Glamis Castle

A vision of stony dignity, Castle Glamis looms proudly above Scotland's Angus countryside, giving no outward sign of troubles it has known - and may know still, if tales about its phantoms are true. At its core stands a massive structure called the Square Tower. Secret chambers lie within the tower, it is said, and they hold ghosts of generations of the Lyon family - lords of Glamis since the 14th Century. As with the records of many noble families, the story of the Earls of Strathmore - the Lyon's best-known title - had dark chapters along with the bright. Some of what went on within the castle's walls has been blurred by time, and some may have been concealed. It was rumored, for example, that a hidden room in the tower imprisoned a monster. The creature was variously thought to be a half-human progeny of a long-dead Earl of Strathmore, or a vampire-like being that periodically appeared in the family line, or the ghost of either one.

In any case, the gossips said, it was known to three people in each generation: the incumbent earl, his heir and his steward, and they revealed details to no one. But a 19th Century visitor to the castle saw the monster. The visitor was a stolid young woman, curious about tales of the creature, and she insisted on being housed in the tower.

She went to sleep peacefully - and awoke to find that her chamber had changed. It had become a cell lighted only by a small window high in the wall. She heard a movement, "the gentle rubbing of a soft body on the floor, the crack of a bony joint." Before her stood a hunched figure with spidery arms and a bestial head; "a hellish combination of all things foul and animal." It shambled toward where she lay. But at that moment, someone rattled the bolt of the chamber door, and the spell - if indeed it was a spell - was broken. She left the tower at once and did not sleep there again.

In that same era, many other ghost sightings at Glamis were reported. A toungless woman was seen roaming the park, clutching at her bleeding mouth. A white lady drifted through the corridors. And a tiny page sometimes appeared outside the state apartments. Still, interest remained centered on the Square Tower and the unearthly noises heard there. Some people belived that a secret chamber - never discovered - housed the gnawed skeletons and pleading ghosts of sixten members of the Ogilvy clan who, during a 17th Century feud, sought shelter in the castle. The lord of that time locked them in the tower and unaccountably left them to starve. But death did not silence them. In after years, their cries echoed along the stone walls and resounded among the raters.

More often, the noise that rent the Square Tower was attributed to the activities of the first Lord Glamis, a rakehell so vicious that he was commonly known as the Wicked Laird. Gambling was his passion, and his taste for drink was equally immoderate. One stormy Sabbath night, finding himself without a card partner, he retired to his room in a rage, swearing that he would play with the Devil himself. Almost at once, the door swung open and a tall stranger entered the room. With a courteous smile, he offered his services.

The Laird agreed, and the two sat down to play. Drawn by their noise - for they played a raucous game - a servant crept up the stairs and put his eye to the keyhole. At once, the stranger turned from his cards and pointed at the door. From his finger leaped a needle of light; it stabbed across the room, through the keyhole and into the eye of the spy. When the servant cried out, the Wicked Laird turned, and in that instant, the stranger disappeared, having just moments before won the soul of his opponent. The laird lived on for five more years, but on the anniversayr of the game - to the very hour - the Devil came to claim him. After the death of the Wicked Laird, however, his ghost regularly appeared in his bedchamber, playing cards with the Devil in death as he had in life. The noise was so distressing that his descendants had the room walled up.

Or so some stories say. Of the various ghosts that haunted Glamis, the laird was remembered particularly well, perhaps because he seems to have cursed his immediate descendants. Among the males, one died in a duel, one in a brawl, another in an uprising and still another mysteriously while dining alone - poisoned, it was said, by his wife. Several years later, she was tried for witchcraft and burned. Some people say that she walks Glamis to this day, as does one of the earls - no one is quiet sure which. He appears late at night on the battlements and is simply called the Mad Earl.

Glamis dates back to the 9th century and is possibly the most spectacular of all the Scottish castles. It was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and birthplace of her daughter, the Princess Margaret. Glamis was also the setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth.