Since the dawn of Scottish history there have been stories of good and evil spirits. They stalk the streets of our cities, finding comfort in the darkest corners. They wander through our forests and swim in our lochs, longing to be close to the living. But for serious ghost-hunters the big question is: where do you stand the best chance of seeing one?
Short of sending out a paranormal research team to investigate the matter, we decided to look inside Scotland’s fine old castles and houses. What better setting for a ghoulish tale? Here are 15 haunted Scottish castles – which ones will you dare to visit?
1. Tantallon Castle, East Lothian
Perched on a clifftop overlooking the Firth of Forth, Tantallon Castle has a fairy-tale quality. A ruin since the 17th century, the castle is rumoured to be home to a wandering spirit – a man wearing period costume. How do we know he’s there? There is photographic evidence! Two photographs, one taken in 1977 and the other in 2008, appear to show the mystery unnamed figure standing in an old doorway. Spooky!
Visiting times and admission prices for Tantallon Castle can be found on the Historic Environment Scotland website.
2. Falkland Palace, Fife
With its spectacular Renaissance architecture, dark panelled interiors and imposing oak furniture, Falkland Palace is truly atmospheric. Adored by Mary Queen of Scots, the palace was once the country residence of the royal Stuarts. Make your way to the Tapestry Gallery for a taste of the supernatural. It is said that the gallery is haunted by the ghost of a lady surrounded by a grey glow. Her lover was a brave soldier who rode off to battle and never returned, and she is doomed to roam the gallery until they are reunited. Love hurts…
Find out more about Falkland Palace.
3. Skaill House, Orkney
Strictly speaking Skaill House is not a castle, but it is said to be the finest 17th century mansion in Orkney. Overlooking the Bay of Skaill and just a short distance from the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, this stately home has produced a few spinetingling stories over the years. The present laird and his dog overheard footsteps late one night and there have been peculiar sightings, strange sounds and doors opening by themselves. Maybe it’s no wonder that Skaill House is haunted – in the late 1990s, a Norse burial ground was discovered underneath the floorboards.
Planning a visit to Orkney? Stop by Skaill House and soak up the atmosphere.
4. Sanquhar Castle, Dumfries
Scared yet? You will be when you visit Sanquhar Castle in Dumfries. The castle is said to be inhabited by the spectre of John Wilson, who was wrongly imprisoned and hanged there in the 16th century. Locals claim you can still hear Wilson’s groans and rattling chains. Now a ruin, the castle can be seen along the Southern Uplands Way footpath, on the south-eastern edge of Sanquhar. Due to risk of falling masonry it has been fenced off, so you will have to view it from a distance – but that might be a good thing if you don’t fancy bumping into the ghost of John Wilson.
Walk the Southern Uplands Way and learn more about Dumfries & Galloway.
5. Duntrune Castle, Argyll
Bagpipes are great, but how would you feel if they were being played by a ghost? Argyll’s Duntrune Castle is home to one such spirit piper, condemned to play his mournful melody for eternity. The story goes that a piper was sent to the castle by his master to secretly study the building’s defences. Unfortunately, the castle’s then residents, the Campbell clan, grew suspicious of the piper and locked him up. Later, when the piper tried to warn his master by sounding an alarm, the Campbells chopped off his fingers and left him to die.
Duntrune is located on the north side of Loch Crinan, overlooking the tiny village of Crinan. Today this 12th century castle is occupied, but you can visit holiday cottages on the estate.
6. Barcaldine Castle, Argyll
Built in 1609 and restored in 1897, these days Barcaldine Castle provides luxury bed and breakfast accommodation just north of Oban. Ghost-hunters have reported a presence in the Great Hall, thought to be the spirit of Donald Campbell. Campbell was killed during the Massacre of Glencoe by his sworn enemy Stewart of Appin.
Ghosts aside, Barcaldine Castle is a great place to visit if you are interested in Scottish history, as well as stunning Scottish countryside and a hearty Scottish breakfast!
7. Hermitage Castle, Roxburghshire
Bleak and foreboding, remote and beautiful, Hermitage Castle was built in the 13th century to control access to the border between Scotland and England. The castle was later dubbed the ‘guardhouse to the bloodiest valley in Britain’. Monolithic stone walls and few windows give this building a sinister aspect; tales of black magic and heinous torture associated with its keepers reverberate down the centuries. It’s no surprise that many restless spirits are said to inhabit this Borders Castle, including Mary Queen of Scots.
Is Hermitage Castle haunted? You be the judge…
8. Blackness Castle, West Lothian
Lapped by the trembling waters of the Firth of Forth, Blackness Castle is one of Scotland’s most formidable strongholds. This 15th century castle has been an artillery fortification, a prison and an ammunition depot over the years and is now a scheduled monument in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. Legend has it that a phantom knight in armour guards the prison tower, occasionally leaping out on visitors and giving them a fright. Keep your wits about you in this fearsome fortress and you should be alright – the knight is probably just looking for a friend.
Check out opening times and ticket information for Blackness Castle.
9. Inveraray Castle, Argyll
In the year 1644, as civil war raged throughout Britain, Inveraray castle was ransacked and burned. The brutal attack saw many lose their lives including the castle’s harp player – and to this day many attest that they have heard ethereal harp music in the castle library. Some say the harpist was left behind as punishment for looking through the keyhole of the lady of the castle. This might explain why he mainly appears to women and is rarely seen by men. Most who have seen him agree that he is a charming ghost with impeccable manners.
Visit Inveraray Castle to see one of Scotland’s finest stately homes, with a collection of antiques and heirlooms spanning generations.
10. Kellie Castle, Fife
This romantic castle in the East Neuk of Fife has a reputation for paranormal phenomena. Dating from 1360, the oldest part of the castle is said to be haunted by the spirit of Anne Erskine who died when she fell from an upstairs window. Did she fall or was she pushed? Her ghostly footsteps can be heard pacing the castle tower in the dead of night. Visit during daylight hours and see magnificent plaster ceilings, painted panelling and fine furniture designed by Sir Robert Lorimer.
Find out more about Kellie Castle.
11. Alloa Tower, Clackmannanshire
Once there were many tower houses in Scotland, now there are only a few. Around 700 years old, with immensely thick walls, Alloa Tower is one of the earliest examples of this kind of building. Legend has it that a curse was put on the tower and its owners, the Erskine family, in the 16th century. Ghosts are said to inhabit several rooms, including the dungeon, which is haunted by the spectre of a man in chains.
In the 18th-century Alloa Tower was extravagantly updated by John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar, who created a mansion within the ancient walls. Why not pay a visit?
12. Kinnaird Head Castle, Aberdeenshire
A storm is gathering over the ruins of Kinnaird Head Castle in Aberdeenshire, and a piper can be heard in the distance. You guessed it – it’s another ghostpiper. Legend has it that the laird of the castle was very protective over his daughter Isobel. When Isobel fell in love with a servant piper, the laird locked him up in a cave beneath the castle. But when bad weather came in, the piper was drowned. When Isobel found out about this she was heartbroken and threw herself from a window onto the rocks below. Now every time a storm is brewing, an eerie tune can be heard…
A lighthouse was built on the ruins of this castle which you can still visit today, along with a museum.
13. Castle Menzies, Perthshire
Paranormal investigators love this Scottish castle set in the beautiful countryside of Highland Perthshire. Reports range from unusual psychic impressions and mysterious voices to a glowing orb mysteriously appearing in front of a tour group. The most chilling report of all? Three grumpy women supposedly haunt the castle’s meat cellar – thought to be a coven of witches. What omens will you encounter on a visit to the ancestral seat of Clan Menzies?
Castle Menzies is open to all as a visitor attraction, museum, clan centre for the Menzies Clan and venue for weddings.
14. Closeburn Castle, Dumfries
Nestled in 20 acres of secluded grounds, Closeburn Castle is one of the oldest continuously inhabited tower houses in Scotland. Key events in the castle’s history have given this ancient seat a reputation for ghostly goings-on. At the beginning of the 14th century, for instance, Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn Castle joined his ally Robert The Bruce in murdering John ‘The Red’ Comyn after a discussion about who would be the next king. Add to this a chilling curse that was once put upon the family and a mysterious lady in black, and you have the makings of a haunted castle.
Find out more about Closeburn Castle, a great spot to visit if you are in Dumfries and Galloway.
15. The Castle of Mey, Caithness
The most northerly castle in mainland Scotland, The Castle of Mey is a spectacular setting for a ghost story. Best known as the former holiday home of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, the castle is now open to the public for six months of the year. Tour guides and those that work at the castle believe that the spirit of one Lady Fanny Sinclair haunts the top floor of the castle. Lady Fanny, the only daughter of the 14th Earl of Caithness, fell in love with a young stable hand – a tryst which her father deemed inappropriate. The stable hand was duly banished, and Lady Fanny was consigned to the top floor where her lonely ghost still resides.
Keep up to date with the Castle of Mey.
Sceptics will tell you that ghosts do not exist, but don’t believe everything you hear. Take a visit to a Scottish castle and find out for yourself…