Let me tell you about the first time I saw a ghost…
Roslyn Castle rests on a rocky promontory overlooking the River Esk in Scotland, some nine miles from Edinburgh. A winding internal staircase connects five stories linking the kitchen, bakehouse and storerooms to several floors of living quarters above.
It was dusk – gloomy as charcoal, and as damp and gritty, as befits any ghost story. What did I see, you ask? A white lady perhaps drifting about, bemoaning the loss of her lover? Quite the opposite in fact!
Below me on the stairs I caught a glimpse of something moving! It was no spectral figure but as firm and solid-seeming as any human. His shoulder length hair was straight and dark and his outfit, rough brown homespun. He passed a few steps below me and disappeared around the corner down the stairwell. Did he see my gob-smacked look or hear my sharp intake of breath? I think not, but went on his way going about his business – perhaps as he had done for hundreds of years.
Some say that very old places absorb the energy of those who live within their walls. If so, then perhaps I caught a moment in time, replayed. I consider myself fortunate indeed!
But what else has happened in this ancient place?
# Sir Henry Sinclair, Lord of Roslyn and Earl of Orkney and Caithness, is believed to have built an earlier castle sometime in the 14th century. In succeeding centuries, the castle has been reconstructed and configured due to wars and changing allegiances.
# Back in 1303, a group of Scots vanquished an English force in Roslin Glen.
# Sir Henry’s grandfather fought at the Battle of Bannockburn with Robert the Bruce and his father later lost his life at the Battle of Teba in Spain, accompanying a group of knights taking King Robert’s heart on a symbolic crusade to the Holy Land – part of the king’s final wishes.
# Sir Henry was the grandfather of Sir William Sinclair, who was thought to have built Rosslyn Chapel, which lies just a few hundred metres away, close to the village of Roslin. (I’ve not yet understood the need for different spellings.)
Many unconfirmed legends abound about Sir Henry, one in particular refers to him sailing to the Americas one hundred years before Columbus.
One of the fascinating stories about Roslyn Castle relates to a domestic fire in 1488. The castle held a scriptorium which housed a number of precious manuscripts. Before saving himself or his family, the lord of the day ensured the manuscripts and charters were lowered to safety from one of the windows down into the glen. Some of these manuscripts now rest in the National Library of Scotland.
Perhaps these stories have fuelled the tales relating to the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. No doubt, treasure hunters and conspiracy theorists would love to explore the dark chambers and floors of Roslyn Castle.
On the day of my ghost sighting – a decade ago now – I saw a large excavation, fresh-dug, in the ground floor of the castle storeroom. Bracken and bushes lay scattered about. An open window let in bursts of wind and chilling rain. Close by, a chamber had been walled up. Why? And by whose hand or claw had the hole been made?
Of such mysteries are legends made!
Step forward into more recent times, 2014 to be exact. And here are some photos of another, less sinister, exploration – this time, around Roslyn Castle’s extraordinary walls. Weathered stone and unusual fungi add their own unique touch to this intriguing site.