As a travel writer I often find myself in strange places, seeking out new experiences and learning the deepest darkest secrets a place has got to offer travellers, and it was from this desire to explore that I found myself heading off on a tour of Scotland’s haunted castles, notably (although not limited to) those which are now run as hotels. As a cynical person by nature, I’ve never much believed in ghosts, although I remain relatively open-minded to the whole idea. If only one would appear before me.
Not far from Glasgow, in a sleepy village called Fintry, sits ancient Culcreuch Castle, a 13th Century stone build fortress that’s now a popular castle hotel in Scotland. Built back in 1296 the castle became the seat of the Clan Galbraith before changing between families and Laird’s until its present day. Not only is it a beautifully idyllic location, and frequently chosen by brides-to-be looking for a Scottish castle wedding venue, but it also has an interesting history – and more than a passing fascination with ghosts.
Culcreuch Castle was the first stop I made on my investigative trip to visit haunted Scottish castle hotels. From the outside, this magnificent building does have an imposing look – a large stone facade, small windows perfect for firing arrows through and a parapet just large enough to be intimidating. It sits surrounded by trees on a petite but perfectly tended estate and gives away little sign that’s it’s now a hotel. Inside, and the illusion of a fortress continues, with a hall that’s more suited to an ancestral family home than a lodging and only a visitor’s book to give away its true purpose.
This Scottish castle turned hotel has more than one haunting to its paranormal ‘bow’ so it came as little surprise to find a team of ghost hunters arriving at the same time as we did. My husband and I were greeted with looks that suggested we were clearly too cynical for our new brigade of ghost busting friends, but nevertheless they gamely asked if we’d like to join them as they sought the truth behind the various hauntings that Culcreuch Castle has become famous for. And we gamely agreed.
Our first stop was the grounds themselves. They came armed with a variety of equipment from superdooper cameras to simple divining rods, while I was armed with a notepad and pen that it was way too dark to use. My husband came armed with a smile, and a willingness to try and see things from their point of view. We strolled around the grounds for a while, wandering through the pitch black shadows from the canopied trees and examining the exterior of the building in the gloom. The team were snapping away heavily, ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ over each digital image with increasing enthusiasm. They showed me some of their snaps – black pictures with flecks of bright light dotted across the screen and asked me what I thought the dots were. My answer of ‘dust?’ was less than satisfactory – apparently such things are orbs, living spirits that glow in the dark. (I think I’ve got that right?)
Our next stop was the Chinese Bird Room, one of the most intricately decorated hotels rooms I’ve ever seen, and the real reason I was visiting the castle in the first place. This beautiful room is named after its wallpaper, which was brought from China in 1723. Painstakingly handpainted, it depicts birds and flowers and the owners have taken care not to let it fade too much as the centuries have passed. It’s also the main focal point for haunted activities in the hotel, and over the years visitors staying in the room have reported all manner of eerie happenings, including the sound of bagpipes coming from the walls and the apparition of a woman clothed in white appearing at the end of the bed. I watched as the team set up their equipment – and as my husband backed out of the door and retreated to our room. When the cameras were ready and rolling, and the lights were switched off plunging us into darkness, I waited, ready to see my first real ghost. One of the team began to chant an invocation to whichever spirit might have been there, but despite his sincere pleas none of them seemed interested in appearing before us.
Next, was the dining room at the back of the hotel, a room that had to be haunted on account of the frigid temperature inside? I don’t know enough about ghost hunting to agree or disagree, but the plummeting chill was certainly something I found difficult to argue with. They decided to hold a séance, creating a circle on the floor with cameras set up round the group. I joined them, and for once was glad of the dark because I confess I find it difficult not to giggle. Despite not seeing anything appear before us I still have to admit that it was an interesting experience, sitting there in a haunted hotel, in the dark, holding hands with complete strangers and asking spirits that I’m not quite sure I believe in if they wouldn’t mind appearing before me. I’d like to think my tone of voice was sincere.
With that finished we descended to the basement bar which had once been the castle dungeons. A dungeon is, as most people probably think, where any self respecting ghost would prefer to hang out, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that something would appear before us down here. The group was keen to try direct communication, and in the absence of a telephone opted for an upturned glass on a table top – a makeshift weegie board. One by one we placed our fingers on the glass and the team began to ask questions. And the glass did move. Yep, it really did move. Yes and No answers were flooding out to every question they asked, and it wasn’t long before they’d figured it all out. A young boy had been murdered in the dungeons many years ago for something he said he didn’t do, and here he was chatting away to us and dishing the dirt. I decided it was time to leave, excused myself politely, and went to find my husband who was relaxing in our Keep Room, clearly worn out from all his paranormal investigating.
It was an interesting experience, and although I guess I am a cynic, it’s only because no one has managed to convince me otherwise yet. I would have been delighted to see a ghostly apparition or hear a voice talk to me, and although I can’t explain the reason for the glass moving I’m still not satisfied there was anyone other than the team and I in that room. That said, it was only night one, and with more nights to go, who knows what might be uncovered?
Regardless of whether you’re heading to Culcreuch Castle for a romantic stay in a lavish Scottish hotel or to visit its haunted rooms to see for yourself, what you’re guaranteed to find is superlative accommodation and a fabulously warm welcome in traditional Scottish style. I loved this hotel, and with it being so close to Glasgow, it’s a great choice for travellers looking for a luxury Scottish holiday within easy reach of everything Scotland has to offer. I would happily stay here again, in no fear of being bothered by insensitive ghosts, and I think it’s the perfect base for exploring this beautiful area.
Next stop on my haunted tour…Tulloch Castle near Dingwall, Ross-shire.