If you love to be spooked on Halloween–or anytime!–look no further than Glamis Castle, said to be Scotland’s most haunted residence! Legend has it that among several resident spirits, there’s a lady ghost in the Chapel, a “Monster of Glamis”—and that the Devil himself visited here and still hangs around!
My first impression of this fairytale castle—as my husband and I drove our rental car down the mile-long, tree-lined avenue one summer afternoon–was dramatic. Suddenly the massive red sandstone castle appeared, its many spires, towers, and turrets reaching to the sky.
“Stop the car!” I royally demanded of Carl. “I want to take a picture!”
I had always wanted to tour this famed castle—pronounced “Glams.” It’s the childhood ancestral home of Britain’s beloved Queen Mum (Elizabeth, the Queen Mother), who died at 101 on March 30, 2002. The previous month she had endured the death of her younger daughter, Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth II’s younger sister), who was born in a room at the castle in 1930, the first royal baby born in Scotland in over 300 years!
And the massive castle, generally dating from the late 14th century, has been added to and changed throughout the centuries. It has an amazing history. Originally it was a hunting lodge used by the kings of Scotland. Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here, and so did Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott.
It was immortalized in William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” During World War I it was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. For over 600 years, since Sir John Lyon was given Glamis by the king, it has been the family home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne for 23 generations, still used today.
“My family have lived at Glamis Castle since 1372,” writes Michael Bowes-Lyon, the 18th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, in the guidebook. He and his third wife–and his youngest son, age 11– currently reside here.
Although the main entrance is actually in the front—at the end of the long drive—visitors use the “back door” for small, group-guided tours through 10 principal rooms. Some 120,000 tour it annually.
The castle didn’t have electricity until 1929, and one can imagine how eerie it must have been in the darkened passageways, holding a flickering candle or lantern to climb the 143 wide, stone steps on the large central, spiral staircase which wind to the top of its 17th century tower.
We first entered the dramatic, high-ceilinged Dining Room, in a wing of the castle demolished in 1775 and rebuilt 1798-1801. It was later designed during 1851-53 and its table, circa 1850s—ladened with valuable antique silver, china, cutlery and glass–can seat 36. Its main feature is a massive oak fireplace; large family portraits hang on the walls.
From the elegant Dining Room we entered a 10-foot hidden door and were immediately transformed from the Victorian era to the Middle Ages! Here we were in the castle’s Crypt, complete with suits of armor. Formerly the Lower Hall of the 15th century tower house, it’s where the servants once slept and ate. From here they would nervously peer through a small hole in the wall to the Dining Room to see when to serve the next course!
But this is where the spooky stories start: As our group of eight stood eerily still, our guide told us the chilling tale of how the Devil came to be here. There are various versions of the story, but supposedly during the mid-15th century, The Lord of Glamis and Earl of Crawford were in a small room off the side of the Crypt, playing cards late on a stormy Saturday night. When the card-playing continued into the wee hours of Sunday, a servant chastised them for gambling on the Sabbath. The Lord of Glamis replied “that they would play cards until the Devil himself joined them, that they’d play ’til Doomsday,” said our guide.
Well, some folks think that’s just what occurred, since after that the servants heard eerie noises coming from the room as the card game supposedly continued. One peered through the keyhole and was zapped by flames! Finally, 300 years later, those residing in the castle could take the disturbing sounds no longer, and the room was filled in and permanently sealed off. But that didn’t seem to stop the ruckus. Reportedly just before midnight on Saturdays, people say you can still hear them! Apparently the Devil has been playing cards with the duo ever since!
Another room we visited is the Billiard Room, formerly the Library, built between 1773 and 1776. It’s much like a typical family room (in a mansion, that is)–with a huge fireplace, pool table, and a chess set and jigsaw puzzle on one table. Numerous books, tapestries, and family portraits line the walls. Atop the piano, purchased in 1866, are family photos, including one of the young Queen Mum, then Lady Bowes-Lyon, playing this same piano in 1923, shortly before her marriage.
Also on the tour is the 60-foot long, 17th century Drawing Room, with its curved ceiling and large family portraits. This has long been the family “hang-out” and where they’ve entertained guests. One wall has a painting of the Queen Mum as a girl in 1909 at age 9. More family photos are displayed atop the 1923 Steinway grand piano, including one showing Laura Bush posed with the Strathmore family when she visited the castle during the G8 Gleneagles Summit in 2005.
We also toured a three-room suite in the royal apartment—the Sitting Room and King and Queen’s Bedrooms. This is one of the oldest parts of the castle, dating from the 15th century, and these private rooms were used by the Queen Mum since her 1923 marriage; she and King George VI spent part of their honeymoon here. After the king died in 1952, she used primarily the Sitting Room.
“She didn’t like to have anything changed and it’s pretty much the same as it was since her wedding 93 years ago,” noted our guide. Until their deaths, she and Princess Margaret visited the castle a few times a year. The Sitting Room is warmly furnished with comfortable armchairs and a sofa, Chippendale chairs, family photos (including charming black-and-white ones of Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret as children), 18th century tapestries, and a carved oak chimneypiece displaying Dutch and Chinese porcelain.
And in this room is where the ghost of a little, mischievous pageboy has been noticed sitting atop a small stone seat just inside the door!
The Queen Mother’s Bedroom has a four-poster bed, with a quilt made by her mother, Countess Strathmore, who also embroidered the padded canopy with the names of her ten children and their birth dates, including the Queen Mum’s.
In Duncan’s Hall—one of the oldest and eeriest areas of the castle—the slaying of King Duncan by Macbeth is commemorated, although the actual killing took place near Elgin. “Macbeth” was written for King James VI by Shakespeare, who may have heard stories about Glamis Castle and used it as a setting in the play.
“There’s no historic link between Glamis and Macbeth,” said our guide. “Shakespeare gave them great publicity!”
Then there’s the legend of the “Monster of Glamis,” which was circulated for years. Apparently it began when Lord and Lady Glamis, the Queen Mum’s great, great grandparents, had a baby, Thomas Bowes-Lyon, who died on the day he was born in Oct. 1821. For years, however, there was speculation that he was really horribly deformed and was kept hidden in a small room off the castle’s Chapel, fed through a grilled gate by a servant.
But perhaps the most chilling tale is that of Lady Janet Douglas, wife of the 6th Lord Glamis. She was falsely accused of being a witch and burned to death in 1537. Since then people believe that it’s her ghost occasionally seen here, garbed in gray. Dubbed the “Gray Lady,” she’s been known to pop up in the Chapel, praying. Completed and consecrated in 1688—with richly colored religious panels on the ceiling and paintings on the walls—the Chapel is still used by the Strathmore family today.
However, visitors are told to knock three times before entering so they don’t frighten the Gray Lady—or get frightened themselves!
Above: Vintage poster featuring Orson Welles and Glamis Castle.
Photos courtesy of VisitBritain Images, WIKI Commons, and Sharon Whitley Larsen
IF YOU GO
For more information–and regarding activities throughout the year, as well as tours–please see: