Sometimes, a place just doesn’t feel right.
Some of us are more sensitive than others to unseen blemishes left by time. Some of us think: well, I’m not going there again. And we shiver, and shake the time off our shoulders, and walk thankfully away.
But others will tell you they felt cold, or wretched, in a place they have visited; they might be overcome by a desolate grief, just by walking through a doorway. It is as if the weight of centuries of sadness falls, for a short while, on the shoulders of those sentient enough to recognise them.
I am of the former persuasion. I know something is wrong, but what? I could not say.
But I do love to visit my castles and stately homes, each infused with the character of the people who, for so long, have lived their lives out there. But there is the occasional plot of land which – for some- carries unseen traces of malevolence.
And such a place is a half-wrecked Scottish castle which sits squarely in the border lands, watching out for the English even now, though war between our countries is a thing of the past. Its eye is relentless because no-one has told it that peace has come. Its dour pictish heart takes centuries to change. The strength of its presence has not faded with the falling of its walls.
It is called Hermitage Castle.
Hermitage is a version of ‘L’Armitage’: guard house. It had to be a good one: it was said to watch over the middle marches, once bloody battlefields. Yet though it did its job well it was not it’s watchtower status which has filled local stories with such dread, but rather what men chose to do within these four impregnable castle walls.
Hermitage Castle was built in 1240 by Nicholas De Soulis.
It sits just south east of a great mound where an ancient giant is said to be buried. He was almost immortal: the only thing which could kill him was water. And in the pool next to the mound, he drowned one day.
People report the sensation of standing next to The Drowning Pool and being pushed, despite no-one being near.
Hermitage’s ownership was constant, passing down the De Soulis family until it came to one surrounded by dark unease.
William De Soulis, tales went, was a warlock. And in that lonely place he was also the local lord, presiding over the people with considerable power at his fingertips. He was tall and cruel, and prisoners, it is said, were kept at the castle and tortured in its dungeons. There were rumours of children kidnapped, to be used, folks said, in his rituals
Worse: he had a dunter at his beck and call: a grotesque little goblin which would stop at nothing in its master’s service.
De Soulis met his end for murdering a popular young local knight: he was boiled in molten lead.
By 1338, Sir William Douglas was in charge of the four grim walls. But when a fellow knight won favour with the Scottish King and bagged the post of Sheriff of Teviotdale, Douglas imprisoned him at the castle in a jealous rage, in a deep dark pit in the dungeons of Hermitage.
The knight died there. And in the 1800s, when masons were busy restoring the castle, they opened a sealed dungeon to find a pit, at the bottom of which was a skeleton hunched over a rusty sword.
I scratch the surface of the stories about this evil plot. It is not often malevolence is so palpable in a place.
As you read, the stone walls are still there, withstanding the freezing February winds, just as they have for centuries.
Perhaps it’s time to shiver, and shake the time off our shoulders, and walk thankfully away.
Written for Side View’s weekend challenge: The Evil Plot. If you want to play along you can find the details here.