Haunted Golf Courses

Castle Stuart

There must be plenty? Or so we thought, but for our opening contribution, we turn to the Highland course of Castle Stuart. For the unacquainted, Castle Stuart isn’t a place name, it is a genuine castle, albeit Scottish castles tend to be fortified stately homes unlike their Welsh counter-parts which are much more in the citadel tradition. The golf course is also a decent par 5 from one of Scotland’s most blood curdling locations, the battlefield of Culloden. This is real ghost story territory. We draw from the account of Frances Abbot now as she tells the story better than we can.

In 1798 a great storm rampaged up the Moray Firth tearing off the roof of the East Tower. Never repaired, that part of the castle remained sealed for 200 years. Eventually restoration work began and one evening the intrepid owner climbed a ladder to look at roof beams after his workmen had left for the night. On the wall he noticed a difference in the plaster work and, curious to find out if this was the sealed doorway, he fetched a lamp from his car, a hammer and chisel, and set to.

His efforts uncovered a stone step, likely part of a broken stairwell, and beyond that a wall of solid stone. Using his chisel he patiently prised away at this wall until he had made a small hole, and at this point probably wished he had left well alone for, from the hole he created, there came forth a shriek to shatter the ear drums, followed by the sound of wailing, and finally a voice, low but forceful. The voice said NO!

Whatever escaped from the hole hadn’t finished yet. He reports that air turned foul and a feeling of hostility surrounded him. He tried to return from the beam to the ladder but was thrown back by a blow to the chest. As soon as he recovered his balance, he made a hasty exit, sped on his way by another piercing scream.

The castle belonged to the Royal House of Stuart, gifted by the Stuart King James V in the early seventeenth century. It was the home of the Earls of Moray and the tale begins when, a hundred years later, the young Earl on inheriting came up from London with his household to occupy his new home, servants and all, after living there only a week, he fled. Two subsequent attempts to rent out the castle had the same result. No one ever lasted longer than a week.

The Earl consulted his factor on how to get rid of the ghosts he was sure inhabited the place, for his servants had reported footsteps on the stairs at midnight, screams, and a sighting of a headless highlander in full highland dress. The factor scoffed. Though living in an age when superstition was rife, he had no belief in ghosts. He in turn consulted the minister of the parish who came up with a plan.

The minister would engage four men to stay one night each in the room where the sightings took place. At the end of the period the four would meet and relate their experiences. He would be the first of the four and the others would be encouraged by a reward of £20.

By bribery, trickery and guile he got three more, the church elder, the local shoemaker and a giant of a man called Rob Angus who, despite being a poacher and a maker of illicit whisky, was a good-natured, friendly fellow afraid of no man or beast.

The minister was the first to be locked in the room near the top of the castle, where he found a peat fire, two easy chairs, a table with a brass lamp, a mirror and a bookcase. All very civilised, and with the heat from the fire he fell asleep. Next morning he told the curious that he had dreamt that at midnight the door opened. A man in highland dress stepped in. He sat in the chair opposite, sighed and questioned the minister as to why he was there. The minister was quite satisfied that, apart from his strange dream, nothing untoward happened that night.

The church elder was next to spend the night in the locked room. He was awake and reading his bible when the highlander sat down. What set him saying his prayers was the reflection in the mirror of a human skull grinning at him. When the skull vanished, the highlander rose, drew his dirk (Scottish dagger) and came towards the trembling elder, who promptly fainted. So ended the second night.

The shoemaker didn’t see the highlander. Oh no. At midnight it was a tall man with cloven hooves that caused him to fall unconscious to the floor to be discovered there next morning by the officer of the tower. And so we come to the last night.

It was now the turn of Rob Angus, who sat with his illicit whisky convivially drinking and blethering with the officer until the man left to lock him in. When the officer returned next morning, he was astonished to see there was no sign of Rob. Not only that, the room was wrecked, furniture overturned and broken as if a violent fight had taken place. Most strange of all was the missing window. There was no glass, there was no window frame. The broken body of Rob Angus was found in the courtyard below, a look of unblanched horror frozen to his visage

Ah, but there was a witness to add an appropriately horrific end to the tale, an independent witness, who, because he was a stranger to the area, had not heard anything about the vigils over the past four nights. This was a passing drover given permission for his sheep to spend the night in the field around the castle. Checking on his flock by the light of a full moon he spied a light in the window of the castle, heard the noise of a struggle and screams, then the sight of a man being thrown with force from the window, and the face that appeared in that empty space was the hideous face of the Devil himself……..

Now, if anyone is really interested, we can arrange for you to spend the night in Castle Stuart? It is an 8 bedroom, luxury conversion, but demand, as you might expect, is high. At the time of writing, its undergoing further restoration, but last time we checked their website, they weren’t making any attempt to hide the ghost story. Quite the opposite, they seemed to be revelling in it, and even advertising the three turret bedroom as a separate attraction! (so we don’t feel like we’re betraying any confidences here).

We must conclude however that thousands have stayed there since without meeting the fate of Rob Angus, and it’s not as if the internet is clogged with stories of ghostly goings on, albeit Tripadvisor have accorded it, it’s own page…. And before anyone asks, no we haven’t, and no we wouldn’t! In any case, we’ve Americans to do this kind of thing for us!

Leaving its ghosts aside, Castle Stuart is a world top-100 course. It has recently been hosting the prestigious Scottish Open, won in 2013 by Phil Mickelson en-route to success a few weeks later at Muirfield. If you fancy following in the footsteps of Phil, then Castle Stuart appears in three of our schedules.