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  • Writer's pictureGreg Stewart

The Tale of Crathes Castle

A short distance from the town of Banchory in the Aberdeenshire region of Scotland stands Crathes Castle.

The estate was originally gifted to the Burnett family in the 14th century by King Robert the Bruce, following their appointment as the Royal Forester of Drum. They did not initially have the castle constructed, instead ruling their land from a crannog fort, a structure built on an artificial island, in Loch Leys.

In 1543, Alexander Burnett of Leys and Janet Hamilton were wed. Janet was the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal David Beaton, the Abbot of Arbroath before being appointed Archbishop of St Andrews and then a Cardinal. Beaton was fiercely opposed to the Protestant Reformation that was sweeping Scotland, which ultimately led to his murder outside St Andrews in 1546. Prior to this, however, he had taken advantage of his position as Cardinal at St Andrews to share some of the church's wealth with his children, including Janet.

The marriage brought considerable additional wealth to the Burnetts, and in 1553 the decision was made to build a castle for the family to live in. The result was Crathes Castle, finished in 1596, with the tower house remaining largely as it did then.

The castle's existence was relatively peaceful, with it never really being subjected to any military action, and it remained the home of the Burnett family until it was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1951. In 1966, fire swept through the building, and while the castle structure was fortunately saved, some of the additional wings were too badly damaged and required to be demolished.

The castle is said to be haunted by two female spirits, one who wanders the grounds and one who wanders the castle.

One tale dates back to the original crannog structure when it is said a young lady was placed in the care of the family while her father was away fighting abroad. Soon, a romance blossomed between Bertha and Alexander Burnett, one which his mother, Lady Agnes, did not approve of, as she had plans for Alexander to wed into a family of higher status. Alexander was later sent abroad to fight as well, and when he returned he was distraught to find out that Bertha had died unexpectedly just before his arrival.

A banquet had been arranged by Lady Agnes to celebrate her son's safe return, and he was urged to attend to try to lift his spirits. During the meal, he reached for a wine goblet that had been placed on the table, only for his mother to grab it and throw it out of the window into the waters of the loch. This unusual action was noticed by several people, and thoughts started to turn to Bertha's sudden and unexplained death. Had she been poisoned?

Bertha's father also soon returned home, only to discover that his daughter had died at the very place he had arranged for her to stay for her own safety. While explaining this to him, it is said that Lady Agnes suddenly started shouting 'she comes, she comes', before dropping dead. Other versions say Bertha's father cursed the castle and the family.

It is said that ever since, the ghostly image of Bertha can be seen walking from the site of the old crannog towards the new castle on the anniversary of her death.

One of the rooms in the castle is said to be haunted by a Green Lady who often appears carrying a baby. In Scottish Folklore, a Green Lady is often believed to represent great sadness. She is seen walking across the room before vanishing into the wall beside the fireplace. Her phantom form is claimed to have been witnessed by many people, including Queen Victoria during a visit to the castle.

The identity of the Green Lady has remained a mystery, although it is claimed that while carrying out some restoration work, the skeleton of a woman and a baby were discovered under the hearth of the fireplace in this particular room. Thoughts turned to, or a story arose about, a female servant who fell pregnant to one of the male servants. He was subsequently dismissed and she also vanished, believed to have gone with him. But with the discovery of the skeletons, was she actually murdered? A search of the newspaper archives has not produced any evidence of the discovery of skeletal remains, although the claim is repeated in several stories published about the haunting.

As with all hauntings, some consideration turns to whether there could be a form of energy that 'fuels' the spirit activity, and this does appear to be the case at Crathes.

Excavations in 2004 in a field close to the castle discovered 12 pits that appear to be positioned to replicate the moon phases. The find was later investigated and studied by a team of archaeologists who concluded that it is likely that the pits once held wooden posts. They concluded that it is highly likely that the site was a lunar calendar which dates back 10,000 years, making it the oldest in the world.

For such a structure to exist on the land is an indication that our ancient ancestors used the area and that it was considered to be of value. Could it have been one recognised with natural earth energy that drew them here?

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