The Ghost of Gight Castle

The small estate of Gight in the Formartine area of Aberdeenshire is perhaps best known as the location of the 16th-century Gight (or Formartine) Castle, the ancestral home of Lord Byron.

Gight Castle

Gight Castle as it appeared during the 16th century, picture
by Andrew Spratt, Graphic Artist

Gight castle originally dates from the 15th century and was built to a traditional L-shaped plan, including a tower, vaulted basement, a first-floor hall, and a turnpike stair at the end of a long passage. The castle changed hands, until, in 1787, the current owner Catherine Gordon was forced to sell the castle to pay huge debts accrued by her husband, Captain John ‘Mad Jack’ Byron. The couple were the parents of Lord George Byron the famous romantic poet. Gight Castle then became the property of George Gordon, the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen (known locally as the 'Wicked Earl’). He gained his notoriety - and nickname - from his exploitation of his tenants (in which he forced them to commit to punitive leases) and for his private life. He was rumoured to have had children by at least three mistresses, all of whom he treated contemptibly.

Despite his outrageous behaviour, George Gordon considered himself to be invincible. One day, however, an aggrieved tenant reminded him of the words of the 13th century soothsayer Thomas the Rhymer,

"At Gight three men by sudden death shall dee (die)
And after that the land shall lie in lea”. (meadow)

Thomas the Rhymer’s uncanny and ominous prediction was made two centuries before Gight Castle had even been constructed, yet George Gordon refused to heed the warning and continued his reckless lifestyle. He was reminded that the first part of the prophecy had already come to pass in 1644. He claimed to have no knowledge of the story, so it was repeated to him (perhaps in the hope it would force him to change his behaviour),

Below the castle, in the passing Ythan River, lies a deep pool known as Hagberry Pot. Local legend tells us that Hagberry Pot is bottomless. In 1644, Gight Castle was raided by the Covenanters and, to prevent them from stealing his jewels, the 7th Laird of Gight hurled all his valuables into Hagberry Pot. Following the Covenanters attack, the laird forced a local diver to recover his jewels. However, the visibly shaken diver soon returned to the surface without the jewels, claiming that the Devil himself was down there guarding them. The furious laird forced the diver to go back down under ‘pain of death’. The diver was left with little choice but to dive under the surface again. Within a couple of minutes the diver’s body, severed into four pieces, floated up to the surface. The laird’s jewels were never recovered.

Even after hearing this gruesome tale, George Gordon still refused to moderate his lifestyle, despite the dire warning. Indeed, he openly mocked those he rode past on his impressive stead. However, one summer’s day in the year 1791 he was thrown from his horse, while out riding on the Green of Gight, and was killed instantly. Following this tragedy the castle was abandoned by his family, bringing to mind another of Thomas the Rhymer’s prophecies,

"When the heron leaves the tree,
the Laird o' Gight shall landless be."

Just before the sale of the Castle a flight of herons, which had nested at Gight for many years, had flown from the estate, never to return.

Locals, seeing the herons leaving, were also reminded of Thomas the Rhymer’s earlier prediction, claiming that three sudden deaths would occur at Gight Castle; and many wondered if one more fatality would follow, thus completing the dark prophecy. They did not have long to wait. . .

Shortly afterwards a servant working on a nearby farm met a similarly sudden death. Some old farm buildings were being demolished and cleared to create a lea meadow (just as Thomas the Rhymer’s prophecy had stated), when one of the workers casually reminded everyone that Thomas the Rhymer’s prophecy had yet to come true. When challenged by his colleagues, the farm worker laughed off their warnings. Eerily, and less than an hour later, one of the walls he was demolishing collapsed on top of him, instantly crushing him to death. The second part of the prophecy had been fulfilled.

The castle now lies as a peaceful ruin, yet many claim to have seen the ghosts of the three men mentioned in the prophecy still roaming the castle grounds.

Yet, it appears, that the castle may also be haunted by other spirits. Firstly, many have claimed to hear the sound of a ghostly piper playing deep in the ruins of the castle. Legend tells us that a lone piper once went to explore a secret tunnel under the castle and never returned. Apparently lost, or trapped, beneath the castle, he haunts the ruins for eternity.

Perhaps, for those wishing a ghostly or supernatural experience, Halloween may be the best time to visit Gight Castle. Reputedly, the Gordon family dabbled in sorcery and witchcraft, frequently summoning the Devil himself. On certain nights of the year Satan himself is still believed to visit the castle grounds. A chilling thought indeed!

Gight Castle
Gight Castle