View of snowy grave yard at St.Mary's Church, Grandtully.

It can’t have escaped your notice that today is Halloween.

Over the past 13 days on Twitter, we’ve been exploring the grizzly tales, speculative spooks and horrible histories associated with some of the places in our care. Here’s a round up of what we discovered.

1. Memento Mori

This skull decorates the Bruce Vault at Culross Abbey. The vault was built in 1642 for Sir George Bruce of Carnock. Tombs often include depictions of skulls as “memento mori” – a reminder to the living that they, too, will die!

Carving of a skull and crossbones with an hour glass carved above it

2. The Murdered Apprentice

Behind this ghoulish grimace is a tragic tale.

Legend says it’s the face of an apprentice who was murdered after getting on the wrong side of the master mason while building Seton Collegiate Church. There’s a similar story down the road at Rosslyn Chapel.

View from below of a spookily lit carving of a grimacing young man

3. Malevolent Goblins

The murderous goblin Robin Redcap is said to get his name from his practice of soaking his cap in his victims’ blood.

Redcap is said to have been the familiar of Hermitage Castle’s wicked Lord Soulis. The wicked lord was possibly based on Ranulf de Sules, who was murdered in 1207 by his own servants.

Wintry view of the imposing, hulking Hermitage Castle

4. The Curse of the Cairn

Do not disturb Torrylin Cairn!

Folklore tells of a farmer who quarried the neolithic burial cairn, scattering human bones and taking a skull 💀 home as a trophy.

Allegedly, he was stalked by phantoms afterwards, then thrown from his horse and killed…

view of the cairn which sits on the seashore with a mountain behind

5. The Green Lady

Does a green lady haunt the battlements of Dunstaffnage Castle? Legend has it that the spectre’s moods predict the outcome of great events. Will she smile or will she weep?

Find out more about “Ell-maid of Dunstaffnage” in this blog.

low angled view of Dunstaffnage Castle with a glowering sky

6. The Pink Lady

Have you heard tell of the “Pink Lady” at Stirling Castle?

This alleged haunting has been said to bring with it a sense of longing or the pain of unrequited love. Find out more about the reported haunting in the Stirling Castle blog.

Stirling Castle by night, illuminated in a ghostly green

7. A Haunting at Huntly?

A few days after the 5th Earl of Huntly died in 1576, loud noises were heard coming from his apartments at Huntly Castle.

At the time, they were attributed to ghaists (ghosts) and gyrecarlins (fairies). Could it be that the ‘erle of Huntlie wer risen againe’? 👻

Huntly Castle looking spooky with dark windows

8. Persecution and Superstition

During the North Berwick witch trials of 1590–2, well over 100 women and men were brought from North Berwick to Edinburgh Castle and brutally tortured and executed.

Find out more about this shocking period in the castle’s history.

view of edinburghcastle looking spooky during an eclipse

9. The Wrath of the Kelpie

The carved Pictish stones found at St Vigean‘s Church gave rise to a tale that a Water Kelpie had built the church and still lived in a great subterranean loch beneath the church. From 1699-1736 the congregation was too scared to take Holy Communion there.

carving from St Vigeans showing a Pictish sea creature

10. Lock ’em up and throw away the key…

In the 1920s, extensive repairs were carried out at Blackness Castle. During the works a macabre discovery was made in the pit-prison… In the ‘stem’ tower they found an iron manacle clasped around the wrist-bones of a long perished prisoner.

Blackness Castle on a bleak day

11. A Cursed Castle

“Yonder, that’s Urquhart Castle… ’Twas cursed by the witches of the Glen, and saw one unhappiness after another.” Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

Legend has it that Conachar Mor Mac Aoidh compelled a coven of witches to build Urquhart Castle for him on the banks of Loch Ness. The story goes that they cursed the castle too.

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness at twilight

12. A Savage End

In 1546 Cardinal Beaton met a vicious end at St Andrews Castle.

A band of conspirators broke into the castle at daybreak, executed the Cardinal, mutilating the corpse and hanging it from a window.

Afterwards the remains of Cardinal Beaton, pickled in a barrel of brine, were left in the dungeon where he had imprisoned his enemies.

A portrait of Cardinal Beaton in his robes beside a photo of St Andrews Castle

13. In the Mirk and Midnicht Hour

Sir Walter Scott relates the tragic tale of Lady Isabel who paid the ultimate price for refusing to marry the brute who murdered her father and brothers.

She was slain on the stairs at Rothesay Castle and Scott tells us that on a quiet night, her screams can still be heard… Read the full poem here.

rothesay castle surrounded by a moat. Tree in foreground


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About Author

Samuel Wilson

Samuel works as a Digital Content Officer within Historic Environment Scotland's Communications and Media team, helping to tell stories about the organisation's work and share incredible tales from Scotland's past.