Hermitage Castle is believed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Scotland. The wandering spirit of Mary, Queen of Scots has supposedly been witnessed in this imposing fortress. It was also the place where a medieval nobleman, Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie, was imprisoned and starved to death. Sinister figures in bloodstained armor have occasionally been glimpsed on stormy nights, while strange headless forms have also been seen, as well as mysterious faces in the windows of the upper floors.
Now an ominous ruin, Hermitage Castle sits near the English border in Roxburghshire, a few miles north of the town of Newcastleton. Dating back to the mid-1200s, it changed hands several times during its long and dramatic history, coming to be owned by Douglas, then Hepburn, and finally the Scott family before being given to the nation in 1930.
Arguably the most notorious ghost in the Hermitage is that of William de Soulis. Known to posterity as Bad Lord Soulis, he was a Scottish nobleman during the Wars of Independence, holding the title of Lord of Liddesdale. Supposedly he was also a witch who practiced black magic in the castle and murdered many children in the area, using their mortal remains in horrible rites.
Soulis was a great bear of a man and a fearsome warrior. He was apparently tutored in the dark arts by Michael Scot, a reclusive wizard residing in the Eildon Hills. Scottish folklore relates how Soulis was virtually indestructible, having acquired armor with magical properties. It could not be damaged by either the rope or the steel. Soulis is also said to have engaged the services of Robin Redcap, a mythical creature so named because the cap he wore was covered in human blood.
The residents of Liddesdale managed to recruit a powerful champion in their battle with the warlock, a giant known as the Keilder Cost. The giant and his men were invited by Soulis to dine at the Hermitage castle, and despite being advised against it by a local seer, they accepted the invitation. At a given signal, Soulis’ retinue massacred Cost’s men, but Cost’s giant managed to escape the castle in pursuit of Soulis’s garrison. They managed to catch up with the Cout and drowned him in a nearby pond by pinning him underwater with their spears. Two stone pillars, set some distance apart, are said to mark the spot where the giant was buried.
Not knowing what to do, the locals appealed to the king himself, Robert the Bruce. He is said to have responded with the following: “I will boil him if necessary, but I don’t want to hear any more of him.” The peasants took the king at face value, and after consulting the famous prophet Thomas the Rhymer, a group of them surprised Soulis at his castle. They dragged him to a stone circle on a nearby hill called Nine Stane Rig. Here a terrible fate awaited the evil wizard, for in the center of this stone circle the inhabitants of Liddesdale had prepared a huge cauldron filled with molten lead. Soulis was then pushed, head first, into the cauldron and boiled alive.
However, the reality of Soulis’s passing is not so colourful, as historical records state that he actually died while imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle for treason. He had been plotting against the king, and his estates were confiscated in 1320. Soulis was a descendant of King Alexander II, and thus had a remote claim to the crown. Her grandmother was Ermengarde Durward, who was the daughter of Marjorie, Alexander’s bastard daughter. The legendary version of Soulis’s death bears some resemblance to the fate of Ranulf of Soulis, a distant relative who was supposedly murdered by his servants in the early 13th century, as well as the fate of John Melville of Glenbervie, of whom tradition says it was boiled in a pot in 1421.
Regardless of how Lord Soulis died, some believe that the warlock has not yet fully abandoned his earthly abode. One theory tells how every seven years, Bad Lord Soulis returns to the Hermitage, where he descends into a secret underground vault and engages in evil rites with the infamous Robin Redcap. The sounds of devilish laughter, attributed to the evil lord and his hideous attendant, as well as the horrific screams of his victims, are said to echo around the castle in the dead of night.