The Haunting of Hermitage Castle

This medieval fortress is named for a hermit, a holy man, who dwelt nearby in the wild, remote hills of Liddesdale between Scotland and England. These border lands were a constant scene of violent raids throughout the medieval period. The castle was built under the guidance of the master mason John Lewin of Durham sometime in the 13th century.  Hermitage Castle is isolated, oppressive, and is unique in the sense that there are very few windows — it is the perfect setting for a haunting.

William de Soulis, inherited the castle in 1318 and he was rumored to have practiced black magic. He was accused of abducting children and using their blood in dark magical rites. Soulis believed he could do so safely because of a prophecy that said he could not be “harmed by steel nor bound by rope”. He could not have been more wrong.  The locals captured him,  bound him in bands of lead and boiled him to death in a brass cauldron at the stone circle of Ninestanes Rig. It is said that the ghost of Soulis returns to Hermitage Castle every 7 years. Also, his victims reportedly haunt the site as well. There have been sightings of figures in the upper windows that are impossible to access, and mysterious sounds are heard when no one else is present.

In 1338 the castle was taken by Sir William Douglas. Douglas wanted the important post of Sheriff, but he had a rival for the position, Sir Alexander Ramsay. Ramsay was a Scottish patriot known for his prowess in battle and the 1342 capture of nearby Roxburgh Castle. Due to his bravery and heroism, Ramsay was appointed Sheriff instead of Douglas. He was so outraged by the appointment, that he sought revenge by capturing Ramsay and imprisoning him in the dungeon of Hermitage Castle. Legend has it that Ramsay survived for seventeen horrid days by eating small quantities of grain that fell through the cracks in the floor of the castle granary above the dungeon before he finally succumbed to starvation. It seems that in death he is finally free of the dungeon as his specter has been reported wandering around other areas of the castle.

In 1566 the owner of the Hermitage was James Hepburn, better known to history as the 4th Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell had much influence at the Scottish court of Mary, Queen of Scots, and was the queen’s secret lover. In October of 1566 the Earl was wounded in a skirmish with border reivers, and was carried to Hermitage Castle to recuperate. When the queen heard the news, she rushed off from Jedburgh to be at Hepburn’s side, regardless of how inappropriate it would seem to her subjects. Mary’s antics turned many of her supporters against her, and that only escalated when she married Bothwell the following year, shortly after the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley. It was Bothwell himself that was heavily implicated in the murder of Mary’s husband.  Mary’s ghost is said to haunt Hermitage Castle, the place where she spent time with her beloved Bothwell.
Hermitage Castle is in the border region of Scotland near Newcastleton, Roxburghshire.