Where are the Goblins Now?

Deep in a tangled forest lies a hidden treasure for history lovers. A few miles from the village of Gifford, the ruins of Yester Castle are almost lost, caught within a stranglehold of roots of great trees. Brambles clutch at the unwary who tread the faintly visible path down a gully into an old water course and up along a narrow spine of land. It would be easy to imagine a horde of goblins hiding in the woods, watching and waiting … but I get ahead of myself.
Yester Castle belonged to the Lords of Gifford (sometimes spelt Giffard, and mostly called Hugh or Hugo) an old Anglo-Norman family granted land in the glorious East Lothian area of southern Scotland around the time of David I in the 12th century. By my reckoning that makes them contemporaries of the early Bruces, the Lords of Annandale, ancestors of Robert the Bruce.
The earliest Lord Hugo was an influential baron and one of the hostages used to secure the release of King William the Lion, son of David I, who had been captured by the English.
By mid 13th century, stones were being quarried for Yester Castle and here is where the story gets interesting.
A much later Lord Gifford became a Regent of the kingdom of Scotland following the death of Alexander II. The latter’s son, another Alexander, was a minor and Lord Hugo became his Guardian. This Lord of Yester is reported to have been a necromancer and magician.
But where do the goblins fit into this story? Legend has it that this Hugo de Gifford sold his soul to the devil. This pact gave him access to an army of hobgoblins who built his underground chamber in record time.
Sir Walter Scott immortalised him in his tale, Marmion … a horn blew calling the king’s men to fight the Norse army which had sailed into Largs (around 1263); Lord Hugo, caught up in the shock of the moment, heard the horn in far off Yester and rushed from his dark chamber wearing his mantle, a cloak of white fox fur. A wizard’s pointy hat perched upon his head… a medieval Dumbledore!
Alexander III was actually present at Yester Castle some years later and it was from here that he wrote a letter to King Edward I. At that stage, relations between the Scottish and English kings were amicable – no doubt due to the kinship networks with intermarriage common between the families, but the Scots must have have experienced some ambivalence regards the English kings’ ambitious, little-concealed desire for sovereignty over Scotland.
But what is the truth of the matter? Why goblins and wizards?
Surprisingly, these claims didn’t seem to have worried King Alexander III. So was there some political or personal interest to be gained from his continued affiliation with his former guardian or were these claims merely dismissed as fanciful nonsense?
There were those in medieval times who practiced alchemy seeking the answer to the question of life and death and the hereafter, carrying out experiments – perhaps the earliest scientists of their time. Some sought to mix precious metals to make gold.
We can only ponder about the legend and express wonder that the site of Lord Hugo’s alleged preternatural activities still exists.
The tale of Goblin Hall or Goblin Ha’ spread far and wide. At one time a village which stood near the castle was moved further away by one of the subsequent lords. The peaceful village of Gifford remains on the ‘new’ site to this day. Perhaps it was more suitable ground for a growing community? Conspiracy theorists might suggest the Lords of Yester had a strong need for secrecy and privacy.
Even today, the Goblin Ha’ appears shrouded in mystery. And ghost sites on the internet often refer to it as being haunted.
On the day of my visit – thankfully with a knowledgeable local guide, I tried not to let my imagination run away with itself. My resolve crumbled with each slippery step down into the chamber. Having to bend over to enter through a low tunnel added another hazard; the narrow, confined entrance seemed in tune with the size of ‘its builders’. A stairway was evident beneath the main subterranean chamber. And if a goblin had leapt out from the shadows, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
Once my eyes adjusted to the gloom, the medieval vaulted ceiling took form and shape above me. Some say the chamber was a storeroom of sorts and perhaps this was the case for there seemed to be evidence of an upper floor. The dank smell of decay filled the air. Beyond a grated, low arch, on the opposite wall to the entrance tunnel, rotting leaves and debris filled what once must have been an exit. Perhaps it was from here that Lord Hugo had stumbled hearing the king’s call to arms …
What did surprise me was how eerie the forest felt and the tangle of limbs, roots and bushes seemed to repel unwanted visitors. Even the ravens nesting up in the ruined ramparts had something to say!
Yester Castle is a scheduled monument and did come up for sale a few years back. It is on private land but with Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ laws, you can wander unimpeded around the site – that’s if you can find it! Good luck!

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6 thoughts on “Where are the Goblins Now?

  1. Lenora Good says:

    Love these photos! Am curious about the long hall with the high niche at the end. Is it just shadow, or is there a chimney there, presumably to draw fresh air in? Would love to see the photos labeled so I know for sure what I’m looking at πŸ˜‰

    • diaspora52 says:

      Thanks Lenora. Good point about the labeling. I’m not sure what that high niche is. I thought it looked like a doorway that had been closed off but your idea of a chimney and fireplace would probably make more sense, particularly if there was an upper chamber.

  2. mariegm1210 says:

    Fantastic (in all ways) post! & fabulous photos. I haven’t been down there for a while – must go before they close it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. diaspora52 says:

    Thanks! I loved it. So pleased I was able to see it as well!

  4. Jo Woolf says:

    Oh, wow, how deliciously spooky and mysterious! Your description and photos are wonderful! I hadn’t heard of this. Even the name ‘Yester Castle’ sounds like a fairy tale! I feel like I need to postpone work and go there! πŸ™‚

  5. diaspora52 says:

    It is an amazing place, Jo! You’d love it!

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