Scotland is home to thousands of picturesque villages and towns, from seaside retreats to rural, countryside spots remote from the bustling nearby cities. Pack your camera, prepare to get back to nature and add some of the prettiest villages in Scotland to your ‘to-travel’ list – here are some of our favourites.
Written by Beth Reid
Doune Castle has long captured the imagination, starring as a location in dramas such as Game of Thrones, Outlaw King, Monty Python, and Outlander. It towers over the River Teith in the Stirlingshire countryside, and its grand walls and stature make it clear that this was a castle fit for a king. The king may not have lived here, but Doune Castle was constructed in the fourteenth-century by one of the most dramatic figures of medieval Scotland, who came very close to achieving the crown he so coveted – Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany.
Written by Beth Reid
Beth Reid is a Scottish history graduate, currently undertaking an MRes in Historical Research specialising in medieval Scotland. Beth runs a microblog on Instagram and has written for Hidden Scotland, The History Corner, and the Historians Magazine.
Written by Greame Johncock
Bothwell’s most tragic story doesn’t involve the Wars of Independence or the Jacobites though. Just a young girl who is doomed to return to the castle every Halloween.
One of the inhabitants of Bothwell Castle was a beautiful girl known as Bonnie Jean. As a noble’s daughter, Jean had a responsibility to marry for the good of the family. There was just one problem with that, she was already in a forbidden relationship. Jean’s man was a lowly commoner from across the river in Blantyre.
To her surprise, a friendly monk from Blantyre Priory visited Jean at the castle and helped her hatch an escape plan. She was to sneak out of Bothwell Castle the night that she saw a lamp shining across the river. The monk would get a message to her lover and handle everything else.
Night after night, Jean gazed across the River Clyde trying to decipher any speck of light. When eventually she saw the unmistakable sign, the young lady gathered her things. Butterflies filled her stomach as Jean tiptoed her way out of the castle.
Instead of finding her lover waiting to whisk her away outside, she was a bit disappointed to find the monk on his own. This wasn’t what she was expecting but the monk reassured her that he was waiting on a horse down by the river. Her new life would begin soon!
As they reached the riverbank, a barge appeared and her guide revealed his true plan. Bonnie Jean’s lover had been told that she’d abandoned him. The monk was going to take her for himself. The girl was bundled into the vessel and the kidnapper shouted at the boatman to take them across to Blantyre Priory.
The weather had been calm all day but suddenly the heavens opened and the Clyde churned in a rage. Rain lashed down and the water was getting choppier by the second. The boatman shouted that they were too heavy for the storm. If they didn’t lighten the load now, then it would be too late.
The monk might have wanted Jean badly, but he cared for himself more than anything. He shoved her over the side to drown in the river. As soon as the man of God had condemned the girl to her watery grave, the boatman pulled back his hood. It was none other than the Devil.
Grabbing the startled monk, the Devil dragged him over the side to join his victim deep in the River Clyde. Immediately, the storm eased and the river flowing past Bothwell Castle was calm once again.
Bonnie Jean isn’t entirely gone though. She returns to the high towers of Bothwell Castle on the anniversary of her death which just happens to be the last day in October. Every Halloween she appears at the top of the ruins, gazing out across the Clyde where a mysterious light shines in the dark.
Written by Graeme Johncock
Graeme is the writer and storyteller behind Scotland’s Stories, sharing the traditional folklore and legends that make Scotland truly incredible.
Win an overnight stay at Dunstane Houses in Edinburgh
If you’re looking for a mini-break in the heart of beautiful Edinburgh or want a getaway with a luxurious twist, this might just be your lucky day. Hidden Scotland has teamed up with The Dunstane Houses to offer one lucky winner an overnight stay at one of their contemporary townhouse locations with cocktails, dinner and breakfast included.
Winner of the ‘Best Boutique Hotel Experience in Scotland 2020’ The Dunstane Houses are a five-star, luxury boutique hotel found in the heart of Edinburgh. Stylish and contemporary, this independent getaway is set over two historic Victorian townhouses over a quiet road – both of which have been newly refurbished. Your experience here will be unlike anywhere you’ve stayed before. Over twenty-three years of Scottish hospitality is on display – and you’ll find your every need catered for by their knowledgeable staff.
Spacious, yet cosy, your luxury king double room welcomes you with the promise of a king sized Vispring bed that’ll help you sink into a restful night’s sleep. Found in the Dunstane House, the room is a tranquil oasis, complete with ensuite power shower, bath and toiletries exclusively from Noble Isle. Wrap up in the fluffiest of complimentary bathrobes – and be sure to explore the minibar, packed with treats from the local area.
Of course, no stay at The Dunstane Houses is complete without exploring their array of dining and drinking options – each as unique and luxurious as the hotel itself.
The Ba’Bar has a legendary, forty-year-old whisky cabinet at its heart and is the only bar in the city to serve a Highland Park of the same age. Or, for the gin connoisseurs, an artisanal selection that ensures, no matter how long you stay, you’ll never have the same one twice. Take your cocktails to the terrace and soak in the golden hour.
After cocktails, of course, the Dunstane restaurant welcomes you to dinner. You may want to drop in during the day, whether to indulge in brunch, linger in the garden with afternoon tea or fuel up with breakfast for a day of exploring, dinner is where the restaurant truly shines. The menu is specially curated to showcase the best of Scottish cuisine, using local ingredients to create new twists on familiar classics. Orkney fish and chips or a beefburger are great choices for pub food lovers, while beetroot risotto with parmesan and feta, tempura broccoli with sriracha or haggis fritters will satisfy the palate of even the most adventurous foodie. Pair your meal with wine chosen by in-house experts or another choice from their extensive cocktail menu.
A gateway into Edinburgh’s Old Town, the vibrant atmosphere of Scotland’s capital is just a scenic walk away from the comfort of your room. Though, if the hotel entices you enough, you may never want to leave the comfort of your room.
This competition closes on 31st of October 2021. And winners stays are valid until 31st March 2022 excluding Saturday nights and peak periods such as Christmas, Hogmanay and rugby dates.
The prize is subject to availability and full terms and conditions apply.
This season is perfect for getting us in the Halloween spirit, so with that we wanted to discover some of Scotland’s spookiest places to explore and find out more about their ghostly residents and gruesome tales. Together with VisitAberdeenshire we want to share some of these places with you, and tell you the tales of their haunting past.
Halloween, also known as ‘All Hallows Eve’, originates from the Celts who lived 2,000 years ago. They believed that on the night before the new year, which they celebrated on November 1st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. So on the night of October 31st they celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in), when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
If you head towards the coast, you will be able to find the remains of Slains Castle along the cliff tops in Cruden Bay. This castle is famously known as the inspiration for the setting of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula (1897), and today you are able to get up close and personal. With extreme caution you are able to explore the ruins and wander around what would have once been the hallways and rooms. This is certainly an eerie place to be at this time of year where you can hear the waves crashing against the rocks beneath you, and the crows hovering above your head and the vast fields of crops that surround you.
It is believed that the crumbling ruin isn’t completely abandoned, as it is said to be haunted by the ghost of Victor Hay, who was the 21st Earl of Errol and died in the 20th century. Sightings of WWII soldiers marching past and a horse and carriage have also been reported.
Fyvie Castle is an 800 year old fortress located in the village of Fyvie near Turriff. Over the years the Castle was residence to a succession of clan families, consisting of Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and Leith. During the course, each clan had constructed a new tower to the Castle, making it one of the largest and most magnificent castles in Scotland, with a total of 109 rooms. Fyvie Castle is also home to the widest turnpike staircase at 10ft wide, which is rather impressive.
Within the walls of the Castle, you will find an incredible collection of antiquities, armour and an impressive portrait collection adorning the walls, including works by Raeburn, Batoni, Romney, Gainsborough, Opie, Lawrence and Hoppner. While walking the corridors and exploring the rooms, you can almost feel the presence of its past come alive. Perhaps the reason for this is that nowadays it is said that the only residence of the Castle, are the ghosts that haunt it.
There have been so many sightings and reports over the years that it is very hard to disagree that this Castle is haunted, it is ranked amongst the most haunted castles in Britain and has appeared on the TV series ‘Most Haunted’. When speaking with Leslie who works at Fyvie, she informed us that they have recorded nine different ghosts. Some have been sighted by the staff, the public and by the attendees of paranormal nights that take place within the castle.
The most popular occurrences are with ‘The Green Lady’, who is the ghost that communicates the most, and is even referred to as ‘head ghost’, who keeps the others in check. The Green Lady, was once known as Lilias Drummond who was married to Alexander Seton. It is said that her husband cruelly held her captive in ‘The Chartered Room’ to punish her for failing to provide a son and heir. A rescue was attempted but failed and instead Lilias was forced to watch her family members being killed and their body parts being flung past the window in the room in which she was held. Lilias eventually starved to death. This room is now referred to as ‘The Murder Room’.
Alexander Seton went on to remarry, and on the night of his wedding, ghostly screams were heard and scratching from outside the window of their marital bedchamber. When morning rose, they looked outside the window, where they found ‘Lilias Drummond’ scratched into the stone window sill, which can still be seen to this day.
On many of the paranormal nights that take place, the mediums have successfully communicated with her and during this conversation The Green Lady was asked “Do you want to hurt us?”, in which she responded “no”, she was then asked “Does anyone here want to hurt us”, to which she responded “yes!”. She advised that another ghost that lives in the castle is in fact malicious and is the only harmful ghost there, and his name is John Pollock.
Thankfully The Green Lady said not to worry as she wouldn’t let him harm anyone, which is where her title of ‘head ghost’ comes from. If you are brave enough and want to be in the presence of John you will find him in the library, this is also where his grisly death mask is on display, which shows the marks around his neck in which he was hung, and the reason for his hanging was for murder. For many visitors who are sensitive to spirits, before knowing of this room they find that when approaching the library they cannot go any further as the negative feelings that surround it are so strong, with some even claiming to feel sick, and refuse to go in.
Another ghost that can often be seen is Annie, she is a little girl that loves to play on the stairs, and this sighting can even be found on film. Another dark figure was sighted taking her hand and took her away up the stairs. There are no files on record of a little girl called Annie or where she came from, but she has also made contact and when asked if she liked visitors to the castle, she responded “Yes, because I’ve got people to play with,” so be sure to say hello to Annie when you are climbing the stairs.
Many of the tour guides have become familiar with the smells of the ghosts, and notice these become more apparent when they have guests on their tours who are more sensitive to spirits. The smell of roses can be smelt in the presence of ‘The Green Lady’ and there is also the ghost of a man who smokes cigars, which can also become a very strong smell. It is also very common for visitors to experience their ears popping when the spirits are around.
Fyvie Castle has a very interesting legend about ‘The Weeping Stones’. It is said that when the castle was being built, stones were removed from church lands by demolishing a chapel, but they fell into the river. A man called Thomas the Rhymer was looking to shelter in the castle and the laird at the time refused his entry, as a result of this Rhymer placed a curse on the castle and said that unless the three stones were recovered, the castle and estate would never descend in direct line – meaning there would be no first born son to be the heir. All three stones have never been recovered, there is one in the charter room, while another is reported to be built into the foundations, with the third said to still be in the river, and with that said there has never been a first born son and heir.
Also beneath the Charter Room where one of ‘The Weeping Stones’ rest, is a secret dungeon, It is said that it should never be opened for fear of the curse on the Laird. Anyone who opens the dungeon will mean death for the laird and blindness for his wife. Two Lairds ignored the warnings and opened the door. Both died, one wife went blind, and the second wife had problems with her sight thereafter. Thankfully these days the dungeon is inaccessible.
This multifaceted landmark is based in the coastal town of Fraserburgh, with a unique 450 year old story of continual reinvention and survival from castle, to the lighthouse, to museum. Kinnaird Head Castle, was built by the Frasers in the 16th Century – the town name of Fraserburgh then followed. Later on in 1787, the castle was sold to the Northern Lighthouse Board to be converted into Scotland’s first mainland lighthouse. The best way for this to be constructed was for the lighthouse to take over one of the corners of the castle, and today you can visually see the fusion between the two inside and out.
Adjacent to Kinnaird Head castle sits the Wine Tower facing towards you, with a backdrop of crashing waves against the rocks. This interesting structure is named ‘The Wine Tower’ but to this day it cannot be confirmed what the use of this building was for. Originally findings suggested that it was a secret catholic chapel, but there are various reasons that go against this outcome. It is more feasible that this was a separate building to the castle where the laird would entertain his important guests, and perhaps as the name suggests – drink wine.
The Wine Tower does however come with a dark ‘Romeo & Juliet’ tragedy of its own. In the late 1500s, Sir Alexander Fraser, the 8th Laird of Philorth had forbidden his daughter Isobel from seeing a piper from the village who she had fallen in love with. One night he was due to be in Aberdeen but the storms were so bad he had to turn back and head home. When he returned he found his daughter and the piper together, the laird was so enraged of his daughters betrayal that he imprisoned her in an upstairs room of the wine tower and chained the piper in the cave beneath her.
The storm was so bad that night that the water flooded the cave and the piper drowned. Isobel was so distraught by discovering his death that she flung herself from the window onto the rocks and died a savage and heartbreaking death. Legend has it that whenever a storm is brewing in Fraserburgh you can hear the sounds of bagpipes playing and many say that Isobel can be seen.
The Museum is a great starting point to learn about the history of this fascinating place, with tours available around the castle and wine tower provided by the excellent and knowledgeable team!
Braemar Castle is a 17th century castle built by the Earl of Mar in 1628 and over the years it has been a hunting lodge, a fortress, garrison and family home, situated in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Home to the chiefs of Clan Farquharson, it is furnished with furniture, memorabilia and personal belongings of the Farquharson family. Now the castle’s future rests with the small community of Braemar.
Braemar Castle is said to be haunted by a young blonde-haired woman who was a newlywed bride. She awoke early on the morning after her wedding night to find that her husband was nowhere to be seen. Starting to panic, she concluded that her new husband had deemed her an unsatisfactory lover and so she threw herself from the window of the marital chamber window, where her life came to a gruesome end.
As it happens, her husband had in fact been on an early-morning hunting trip and was distraught to return to the castle and find his bride had ended her life. Today it is thought that she appears to those who have recently been married, or when newlyweds are staying in the castle.
Another spirit said to haunt the castle is that of John Farquharson of Inverey, also known as the ‘Black Colonel’.
Crathes Castle was built by Alexander Burnett in the 16th Century, where The Burnett family lived on for over 350 years. Robert the Bruce had granted them land back in 1323. Crathes Castle is made up of an intricate maze of turrets, towers, oak panels and painted ceilings, many of which survive beautifully to this day. Surrounded by its very own luscious gardens teamed with a backdrop of breathtaking landscapes, you can wander around and soak it all in. The walled gardens are particularly stunning, split into eight sections of glorious greenery and exotic flowers.
Crathes Castle looks like it is straight out of a fairy tale but it comes with a dark twist. It is no secret that this castle is haunted by a ghost referred to as ‘The Green Lady’. A publication in 1900 described it as an ‘apparition of a lady dressed in green, with a child in her arms’.
It is said that ‘The Green Lady’ was once a servant girl who worked in the castle who fell pregnant out of wedlock – by who we don’t know, but perhaps is the reason why ‘she fled the castle’. 100 years later in the 1800s, workmen were repairing the castle and uncovered the skeletal remains of a woman and a child beneath the hearthstone of the fireplace.
Castle Fraser, garden & estate is home to one of Scotland’s largest tower houses that was built between 1575 and 1636, by the 6th laird, Michael Fraser. It was home to the Fraser family for more than 400 years, and today the castle is filled with treasures including family portraits, ornaments, mementos, hidden trapdoors, secret staircases and even a spy hole, all telling stories of the lairds who lived here.
Over the years there have also been numerous sightings of the ghost of a Princess who was staying at the castle. Her ending wasn’t met with a fairy tale but instead a gruesome death. She was murdered while she slept in the Green Room, and her bloodied body was dragged down the stairs of the round tower. The blood stained the staircase so badly that the stairs had to be covered with wooden paneling, which can still be seen today.
Another ghost who resides in the castle belongs to Lady Blanche Drummond who died of consumption in 1874. Dressed in a long black gown, Lady Blanche Drummond has often been sighted roaming the grounds of the castle and wandering the staircases.
Visitors to the castle and members of staff have reported hearing ghostly whispers, laughter and music coming from the Great Hall. The kitchen staff have also reported hearing the sound of children laughing and singing, only to find that there were no children at the castle.
Scotland’s very own enchanting pink castle is nestled in amongst the most beautiful Scottish landscape. It is a fine example of the best of Scottish Baronial architecture and it is even said that this castle is the inspiration behind Disney’s Cinderella castle.
Begun around 1576 and completed by c1626, this iconic tower house is amongst the best preserved and the most loved in Scotland. Craigievar was a family home until the 1960s, creating a quirky blend of modern comforts and rare antiquities within the ancient walls.
It wouldn’t be a fairy tale however, if there wasn’t a few evil twists along the way, the exterior may appear pretty and pink but within these walls lie some treacherous tales. There is a story of a fiddler who fell into a well in the kitchen and drowned to death. The fiddler haunts the castle, but it’s said that he will only appear before members of the Forbes family. However, the fiddler isn’t alone, there is another spirit that walks the castle, but this time from Clan Gordon. This spirit was once murdered by being pushed from one of the windows in the Blue Room.
The parkland grounds surrounding the castle are equally bewitching, with an unusual Scottish glen garden, a Victorian kitchen garden and two woodland trails.
Take yourself back 500 years with this audio time machine and walk the footsteps of Aberdeen’s streets where you will learn of the trials and tribulations that went on in this very city. This era was filled with horrifying tragedies and vicious crimes that led to their equally horrifying punishment, which in those days was more commonly by death.
This 45 minute walking tour takes you on an incredible journey back in time starting out at The Tolbooth Museum.
Find out more here
His Majesty’s Theatre is one of the most beautiful theatres in Scotland and an iconic part of Aberdeen City. Aberdeens theatre was built in 1906 and designed by the legendary theatre architect Frank Matcham. Learn about his signature design features, and explore the new and old sections of the city centre landmark on a behind the scenes tour, where you will be taken back in time to learn about its glorious history and be let in on some of its secrets that has been kept for over a hundred years.
You will be shown the exact location where a horrific accident took place whilst a show was performing and a former employee lost his life. Jake tragically died in 1942 when he was struck in the head by a rapidly-spinning winch handle. He was 69 when he was killed, attempting to put the brake on a lift which was transporting circus horses to the lower floor. The lift was only supposed to carry three at a time but a colleague decided to fill the lift with all six horses. Jake however lives on as HMT’s resident ghost, and is described as being rather mischievous. Jake likes to move objects when your back is turned. Keep a particular eye out for him by cold spots in the passageway nicknamed “Lambeth Walk”. Although quiet since the refurbishment in 1999, people believe Jake keeps an eye on his colleagues still to this day. Some report to hear the clip-clop of hooves too.
Loch an Eilein Castle
Hidden Scotland Magazine Issue 3
Hidden Scotland Magazine Issue 3 – Pre-order Now
It gives us great pleasure to be sharing with you the third edition of Hidden Scotland magazine. Welcome to our Autumn Winter 2021/22 issue.
We’ll start with four potent words: the past is alive. Scotland is a land sculpted by its history, a place moulded by the passage of time, and over the following pages, the days of yore are a recurrent theme. Stepping back into the mists of prehistory, we explore the Jurassic beginnings of the Isle of Skye, where dinosaurs once roamed. We enter the towering canopy of the great Caledonian Forest, crunching the underbrush of the temperate rainforest that once blanketed almost the entire country. No less stirringly, we also take a wander among the extraordinary Neolithic sites that make Scotland one of the world’s most important repositories of Stone Age architecture.
Striding forward to more recent centuries, we visit the historic towns and age-old places of worship that mark the Borders Abbeys Way, learn more about the 17th century witches of Shetland, and discover the layered past (not to mention the vibrant culture and open countryside) of Dumfries & Galloway. Keeping the theme going, we also hear the ancient tale of Thomas the Rhymer, and take a winding drive along the fabled Highlands road that is Bealach na Bà.
But there’s more to these pages, of course, than the past. As regular readers will have come to expect, we also meet some of Scotland’s most inspirational modern-day inhabitants, from the sustainably minded food and drink producers of Glenelg, and the determined founders of the Isle of Skye Sea Salt Company, to acclaimed jewellery-maker Róis Clark.
And that’s not all. Among other things, there’s also a journey through Cape Wrath in the company of writer and photographer Richard Gaston, a spotlight on one of the country’s enigmatic mountain hares, and advice on how to make the most of the Scottish winter with your canine companion.
As ever, enjoy the journey. Slàinte mhath