Hermitage Castle hulks and glowers over the nearby landscape. It is an oppressive and miserable looking pile of stone located on the Scottish/English border. An equally gloomy and morbid moorland embraces three sides of the castle in a malignant death grip. The place fairly exudes an evil, hateful aura that emanates from it like a cloud of swamp gas.
There are very few windows or openings in the walls. Those that are there are very small. The main entrance to the castle slices through it like a knife, leaving a gaping, gruesome wound. All out of proportion to the rest of the structure, it makes the castle look “out of kilter”. The place projects an aura “wrongness” and unwholesomeness. It’s like it just rose up out of hell itself.
Known as the “guardhouse to the bloodiest valley in Scotland” it has hosted a lion’s share of bloodshed, betrayals and murderous, depraved doings.
It was originally built in 1240 by a Norman nobleman named Nicolas De Soulis. The first structure was built of timber and earth.
It stayed with the De Soulis family until 1320. It’s then current occupant, William De Soulis, forfeited the castle and it’s grounds to the crown. This was due to his practice of witchcraft and attempted regicide of Robert I (Robert the Bruce).
William De Soulis wormed his way into notoriety and the local folklore by virtue of his murderous, over the top cruelty. He is by far the most interesting of the castle’s many occupants.
De Soulis involved himself in the Black Arts. He kidnapped local children, murdered them and then used their blood in a ritual designed to summon “redcaps”. A “redcap” is a nasty little goblin who lives in one of the many abandoned castles along the Scottish/English border.
If perchance some hapless traveler wanders into one of these castles the redcap kills him/her and uses their blood to stain their caps that they are named for. The redcap is compelled to do this because if they do not do so on a regular basis, the cap dries out and they die.
De Soulis supposedly kept redcaps about him as familiars to assist him in his occult practices. Legend has it that his favorite, Redcap Robin convinced De Soulis that he could never be harmed by either forged iron or rope.
De Soulis and Recap Robin or according to some, Redcap Sly, still haunt the castle. Peals of maniacal laughter are often heard, resounding and caroming off the walls of the ruined courtyard. You can also hear the pitiful, despairing whimpers of the murdered children. They still plead for mercy and compassion from a man who knew nothing of either.
It is also said that there are numerous redcaps about that guard a hoard of treasure that remains stashed somewhere about the castle.
The last straw was probably when De Soulis attempted to kidnap and forcibly wed a young girl from a local family named Armstrong. Her father attempted to stop this and was murdered by De Soulis for his efforts. A crowd gathered around the event and would have happily lynched De Soulis had not Alexander Armstrong intervened and convinced them to let De Soulis go.
De Soulis went home without his bride to be. He invited Alexander to a grand banquet given in his honor as thanks for Alexander’s having saved De Soulis’ life. When Alexander arrived at Hermitage, De Soulis stabbed him in the back and killed him.
De Soulis’s nefarious activities generated a lot of fear and hatred amongst the peasants and other nobility who lived in the surrounding area. His notoriety finally became his undoing, as fate would have it. When King Robert the Bruce caught wind of some of his more depraving goings on he supposedly proclaimed “De Soulis! De Soulis! Go boil him in brew!”
The local people took this rather mundane expression of irritation and frustration as an official mandate from the Crown and did just that. They stormed the castle, wrapped De Soulis in a sheet of lead, took him up to the local Druidic era monolith called Nine Stane Rigg and plunged him headfirst into a vat of boiling water. If the boiling water did not scald him to death, the molten lead would have surely killed him.
Now of course this is all legend and local myth and makes great fodder for a Vincent Price/Hammer Studios mid 60s horror flick. (I think Price would have done some real justice to the De Soulis character!) Closer to the truth of the matter is the fact that De Soulis was implicated in a plot to kill Robert the Bruce, confessed his guilt and died imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle.
He was also accused of practicing witchcraft, so there is probably some truth to the more lurid, gruesome and entertaining accounts of his reign and death.
There is a limerick/poem/song nursery rhyme (not sure what to call it) that describes his rather gruesome, though certainly deserved, expiration:
The Boiling of Bad Lord Soulis
On a circle of stone they placed the pot,
On a circle of stones but barely nine,
They heated it up red and fiery hot,
Till the burnished brass did glimmer and shine.
They rolled him up in a sheet of lead,
A sheet of lead for a funeral pall,
They plunged him in the cauldron red.
and melted him lead bones and all.
The origin of this work of literature is unknown. If anyone knows where it came from or who it’s author is, let me know.
The next notable event took place in 1338, at which time the castle was occupied by Sir William Douglas.
Sir William had a lot to do with driving away the British during the war for independence that was raging at the time. He was highly regarded and loved by both commoners and nobility alike. The people loved him for his courage and persistence in defending and preserving Scotland’s independence from the despised and oppressive British.
Sir William acquired the castle after he besieged it and took it away from the Englishman Sir Ralph De Neville. When King David the II made Sir Alexander Ramsay the Sheriff of Teviotdale, Sir William became completely enraged. He had coveted the job for many years and expected it to be given to him. He lured Ramsay into the castle and locked him up in a cell or donjon to starve to death.
You can still hear the piteous and despairing pleas for mercy emanating from the castle walls. Apparently, Ramsay’s ghost still seeks compassion from the long dead Sir William.
Hermitage Castle is undoubtedly among the top 10 creepiest, most evil places in the world. I would not want to be there on a dark night.
Check it out here, virtually: