I don’t write a lot of supernatural stories, but when I do, there are two recurring themes: the ghost that’s actually some greedy human trying to scare people off so they can make a lot of money, and the baddie who spent their whole life waiting for a supernatural encounter that never happened, so they turned bitter and eventually evil. *Ahem*
I’m a ghost-groupie. A Bigfoot Lover. A UFO fan. I have Holtzmann jammies and a plushie of the Beast of Bodmin. If it’s supernatural and slightly schlocky, this girl’s gotta have it: haunted houses, ghost tours, Bigfoot walks, Nessie booze cruises, and those stupid shows where teams of earnest amateur ghost hunters scare themselves silly while filming it all through a night vision lens. I love it. I love it all.
My family know this, and they indulge me. At the root of it, though, I understand that it’s all in fun. I don’t actually believe in it (although for a while I did make a bit of money and have a whale of a time writing about it). Like Mulder, I spent my life wanting to believe. But when you go on your hundredth Real Live Midnight Ghost Encounter and everyone gets a shiver, sees an orb, and hears the Grey Lady scream except you, well, there comes a time when you have to throw in the ectoplasmic towel and admit that the truth is out there, and it is mundane.
Which is why when I finally did have a supernatural encounter, it took me completely by surprise — so much by surprise that I didn’t recognize it for what it was. And to all y’all cynics already planning how you’re going to Mundanesplain it away with some Logical Explanation, let me issue a preemptive Zip It. Don’t Yuck My Yum. I will zap you with my proton pack and store you indefinitely in my ecto-containment storage system. This is my encounter, and you can’t have it. But if you listen quietly, I will tell you about it.
In November of 2018, my Dear Husband, Light of My Life, Enabler of My Addiction to Supernatural Schlock suggested an outing. Said outing contained three things he knew I would find irresistible: a trudge through the autumn woods, a subsequent pub lunch, aaaaaand…the ruins of a Haunted Castle. Oh yes. He’s a keeper.
Yester Castle is a 13th-century ruin located about 25 miles southeast of Edinburgh, near the village of Gifford. The land itself — the Barony of Yester — was granted to Sir Hugo de Giffard by William I, King of Scots, in the first part of that century, and Sir Hugo built the keep sometime before 1267.
The Wizard of Yester
Sir Hugo was a Norman immigrant. More to the point, he was a warlock and a necromancer. And that gave folk the creeps. The warlock part, that is, though I’m sure plenty of people found the Norman part plenty shady as well. At any rate, people came to refer to this creepy foreign aristocrat as the Wizard of Yester. The 15th-century chronicler Walter Bower would later say, in the Scotichronicon (OMG) that Sir Hugo had used magic to build the castle. Specifically, he had made a pact with the devil, the result of which had been a Hobgoblin Army that had built the castle and would come to Sir Hugo’s aid when called.
There was also the story of Sir Hugo’s Magic, Tragic Pear of Calamity, but that’s another tale for another time.
The Path to Yester Castle
The ruins of Yester Castle lie in the woods surrounding Yester House, a two-and-a-half mile walk from the center of Gifford. It’s an easy walk over a flat, well-maintained trail. However, it can get muddy if it’s been raining, and when that happens, there are a few steep places that can be treacherous as muck.
We began the walk by going through this gate.
It was a gorgeous Scottish morning — cool and sunny, with no threat of rain for at least the next five minutes. The path through the forest was pleasant. Bare trees stretched overhead atmospherically, and a carpet of orange, yellow, and brown leaves crunched underfoot. The air was filled with that mushroomy scent that inescapably means autumn. At least this was how I saw it. Another member of our party remarked, “This is some Blair Witch shit, right here.”
My intrepid hubs had acquired a map to the ruins, and we followed it. Along the way we encountered some delightfully creepy things, like this, which I admit, did strike me as a bit Blair witchy.
There was also this bridge. Now, the map will tell you that you have to cross a bridge. You will, in fact, encounter three bridges. The one you want is the third one, which, I’m pretty sure has a troll living under it, and not the kind that sends gruesome threats to ladies who write about video games.
There was also this.
Yes. To get to the ruins of the Haunted Goblin Devil Castle we had to cross the Unsafe Bridge. Normally, I’m the one who would turn the group around at this point, not because of goblins or trolls, but because Health & Safety don’t put up warnings about unsafe bridges for the fun of it. But.
We walked over the muddy, slippery, steeply-curved bridge-with-no-railings anyway. Then we walked along the trail. It seemed to be taking longer than it should. I kept checking my watch to see how far we’d gone, and the pedometer count didn’t match up with what my perceptions were telling me. The path doubled back on itself a few times, and after a while, I really felt like we were going in circles. Just as I was about to ask Were We There Yet, this appears. Yes, appears. It flippin’ apparated on the rise above us. It was not there before.
It was the Haunted Goblin Devil Castle.
We immediately broke into two parties for exploration. Two of us ran off toward the keep, while the other two climbed the Haunted Fireplace. Oh yes.
The Ghost Bell
My son and I were mucking about on the chimney when we heard the clang of a bell. It was a medium-sized bell — not a pissy little tinkling, and not some enormous, air-shaking toll. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the sound came from a bell that was, perhaps the size of a soccer ball.
There was no warning–no ghostly sizzle in the air, no hair standing up on the back of my neck. In fact, when it happened, I thought the other two had found a bell in the castle and were playing with it.
Until I heard my husband say “What the hell was that?”
We all heard it: the clanging of a dinner bell. It was not dinner time. There was no one else around, no houses, no buildings, no churches, no structures of any kind. Just trees, Unsafe Bridges, and, as one of our number had said, a bunch of Blair Witch shit.
But we all heard the feckin’ bell.
Haunted Goblin Devil Castle
It seemed so, well, mundane when it happened that it still hasn’t given me the creeps, even weeks later. I’m a bit disappointed about that. But we did explore the castle, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be.
First, there was the keep. To my psy-blind mundane senses, it was delightful, but my daughter said she felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding. And this young woman, who is one of the bravest people I know, and an avowed Slytherin, would not go near it until I (1) went there first, and (2) did not get eaten by a goblin.
In fact, I rather liked it there, and wished we’d brought a picnic.
If you slide down the slippery slope toward its yawning maw, you’ll see gorgeous Norman arches inside.
And check this out on the wall. Someone has scrawled “Nobody leaves.” And the creepy thing about it? Both I and my daughter tried to photograph it, but the words never turned out. They say there’s a Secret Way into the keep, which Mundanesplainers will say is how common, spray-paint-wielding vandals got in there to pen their creepy message, but I choose to believe it was a Warning From Beyond.
Here are a few more shots. This is the tunnel under the Haunted Goblin Chimney of Death.
And this? I just think it looks cool.
This is part of the original 13-th century wall. The hubs is taking a picture of me taking a picture of him from The Other Side.
What About That Pub Lunch, Then?
You’ll be relieved to know, we did make it out alive, and found our way to the pub. And what a pub it was!
We had our lunch at the Tweeddale Arms Hotel, and it was fabulous. Why? Because it had not just great food, but exactly the different kinds of great foods that our diverse party wanted. For my daughter? A most excellent burger. My son? House-made pizza with a delectable crust and which for once did not skimp on the cheese. Hubs had a Sunday roast fit for the Baron of Yester. As for me, I was just happy that they had something meatless on the menu and that it was not a cheese sandwich. (I had the pizza, too, with pineapple and *joy* jalapeno, and it was divine.)
But you don’t want to hear about food. You want to hear about my second Encounter.
As we walked into the Tweeddale Arms, the Hubs and kids charged ahead. Per usual, I was dawdling behind composing my next masterpiece in my head. It was, I think, this very article. That was how, when they were well on their way to finding a table and sitting down to a well-deserved meal, I was somehow buttonholed by this charming elder gent.
He and his lady companion were sitting at a table near the entrance. As my family disappeared ahead of me, he started asking about our day. Had we been for a walk? Where did we go? Did we enjoy ourselves? He was friendly and pleasant, and after a year in Scotland, enough of my L.A. carapace had dissolved that I could enjoy a friendly chat with a stranger in a pub without wondering when he would either hit on me or try to sell me something.
They do that here, in Scotland. Chat. Engage in friendly conversation without an agenda. And if you wander into a pub at lunchtime, chances are, someone will engage you. Go with it. It’s nice.
But by that time, we’d walked a good seven miles by my watch (which had inexplicably flickered back to life once we’d left the vicinity of the Haunted Goblin Devil Castle). I was hungry, my family was nowhere to be seen, and I needed the ladies.
So I smiled, answered his questions, and attempted to disentangle myself from the conversation. Several times. It was, perhaps, on my fourth attempt that I noticed two things. First, that this man had an unspeakably posh accent, and second, that he was wearing not only a chest full of military medals but also an expression that I’d come to know well during my years in star-studded Los Angeles. That expression can be summed up thusly:
By Jove! She really has no idea who I am!
I have a superpower, you see. That superpower is Not Recognizing VIPs. It made me a very popular sales clerk at a particular Los Angeles-area shoe store. I think the celebs were relieved that the only thing I wanted from them was to sell them a pair of shoes. And, as you can see, this superpower works in the UK as well. Though I think my conversation partner was more bemused than relieved.
When we returned home, I googled my buddy from the pub, and I do believe — though I could be very, very wrong — that I spent a good ten minutes giving the brush-off to the Marquess of Tweeddale. If that was the case, Your Lordship, I do humbly apologize. You were charming, kind, witty, and I did very much enjoy talking to you. The spirit was willing but the flesh needed tending in several senses of the word.
Are You Ready for an Adventure?
If you’re ever in the Edinburgh area, do try to make it out to the Yester Castle ruins. Maybe you’ll meet a ghost, hear a bell, or run into local gentry — or maybe you’ll just have a nice walk and a fabulous pub lunch. Either way, it’ll be well worth the trip.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by me, Jess Faraday, or Roy Williams, CC BY-SA 2.0. This means you can use ‘em, but please be a decent human and give us credit with a link to my website. And if you really want to be a most excellent mortal, buy my books!