’en,
To pass by the holy kirk.

Rothesay Castle’s chapel

Rothesay Castle’s chapel – the ‘holy kirk’ Lady Isabel passed by

She stood at the foot o’ the chapel stair,
And she heard a footstep’s tread;
For the wild Norse warrior was there,
Who thus to the lady said:


‘I’m Rory Mhor, the island chief,
I’m Roderic, Lord of Bute;
For the raven o’ Norway flies above,
And the lion o’ Scotland is mute.


‘I hate your kith, fair lady,’ he said,
‘I hate your kith and kin;
And I am sword to be their foe
Till life be dried within.


‘Yet kiss me, lovely Isabel,
And lay your cheek to mine;
Though ye bear the bluid o’ the High Steward,
I’ll woo nae hand but thine.’

Drawing of Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott

‘Awa, awa! Ye rank butcher!’
Said the Lady Isabel,
‘For beneath your hand my father dear
And my three brave brothers fell.’


‘It’s I ha’e conquered them,” he said,
‘And I will conquer thee’
For if in love ye winna wed,
My leman ye shall be.’


‘The stars will dreip out their beds o’ blue
Ere you in love I wed;
I rather wad fly to the grave and lie
In the mouldy embrace o’ the dead.


‘I canna love, I winna love
A murderer for my lord;
For even yet my father’s bluid
Lies lapper’d on your sword.


‘And I never will be your base leman,
While death to my dagger is true;
For I hate you, Chief, as the foe of my kin,
And the foe of my country too.’

The moated castle of Rothesay.

The moated castle of Rothesay.

An eye micht be seen wi’ revenge to gleam,
Like a shot star in a storm;
And a heart was felt to writhe, as if bit
By the never-dying worm.


A struggle was heard on the chapel stair,
And a smothered shriek of pain –
A deadened groan, and a fall on the stone –
And all was silent again.


The morning woke on the lady’s bower,
But no Isabel was there;
The morning woke on Rothesay’s tower,
And blood was on the stair.


And rain may fa’, and time may ca’
It’s lazy wheels about;
But the steps are red, and the stains o’ bluid
Will never be washed out.


And oft in the mirk and midnicht hour,
When a’ is silent there,
A shriek is heard, and a lady is seen
On the steps of the bluidy stair.


Visit Rothesay Castle, and look for the stairs in the poem, tucked behind the chapel wall. Wishing you all a happy Halloween!


About Author


Sally Gall

Sally works in the Interpretation Unit, and loves the writing and research involved in telling tales of the castles, abbeys, cairns and factories in our care – especially when this involves folklore and music.