It was a dark night when we drove into Dingwall, a Highlands village just northwest of Inverness, Scotland. Fierce winds blew ominous-looking clouds through a sky lit by a full moon and the temps were dropping fast. We were on our way to Tulloch Castle, mid October, just 2 weeks before Hallowe’en. I could almost hear Kenny Rogers sing: “You picked a fine night to stay here, Lucille, with four haunting ghosts and a corpse in the field”… Yes, we were going to stay in a haunted Castle!
A BIT of HISTORY
It started innocent enough. We had planned an overnight at Tulloch Castle, part of the Bespoke Hotels group. It provides a very nice but not over the top expensive Scots Castle stay. The Bayne family first built Tulloch sometime in or after the 12th century, the record is not very clear. In the 1700s, the Laird of the Castle sold it to his relatives of the Davidson Clan. In the early 1900s, Tulloch came into the hands of the Vickers family (of the famed British aircraft company) and even served as a hospital after Dunkirk. Some years later, a local educational entity acquired the Castle but over time it fell into disrepair. In 1996, a local family purchased and renovated the Castle into the fine hotel it is today. History remains alive though: Clan Davidson had their Gathering here in 2007.
FINDING TULLOCH, PARKING and VIEWS
Even in the dark, Tulloch Castle is easy to find. Just follow the signs, and about a mile up from the centre of town, turn left into their access pathway. Drive through an ancient stone arched gate and park right on the side of the Castle. If the weather is good, have a look around before you go inside, as the views are pretty but things can change quickly. We arrived in the dark but the morning was perfect!
WELCOME to the CASTLE – and its GHOSTS!
Opening the huge blue medieval-looking door, hinges creaking, we were welcomed not by an evil bwahaha but instead a most pleasant receptionist, Lisa. She checked us in, provided details on the restaurant options, bar, room, breakfast, WiFi, all very professional – and then she asked, in a suddenly softer voice: “Are you going to join the Castle Ghost Tour?” We looked at each other, thinking “What Ghost Tour” and immediately said “Heck yes!” Lisa quickly made a dinner reservation for us, so we’d be in time to join in. We did, and it became a highlight of our trip!
ROOM SUITE ROOM
But first, up to our room. When I booked, I figured, hey, how often do you get to stay in a Castle: do it right and upgrade! So, I had reserved a four-poster bedroom. This turned out to be a lovely and spacious 2 room suite. Ours was on the second floor, number 18, lucky in retrospect…. As most rooms are upstairs, do be prepared to drag your luggage up, or ask for assistance. We had a lot of baggage and so we did ask – and poor Lisa started schlepping our bags up herself! No strong Scotsman around to help her out. The room was nicely appointed, good heavy curtains, and the four-poster bed had an interestingly carved frame. The comfortable sitting lounge came complete with a tea & coffee setup. The bathroom was modestly sized but did have a tub.
THE TURRETS RESTAURANT
For dinner, per Lisa’s reservation, the aptly named The Turrets restaurant served an excellent meal. My wife enjoyed her Spicy Beef appetizer and mine was Scots Awesomeness personified: Haggis Balls! I actually love the stuff for breakfast, and I was thrilled to see it used creatively in this appetizer. For mains, my wife had the Pork Belly, tasty stuff, and I enjoyed the Mushroom Risotto. Good selection of beers & wines as well as full bar options, as they have a pub in the Castle – which is where we went to meet our guide Ross for the Ghost tour after dinner.
THE GHOST TOUR
Ross is a young Scotsman with, as he explained it, an accent mix of Skye, Lewis and the Dingwall area, most befitting this Scots Castle Ghost tour. He was excellent, alternating Castle history about the Davidson family and the region’s rise and fall with ghost stories. We went through the dungeon, the Oak Room, the Grand Hall and were shown a secret tunnel that led all the way to Dingwall. As Ross said, over time, too many ghost incidents were reported by too many guests in too many identical ways to be scoffed away as mere imagination. Who you gonna call? Newspapers sent reporters, and Grampian Television explored the claims in their 2005 series “Beyond Explanation”.
HANDING DOWN PROOF of GHOSTS?
Most notably, on 28 May 2008, a 14-year-old boy by the name of Connor Bond snapped a photo in which he and his Dad Mike later on spotted a spectral hand on the banister. Skeptical as Mike was, he could not explain the spooky hand in his son’s snapshot. The photo has been investigated ever since, with no conclusive results to date. Ross showed us the image on the Reception PC: poor quality in my picture but you can definitely see the eerie hand hovering over the banister. To quote the Bard: “There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio,” …
THE GREEN LADY
The most commonly reported ghost is the “Green Lady”, believed to be Elizabeth Davidson, daughter of Duncan Davidson, 4th Laird of Tulloch. The story goes that she walked in on her father in an, ahem, compromising position with a servant girl. She was so shocked that she ran out down the stairs, fell, hit her head on a stone edge and died instantly. Not fair, and she’s been haunting her ancestral home ever since. In the portrait above, Elizabeth is shown as a young girl on the left. Oddly, someone in the area behind her was painted out black years later. According to the record, her father Duncan was shown here originally. Hmm….
But wait, there’s more! There are tales about the old Housekeeper who stayed on until age 102, still haunting her floors. A visiting kid innocently said he was talking with a boy locked up in the dungeon. When the frowning adults around him went to check, they found nobody there. And during recent dungeon excavations, 2 female skeletons were found, perhaps buried alive and thought to be Nuns… Plenty of ghost material!
SWORD OF AWESOME!
A really cool part of the tour, outside, at that blue entry door, was getting to handle a huge broadsword! Long and heavy, it is said to be of William Wallace proportions. Wallace was a giant of a man in his days, six and a half foot tall and strong as an ox. By the way: please don’t call him “Braveheart”! The Scots are quite annoyed at the many historical inaccuracies in the famous Mel Gibson movie. “Braveheart” is actually the name given to Robert the Bruce, victorious hero of the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. But that’s a story for a future blog.
THE GREEN LADYE REPRISE: PUB NOT GHOST
After the tour, we went to the Castle’s “Green Lady” pub to relax with a nice dram of Dalmore for me and an Irish Coffee for my wife. The pub stays open all night; the night porter can draw you a pint or pour a dram anytime. Our guide Ross started here as a night porter, and he remembers his first week vividly, especially the hours between 2 and 4 am. But, let me not steal all his thunder: let us book Tulloch Castle for you, so you can do the tour yerselves and hear the stories first, umm, hand…
On a side note, one reason I wanted to stay here was to get a better impression – and pictures – of the Castle’s famed Mackenzie apartment. The Mackenzie is located in its own wing of the Castle and has a separate entrance, accessed by a winding staircase. It is basically a huge private apartment with a living room, dining corner, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, perfect for a family or 4 adults. I’ve used it for clients and am very glad I toured it in detail before leaving. Mackenzie is a fabulously unique and lovely option, especially for a longer stay. And with the Black Isle and Inverness nearby, there’s plenty to see and do.
MY OWN SCARY MOMENT…
So, what rooms to avoid – or book, depending on your interests? As said, we were in number 18, in between the allegedly haunted 17 and 19. Number 8 is reported as the most heavily haunted.
And, to show you just never know: I did have a scary moment myself! At about 4am, I woke up to what sounded like irregular footsteps. I thought I heard soft ones and also a harder, heavier set, as well as some kind of kind of churning or grinding noise. I was only half awake, and imagination kicked in: a restless ghost pacing the hallway? The impatient sharpening of a knife or axe? Was unspeakable evil heading my way? Was it too late to hide behind my wife??
… AND THE EXPLANATION
Boo! But nope; as I found out later that morning, our neighbors in room 19 left very early and rolled their squeaky-wheeled suitcases out over the creaking floorboards! I’m still not sure whether I feel relieved or disappointed about that. What I do feel for sure is that our stay turned into a most enjoyable one, thanks to Lisa and Ross! I will have to come back some day and spend more time in this deserving area. Oh dear, I better figure out what room to request…
DISCLAIMER: My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no clearing streets to get cars and trucks out of the frame, and no Photoshopping. It’s true travel. Note that my opinions and views are not necessarily shared by the company. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine except where credited as noted, as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.
(*) Photographs by Robin Gabbert
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