Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Robert Campbell of Glen Lyon

In 2006, a succession of visitors to Scotland's National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, reported sudden bouts of nausea and dizziness. Assistants noticed that the attacks all occurred in the vicinity of David Scougall's portrait of Robert Campbell, fifth Laird of Glenlyon*, best remembered as the captain of the regiment responsible for the slaughter at Glencoe. The suspicion that some previously unsuspected power inherent within the canvas had caused the spate of illnesses was compounded by the insistence of one stricken tourist that Campbell's ashen features had subsequently appeared at her bedside. A delegation from the Ghost Society's Verification Department, excitedly pronounced the area "haunted"**, most probably by the guilty spirit of the infamous laird. "He feels genuinely misunderstood," said Valerie Cuthbert, failing to explain how he thought associating himself with sudden illness might repair his damaged reputation. "He wants people to realise that he wasn't responsible for what happened at Glencoe."

Cuthbert is partially correct: a Captain of Foot on a salary of eight shillings a day, Campbell would doubtless argue that he was merely following orders issued far from the desolate glen, most likely in London. One can only admire the cynical genius by which responsibility was deflected onto such a plausible cat's paw as Campbell. The grandson of Mad Colin, a brain damaged psychopath who once hanged thirty-six Macdonald raiders, his youth was marred by the sporadic terror of retribution. In 1645, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, accompanied by MacNabs and MacGregors, were responsible for a murderous raid into the Campbell heartland of Breadalbane. The next year, they repeated their depredations, taking advantage of a wedding at which the most prominent Campbells and their allies had drunk themselves into a state of near incapacity. This, co-incidentally, was the condition in which Robert spent much of his adult life.

Typical of dissolute young men, shocked by the sudden realisation of middle-age, Campbell was fifty before he married. The next decade was punctuated by a succession of ignominies, each providing a red flag en route to the culminative horror at Glencoe. Having squandered his inheritance, he was compelled to lease Glen Lyon's fir woods to a company of lowland merchants. Prompted, perhaps, by the chastening spirits of his ancestors, he subsequently raided his tenants' mills, menacing their employees and stealing their equipment. Threatened with Letters of Fire and Sword, he was compelled to sign a bond, effectively ceding the management of his affairs to the Earls of Argyll and Caithness. The death of Argyll five years later released him from his obligation and he resumed his demented accumulation of debt, selling his family's assets until only Chesthill remained. This property, inherited from his wife, was raided by MacDonalds returning to Glencoe from the Jacobite triumph at Killiecrankie. In desperation, Campbell was reduced to reiving cattle from Strathfillan and, finally, accepting a commission in the regiment of the Argyll Regiment. At sixty years old, then, the Laird of Glen Lyon became a mere captain of Foot. His debasement was almost complete.

*Campbell stares self-consciously from Scougall's portrait as if anticipating the judgement of posterity. The artist does him few favours: the golden curls cascading on either side of his face create a sinister contrast to the singular irregularity of its features. The prissily compressed lips and flushed cheeks combine to indicate weakness, disippation and a capacity for cruelty. Even his dark armour creates the impression of some scuttling insect. Decades before Glencoe, Scougall sensed the imminence of Campbell's eternal disgrace.

** Museum assistants have suggested that the phenomena may have less to do with Campbell's ghost than chemicals used in a recent refurbishment.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Greyfriars Poltergeist

It's a regrettable fact of life that the soft faces and tender hearts of youth are doomed to bloat and harden. Few lives illustrate this process of decline as aptly as that of Sir George Mackenzie. A thoughtful prose stylist, MacKenzie's early works Aretina, A Moral Paradox and The Religious Stoic, all written when he was in his mid-twenties, indicate a sensitivity belied by the reputation to which he has been condemned by posterity. He is now, sadly, better remembered as 'Bluidy George', the Lord Advocate whose prosecution of Covenanters seems, even by the standards of the age, brutal and vindictive.

It's fitting, perhaps, that the MacKenzie mausoleum, in Edinburgh's Greyfriars Kirkyard, is surrounded by Covenanters' graves. This might explain the evident bad-temper which, according to some accounts, has persisted more than three centuries after Sir George's death. Poltergeist activity in the churchyard, most virulent in the area around MacKenzie's tomb, has accounted for over 350 reported incidents since 1990. These psychic attacks are largely restricted to unexplained abrasions, though responsibility for the death of Edinburgh spiritualist Colin Grant, who suffered a heart attack weeks after attempting to perform an exorcism at the Mackenzie mausoleum, has also been attributed to Sir George.

It might be argued that MacKenzie's apparent irritation is justified: in 2004, teenagers were charged with the desecration of a grave after simulating sex acts with a skull found within his mausoleum. Organised ghost tours, meanwhile, cause a constant stream of visitors to trample over graves, video-cameras primed for the appearance of Sir George, for whom eternity must seem like a bedroom in the vicinity of a bothersome party. The scratches, bruises and hostile attention of unseen hands routinely reported by tourists seem a reasonable defence against this morbid and constant intrusion.

*Sir George's cruel streak might be explained by his descendency from the Seaforths, cursed to extinction by another MacKenzie - Kenneth, the Brahan Seer.

Sir George MacKenzie

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Devil in Drumfeld

In 1678, John Dalrymple, a farmer, driven beyond his tether by the impending marriage of his former sweetheart, Peggy Moffat, to Captain Neil MacKenzie, summoned the devil to intervene. No record exists of Dalrymple's response to Satan's appearance, but I imagine he might have been as surprised as anyone else present. According to local legend, the devil challenged Dalrymple and MacKenzie to dance for Moffat's affections. The pair danced for three days, Dalrymple with the honest but basic steps of a countryman and MacKenzie on the tips of his toes in the continental manner now familiar to students of 'traditional' Scottish dancing. As the third day drew to a close, MacKenzie, whose technique demanded greater effort than his rival's ponderous steps, suddenly expired in a ball of flame leaving Dalrymple to claim his prize. Unfortunately, the farmer's moment of triumph was brief. Physically and mentally depleted by his ordeal, he aged rapidly becoming a grey and stooped figure virtually overnight. Unable to maintain his farm, he ended his days wandering the forest bemoaning his lot in tedious detail to anyone he encountered. To this day, a meeting with John Dalrymple's ghost augurs ill. History doesn't record what became of Peggy Moffat, though the account of the incident in the Parish History insists that she emigrated. The devil, meanwhile, is alleged to have returned to wreak havoc in Drumfeld on three subsequent occasions, the last of which, in 1903 resulted in his being tarred, feathered and driven into the hills (some accounts suggest that this might have been a case of mistaken identity, the consequence of over-exuberant Ne'er Day celebrations.)

Modern minds, while giving credence to infinitely more fatuous theories, recoil from the notion of a literal Satan. While I remain undecided on that score, a lifetime spent peering into the abyss has established the incessant activity of malign influence to which each and every individual is vulnerable. Mass communications now ensure that the threat, whether from Beast or Idea, is greater than at any period in human history.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Brahan Seer

Born at Baile-na-cille on Lewis early in the seventeenth century, Coinneach Odhar (or Kenneth MacKenzie) was renowned from adolescence for prophecies gleaned from the contemplation of a small white stone. Various contradictory accounts survive of how Kenneth acquired this talisman. Most, however, involve him stumbling over it while working as a farm labourer in the vicinity of Loch Ussie. A story then recurs, with slight variations, that Kenneth, peering into the stone, was forewarned against a plot to murder him. Most accounts identify the wife of his employer as the thwarted malefactor, but the reader is left to ponder why she'd want to murder a menial employee in the first place. The matter of fact rendition of the affair by authors, writing for an audience better acquainted with Kenneth's reputation, seems to accept her antipathy toward him him as a matter of course.

While a tradition of crystal-gazing exists in many other cultures, Highland visionaries tended to be gifted (or afflicted) by the phenomena known as 'second sight'*. It's unclear if Kenneth possessed resources of his own, channeled through the stone, or was entirely dependent on its mysterious properties. He was undeniably prolific, though it's impossible to pass objective comment on the accuracy of his predictions. Some are startlingly specific, but most are so vague or couched in metaphor as to be meaningless. Sceptics would undoubtably attribute his apparent successes to luck, co-incidence or calculated anticipation. Within a century of Kenneth's death, a version of apocalypse was to be visited on the Highlands to which many of his gloomier references can be applied. The dire circumstances he foretold for several prominent local families were also vindicated: the downfall of MacKenzies, MacRaes and Ranalds was predicted with the barely subdued relish that eventually contributed to Kenneth's own doom.

According to one version of events, the seer was consulted by Lady Seaforth about the whereabouts of her missing husband and infuriated her by a gleeful allusion to his infidelity; another insists that he was overheard indulging in mere gossip. All accounts, however, concur that Lady Seaforth, not the first woman, it should be remembered, to consider him obnoxious, ordered his execution. The modern reader will doubtless remark that the stone, so eager to reveal the fate of Kenneth's neighbours, might have been more diligent in alerting him to the possible consequences of his insolence. He had little time to enjoy this inescapable irony. Peering balefully into the stone for a final time, he pronounced a curse against the Seaforths before being taken to Fortrose where he was confined within a tar-barrel and incinerated.**

* In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Society for Psychical Research conducted an investigation in the phenomena of second sight. In our more prosaic age, its symptoms would more likely attract the attention of psychiatric nurses.

**According to Kenneth's prophecy, when the neighbouring Lairds of Gairloch, Chisholm, Grant and Raasay were, respectively, buck-toothed, hare-lipped, half-witted and a stammerer the extinction of the Seaforth line would be imminent. This valedictory prediction was vindicated on the 11th of January, 1815 when the final Lord Seaforth died having, tragically, survived four sons.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

On Mediumship

Last week I was informed that Muriel has been studying the 'career' of Callander medium, Helen Duncan, with a view to preparing a retrospective defence against her 1944 prosecution under the Witch-craft Act. Guided by the promptings of their history teacher, Megan Perry, the class has unanimously concluded that Duncan was the victim of prejudice and should be posthumously exonerated. A project borne of stupidity, then, lumbers inexorably toward a fat-headed conclusion. Many readers, I'm sure, will be familiar with the mythology of Duncan's prosecution. It's widely assumed that she was tried after inadvertently jeopardising national security by materialising the spirit of a sailor from H.M.S. Barham before the ship's destruction was common knowledge. This, in fact, occurred three years earlier in 1941. Duncan was actually charged with Vagrancy, Larceny and 'falsely pretending that she was in a position to bring about the appearances of the spirits of deceased persons.' Section Four of the Witchcraft Act WAS cited in her prosecution, but by the 20th Century, this was almost exclusively used against imposters. Nobody involved in Duncan's prosecution believed in her ability to materialise the dead. Portsmouth's chief of police went so far as to dismiss her as "an unmitigated humbug and a pest." It wasn't suspicion of witch-craft that appalled the authorities but the brazen cynicism with which they considered her to have exploited the bereaved.

With hindsight, the most astonishing aspect of the Duncan case isn't the 'draconian' manner in which she was eventually punished but the indulgence with which she was allowed to persist in her deceptions. More than ten years earlier, in 1931, Harry Price, the great researcher of psychic phenomena, was invited by Helen and her husband to assess one of her seances. While Price expressed incredulity at the performance's conclusion, his disbelief was prompted by the ineptitude with which they'd attempted to bamboozle him. Offended by their affrontery, he set about demolishing their credibility by establishing the presence of puppets, photographs and, in particular, yards of cheesecloth which Duncan regurgitated to create the illusion of ectoplasm. Two years later, at a sitting in Edinburgh, a suspicious client seized one of Duncan's 'apparitions' revealing it to be a stockinette undervest. Price, who attended the subsequent trial, commented on the "credulity bordering on imbecility" exhibited by witnesses for the defence. Despite their gullibility, Duncan was found guilty of fraudulent mediumship, charged £10 and sentenced to a month's imprisonment.

Having, at various stages of my career, come into contact with mediums of varying levels of competence, I felt compelled to contact Ms Perry in order that someone might a) represent the innumerable victims of fake mediums and b) discourage any of Muriel's classmates tempted to dabble in the their preposterous but potentially catastrophic 'art'. "I'd have thought that you of all people would have been more tolerant," said Ms Perry before dismissing my offer on the grounds that I've not been cleared to enter the school premises by Disclosure Scotland. The fact that I already possess separate disclosures to teach Cung Coe and conduct tours in Drumfeld Museum cut no ice. "I'm sorry, but I can't possibly invite you into the school."

This resistance to my well meaning intervention was, sadly, entirely predictable. Most of the teachers charged with instilling good sense and order have, in every significant aspect, failed to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Desperate to be liked, they pander to their charges, eagerly responding to contemptuous nicknames and affecting an interest in sci-fi and pop groups. The board of Drumfeld High, meanwhile, has repeatedly rejected my offer to oversee a mentorship programme or deliver a series of lectures while headmaster, Richard Bryant, thinks nothing of publicly referring to me as a 'nut-job'. My niece's evolution toward truculent nonentity is evidence of their incompetence. While Muriel might not be especially 'gifted' in any respect, her curiousity was indicative of an enhanced sensibility which might, at some stage, have resulted in a career in one of the forensic sciences. For years, in fact, members of the family referred to her as 'Hamilton's assistant', a joke that, admittedly, became wearing (Muriel wasn't qualified to be my assistant). She displayed, however, a serious interest in my work which, allowed to develop, could have resulted in some kind of apprenticeship. After two years in secondary school, unfortunately, Muriel has become less interested in investigative technique than hanging round Drumfeld Churchyard, smoking cigarettes and presenting vicious lampoons of her former mentor for the amusement of her idiotic new cronies. (Last year, I inadvertently stumbled upon one of these performances while studying the gravestones of Covenanters for which the churchyard is, rightly, renowned. If anyone was guilty of ‘spying' on that occasion, incidentally, it was Shaun Magennis who had no business clambering over the Farquharson Memorial in the first place.)

I'm not a natural sceptic. The evidence of my own (psychically enhanced) senses has been sufficient to bolster my conviction in worlds beyond our ken. It would be fat-headed to attribute rules and boundaries to kingdoms whose very existence defies logic. I'm in thrall to no dogma beyond a belief that the sphere of consciousness that bubbles chaotically between our ears persists and, at some stage, escapes its current limitations. Spencer, irritated by any reference to an afterlife (a predictable prejudice in someone raised to expect the harsh judgement of a Calvinist God) responds to any attempted dialogue on the topic by scoffing, "Oh, God, Hamilton's doing that creepy religious thing again!" As far as he's concerned, any notion of emerging from death is borne of fear, gullibility and convention. There's every possibility, of course, that he might be right: a universal inability to come to terms with the concept of oblivion may have caused the human race to seek consolation in innumerable alternatives to the void. As a child, I remember glum, sleepless nights struggling to imagine myself ceasing to exist. More than thirty years on, this horror persists to the extent that the Hamilton Coe Foundation has frozen samples of my blood, mucous, hair and toe nail clippings in order that, should such developments materialise, scientists of the future will be able to summon my holographic equivalent. I'm reassured by the notion that one day visitors to exhibitions devoted to Drumfeld past might be greeted by a cheery, "Hello, everyone! I'm the ghost of Hamilton Coe! Welcome to my world!" (A nightmare scenario, in which I'm reconstructed as a dull-eyed, soulless husk, set to menial tasks and taunted by tourists is too grim to contemplate.)

Helen Duncan materialises a 'spirit'

Ballechin House, near Dunkeld

Built in 1806, Ballechin's reputation as a haunted house* followed the death of its owner, Major Robert Steuart, in 1876. Most histories of the haunting refer to Steuart by his posthumously accorded nickname, "the Wicked Major", though his depredations seem to have been limited to a clandestine affair with a housekeeper and a compulsion to fill his home with dogs. Semi-invalid by the time of his tenancy at Ballechin, he had formerly served in India where he developed a belief in transmigration. As he hirpled laboriously around the great house, he frequently repeated the desire that one of the dogs should inherit his spirit. Relatives, to whom, presumably, the Major had failed to endear himself while human, thwarted this ambition by ordering a canine cull within hours of his death. Not surprisingly, among the first supernatural phenomena reported in the house was the pungent odour of dogs. Aural manifestations followed, including the Major's limping gait, knocks and the sound of voices quarrelling. Visitors to the house complained of a presence in their rooms, some claiming that their bed-clothes had been violently removed by unseen hands. While sceptics suggested the phenomena had less to do with the Major's ghost than the building's irregular construction, the manifestations became so pronounced that, in 1883, an annexe was built for the security of the family children.

In 1897, Ballechin's notoriety was such that the Society for Psychical Research, backed financially by Lord Bute, rented the property for three months with the intention of conducting an investigation. The research team comprised Ada Goodrich Freer (the Irene Adler of the spiritualist craze), Constance Moore and Colonel G.L. Le Mesurier Taylor who negotiated the let with the Steuarts, apparently assuring them that the house was intended as a base for a fishing holiday. Forty or so independent witnesses were also invited to stay in the house for periods of one to three nights. The results were inconclusive: Freer and Moore both reported sightings of nuns, identified after consultation with a ouija board as 'Ishbel' and 'Marget' (though Moore's testimony was tainted by the suspicion that she might have been unduly influenced by her famously strong-willed friend.) Some of the other 'investigators' left accounts of minor disturbances, but nothing that couldn't be attributed to nerves, subliminal suggestion or natural shifts in the fabric of the house. Most tellingly, perhaps, Taylor, a member of the S.P.R. and the London Spiritualist Alliance, who eagerly based himself in the most haunted of the house's bedrooms, conceded that he witnessed nothing of significance. Those hostile to the S.P.R. dismissed the entire expedition as a morbidly themed jolly: the Steuarts were particularly aggrieved by the realisation that they'd been duped into letting their home for the purpose of a ghost hunt.

In the aftermath of the anti-climactic investigation, J. Callendar Ross, a visitor to Ballechin while the S.P.R. representatives were in residence, published an unsigned record of his own observations in the Times. Many of the participants, most of whom were society affiliates, seemed, in his opinion, eager to attribute supernatural causes to the most mundane events. Any reported 'sightings', he suggested, could be attributed to Ada Goodrich Freer's ability to manipulate suggestible witnesses who invariably went to bed already scared witless by the prospect of an encounter with 'the Wicked Major'. Ross's account prompted further public criticism from Sir James Crichton Brown (who had accompanied him on his visit to Ballechin) and former residents of Ballechin (both staff and family) all of whom denied that the house was haunted.

Capitulating in the face of what seemed a co-ordinated assault, Frederic Myers, the Honorary Secretary of the S.P.R., wrote to the Times claiming that the investigation's detractors were merely reiterating his own conclusions. Ada Goodrich Freer, stung by the realisation that she had been identified as a scapegoat for the debacle, turned on her former colleagues. 'The Haunting of B____ House' the account of the investigation that she co-authored with its sponsor Lord Bute, features excerpts from Myers' correspondence which suggest that his enthusiasm for the project was as great as her own. Both Freer and Lord Bute clearly believed that Ballechin House's reputation was justified. Their investigation, unfortunately, was fatally compromised by an absence of objectivity on the part of its main participants and an evident power struggle within the S.P.R.**

Lord Bute and Ada Goodrich Freer

*Ballechin House was demolished in 1963.

**Freer also appears to have been angered by the inolvement of Iris Jessica Chaston, the owner of a small nursing home in London and ostensibly a "medium" (her status remains confined within barbed inverted commas throughout Freer's account), who accompanied Myers to Ballechin. Freer's frank incredulity seems justified: no other record exists of Chaston's mediumship and her intuitions at Ballechin were easily contradicted (the death by suicide, for example, of a Steuart family member who was still, happily, alive.)

The reason for Chaston's unwelcome presence remains a mystery, though Freer's antipathy probably reflected the realisation that her own credibility had been undermined. Prior to the Ballechin investigation, she had embarked on three expeditions to the Western Ises (again sponsored by Lord Bute) to study the phenomena of second sight. Unable to communicate with the Gaelic speaking islanders, she had depended entirely upon the research of local priest, Father Allan MacDonald, much of whose work she blithely passed off as her own. While this casual plagiarism might have escaped the notice of her peers, her treatment of Lady Burton, widow of Sir Richard, the African explorer, made her an object of contempt. Claiming to have received messages from Burton by means of automatic writing, Freer informed his widow that she had been asked to serve as a conduit between them. Securing an audience, she claimed to have received further messages through which Burton encouraged his wife to employ Freer as a secretary. This eventuality was prevented by Lady Burton's death in 1896 (her fragility had rendered the attempted exploitation all the more objectionable) but Freer still contrived to profit from the encounter through an article in the spiritualist journal Borderland which prompted the intervention of the Burton family lawyers.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Ronald Hawthorne's Investigation Into Internet Hauntings

It would be an overstatement to suggest that poltergeist activity has become a significant on-line menace. Most social-networking sites and independent safety watch-dogs are, quite rightly, preoccupied with the dangers presented by sexual predators, con-men and bullies. It's interesting, though, that in the wake of the Caroline Haan affair described in my last post ('Facebook') administrators of both Facebook and MySpace confessed to having consulted exorcists (though I'm not sure if the ritual was actually performed or, indeed, how.) Nearly every aspect of the Haan phenomena, of course, might be attributed to pranksters. While decent people find it inconceivable that anyone would assume the identity of a recently deceased friend with no purpose other than to frighten mutual acquaintances, the seasoned investigator recognises that human malignancy is often most pronounced in trivial endeavours. I've not entirely abandoned my initial suspicion that human agents were responsible, but various factors continue to confound me. The inability to trace the source of Haan's messages is the most significant of these but equally troubling is the gradual decomposition apparent in her icon pictures and the co-incidental misfortunes endured by those 'befriended' by her.

Astonishingly, the most worthwhile study into haunted websites has been conducted by 'celebrity' psychic, Ronald Hawthorne. As regular readers might recall, I've little time for Hawthorne's antics. Banished from the salons of Mayfair after being identified as a persistent source of gossip column fodder, he was reduced to trawling crime scenes, a vocation for which he had neither the sight nor the stomach . His technique never varied. On arrival, having attracted sufficient attention, he would sink to his knees, never missing his strategically placed towel, clutch his temples and softly gibber while his 'personal physician' took notes. These performances invariably conluded with Hawthorne, completely overwhelmed, screaming and gnawing on his trademark beret. Eventually rendered housebound by the accumulative effects of trauma and disgrace, he devoted himself to the investigation that might yet rescue his reputation from the peculiarly British purgatory reserved for spivs and poltroons.

Hawthorne has identified seven hundred and fifty six instances of what he refers to as "inexplicable phenomena", mainly websites or messages without a logical source. He considers fifty seven of these "potentially harmful" and twenty-three "unequivocally malign". Of the latter, he is particularly concerned by the circulation of an unidentified picture unsuspecting recipients of which, he fears, "are in grave danger." Several paintings exist with evil reputations, but I have a hunch that he's referring to Oswald Perrin's 'Hilary'. It's unfashionable to advocate the destruction of art-works, but nothing produced in a malevolent spirit can do anything other than replicate that ill-feeling in others. Perrin's apparently unremarkable portrait of his sister has been associated with illness, suicide and murder. One former owner reportedly suffered a seizure after the subject of the picture suddenly raised her head and stepped toward him. Others claim that Perrin himself lurks somewhere in the painting's periphery. The original was destroyed in a house fire in Dublin in 1970 and, while prints are rare, I know of several that remain in circulation. Without wishing to cause undue panic, I'd strongly recommend that anyone receiving such a picture (or, indeed, anything else that causes them instinctive unease) delete it immediately.


The Trossachs town of Aberfoyle is best known as the parish of Robert Kirk, author of the Faery Commonwealth. In 1692, Kirk's body was found on Doon Hill, the sinister wooded mound that looms to the south of the town, where he was in the habit of taking his daily walk. His grave can still be seen in Aberfoyle's old church-yard but legend persists that the body interred was that of a changeling: the real Kirk was abducted by fairies* and forced into servitude as a punishment for disclosing their secrets. In 1763, local witch, Margaret Stewart, predicted that, "the hill will open and Kirk will emerge, but woe betide all who encounter him!"

The natural apprehension with which the people of Aberfoyle have awaited their minister's return might explain their occasional hostility toward visitors. In 1986, Brian McVicar, a thirty year old Glaswegian en route to a 'Vicars and Tarts' party, stopped to ask for directions. Locals, incensed by the unexpected appearance of a puritan in their midst, pursued Brian along the town's main street, where he sought sanctuary in the Woollen Mill. Staff, initially sympathetic, locked the doors against the mob but panicked when apprised of the fugitive's suspected identity. Brian was forced to barricade himself inside the store's toilet from where he was eventually rescued by police summoned from Stirling by concerned tourists.

*Scottish fairies, malign and equipped with a low cunning, were known for switching human children for their own dotards. These "changelings", wizened and ill-tempered, could be identified by their disproportionately large teeth and a talent for dancing. Parents who suspected they had inherited a changeling were encouraged to leave the child on a mountainside or throw him into the nearest river. For generations, unprepossessing children in rural Scotland .risked being denounced as "fairies" by their relatives and abandoned to the elements.

Glamis Castle

Situated in Forfarshire, some twenty miles to the north of Dundee, Glamis Castle is the seat of the Earls of Strathmore. Reputedly the scene of Duncan's murder by MacBeth in 1040, the oldest part of the current building can be dated to the latter part of the fourteenth century. The secret chambers for which the Castle is renowned were a relatively recent addition, their creation in the late seventeenth century a precautionary measure by Patrick Lyon, first Earl of Strathmore, whose Jacobite sympathies rendered him vulnerable to the antipathy of the House of Orange. The notion of a 'house within a house' has subsequently excited the popular imagination and various theories have been extended as to what might dwell therein.

The Castle was already famously haunted by the mid-eighteenth century when Sir Walter Scott spent an uncomfortable evening in one of its bedrooms. At that time, its most celebrated ghosts were these of the second Lord Glamis (the hirsute degenerate popularly known as 'Earl Beardie') and Janet Douglas, wife (and suspected poisoner) of the sixth Lord who eventually encountered come-uppance in 1537 when she was burned to death after being implicated in a plot to assassinate James V. These traditional terrors have been largely superseded, however, by the genuine mystery of the Strathmore family secret, speculation about which intensified in 1923 when the daughter of the fouteenth Earl, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the late Queen Mother), married into the Royal Family.

According to family tradition, the secret is known to three people: the Earl, his factor and his heir, the last of these inheriting the knowledge on the eve of his twenty-first birthday. Successive Earls were reportedly traumatised by the disclosure which is widely assumed to involve a monstrous heir*, born to the Earl's wife in the early years of the nineteenth century. Legend persists that the child was hidden in one of Patrick Lyons's concealed apartments in the expectation that he would die in infancy, an assumption confounded as he thrived, by some accounts living well into the twentieth century. For most young men, a twenty-first birthday is remarkable for nothing more grisly than a hangover: the sudden collapse of nerve repeated throughout the Strathmore lineage might be explained these unexpected introductions to 'Uncle Angus'. .

Celebrity psychic (and numbskull), Ronald Hawthorne, who visited Glamis in the company of Princess Margaret in 1979, claims to have been guided around the castle's hidden corridors. By this time, the rightful Earl was, presumably, dead and spared an encounter that would have caused him to reflect gratefully on a lifetime's seclusion. Weeks later, Hawthorne was bundled into a van and subjected to a prolonged ordeal which culminated in his being dangled by the ankles from Tower Bridge. "You don't fall out with the Firm," he wailed, a dire inference that the Queen Mother had arranged for him to be cautioned against repeating the indescretions on which he'd been eating out since his return from Scotland.

*By one account, an ovoid, neckless freak, covered in matted hair with tiny limbs dangling uselessly from its terrible bulk. This seems an improbable conjecture: such a hideously helpless creature would have been despatched without compunction.

**The existence and even location of these 'secret' tunnels is actually well documented, a Book of Record of their construction being discovered and published by the Scottish Historical Society in 1890.

Stragglers on the Great Beast Way

Nobody who frequents Drumfeld High St can be oblivious to the impending third anniversary of Lochside Crystals. Illegally posted fliers anticipating the event have defaced the town sonce January. "Three years?" scoffed Spencer who has whole-heartedly detested the store's proprietor, Malcolm Cooper, since he publicly corrected his pronunciation of 'Brion Gysin'. "Mackenzie and Whyte have been there since 1860 and they're not making a song and dance about it." While it's true that Cooper has rarely been reticent about trumpeting the most meagre of accomplishments, it could be argued that convincing the lonely and unfulfilled of Central Scotland that salvation might lie in the worship of brightly coloured stones is an achievement in itself. "Mackenzie and Whyte might have dressed the gentry;" I reminded Spencer, "But Cooper has persuaded a generation to invest its faith in chuckies." Since the store's recent extension, clients whose problems have proven resistant to the contemplation of crystals can be ritually thrashed with rattan canes or isolated within slime filled tubs. Spencer was particularly irritated by the Examiner's uncritical assessment of Lochside Crystals new facilities. "That's just wrong," he spluttered, prodding Cooper's photograph with a saffron stained forefinger. "I'm glad I broke his nose!" (This isn't actually true. Spencer often inflicts retrospective wounds on those who have somehow offended him. Their brief, undignified altercation didn't so much bring to mind Hearns vs Hagler as two discarded bags being tossed about a gusty lane. The wistful smile that accompanied his false recollection convinced me against correcting his version of events.)

Rather than be rebuked for tormenting the desolate with false encouragement, Cooper was recently nominated for Drumfeld's Man of the Year award and invited to address pupils of Drumfeld High School on the subject of 'responsible entrepreneurism'. This, it should be noted, is the same 'responsible entrepreneur' whose previous ventures include Highland Fling, a service for 'swingers'* that resulted in public indecency charges and the ill-fated Great Beast Way, a fat-headed tribute to Aleister Crowley, more of which shortly. I'm frankly dismayed by the prospect of him being presented to the youth of Drumfeld as anything other than an example of gormlessness and preening self-regard.

I've not spoken to Cooper since I caught him in the act of chalking the words 'Acid is Groovy' onto my bedroom door (his parents' indifference, incidentally, to the revelation that their son was a vandal and a drug abuser augured ill for his future.) Weeks later, he'd committed the Gysin gaffe and been banished from the House of Coe. By the time of the Great Beast debacle, several years later, my investigations revealed him to be an aspiring magician, albeit one lacking the focus or primal energy required to operate successfully. His technique was largely limited to absorbing subliminal messages from cassettes and saying 'thee' instead of 'you' when attempting to attract sexual partners by the application of magic(k). When he somehow acquired a hunting lodge near Loch Ness (where, incidentally, Crowley is still remembered without affection for strutting around, brandishing his swagger stick at locals and threatening to turn tradesmen into camels) he immediately embarked upon the scheme which the most generous assessment might describe as 'hare brained'. Despite objections from local councillors, he established a series of walking trails around the Loch's southern shores, each route identified by markers bearing Crowley's malign silhouette. Within months the area had been deluged by unsavoury ramblers, some of whom caused disruption by experimentally summoning entities. "Do what thou wilt," is all very well until we encounter someone who does. Copperthwaite became a victim of his own stupidity when an ill-judged piece of sexual magic(k) caused his dreadlocks to fall out.

* Swinger: a euphemism for individuals who indulge in a succession of unsatisfactory sexual escapades, occasionally disrupted by the encroachment of dog walkers.