Sunday, 27 August 2017

Some Ghosts to Keep You Going

In between some weightier historical posts, please find below an assortment of ghostly doings to fill the gap.  Perhaps I should have hoarded these for Halloween of Christmas, but the segregation of the actively deceased to certain times of the year smacks of discrimination in this day and age.

Big Hoose Ghaists

Castles and mansions seems to favour larger properties, as if spirits develop an inexplicable sense of snobbery after death.  The House of Dun in the north-east of the county, was built in the Georgian era for the Erskine family who lived here into the 20th century.  The house can be said, without exageration, to be fully infested with ghosts.  The House of Dun probably first came to national prominence after its inclusion in Catherine Crowe’s classic compendium The Night Side of Nature (1848):
Not very long since, a gentleman set out, one fine midsummer’s evening, when it is light all night in Scotland, to walk from Montrose to Brechin.  As he approached a place called Dunn, he observed a lady walking on before, which, from the lateness of the hour, somewhat surprised him. Sometime afterwards, he was found by the early labourers lying on the ground, near the churchyard, in a state of insensibility.  All that he could tell them was that he had followed this lady till she had turned her head and looked round at him, when seized with horror, he had fainted.  “Oh,” said they, “you have seen the lady of Dunn.”  What the legend attached to this lady of Dunn is, I do not know. [The Night Side of Nature, 226.]
  This ghost cannot be definitely identified, but in more recent times there have been sightings of an woman riding a horse through the grounds; unusually, she is facing backwards on her horse. Other ghosts on the estate include a headless horseman, plus – near a certain yew tree -  the spirit of a knight killed after he returned here from the east and found his lover had betrayed him. In recent years voices have been heard inside the house, plus the sound of a crying baby and an invisible harpist.  More bizarrely, a phone has been heard ringing in a part of the house where there was no actual physical telephone.  Diverse other phenomena include:  unseen dogs,  a dress floating around without a body inside, plus an array of spirits both male and female, some of whom resented modern, living intruders. 

   Letham Grange is a well known golf and leisure complex near Arbroath and although the main house was only built in 1830 the amalgamated estate represents old church lands associated with the Abbey of Arbroath.  The house was requisitioned by the forces during World War Two.  The ballroom was used as a dormitory by a party of WRENS and during their stay strange things happened.  Several of them were woken at night by the presence of a shimmering grey figure of a man with thin cheeks and sunken eyes.  He was wearing old fashioned clothes with a high collar and a wide brimmed hat.  The bottom half of him was indistinct.  When Letham’s owners were consulted they informed the WRENs that the spectre would not harm them, but they would be better off moving their sleeping quarters to another section of the house.  Letham Grange also had a resident Green Lady whose name and origins are unknown. Other Green Ladies haunt Ethie Castle (see my previous post

Haunted Kirks and Manses

Relatively few religious buildings in the county have the reputation of being haunted.  There are insubstantial stories about ghosts at Arbroath Abbey and one or two other places, such as ancient Restenneth Abbey.  But such traditions as exist speak more about strange atmosphere rather than reporting real stories which would give credence to hauntings. It might be expected that cemeteries and kirkyards would be hotspots for paranormal anomalies, but in fact there are few reports of incidents throught the county.  Kirriemuir ghost investigator Isaac Stewart states that Newmonthill Cemetery in Forfar is a conspicuously haunted place. One of the most haunted buildings associated with the kirk in Lunan Lodge, a former manse (built in 1789) which operated as a B&B until recently. With a canny eye on marketing, the owners claimed the building housed a nearly unsupportable 43 ghosts. One of the most active was a spuirit nicknamed ‘George’.  Another is a Victorian maid, and the most conspicuous was the so-called ‘Shouty Man’ who behaved as his name suggests and seemed to particularly object to females invading his space.  Yet another, but more passive presence was a six year old child named Amy who sadly died of diptheria.

Ootdoors Ghaists and Beasties

There is a theory among those who favour the idea that ghosts are primarily residual recordings of actual events that there are a prevalence of sightings in the vicinity of water, for some reason.  Forfar Loch, on the rare occasions when it freezes over, is said to be haunted by an unknown party of men, visible only from the waist up and apparently struggling to free themselves. This tradition is probably not linked to the equally shadowy tradition that the supposed assassins of King Malcolm II fled to the loch and perished here following his death in 1034, a tale which has all the hallmarks of late invention.

   Unusual apparitions which occur in open countryside can be harder to identify or even speculate about than those linked to a specific building. Identification is even harder if the form is vague or incomplete.  Such is the case of a ghost which was seen annually in fields on a farm at Newtyle.  The figure seen was a decapitated woman who walked on the evening of 2nd June each year.  No story says who she was, but she is seen no more as housing has now covered her place of haunting.

   There is a case to be made that sightings of figures seen from cars may be dubious, as the high speed of modern traffic means that things on the wayside are never seen in detail or for long.  One figure was seen fleetingly on the A92 road, approaching Arbroath, when a driver and her son spotted a woman standing at the roadside.  No ordinary woman either, for the area was absolutely unlit, yet the lady’s face was fleetingly illuminated as if by a lantern. 

   Certain wild or sparsely inhabited areas often have an uncanny aura, but finding stories or even clues to justified reputed reasons for this is rare.  The mountain Mayar, which towers 928 metres above Glen Clova, has – or once did have – an eerie reputation.  There has never been a satisfactory explanation of this, to my knowledge.  

In the same area, Jock’s Road is periodically haunted.  A frustratingly anonymous (and anomalous) figure in winter clothes was seen here in 1993. Some strange creatures seen are even more difficult to explain.  Around ten years ago two walkers in Glen Prosen heard a loud scream and turned around to encounter, on a wooded hill, a black cat.  But the beast was at least four feet long and it vanished after a moment.  Its presence was evidently sensed by dogs in the neighbourhood, for there was barking from several different areas of the glen.  Was this an actual escaped large cat, a hallucination, or something else entirely? Further south, in countryside near Arbroath in 1989, a mother and daughter watched in disbelief as a large white cat crossed their line of sight and then vanished.   Even more disturbing, possibly, are those sightings which bear little resemblance to actual physical creatures.  Close to a disused quarry in Carmyllie in the early 1980s a woman walking her dog unexpetantly came across a huge, 7 foot high creature with broad shoulders but, alarmingly, no head.  Her dog bolted at once.  She screamed and followed it. As has been noted previously in this blog, Carmyllie was (for reasons unknown) quite a notable supernatural hotspot in this past.  Odd beings, however, are known from elsewhere. 

    Parks are places where there re few recorded ghosts, despite them being a feature of towns are cities for a considerable time.  Perhaps the reason for this is that parks are places where people resort to for leisure, exercise and contemplation, and therefore unlikely one supposes to be scenes where strong emotion has imprinted itself upon the atmosphere.  However, the green space near Mains Castle in the north of Dundee was invaded in 1960 by a vision of the past.  A couple witnessed a blatantly Victorian garbed gent and his lady pushing an old fashioned perambulator in the Den o Mains

   At this point I will sneak in of a story which did not happen in Angus, but it did happen to a Montrose man, albeit he was adrift from home somewhere in the Highlands.  The tale was related by the prolific ghost hunter and author Elliot O’Donnell in his Haunted Waters (1957) (pp.134-7).  The Montrose man was fishing in a remote landscape and was trudging through a bleak ravine towards a small tarm where he wanted to fish.  The enclosed ravine was unnaturally cold and still, with an odd oppressive atmosphere that made his accompanying dog nervous and stick close to him as they walked.  Suddenly a wave of nauseous dread made him stop and he was too unaccountably terrified to proceed.  He huddled against the sheer cliff wall on one side of the ravine.  When he recovered somewhat he went back rather shamefully to his hotel where he learned that the tarn was reputedly haunted and several guests had returned in the same state that the Montrose man did.  The conversation between landlord and guest was overheard by another man, a Londoner, who scoffed at the superstition.  Soon the Scot found that he had accepted a wager to return to the haunted place in the dead of night.  Next night, near midnight, he found himself in the pitch dark ravine, which now was alive with all sorts of nocturnal sounds which made him nervous.  As soon as he reached the same spot as before, there was that familiar wave of awed dread.  He had to struggle very slowly on until he reached the shore of the tarn.  There, lying on the shore, was a white figure.  He nearly ran, but instead he bent over and was astonished to see his cockney tormentor unconscious, wrapped in a sheet.  When the man recovered after a minute of two he confessed that he had intended to scare the other, but he had seen something terrifying come out of the dark water and collapsed.  The Montrose man had at first felt like beating up the Londoner, but he took pity on him when it was evident he was telling the truth.  The Londoner would not reveal what he had witnessed, but he paid the guinea wager money next day.

Not Quite Spectres?
Those who will not countenance the reality of any psychic phenomena can cleanse their mental palates with this post script detailing ghosts which almost definitely have a mortal hand behind them.  From The Scotsman’s Library by James Mitchell (1825) comes the following anecote (p. 472):
A white ghost having appeared at Dundee several nights, and terrified many people, a gentleman fell on a mode of laying to rest this perturbed spirit.  He sent round the town-drummer, with a notice that he should be out with a great dog to hunt the ghost, when he next appeared, and the consequence was, that this spirit was not seen after.

   A final story, drawn again from Crowe's Night Side of Nature, is set in Monifieth, and may have actually happened in the late 18th century, though it contains folklore elements and is similar to other 'true stories' collected elsewhere in Scotland:   
The following very singular circumstance occurred in this country towards the latter end of the last century, and excited, at the time, considerable attention; the more so, as it was asserted by everybody acquainted with the people and the locality, that the removal of the body was impossible by any recognised means; besides, that no one would have had the hardihood to attempt such a feat.    ‘Mr William Craighead, author of a popular system of arithmetic, was parish schoolmaster of Monifieth…It would appear that Mr Craighead was then a young man, fond of frolic, without being very scrupulous about the means, or calculating the consequences.  There being a lykewake in the neighbourhood, according the custom of the times, attended by a number of his acquaintance, Craighead procured a confederate, with whom he concerted a plan to draw the watchers from the house, or at least from the room where the corpse lay.  Having succeeded in this, he dexterously removed the dead body to an outer house, while his companion occupied the place of the corpse in the bed where it had lain.  It was agreed upon between the confederates that when the company were reassembled, Craighead was to join them, and, at a concerted signal, the imposter was to rise, shrouded like a dead man, while the two were to enjoy the terror and alarm of their companions.  Mr Craighead came in, and, after being some time seated, the signal was made, but met no attention; he was rather surprised; it was repeated, and still neglected.  Mr Craighead, in his turn, now became alarmed; for he conceived it impossible that his companion could have fallen asleep in that situation his uneasiness became insupportable; he went to the bed, and found his friend lifeless!  Mr Craighead’s feelings, as may well be imagined, now entirely overpowered him, and the dreadful fact was disclosed.  Their agitation was extreme, and it was far from being alleviated when every attempt to restore animation to the thoughtless young man proved abortive.  As soon as their confusion would permit, an enquiry was made after the original corpse, and Mr Craighead and another went to fetch it in, but it was not to be found.  The alarm and consternation of the company were now redoubled; for some time a few suspected that some hardy fellow among them had been attempting a Rowland for an Oliver, but when every knowledge of it was most solemnly denied by all present, their situation can be more easily imagined than described; that of Mr Craighead was little short of distraction.  Daylight came without relieving their agitation; no trace of the corpse could be discovered, and Mr Craighead was accused as the primum mobile of all that had happened.  He was incapable of sleeping, and wandered several days and nights in search of the body, which was at least discovered in the parish of Tealing, deposited in a field, about six miles distant from the place whence it was removed.    ‘ “It is related that this extraordinary affair had a strong and lasting effect upon Mr Craighead’s mind and conduct, that he immediately became serious and thoughtful, and ever after conducted himself with great prudence and sobriety.”’

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