The Glasgow Fair isn’t quite the event it used to be. Nowadays, it means only a few days off for Glasgow workers from the daily grind. But a few short decades ago, it saw thousands of happy workers leave the city in droves to enjoy what was for most the only proper holiday they got all year. And a holiday, in the days before the package trip abroad, meant catching a boat from the Broomielaw and sailing down the Clyde to one of several towns and villages dotting the islands and mainland coast of the Clyde estuary as it opens out into the sea.
In many cases, several families would head off to the likes of Dunoon or Arran for the entire summer, and were joined at the weekends by the workers in the family, who couldn’t afford to take the entire summer off. The Glasgow Fair and going ‘doon the watter’ really took off; benefitting working class families in the late 19th century when workers were given paid holidays. The exodus from Glasgow each July became a huge event, with the city train stations and docks bustling with several excited families armed with everything they needed for a wee break by the sea.
By the 1970s, air travel became more accessible and affordable, with many opting to take in the delights of Benidorm rather than Rothesay. The steamers down the Clyde eventually were phased out. The only one left plying the old routes today is the Waverley paddle steamer. Whilst the holidaying Glaswegian might be a lesser spotted creature in the Clyde estuary, denizens of another worldly nature are plentiful, as the following shows…
In 2012, the then Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service (now the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service) received a request from a paranormal group, Darkside Paranormal, to investigate the Service’s heritage centre, a disused Victorian fire station in Greenock. Strange stories abound of the old station, with some trades people refusing to work alone in certain rooms.
The museum, in Wallace Place is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a small boy who died during the 1920s after falling from the fire master’s flat.
The Kempock Stone, at 49 Kempock St in Gourock has long been linked to superstition and witchcraft. The land on which it stands has a permanent ban on any building being erected there. Standing at 7 feet tall, the stone looks something like an old woman and is believed to be an old altar to the god Baal, or ancient battle memorial.
There was a tradition amongst sailors and other folk who worked at sea that Granny Kempock controlled the elements, and fishermen used to leave the stone offerings to ensure good weather.
In 1662, several women, including 18 year old Mary Lamont, were the main characters in a witchcraft case involving the stone. They were accused of trying to throw the stone into the Clyde to endanger shipping and attempting to use magic to pilfer milk. Lamont herself apparently confessed to dancing with Auld Nick himself round the stone. Needless to say, they were all executed.
Ghosts are still believed to dance around the stone on some evenings.
Millport, Isle of Cumbrae
A reliable source has it that staff at the Lady Margaret Hospital in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae has had some interesting ghostly encounters, mainly of the apparitions of elderly ladies in their nighties. One in particular seems fond of the toilet. The hospital, founded in 1900, was once a fever hospital, where patients with infectious diseases were sent.
The Garrison in Millport was the site of a public ghost hunt in 2011, carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association. The Garrison, built in 1745, today it operates as a community venue, incorporating the GP surgery, museum, library and cafe. A newspaper report at the time states that some interesting phenomena had already been recorded on prior paranormal investigations carried out by the Scottish and UK Paranormal Association, and that it was hoped ghost walks could be operated in the building in future. The Garrison, located in the centre of Millport was the former home of the Earl of Glasgow.
One of the rooms in the Ardentinny Hotel is reputedly haunted by children who have woken occupants during the night.
Gairloch, Wester Ross
The site of some interesting cryptozoology; a monster which sounds like Nessie’s bad tempered cousin was reported by fishermen in 1918. They encountered a beast rising 30 feet out of the water, which then charged at them. Prior to this, circa 1527, sources have it that a rather angry creature emerged from the loch, attacking a hunting party and killing three of them.
Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute
Another Scottish water beastie, this time seen traipsing across the beach by a dog walker in 1962, before disappearing into the sea, leaving footprints, a malodorous scent and a traumatised dog.
The Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde
The largest island on the Firth of Clyde, which is heaving with the ethereal:
Lochranza is at the northern tip of the Isle of Arran, replete with a loch with a small island and a ruined castle. The area is reputed to be where Robert the Bruce landed in 1306 when he arrived in Arran during his quest to win back the Scottish crown.
Lochranza also has fairy legends attached to it. In one, a local midwife was collecting the harvest with her neighbours when they came across a yellow frog. Someone was about to kill it when the midwife stopped them, feeling the frog was supernatural. Later, a young boy on a grey horse appeared to the midwife, informing her that she had saved the life of the Queen of the Fairies, who was in the habit of disguising herself as a yellow frog. The midwife was offered safe passage to fairy land and ended up as the Queen’s personal midwife.
Many legends are associated with the Machrie Moor Stone Circle, which rates with Stonehenge as one of the best in the UK. One of the many origin myths behind the circle is that it was created by a group of fairies flicking pebbles onto the moor below from the summit of Durra-na-each. There are several other stone circles to be found on the Isle of Arran.
Brodick Castlesits on a prominent spot on Arran and has an extensive history, and was in the Hamilton family for hundreds of years. It was occupied by Cromwell’s troops during the 1650s and has been attacked several times down the years. The castle has been added to over the years, and in 1958, became the property of the National Trust for Scotland. There are three supernatural tales associated with the castle. The Grey Lady is believed to be the ghost of a plague victim, when it struck Brodick Castle. Peter Underwood writes that she has been seen by several staff members, presumably in the days before the castle was owned by the NTFS. She was seen on several occasions by ‘a psychic house keeper’ and a butler reported seeing her apparently stopping to talk to a tradesman one morning as he worked in the castle. The Grey Lady haunts the older part of the building.
Another ghost is of a man clad in green and wearing a wig, who haunts the library. A white stag has also been seen on several occasions when a member of the Hamilton family dies.
Rothesay, Isle of Bute
Rothesay Castle is a medieval castle, starting life as a wooden Norse stronghold, when the area formed part of the Norse Kingdom. Like many self respecting Scottish castles, it’s seen a fair few skirmishes, including several sieges by the English. The castle was restored by the Third Marquess of Bute in 1872 and 1879. It came under state control in the 1950s, and these days is operated by Historic Scotland, though still owned by the Stuart family.
The castle is haunted by a Green Lady, who dates back to the castle’s Norse days, when it was attacked by Vikings in the 13thcentury. A Lady Isobel, sheltering there saw her entire family slaughtered by the invading forces. One of the Vikings wanted her as his wife. But she was having none of it and killed herself. Her greenish figure has been spotted several times on the castle tower and parapet.
Curiously, the Isle of Bute is the subject of a curse. The graveyard in Rothesay has a gravestone, which tells of a man who brought his family to the island to escape from a Cholera outbreak in Glasgow during 1900. Unfortunately, the entire family succumbed to Cholera on Bute and as a result, the man cursed the island.
Special thanks to Dr Patricia Barton, Claire Collins, Alex Henderson and James Campbell for their help in the compilation of this article.