Hermitage Castle is thought to be one of the most haunted buildings in Scotland. The wandering spirit of Mary, Queen of Scots has allegedly been witnessed at 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 blood-stained armour have occasionally been glimpsed on stormy nights, while strange headless forms have also been sighted, as well as mysterious faces at upper-floor windows.
Now an ominous ruin, Hermitage Castle stands near the English border in Roxburghshire, some miles north of the village of Newcastleton. It dates back to the mid-1200s and changed hands several times during its long and dramatic history, coming into the ownership of the Douglas, then later Hepburn, and finally the Scott family before being given to the nation in 1930.
Arguably the most notorious phantom at Hermitage is that of William de Soulis. Known to posterity as Bad Lord Soulis, he was a Scottish nobleman during the Wars of Independence, with the title of Lord of Liddesdale. He was also supposedly a warlock who practiced black magic at 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 schooled in the dark arts by Michael Scot, a reclusive wizard who resided in the Eildon Hills. Scottish folklore relates how Soulis was practically indestructible, having acquired armour with magical properties. He couldn’t be harmed by either rope or steel. Soulis was also said to have engaged the services of Robin Redcap, a mythical creature so-called because the cap he wore was caked in human blood.
The residents of Liddesdale managed to enlist a mighty champion in their battle with the warlock, a giant known as the Cout of Keilder. The giant and his men were invited by Soulis to dine at Hermitage Castle and, despite being advised against this by a local seer, accepted the invitation. At a given signal, Soulis’s retinue butchered the Cout’s men, yet the giant managed to escape from the castle, hotly pursued by Soulis’s garrison. They managed to catch up with the Cout and drowned him in a nearby pool by pinning him under the water with their spears. Two stone uprights, set some distance apart, are said to mark the spot where the giant was buried.
At a loss as what to do, the locals appealed to the king himself, Robert the Bruce. He is said to have responded with the following: “Boil him if you must, but let me hear no more of him”. The peasants took the king at his word, 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 wicked warlock, for in the centre of this stone circle, the denizens of Liddesdale had prepared a huge cauldron full of molten lead. Soulis was then thrust, head foremost, into the cauldron and boiled alive.
However the reality of Soulis’s demise isn’t so colourful, as historical records assert that he actually died whilst imprisoned at Dumbarton Castle for treason. He had been conspiring against the king and his estates were forfeited in 1320. Soulis was descended from King Alexander II and therefore had a remote claim to the crown. His grandmother was Ermengarde Durward, who was the daughter of Marjorie, a bastard child of Alexander. The legendary version of Soulis’s death has some similarity with the end of Ranulf de Soulis, a distant relation who was allegedly murdered by his servants in the early 1200s, as well as the fate of John Melville of Glenbervie, whom tradition says was boiled in a pot in 1421.
Regardless of the manner of Lord Soulis’s death, some believe the warlock still hasn’t entirely abandoned his earthly abode. One theory tells of how every seven years, Bad Lord Soulis returns to Hermitage where he descends to a secret underground vault and indulges in evil rites with the infamous Robin Redcap. The sounds of diabolical laughter, attributed to the evil lord and his ghastly assistant, as well as the horrific screams of their victims, are still said to resound around the castle in the dead of night.