Perhaps one of the most magical places on Earth, Spooky Scotland investigates haunted Skye. The mention of Skye conjures up images of rugged landscapes, picturesque villages and medieval castles. It is a land overflowing with myths and legends, with tales of faeries and giants and lochs which are home to ferocious Kelpies. It is a land once inhabited by Neolithic people who left behind mysterious brochs, standing stones, duns and burial cairns. In Gaelic it has been given the epitaph, Eilean a Cheo, the misty island and small wonder: mist rolls down from the Cuillins, the mountain range in the island’s heartland, adding to the eerie atmosphere. Its history is dominated by a feud between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods, leaving a blood-soaked trail of sites where the spirits of restless clansmen roam the moors and glens. Magical and misty, Skye is a land where the veil between the Earth and the world of spirits is very thin.
#1 Spooky Hotspot in Haunted Skye: Sligachan
With mist descending from the Cuillin peaks, across the moorland and over the water of the River Sligachan, the atmosphere is eerie in this breathtakingly beautiful spot in haunted Skye. In fact, this area is so atmospheric, you would be shocked if there wasn’t a tale of a haunting. In this case, it is a haunted car.
Dr Allan MacDonald recorded the first documented appearance of the 1934 Austin, in 1941, speeding along the then single-track road which runs between Broadford and Portree. Those who have seen the spectral car, claim that they have been forced to pull over to allow the car to overtake them whereupon, it immediately vanishes. According to local lore the ghostly driver of the car was a local church minister, who was involved in a fatal accident and as a result, lost his mind.
Other legends of Sligachan
However, there are even older legends associated with this site in the heartlands of haunted Skye. It was said that in the dawns of time a great warrior woman, Scathach, lived in Skye. This came to the ears of Ireland’s greatest warrior, Cu Chulainn. He set off for Skye to prove that he was the stronger of the two. A great battle began, shaking the whole glen and causing the wild creatures to flee before them. In fear, Scathach’s daughter descended to the river and wept for she could see no way that her mother could be victorious. But Skye is home to the sith or the faeries, and water acts as a gateway between the world of the fey and humans. Upon hearing her cries, they came to her aid.
The faeries told her to wash her face in the river which she promptly did. Instantly she knew what to do. Gathering herbs and nuts along the way, she returned home and threw the herbs and nuts onto the fire and fanned the smoke into the glen below. Then she set about preparing a scrumptious meal. Upon smelling the cooking, the warriors were overcome with hunger and set out for the lodge. Once under the roof of Scathach, the laws of hospitality dictated that neither warrior could harm one another.
But as well as gaining knowledge, the waters running under the Sligachan bridge are said to bring eternal beauty. In order for this to work, the recipient must immerse their face in the water for seven full seconds. Bear in mind that the water in Scotland is far from warm. Then the water must be allowed to dry naturally.
#2 Spooky Hotspot in Haunted Skye: Duntulm Castle
The ruins of Duntulm Castle positively drip with horror and anguished ghosts! Indeed, this place is so haunted that the MacDonald owners, who had wrested the castle from their old enemies, the MacLeods, were forced to flee in 1730. They eventually built Armadale Castle as their new home. Duntulm is said to be the home of four ghosts making it a fierce contender as one of the spookiest places on haunted Skye.
Ghost Number 1: Hugh MacDonald
The dungeons are said to be haunted by Hugh MacDonald, Uisdean MacGilleasbuig Chlerich. Hugh was nephew to Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald, 7th Chief of Clan MacDonald of Sleat. The chieftain was heirless, and Hugh thought that he would get his hands on the Chiefdom and so he devised a plot to have Donald assassinated at a feast. His plan might have worked but he mixed up his correspondence. The assassin’s letter was sent to his uncle while his uncle’s invitation was sent to the assassin. With the plot uncovered, Donald dispatched his henchman, Domhnall nac Iain mhic Sheumais to capture his treacherous nephew. Hugh found himself cast into the castle oubliette. He was chained and fed solely on salt beef, with no water. Broken by this slow torture, eventually, he went raving mad. If the tales are true, he even tried to eat his hands before he died.
Ghost Number 2: Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald
Perhaps it is Karma, but the man who so mercilessly disposed of his nephew, Hugh, also haunts the corridors of Duntulm Castle. It is said that he is seen brawling with other ghostly figures- perhaps one of those figures is his wife, Margaret.
Ghost number 3: Margaret MacLeod
Margaret, the first wife of Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald, is said to roam the castle, howling in anguish. Margaret was the sister to Roderick Mor, Chief of Clan MacLeod. The MacLeods and MacDonalds were longstanding enemies. The warring clansmen had been involved in a series of battles which had come to a head 23 years earlier when almost the entire MacDonald population on the Isle of Eigg were wiped out by the MacLeods. In a reprisal attack, the MacDonalds blocked the escape routes and set alight the church at Trumpan, filled with MacLeods. The plan might have worked but a girl escaped and raised the alarm. Upon hearing this, the MacLeods mustered and chased the MacDonald arsonists, killing them all at Ardmore Bay. The bodies were buried in a turf dyke thus the battle became known as ‘the battle of the spoiling of the dyke’.
Both sides knew that the killing could not continue and decided to broker a peace treaty. At the centre of the agreement, Margaret MacLeod was ‘handfasted’ to Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald. Handfasting was a legally recognised temporary marriage. The maiden had a year in which to please her husband at which point he could fully wed her or release her from the contract. Unfortunately for poor Margaret, she was unable to produce a male child within the required timeframe. And, to make matters worse, she lost one of her eyes. Donald decided to wriggle out of the contract and his father had her sent back to Dunvegan under the most humiliating of circumstances. Margaret was forced to sit backwards on a one-eyed horse led by a one-eyed servant with a one-eyed mongrel dog. This insult had the desired effect. The ‘War of the One-eyed Woman’ had begun.
The War of the One-eyed Woman
The feud had continued to escalate until MacDonald decided to end it with a decisive battle. Rory MacLeod rushed off to seek help from Archibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyll. This was the moment MacDonald of Sleat was waiting for. During the MacLeod chieftain’s absence, he took the opportunity to launch an all-out invasion of northern Skye. The cattle seized in this raid were driven south to Coire na Creiche, or Corrie of the Foray, overlooking Glen Brittle below Bruach na Frìthe. Many will know this location as the Fairy Pools.
It was here that the MacLeod forces, led by Rory’s brother Alasdair, finally caught up with the MacDonalds. The battle began late in the day and continued well into the night. History records the battle as a victory for the MacDonald’s, but it was said that the battle was so brutal and so many had been slain, that Allt Coir a ‘Mhadaidh ran red with blood.
The Scottish Privy Council was so horrified by the turn of events that they stepped in and forced truce between the feuding clans. They never went to war against each other again
As for Margaret, legend has it, that upon her death, her ghost returned to the castle, where her wails can be heard by those about to have an accident of their own.
Ghost Number 4: A Careless Nursemaid
It is said that Duntulm Castle fell into ruin after the tragic death of the Clan Chief’s baby. A nursemaid had fallen into the habit of holding the young boy up to the window in one of the upper floors so he could see the views. One day she accidentally dropped him onto the rocks below. The hapless nursemaid was set adrift on a boat, and her restless spirit returned to the scene of the accident where she can be heard hysterically screaming.
#3 Spooky Hotspot in Haunted Skye: Harta Corrie
With a history of bloody clan wars, one might expect that there would ghostly encounters on at least one of the battlefield sites in haunted Skye. This can be found at Harta Corrie. In 1395, a fierce battle between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds took place in the corrie. It lasted the entire day until not one MacLeod was left standing. The bodies were piled around the base of a huge rock, topped by a rowan tree. The stone is still called ‘the Bloody Stone’.
Those venturing into this remote area of Skye, near Glen Sligachan report seeing spectral warriors fighting amongst the rocks.
#4 Spooky Hotspot in Haunted Skye: The Cuillins
The Cuillins, the mountains which dominate the centre of haunted Skye, is said to be the domain of a ghostly outlaw named MacRaing. The infamous fugitive was said to have robbed and murdered a girl at the old well called Tobar a’ Chinn. When his shocked son discovered the deed and threatened to expose him, MacRaing killed him too and put his severed head in the well. No wonder this man’s spirit restlessly roams the mountains.
#5 Spooky Hotspot in Haunted Skye: The Pass of Odal
An apparition was said to haunt the Pass of Odal from Kylerhea (Caol Reatha) and was known as Baisd Bealach Odail – the Beast of Odal Pass. It appeared as the first public road through the pass was being constructed. This shape-shifting being would adopt many different forms- sometimes it bore the form of a man, at other times it appeared as a greyhound or some other beast. Sometimes it uttered frightful shrieks, terrifying the workmen. People who travelled through the Pass after darkness were frequently thrown down and hurt by the apparition, only reaching places of safety with great difficulty.
Then one day, a man’s body was found by the roadside, pieced with two wounds, one of his side and one on his leg. The wounds were considered to be inflicted by something other than human. Apparently, the beast’s lust for blood had been satiated for immediately its haunting ceased. Or has it? Does the beast lie dormant waiting to be disturbed and begin its reign of terror once more? In haunted Skye anything is possible.
#6 Spooky Hotspot in Haunted Skye: Dunvegan Castle
Not all the ghosts in haunted Skye are malevolent. The Gaelic culture is one rich in its musical heritage and rooted in legend. One might expect a few ghosts to carry on their musical ability beyond the grave. This is the case at Dunvegan Castle, the ancestral home of the MacLeods for some 800 years. It would be no surprise then, that they would lay claim to a few ghosts! After all their motto is ‘Stand Fast’. With that determination, it would seem that some of its former inhabitants were loath to leave their mortal stamping grounds. Although no-one has ever seen him, a piper is said to play the pipes in the castle’s south tower. Interestingly, the piper may not be a MacLeod by birth. The MacCrimmons were the hereditary pipers to the MacLeods.
The Fairy Flag
However, perhaps one of the most unique and intriguing hauntings in Scotland centres around Am Bratach Sith, the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan. To the uneducated eye, the disintegrating cloth hanging in Dunvegan Castle looks more like a rag than the most precious heirloom of Clan MacLeod. Closer inspection of the silk banner reveals the remnants of an intricate pattern which looks both ancient and foreign.
The most logical explanation for the flag’s origin is that that it was made in either Syria or Rhodes perhaps during the Crusades or possibly during early Viking raids of the pilgrim routes of the Middle East. The Norseman Harald Hardrada, one of the early ancestors of the Chiefs of Macleod, was said to have brought back a famous banner to Britain on one of his raids of the East. Could the Fairy Flag be the banner in question?
The Faery Princess
But in Skye, history and myth are interlaced and a strong belief in the sith, the ‘little people’ or faeries extends back to prehistoric times. For as long as the clan has existed so has their flag. Legend has it that at the dawn of time a chieftain of the MacLeods met and fell in love with a beautiful maiden. Alas the young maid, turned out to be a faery princess.
The feelings were mutual, and she begged her father to allow her to marry the handsome chief. At length, he consented, but only on the condition that she return to her faery folk at the end of a year and a day.
They wed and their love bore fruit in the form of a son. But, alas, the year passed all too soon. Before returning to her home beneath the hills, the princess made her husband swear that he would never allow their young son to cry. Through his tears, the distraught chief agreed.
The young chief was soon overcome with inconsolable grief. In an attempt to distract the chieftain, his retainers organised a great feast. The sounds of revelry proved too much for the baby’s nursemaid and she crept away from the nursery to take a sneak peek at the fun.
Awakened by the noise of the festivities, and finding himself all alone, the child began to cry. Sometime later the nursemaid returned and was startled to find a woman bending over the cradle, comforting the child and wrapping him in a shawl. The nursemaid gasped as the woman looked up. It was the child’s mother. The woman simply vanished into the blackness of the night.
A few years passed and the boy began to talk of the events of that night. He told his father about the magic properties of the shawl: the MacLeods could use it three times when they were in danger and help would come. However, should they attempt to use it on a fourth occasion the flag would disappear. Being a canny Scot, the chief took his son’s words very seriously and ordered a casket to be prepared to store the fairy flag.
Hundreds of years later, when the MacDonalds set fire to the church at Trumpan, a small band of MacLeods gathered on the beach. They unfurled the fairy flag and, miraculously their number appeared magnified ten times. The MacDonalds were routed and the flag returned to its safety in the kist.
Time passed and a second disaster hit the MacLeods. A great plague decimated their cattle. On the brink of starvation, they waved the flag once more. Again, the fairy host rode down and restored the herd to health.
There remains a third time for the unfurling of the fairy flag, but in the meantime, it is housed in a room mounted behind glass. But sometimes from behind the glass, beautiful ethereal music is heard even though it contains no way of making music.
Whether or not you encounter an apparition, there is certainly a haunting quality about Skye which is not easily forgotten. And there are other spooky sites to be visited en route to ‘The Island of Mist’. Have you encountered any ghostly islanders during your visits to Skye? If so, please add your experiences to the comments box below. If you enjoyed this article, please use the icons below to share the spooky!