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Balcomie Castle

Ghosts of Fife

Haunted Houses
Balcomie Castle, Crail.

Near the East Neuk o’ Fife stands Balcomie Castle, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a boy who was starved to death within its walls nearly 400 years ago. At the time in question, rumour says, the Castle was the home of a certain General, and there is a story to the effect that he kept in his service a merry boy who went about the Castle in his spare time playing very loudly on a penny tin-whistle.

One dark winter morning, says the story, the General was disturbed by the noise of the whistle, and, rushing from his bedroom, he caught the whistler by the throat. In a minute more the General had lodged the minstrel boy in the Castle “keep,” forgetting he had done so till seven days later, when he rushed to the “keep” and found to his horror that the boy had been starved to death.

For a long time since then the Castle has been shunned during darkness by people in the Neuk, for during darkness the minstrel’s ghost is supposed to walk about.
It has been said that the chairs in the Castle are sometimes moved about by some invisible power, that the candles in the Castle often burn blue, and that wild, unearthly whistling comes from the darkness of the Castle “keep.” But perhaps the strangest story in connection with the Castle was that told lately by an old Crail fisherman, who declared that he one night saw the minstrel’s ghost sitting on the top of the Castle flag-staff in full possession of a rusty tin-whistle.
The Weekly Scotsman Christmas, December, 1899.


My grandmother had a belief in supernatural appearances as most people of her day seem to have had....
Another story of my grandmother’s related to the experience of a neighbour with whom both she and I were intimate. This man’s wife had died a short time before. One summer morning he was lying in bed quite awake. One of his children was in bed beside him ill, and shortly after died. He became aware of the presence of some one near, and looking up, saw his deceased wife, as distinctly as ever he had seen her in life, gazing calmly in upon them.
From Skinner p. 25.

I lately heard a weird story that may interest many of the readers of the Weekly Club. My grandmother actually saw all the events related here, and told them to me a few weeks before her death. The only conditions she imposed on me were that I should not make known the story publicly until after her decease which she felt was fast approaching, and that if ever I did so, I should not publish any name in connection with it. Being now released from the first condition, I relate the story as it was told to me, with but some revisions, hoping that if any reader can throw any light on the matter or add fresh facts, he will oblige by letting us know. Here, then, is the story:

Shortly after I married, my husband and I went to live in an old spacious house opposite Burntisland, about half a mile from the coast. The day on which these wonderful events happened was a wild December one. My husband had gone to Dunfermline on business, and the servants were all out, for one reason or other. So I was left alone for the first time in that great house. After an extra furious gust of wind, I was aroused by a noise at the door. On opening it I was startled to see four unknown men, dressed like seamen, march in without a word, carrying the apparently lifeless body of a young lad. They carried him upstairs into a small bedroom at the back of the house. They halted beside a large cupboard that occupied one side of the room, and, while twomen held the boy, the other two moved a small camp-bed
that was near beside the cupboard, and laid the boy gently thereon. Then all four marched out.

All this time I was watching, dumb with astonishment. Not a word had been spoken by them through the whole proceeding, and the few words I spoke were received in silence. A few minutes after the men left, a young lady, apparentlyabout twenty-five, with a beautiful and expressive face, ran into the room. She was dressed in an antiquated style of dress of rich and elaborate material. I can yet remember every detail of the scene, so vividly was it impressed on my memory, although that was more than fifty years ago.

I was aroused by the sound of the girl speaking violently to the lad, who had just recovered from his faint or whatever it was, and I stepped forward to ask an explanation, when, to my horror, I saw the boy’s face through the body of the girl. It was with an effort that I kept myself from fainting, but managed to seat myself in a corner of the room and await developments.

Jack, Jack!” I heard her say. “He is coming. Hide yourself. He is within a hundred yards of the house.”
"I cannot, Agnes,” he said, with a look of terror and fatigue. “I am too weak, and there is nowhere to hide.”
"Hide in here,” she said, rapidly opening the door of the cupboard, and, pressing a spring at the back, revealed a dark opening. “Quick now, my poor boy,” she said, tenderly, helping the boy in at the same time.

She had just time to close the spring.door and the door of the cupboard when the door of the room was opened violently, and a tall, stern looking, black-bearded man strode in.
“Where is the boy?” he shouted. Receiving no answer, he took a small dagger from his belt and repeated his question. This time the girl firmly refused to give any information, so without a moment’s hesitation, he plunged the dagger into her heart. Instantly all vanished, but before I could recover myself I heard a scratching proceeding from the cupboard and agonizing cries of despair.

I tried to rise and go to the cupboard. but in vain; my
limbs refused to bear me. I fell back, and remembered no more until I awoke with my husband standing over me. When I was able I told him the whole story, and together we searched the cupboard. After much searching, we found the spring, and on opening the spring door discovered a few mouldering bones and a large but illegible manuscript. The affair was treated as a dream, until a caretaker was horrified to find himself chosen for the next spectator of the dire tragedy, when the house was pulled down and the site covered with wheat crops.
The Weekly Scotsman, December 26th, 1896.


Lomond Hills
A wonderful vision seen during the dispersion of a Field-conventicle held in the year 1674. There was a meeting on Lomond hills, where John Wellwood, a young man, both grave and pious, and of good understanding, preached to the meeting; there came a party of the Life­Guards, commanded as I heard by David Masterton of Grange, younger; the meeting was on the hill; the troopers essayed to ride up to them, I suppose between sermons, the people stood on the face of the brae, and the soldiers shot bullets among the people, with carabines and pistells, and as I heard, charged five or six several times; but though the balls lighted among men, women and children, and went through some of their hair, and broke upon stones beside them, yet hurt none, which was observed as a wonder to all present, the soldiers seeing the people stand still, and not stir, were forced to retire.

It was affirmed by some women who stayed at home, that they cfearly perceived as the form of a tall man, majestic like, stand in the air, in stately posture, with one leg as it were advanced before the other, standing above the people all the time of the soldiers shooting.

The wrytter hearing of this afterward, did write to ane honest man in that country to send him notice of the certainty of the vision, and the above said relation was returned in write to him, but the women knew not of the soldiers’ onset till the folk came home, to whom they told the vision that several of them had seen all the time.

Patrick Erskine, son of Colonel Erskine of Carnock told my informer that Mr. James Culbert, who had taken much pains upon him while alive, had more than once appeared to him in Culros, in Holland, and in New England, and had given many advices and excellent directions to him; That even when at table in his father’s house, he would have had visions and apparitions, and the company would have observerved him change colours, and fall a sweating; That when his mother dyed, he was for a long time peremptory she would not dye: She was very low, and not to be turned almost in her bed, yet still he said she would not die, till some hours before her death she would be caryed to another room for a change; and when that was moved, he fell a weeping and opposed it much, but was overruled. When inquired into the reason, he said that, severall dayes or weeks before, he had, in vision, seen her taken into that room, and lying dead and streighted in that bed. That still he had fostered the thoughts she would not die as long as she was in the other room: That now he saw his vision was to be accomplished, and he could not bear the thoughts of her being taken away, accordingly, she was taken into that room, and in some hours dyed. The accounts of these things are very strange, but I have them from the first hands.
Woodrow, vol. iii. p. 519.


I have come across those who believed they saw the apparitions of absent friends at the moment of their (the friends’) death. One case I came across of a woman who saw her own wraith. She was engaged in bed-making, and, looking up through the window, saw “herself” passing. She knew that it meant either sudden death or long life. In her case it was the latter (she lived to be 92) Rorie. F.A.

A woman who was attending to an old man living alone in a cottage some distance from her residence, set out one evening to visit him. On coming near his house she saw him quite plainly standing outside the door, but he
was only “as heich (high] as the key-hole.” She knew that this apparition meant that the man was dead, and on entering she found him dead in bed.

Second Sight

One curious instance of second sight I can vouch for as true. A boy of about eight in a miner's house was sitting on the fender looking into the fire, while his mother was at the table baking. The father was engaged at his work in the pit. Neither mother nor son was speaking, when the boy suddenly looked up and said “ Father’s got his leg broken!” The mother got a great start and scolded him thoroughly; but in about half an hour the father was brought in not with his leg but with his arm broken! The accident must have happened almost exactly at the time the boy spoke.
Rorie, F.A.

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