History’s Secrets Lie Hidden In the Caves Beneath A Scottish Castle

Culzean Castle sits along the Ayrshire coast of Scotland, perched atop a cave-riddled cliff that’s steeped in as much legend as it is history. Archaeologists have found indications of human presence in the caves dating back to the Iron Age, around 135-325 CE. More recently, the caves were used as a storehouse for Coif Castle and the stone tower that pre-dated it, going back to as early as the 14th century. What is perhaps more intriguing than the history of the caves and their castle are the legends tied to this place.

But First, A History Lesson

Although the plot of land where Culzean Castle now sits has been coveted real estate since the 1300s, the castle itself wasn’t built until the late 1700s. It was completed in 1792, featuring many¬†luxurious living quarters, an oval grand staircase, and a saloon in a circular tower that faces out to sea.

Following the Second World War, the castle was frequented by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was gifted access to the apartment at the top of the castle in recognition of his service to the Allied forces during the war. Today, the manor is a tourist attraction and can be rented out for events and weddings. Several TV shows and movies have also featured the fortress in recent years. An artist’s rendering of Culzean Castle has been printed on the back of five-pound notes minted by the Royal Bank of Scotland since 1987.

The Legend That Precedes It

Numerous legends surround the caves beneath the castle. Although the caves were known to be an area used for storage, according to legend they may have also served as an excellent place to hide. During the 1500s, a resident cannibal set up shop along the Ayrshire coast and is rumored to have possibly used the caves beneath Culzean Castle as a hideout. Sawney Bean and a small group of followers terrorized the nearby countryside, abducting people and taking them off to who-knows-where to make a meal of them.

Eventually, he and his supporters were flushed out and brought to justice for their crimes. Nobody knows precisely where they had set up shop, but early this century, old human remains were found inside the caves, possibly belonging to one of his victims. On a less gruesome note, the 1700s brought smuggler traffic to the caves. Goods from the Isle of Mann are suspected to have been brought to the caves beneath the castle and hidden there for later distribution inland. The likelihood of such an operation being carried out under the inhabitants’ noses is highly unlikely, so any smuggling that went on was almost certainly mutually beneficial.

Who Doesn’t Love A Good Ghost Story?

We end with a brief overview of Culzean Castle’s otherworldly residents. According to most sources, seven ghosts inhabit the castle, though four are particularly notable. The first is a black or gray apparition that is said to travel up the stairs from the State Bedroom on the first floor to the second level of the building. Another ghost is that of a little girl who is often seen wandering around by the kitchens. The third haunting is believed to be the spirit of Margaret Erskine of Dun, the 1st Marquess of Ailsa and wife of the 12th Earl of Cassillis. Her picture is hung on the wall at the top of the oval staircase, and her eyes are said to follow you as you walk past. A mist is sometimes seen flowing across the balcony, emanating from her portrait.

Finally, we end with the story of the piper and his dog. A young piper boy was sent to travel the caves from the castle into town to prove that they were safe. His music could be heard from the castle, gradually fading away as he ventured farther into the network of tunnels until suddenly, it stopped. A search party was sent to look for him after he didn’t show up in town, but he was never found. Legend states that sometimes his piping can still be heard coming from the caves below the castle.