One of Scotland’s most notorious haunted castles – and there are several – must surely be Yester Castle, an ancient 13th century ruin situated in East Lothian. Crowning a promontory and surrounded by trees the castle’s surroundings can be creepy enough, but Yester Castle is home to the spookily named Goblin Ha, or Goblin Hall, a vaulted gothic chamber supposedly built by sorcery. It was in this underground hall where the castle’s founder, a Norman immigrant named Sir Hugo de Giffard, was said to have practised black magic, leading to his nickname – the “Wizard of Yester”. Sir Hugo was believed to be a necromancer, a wicked sorcerer, who made a pact with the Devil. Through this pact he acquired an army of hobgoblins – his servants and the supposed builders of the castle.
It is thought by more sceptical minds that the gothic style of the chamber’s ceiling was the reason for the rumours about goblins having erected the hall and indeed the castle itself. And it’s true that the ceiling is one of the oldest gothic ceilings in the world. But more imaginative people will note that the door leading into the hall from the outside seems the perfect size for a goblin!
Goblin Ha’s reputation for magic and enchantment is well-known and has even been immortalized on paper, as Sir Walter Scott famously mentioned the subterranean hall in his epic poem “Marmion”:
‘Of lofty roof and ample size
Beneath the castle deep it lies;
To hew the living rock profound,
The floor to pave, the arch to round,
There never toiled a mortal arm;
It all was wrought by word and charm.’
Nowadays the hall is visited by young people hoping to investigate the truth behind the rumours of goblins and black magic – or just to enjoy the titillating thrill of being in a supposedly mystical chamber. Mysterious sounds and lights are said to emanate from the Ha’ at night, but it seems no one has ever dared to investigate them. Forays into the goblin hall are best left for the daylight hours, when necromancy and devilish creatures seem to lose their aura of vivid menace.
If you would like to see this notorious chamber for yourself then head to the village of Gifford, a few miles south of Edinburgh and find your way to Yester Castle. Be sure to ask a local for directions, and make sure you get permission to enter the Castle grounds as it is not a tourist attraction. Then wend your way through the trees and nettle-strewn gullies, past the mighty castle wall, until you find yourself at the entrance to the Ha’. Wear sensible shoes and make sure someone knows where you have gone, because the ruin has dangerous steps and hidden places and is out of earshot. Besides that you never know what spooky creatures you might stumble upon, if the rumours about the castle’s devilish origins are true…