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Balnagowan Castle

Black Andrew strikes terror…

Balnagowan Castle, near Tain, is an ancient seat of the Ross family. They take their title and surname from the County where their forbears held lands even before their Chief brought his men to fight for Alexander II in 1215. and whose idea of showing loyalty was to present the king with the heads of his enemies! The king showed his pleasure at the gift laid before him by creating the Chief of Clan Ross a knight and bestowing on him an Earldom!

Their influence centered round the Ross and Cromarty area and one of their prized possessions was the sacred shirt of St. Duthac who had been horn in Tam. Wearing the shirt, reputed to have magical properties. the Earls of Ross were safe in battle. When Edward I was rampaging his victorious way over Scotland in 1306 one of the places he made for was Kildrummy Castle where Bruce's wife, sisters and daughter were sheltering under the protection of his brother. At the approach of the enemy the ladies escaped and sought sanctuary in St. Duthac's chapel but were betrayed by the Earl of Ross and led away to captivity. No doubt a seven year spell in the Tower of London had made him wary of offending Edward yet again! Eight years later, however, he was leading his men firmly for Bruce at Bannockburn, and after the victory a marriage was arranged between his son Hugh and the king's sister. In spite of wearing his magic shirt Earl Hugh died at Halidon Hill.

In 1372 the chiefship of Clan Ross passed to Hugh Ross of Balnagowan and stayed with that branch of the family for 350 years. The reputation of some of the chiefs was vicious at times. One, Alexander, was notorious for keeping the countryside .in terror and running his version of a protection racket in the area. It was more expedient to hand over rent money to Alexander's men than to pay it to the lawful landlord!

Continual complaints to the Privy Council brought no reaction -- until tax money began to find its way to the same recipient! Then the authorities sat up and took notice. Alexander was declared a rebel, rounded up and imprisoned in Tantallon Castle where he died in 1592. Son George followed his father's example, setting the whole countryside by the ears, kidnapping, murdering, rampaging and aiding outlaws. He too was declared a rebel. The females of the family were no better, for his sister was accused of witchcraft but was acquitted by an intimidated jury!

In the early 18th century when the chiefship passed to Ross of Pitcalnie, Balnagowan was so burdened with debt it had to be sold. The family who bought it were a Lowland family -- also called Ross! A cadet branch of the Balnagowan Rosses who emigrated to America seem to have redeemed their reputation. Colonel George Ross was a noted patriot and friend of George Washington, and tradition maintains it was Colonel George who asked Betsy Ross. his nephew's widow, to make a flag for the new country on a verge of declaring its Independence and the Stars and Stripes was the result.

The ghost who haunts Balnagowan is a malevolent one. He takes delight in clumping about disturbing guests, especially female ones, for he is Black Andrew, who had an evil reputation when he was living in the mid 16th century. Andrew Munro's speciality was tormenting women --and as he was the laird he could demand what he wanted. If he said they were to gather in the harvest stark naked -- then stark naked they had to work.

The Laird of Balnagowan wasn't prepared to put up with this --Black Andrew's reputation would soon be as evil as his own! So the offending Andrew was rounded up, taken to Balnagowan, a rope put round his neck, and flung out the window where he dangled till he died. But Black Andrew has never been cured of his lusting after a pretty face -- as many a lady visitor can testify when they have seen him leering at them in the Red Corridor of the Castle.

Balnagowan Castle is haunted by at least two ghosts, that of a murdered Scottish princess and the wicked Black Andrew. There are also said to be several skeletons confined within the walls of the castle although their location is not known. It is believed that one of the skeletons is that of the princess.

Over a period of time there have been several authenticated reports of footsteps having been heard walking along the Red Corridor. These are thought to be those of Black Andrew, who in life was Andrew Monroe, a smaller 16th century laird who had a reputation for murder and rape for miles around. It is said that he forced his village women to work naked in the fields at harvest time. Always "one for the women", his footsteps only echo down the corridor when a new lady visitor is spending a night at the castle.

Eventually the chief of the Clan Ross decided to stop the antics of Black Andrew by throwing him from a window in the Monument Room at the top of the tower with a rope fastened round his neck. He is said to have died outside one of the bedroom windows that leads off the Red Corridor. A portrait of Black Andrew hangs in the Red Corridor showing him to be a hairy old man with large malevolent eyes.

The ghost of the murdered princess was once seen by Lady Jane Conyngham, who at that time was alone in the castle. Whilst eating dinner Lady Jane heard the rustling sound of a dress. Turning, she saw a female figure, with copper-gold hair and green eyes, dressed in grey, coming from the corner of the room. She appeared to be very gentle and friendly. Lady Jane followed her from the drawing-room, where the ghostly princess disappeared.

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