Four Evil Walls: a Scottish sentry castle


photo source:wikipedia

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.


47 thoughts on “Four Evil Walls: a Scottish sentry castle

  1. Fascinating tales. Though not very well known in this part of the world. We too have our own tales of malevolence. Humanity is the same everywhere, vying for power,stopping at nothing!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a fascinating piece, Kate. According to some records, one of my ancestors was supposed to be the ‘Deil of Dawyck’, who lived in Dawyck castle, I believe somewhere near Edinburgh. Let’s hope Dawyck castle hasn;t got the associations that Hermitage has. Are you going to write a book about it?

    1. Geoffrey, the world is full of stories and I find I take the path of the butterfly-catcher; I net a butterfly, adore it silently and then let it go. I do not have the time to display it properly.

      Tempting, though, isn’t it?

      Your castle must have been a rather wonderful place. I note it was demolished in the first half of the nineteenth century; I have such places nearby, old strongholds which have been ruthlessly modernised. Oh, for a time machine to reclaim these buildings! English Heritage would have to recruit an entire department of time travellers to rescue what has been lost!

  3. I have actually seen Hermitage Castle. When I did, it was covered in a thick shroud of fog -thick and formidable comes to mind. Probable why it was just passed by. Almost as foreboding as your tale.

  4. I’m not sure what I find more disturbing — the acts of torture that went on inside that place, or the sadistic minds that concocted those tortuous acts! They sure were not fans of ‘live and let live’ in those days. If those walls could talk, Kate, they’d probably be inclined to emit groans.

  5. For those who think today’s evils are the worst the world has seen, a poignant reminder there is nothing new under the sun. What a frightening and cold building. It’s hard for me to refer to it as a castle. I put more of a polish on the word “castle.”

  6. *shivers* A great description Kate – I’ve just read The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe. A large part of the adventure is set in the borderlands and I’m pretty sure that if the Romans built border fortresses like this one, they would tell some fairly dreadful tales themselves! Your post brought the book right back to me!

  7. I know what you mean about feeling a presence, as though you have walked into a pocket of nefarious knowledge that only you can interpret but you have lost the language to do so. Yet you narrow your eyes and hunch slightly, tightening your cardi wishing it were armour. Walking out of that bubble of horror is always a relief. A formidable fortress indeed, is it just all collapsed stone inside or are there discernible rooms. Other than the dungeons, of course. c

  8. I can shake off the willies inspired by such places, but they stay seeded in my brain just the same, often flowering into something entirely different. Not sure what that says about me…

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