Things that go bump in the Borders: Witches, spirits, and body snatchers

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Hallowe’en – the tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.

It’s also said that on Hallowe’en night, demons rise up and walk among us.

We look at the top five spooky stories from around the Borders to send a shiver down your spine...


1. Is John Maitland responsible for the creepy goings-on at Thirlestane?
The original castle of the Maitlands stood two miles away at Old Thirlestane.

The present castle was built by Sir John Maitland, James VI’s chancellor, but it was John Maitland, 2nd Earl of Lauderdale, who had the house remodelled in 1670. And upon his death, he wasn’t quite ready to give up his home.

An eerie chill settles on the Castle in the evening, with footsteps heard walking along the corridors.

There are also reports of the temperture in some rooms dropping dramatically.

Maitland’s ghost is said to haunt a chamber in Thirlestane, as well as St Mary’s Kirk in Haddington, where he is buried, his tomb marked by an elaborate carved memorial. The coffins in the burial vault beneath the tomb, are said to move around. Are supernatural manifestations responsible?

2. The restless spirits that wanders through Duns Castle

Home of the Hay family since 1696, Duns Castle is also home to a young spectre. The 18-year-old Alexander Hay, a cornet in the Dragoons, was killed at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

His body was never found to receive a decent burial, but his spirit appears to have returned to haunt his former home in full military uniform. A restless spirit, ghostly footsteps can be heard going from room to room in the castle.

But the ghost of Alexander Hay is not alone. There have been reports of another soldier, this time a young teenager, who loiters around the building that was once his former barracks.

3. Witches, murder and the haunting of Manderston House

Berwickshire was right in the thick of the action when it came to witchcraft. The region had the second highest number of witch trials in the whole of Scotland with 352 trials and 318 executions. One such case involved a well-known Duns family who no-one would have expected to be involved in the practice of black magic... In 1630 a beggar, Alexander Hamilton, was accused of witchcraft and put on trial. There, he told of how Lady Manderston tried to murder her husband by using witchcraft. Sir George Home of Manderston was involved in many witchcraft accusations himself. Fortunately, she had relatives on the Privy Council so escaped prosecution whilst Hamilton was executed.

His ghost is said to haunt the House grounds and at Penkaet Castle. He cursed the lady of the house and her eldest daughter who both died from a mysterious illness, after they had thrown Hamilton off their property.

4. Digging up the story of body snatching in the Borders

Bodysnatching was rife from 1740 to 1832 and it wasn’t just confined to the big cities. There are tales from across the Borders mainly due to the close proximity to medical schools in Edinburgh who needed bodies for their students.

Edrom was notable as the site of a body snatching case which resulted in a riot in Duns. In 1826, a farmer and his friend came across two men in a small carriage travelling through the village. They noticed a third figure who wasn’t moving, realising it was a dead body,they gave chase. The men got away but the farmer and his friend took the body to Duns where it was identified as a Mr Macgall who’d been buried a day or two before. He was re-buried and the locals, outraged at what had happened, smashed the coach and set it alight.

5. The dark and bloody history of Jedburgh Jail

With a long and bloody history, it’s no surprise that the jail is home to many paranormal occurrences.

Jedburgh Jail has a harsh and bitter atmosphere – is it the work ghosts and spirits of restless inmates who died at this harsh jail?

From full apparitions, ghostly pipers to unexplained noises and bloodcurdling screams, it’s enough to send a chill down your spine . The chilling activity of the old jail was highlighted in the media in 2005 when a paranormal investigation team experienced extreme poltergiest activity. The jail is said to be haunted by many former prisoners including Edwin McArthur who threatens members of the public and causing a dark atmosphere, and Thomas Wilson who was executed after being found guilty for the murder of a young shepherd at St Boswells Fair. Later found innocent, he continues to walk the earth to prove his innocence.