Wednesday 24 July 2019

The Red Lady of Newark Castle

Tom Tom/
In 2004 a young couple, Wendy and Iain McGinnes, chose the 15th century fortified Newark Castle in Port Glasgow, Strathclyde, Scotland as the perfect venue for their wedding. The day was everything they could have wished for but, when they got the wedding photographs back, they found an extra guest had turned up. One who was not on their invitation list. In fact, one who wasn’t even alive.

A blonde woman dressed in red, stared out of a castle window, apparently watching the photographs being taken outside. Wendy returned to the castle to try and find out more about the identity of the shadowy figure and discovered she was not alone in having encountered her.

In fact there are frequent reports of a blonde haired lady in red haunting a room called the Steward’s Chamber and she has been photographed on more than one occasion. Staff at the castle told Wendy McGinnes that they close off that part of the castle during weddings and special events so it would be most unlikely that the figure at the window was of this world.

On further investigation, Wendy discovered that it was indeed the Steward’s Chamber from where the ghost had peered out at them. But who was she?
Firstly a little background. Newark Castle stands impressively on the shores of the mighty River Clyde and most of what we see today is down to the work of one man – Sir Patrick Maxwell who lived in the 16th century although the castle was originally constructed a century earlier by an ancestor of his. Maxwell added greatly to the majesty of the building but, apart from his grand building schemes, he was not the sort of man anyone would want their daughter to marry. He was a murderer and a serial wife beater. He murdered neighbours including two members of the Montgomery family of Skelmoorlie, and even some of his own relatives – including another Patrick Maxwell, this one of Stanely.

But his own wife bore the brunt of his cruelty – for 44 years during which time she bore him 16 children.  The former Lady Margaret Crawford alleged he attacked her with a sword and kept her locked in her bedchamber for six months with only bread and water for sustenance. When one of her sons and his wife attempted to care for her as she lay recovering from the sword attack, Maxwell had them thrown out of the house.

Things were so bad that even her mother in law attempted to intervene, lodging a complaint about her son’s behaviour with the Privy Council. It did no good. Added to the beatings and other violence she suffered, it is hardly surprising that one day, when she managed to escape, she fled across the Clyde to Dumbarton. It was here she died in poverty. Her husband was never made to face any charges. Some were pending, but he died before he could be called to account.

It is believed that it is the ghost of the tragic Lady Margaret that haunts the castle. She, it seems, is the Red Lady. This poor, mistreated soul cannot find rest and remains trapped in the place which during her life must have felt like a prison.

Newark Castle has been in the care of the state since 1909 and is today administered by Historic Environment Scotland . You can visit between April and October and wander its tower, rooms and corridors – and maybe say a little prayer for the repose of the soul of the Red Lady of Newark.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Tragic Marian - the Ghost of Comlongon Castle

Fer Gregory/

Boasting a reputation as Scotland’s ‘most important and complete example’ of a 15th century Medieval Scottish castle, it would be strange if the beautiful Comlongon Castle did not have its resident ghosts. 

Sir Cuthbert Murray built it as a border outpost and its walls – an impressive thirteen feet thick – were certainly designed to keep out unwanted visitors.

But what about the ghosts? The tragic spirit of Marian Carruthers is said to haunt the castle. She originated from nearby Borthwick Castle but, in 1564, her father arranged a marriage for her. Rather than face a loveless union, she ran away and sought refuge under Sir Charles Murray’s protection at Comlongon. He took her in and, in gratitude she awarded him half her estate. Her father wasn’t to be deterred though and, some versions of the story state that he pursued a legal case to force her into the marriage against her will. She fell from the highest window in the castle’s tower – whether by accident or design is not known for sure although there is a theory that Sir Charles was greedy enough to want his share of her estate sooner rather than later and pushed her to her death. Others say that she threw herself off the tower rather than acquiesce to her father’s demands.

Whatever the truth of it, her father refused to pay for a proper burial and she was interred in an unmarked grave in the woods nearby – in unconsecrated ground.

On the spot where her body landed, nothing will grow and her ghost walks in the garden on the anniversary of her death – September 25th – every year. She has also been seen in various locations in the castle itself.

She also appears nearby at an inn and the owners have encountered her on a number of occasions.

But she isn’t the only ghost. A small child has been reported in various locations and indeed part of the castle was used during the war to house evacuated pre-school age children. Could it be one of them? The sound of childish laughter has been heard when there are no children present or staying at the castle.

Guests staying in the beautiful 4-poster rooms reported banging noises during the night, the sound of furniture being dragged across the floor and various other phenomena they could not explain. In the room said to have been used by Marian Carruthers, a honeymoon couple were awakened by noises including what sounded like a heavy bottle (champagne?) being banged against a solid object – maybe furniture or the floor.

There have also been a number of manifestations in the Great Hall, including actual physical sightings, and smells ranging from cigarette smoke to apples.

Whether for a creepy night of supernatural mayhem, a visit to a place of particular historical interest or a special celebration, it seems Comlongon Castle delivered on all fronts. Until April of this year, the privately owned castle was run as a hotel and top wedding venue, but, sadly, it has now ceased trading. The ongoing costs of renovation and upkeep of such a magnificent building proved too much.

Let’s hope poor Marian finds rest though. She has been wandering there for far too long…