Haunting of Ackergill Tower in Scotland
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Did you know that every single castle in Scotland is haunted? At least, that's what I suspect because it's the one country I've found with more haunted castles than people. Sure, castles generally have a higher-than-average number of stories about ghosts, but something about castles in Scotland really kicks the paranormal up a notch.
Ackergill Tower, right outside the small town of Wick in northern Scotland, is no exception. There's probably some kind of spectral law regarding the minimum number of lingering souls in Scottish castles.
Where is Ackergill Tower?
First, let's orient ourselves with the location of Scotland.
In the northeastern tip of mainland Scotland lies a county called Caithness. It is so far north that you can see the aurora borealis. To some, Caithness is known as the "castle county" of Scotland because, holy hell, look at all the castles. Most of the castles on that map I just linked were built along the coastline. I'm guessing it has something to do with spectral building regulations and possibly because wandering souls like to gaze out on the ocean to watch all the seals, puffins, whales, and dolphins.
The area is rich in history, with some archaeological sites dating back to the Stone Age, like the Grey Cairns of Camster and numerous Pictish stones. All over Caithness, there are signs of Norse influence that originated when Norse settlers arrived around the tenth century.
Nestled in the heart of Caithness is the small town of Wick. The region is dotted with stone carvings and ruins, signs of the long history of human habitation. Wick was once the busiest herring port in all of Europe during the middle of the 19th century, with over 1,000 fishing boats in the harbor in the 1840s.
About an 8-minute drive north of Wick is Ackergill Tower. Over here in the United States, that's a strange thing to think about—taking a quick drive and BOOM, you're in a castle (probably surrounded by ghosts).
History of Ackergill Tower
It's unclear when Ackergill Tower (also known as Ackergill Castle) was built, though it was first mentioned in historical records in 1538. Over the centuries, it's been the subject of several feuds and disputes over ownership. As you might imagine, the castle has changed hands several times.
The castle fell into disrepair until it was bought and restored in 1986 to become a hotel and wedding venue. In 2009, the castle changed hands again and was sold to AmaZing Venues (part of Clarenco) and received a nice £2m refurb, which must have spruced things up for the resident specters.
In 2019, the hotel/venue business shut down, and Ackergill Tower was purchased by an American millionaire minister from Virginia to be converted back into a private vacation home.
The Haunting of Ackergill Tower
There's a legendary ghost of a woman that roams the halls of the castle. Some call her the Beauty of Braemore or, perhaps, more commonly, the Green Lady. Details vary, but the essence of her story remains consistent. In life, she was known as Helen Gunn.
In the early 14th century, a landowner named Reginald Cheyne had two daughters, Marjory and Mary. Mary Cheyne wed a man named John Keith, which expanded the Keith family domain—an expansion the Gunn clan didn't appreciate.
Sometime later, in the early 1400s, Lachlan Gunn of Braemore owned a small piece of property in the same area. Lachlan had a daughter and named her Helen. As Helen grew, so did her beauty, and she attracted the attention of men far and wide. Her cousin, Alexander Gunn, whom she grew up with, became the love of her life. The two were set to be married, and all of Braemore was celebrating—well, not everyone.
Dugald Keith of Ackergill made an unwelcome and dishonorable proposal to Helen one day, which she quite firmly rejected. Dugald felt spurned by Helen, and his desire for her became all-consuming. He resolved to make Helen his, no matter what—or how.
On the eve of Helen and Alexander's wedding, Dugal and a group of Keiths descended on Braemore. The Gunns had no idea the Keiths were coming. A skirmish ensued, leaving both sides with losses. Ultimately, the Gunns were overpowered, and Helen was kidnapped and taken to Ackergill Tower.
Dugald locked her up in Ackergill Tower and came to see her only to satiate his sexual desires and obsessive need to claim Helen as his own. His brutality worsened over time. Helen became desperate to escape by any means necessary, and she found her way to the top of the tower with the aid of her jailor.
Once at the top of Ackergill Tower, she flung herself headlong from the battlements to the rocky ground below.
Ever since then, her spirit has haunted Ackergill Tower. She is known as the Green Lady because of the green dress that she wore when she died. Visitors and staff alike have reported strange occurrences in and around Ackergill Tower that they attribute to Helen's ghost.
The most common reports involve sightings of a female figure in a green dress. She's often seen near the battlements, sometimes throughout the tower, and often as a fleeting figure in the hallways or someone's peripheral vision. Some have reported hearing unusual sounds, particularly at night, including the soft rustle of a dress moving, whispers, and footsteps when no one else is present. Occasionally, there are reports of a woman crying.
Other people have felt cold spots in the area and seen anomalous lights in and around the tower, often accompanied by the feeling of being watched or a sense of sadness or unease. It doesn't stop there, though, because there have been a few reports of objects moving on their own.
Just imagine the fun that the new owner has on a nightly basis.
The tragic story of Helen Gunn is now inseparable from Ackergill Tower, and the idea of her ghost roaming the castle halls will forever be etched in the very stone. Ghost stories like this, ones with actual names and history, are fascinating to me because they are more than simply unexplained spookiness—they're real, traceable history that became legends.
Relevant & Related
- Learn more about Pictish stones (standing stones) in Picts: Part 1- Symbols and Signs.
- Read even more about The Feud Between Clan Keith and Clan Gunn.
- Novelist Neil M. Gunn (yes, the Gunn clan) wrote quite a few novels set in Caithness.
- Horror reads set in Scotland? I've got you covered: Ash by James Herbert | The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley | Banquet for the Damned by Adam Nevill
- Ackergill Tower was a filming location for Netflix's The Crown.
- Check out more strange happenings near Ackergill Tower: Ghosts of Charleville Castle in Ireland | Glaistig of Scottish Folklore | Restless Spirits of St. Michan's Church in Dublin, Ireland | Brown Lady of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England. And a haunted castle in Poland over at Ghosts of Ogrodzieniec Castle in Poland.