Since we're based on Scotland, we decided to make Scottish castle legends the first on the priority list for digitization. Followed, of course, by Wales, Northern Ireland, and lastly, England. This list is still under construction as the online initiative is relatively recent. These entries are categorized by county, clockwise from Aberdeen.
Hatton Castle- The Priest Hole and the Strong Room (Truth)
Hatton Castle was built in 1575 by Lawrence, 4th Lord Oliphant and Lord of Parliament after he inherited the land, which had been given to his ancestor William by King Robert the Bruce.
One common feature of great halls and castles for many hundreds of years had been the storage and protection of townsfolk's valuables. Thus, when Lawrence had the castle built, he commissioned the construction of a "Strong Room" which could be used for such a purpose. The castle was never besieged or destroyed, but its roof was taken off during the Jacobite Rebellion and was later restored by descendants Roderick and Richard Oliphant with the help of Historic Scotland.
The Strong Room remains intact as well, and had housed an exceptionally large amount of gold for the region during the First World War. Strong Rooms were reinforced and given separate foundations from the rest of their housing structures in order to withstand canon fire and impregnation via marauders from underneath. A Priest Hole also exists in a corner of a southern wing room that was once the Lords chambers. This secret passage to the outside served as a convenient way for the upstanding Lords of the castle to confess their sins privately to members of the clergy and any other comforting presence.
MacHalson, A.R. (2009, June 2). Arthur R. MacHalson oral history interview conducted by Rachel McCormack, Angus, Scotland UK.
Edinbugh Castle - The legends of the hidden brother and the Lone Piper (Lore)
Edinbugh Castle has had a storied history since a castle was first built on the rock in the 12th century AD. Legends commonly spring up around tragedy, and the betrayal of the Earl of Douglas and his brother at the Black Dinner in 1440 is an example. The Earl and his family had attended the dinner to honor the Boy King James II. They were served a black bull's head (a common accusation of treason at the time) and men of the family were taken out to the courtyard and beheaded.
The legend circulated soon after the execution thought the city revolved around the idea that though only two men were killed that day, a second brother of the Earl escaped his fate and was smuggled into the city. A maid, sympathetic to the Earl's family, overheard the conspiracy to kill them and warned the Earl's wife who was guardian of her young brother-in-law.
Though the Earl and his brother could not escape their fate, the identity of the brother had been kept a secret for fear of betrayal by the King's men. Though no record of a third brother exists, the Earl's young step mother died under mysterious circumstances some suspect were related to the birth of a child.
The maid utilized a secret passageway which led to the graveyard on the northern side of the castle to smuggle the baby out. Such a passage does not currently exist. However, renovations at the turn of the 20th century to fortify the castle for modern warfare greatly altered the structure of the walls.
Ackergill Tower - The Legend of the High Tide Door (Lore)
The tower was the stage for a bloody feud between clan Gunn and clan Keith (the original builders of the castle in the late 1400s). The Keith's had kidnapped a woman named Helen Gunn in order to perform a forced marriage and claim an area of coveted land. Helen threw herself from the balcony on the west side of the tower and was killed. The ensuing feud claimed the lives of many Gunns who had were infamously murdered in great numbers by the Keiths at a chapel nearby. The paranoia of the Keiths, following the most active portions of their feud ushered them to dig a Tidal Tunnel from beneath the castle foundation to the sea. This tunnel was almost always filled with murky water from the North Sea, but given that the Keith's had trained themselves with the rare (for the time) ability to swim, it made for an excellent escape. This led to the phrase "Gu luath mar Keith no Selkie" ("Swift as a Keith or a Selkie") common in the area of Wick (County Caithness). No such tunnel has been found in recent excavations, leading to the legend being deemed as Lore.
Thomaston Castle - The Wine River (Lore)
Thomaston Castle was built in the late 1200s and is one of the oldest still standing (albeit ruined) structures in Scotland. Alan McIlvaine was the first to own it and used it as his seat while he tended to his wineries. Being the largest wine producer in the county (Ayrshire), many legends about McIlvaine regarding his castle and the practices of his family. One which pervaded was the idea that the castle had a secret bath beneath it which was constantly filled with wine. Bathing in wine was, at the time, considered a curative agent, though the term "Neach-glanaidh fìon" ("Wine Bather") was coincidentally, used to describe a lush.
The Scottish Catholic Church had banned the practice of wine bathing in 1158 AD and thus, the rumor that the McIlvaine's partook was considered a scandelous one.
Hume Castle - The Smuggler's Highway (Lore)
The Lords Home (Hume), who built and heavily fortified Hume Castle in the late 12th century became a powerful and influential family in the East of Scotland. They were named Wardens of the Eastern March in the 1400s and had a strong military presence to preserve their seat. During the Medieval period, large swaths of land were referred to as "Marches" and were the precursor to modern day counties. At the time, the borders between each March were more heavily guarded, and each region had their own set of laws regarding taxes and import/exports. Due to their title as Wardens, the Homes were beholden to the Scottish crown and subject to many whims of their French allies by way of the Auld Alliance. However, as their power and wealth grew in the area, legends began to breed on the source of the Home's continued good fortune. It was purported that the Lords Home had secretly created a vast underground (literally) network of tunnels specifically to welcome smugglers who were interested in transacting without higher taxes on their trade.
There have been ancient tunnels discovered near Hume, but none leading to or from the Castle and none so intricate or lengthy as to be describes as a road.
However, the tunnels discovered were most likely used by smugglers hoarding their troves. One such tunnel, discovered 12 Km to the East of Hume in 1989, was found to contain several well preserved bolts of red silk.
Elcho Castle - The Bee Cave (Truth)
Elcho was built by the Wemyss Family, who still own and preserve the structure today. It had been the house of the Lords of Elcho since its construction in 1560. The castle stands on top of a rather expansive system of caves (a rarity for the area). A cavern in the system was partially caved in and affixed with stone duct channels to provide centralized and constantly temperate air flow for a small cottage used for bee-keeping. The bees were used to fertilize the pear orchard on the grounds, which were replanted and are now open to the public today.
Roslyn Castle - The Bridge Well (Truth)
In the early 1400s, Henry Sinclair, the Baron of Roslin constructed the sprawling and towering castle, the location of which was chosen by his wife. Sinclair was of French ancestry and, as such, built the castle with an architectural style more common in the hills of Southern France. The castle was accessible via a large drawbridge which towered over a man-made ravine.
The castle was burned to ruin during the Rough Wooing in 1544, but Sinclair had built a secret vault in the column of the Drawbridge where he was able to preserve his most precious treasures from theft or destruction. This vault, known as the Bridge Well, was not discovered by the invading forces (led by the Earl of Hertford), and it was a direct result of this caching action that the 5 St. Clair Manuscripts are now housed at the National Library of Scotland.
The current Earl of Rosslyn (a descendant of Sinclair) still maintains the grounds and keeps the famous Bridge Well open to the public.
Wedderburn Castle - The Minstrel's Tunnel (Truth)
Wedderburn Castle is one of the most well-preserved halls in Berwickshire. The Wadderburn family were cadets sworn to the Lords of Home (though no legend exists about a smuggler's highway stretching to their land).
The 15th century tower was built on top of in 1768 and the bulk of the hall was completed in 1769. David Home Miller; a descendant of both the Home's and the Wedderburns, still owns and operates the castle to this day.
Among the many attractions of the castle interior is a Minstrel's Walk, which is a wrap-around balcony encircling the main hall which allowed for musicians to play above guests and provide a more ethereal atmosphere to their music. A unique feature of the castle, however, is a secret panel on the west wall of the main hall which opens up to a tunnel leading to the servants quarters below. This tunnel is inaccessible to tourists, as the wooden staircase leading up and down is unsupported by necessary reinforcements. The panel is open and visible, however, when looking up at the Minstrel's Walk.
Invercauld Castle - The Cairngorm Passage (Lore)
Am Monadh Ruadh (The Cairngorm Mountains) nestle the estate of Invercauld Castle neatly beside them and have always had a place in the legends that surround the historic house. The Ancient house of Farquharson built the first tower of the castle in the early 16th century and the remaining elements were built around it in the 1600s before being renovated to suit victorian tastes in 1875.
While caves are not overly common in Scotland, residents of the nearby town of Braemar began circulating a legend that a vast subterranean cavern existed in the nearby mountain. Furthermore, the legend continued, Invercauld's proximity to this mountain and this cavern system allowed the residents of the castle to escape undetected, if necessary.
The legend tells of a tunnel built underground to connect the closest cavern to the castle. Beyond that, a map was drawn and memorized by each member of the Farquharson family from early childhood so as to add an extra element of security to their escape. Though the castle is still in use today, no such passages have been revealed by mapping efforts, no caves of note exist in the nearby mountains, and no exit on the other side of the mountain near Faerdar Burn (as the circulated story states) has been discovered.
Lennox Castle - The Patients' Escape (Lore)
Lennox Castle was constructed in 1837 by John Kincaid Lennox as an updated house seat to relieve the aging Kincaid House of the mantle. The most prominent legend which surrounds this building, uniquely, doesn't center around its original owners or use, but rather its later usage as a mental hospital.
In 1927, the Castle was sold and in 1930, was converted into a mental asylum and maternity ward. As with many rumors circulating around older mental facilities, the legend of the Patients' Escape tunnel us grim and ambiguous.
It was speculated that, in 1934, a revolt among the mental patients broke out against their orderlies and, as a result, the maternity ward of the building was barricaded off. While no recorded deaths were tallied from this revolt (and the event itself is also suspect), the entire castle was closed down for a month in late 1934 for no declared reason.
In 1987, during a renovation of some of the walls, a wall of the maternity ward was found to have a series of its wooden studs broken from the inside, leading in a path towards a balcony wall that had been repaired from a crack many years before. When combined with the rumor of the patients' revolt and the maternity barricade, this discovery fueled the legend that a crude tunnel had been formed in the wall as an attempt to escape.
Leslie Castle - Bedroom Passage (Truth)
Members of Clan Leslie Built the house on top of the remnants of an older wooden fort in 1671. As was common in construction at the time, several secret doors and false walls exist in the prominent rooms. These are connected by a Bedroom Passage, which is a widened wall network, large enough for a person to comfortably (and silently) navigate.
Leslie Castle's Bedroom passage also contains several false spurs, so as to deter or confuse interlopers.
Yorrick Hall (Tower of Hallbar/Braidwood Castle) - The Pigeon Hold (Truth)
Braidwood Castle, known to the locals as Yorrick Hall or the Tower of Hallbar, was built in 1326 and given as a gift to John De Monfod by King Robert the Bruce. While it holds no seat of any family and was not passed down through lineage, it has served each owner well as a stronghold.
Few legends circulated around the Tower, but the fact that it contains a secret staircase from the middle floor room to the pigeon house built into its side suggests that the builders were aware of its potential usage as a secret messaging center.
Ochiltree Castle - The Underground Room (Truth)
Ochiltree Castle is a Laid's Hall built by Archibald Stirling (of the Kair Stirlings) for his wife, Dame Grizel Stirling in 1568. The pair lived, in the hall until their peaceful deaths, both of which occurred in the winter of 1588. The pair were considered good lords of their land and records found in the church of the town of Ulchitree paint a caring relationship for the couple's subjects.
The castle contains a unique underground room that is very weakly reinforced. Most subterranean rooms built in and around the 16th century were lined with stone and bolstered with large wooden planks to support the weight of the heavy soil. Ochiltree contains a conventional cellar that was constructed as such, but also has a false wall leading to a room only bolstered by wood. This led to the room caving in. It was reconstructed during a renovation in 1867 and, after another cave in, was reconstructed and reinforced more thoroughly. It is suspected that the room was left bare to allow for the growth of mushrooms.
Urquhart Castle - The Mermaid's Siege Tunnel (Truth)
Castle Urquhart served the Grant Clan faithfully since its construction began in the 13th century. While the MacDonald Clan raided it over the course of several centuries, the Grant's held it almost continually until it was slighted to prevent its usage by the Jacobites in 1692.
Before it was destroyed, the Grant Clan prided itself on its continuous re-fortification and strengthening, which makes the existence of a Siege tunnel odd. Even more odd is the fact that the tunnel was dug beneath the low tide mark of Loch Ness, meaning that the besieging forces dug a tunnel while under water.
Another possibility is that the loch underwent a period of extreme extended low levels, and the attacking army used that fact to their advantage. Regardless, among the many legends surrounding Urquhart and Loch Ness, the idea that an invading army of Mermaids dug the siege tunnel has persisted.
Mingarry Castle - The Hidden Ladder (Truth)
Mingarry Castle, constructed by the MacDougalls in 1290, was used as a messaging hub by King James IV during his many wars with, among others, the Donald Clan in 1596. It was a wartime castle, built more as fort than a Laird Hall or a family seat. It overlooks the entrance to the Sound of Mull (a valuable point of entry for trade and warships) and, while no castle of the time was built to sink ships (as canon ramparts were many years off), it held a small port for fishing vessels on its cliff face.
This port had a tunneled ladder bored down to it from the castle above, which allowed messengers and passengers to exit discreetly. The tunnel fell away due to rising sea levels and ocean waves, but the carved stone ladder still exists, though it is inaccessible to tourists.
Armadale Castle - The Lovers Gate Room (Truth)
Armadale Castle was contructed by Clan Macdonald in 1790 and though its ramparts were never functional, its architecture was a crown jewel of the family for many years. It was built as a wedding gift for Magdaline MacDonald and many romantic legends surround its gardens.
The gate arch contains a secret, windowless room, 5 feet in diameter that is only accessable via a tunnel from the cellar. This room, known as the Lovers Gate Room, is thought to have been used for secret encounters by many of the Macdonalds over the lifetime of the castle before it fell to ruin.
Red Castle - The Ancient Tomb (Lore)
Red Castle was a small structure built in the early 1200s by an Clan Comyn. The castle was, likely, used as a battle fort, as the Comyn's were known for their warlike nature and their house seat was in the much more detailed Rait Castle to the south.
The Comyns frequently held clan meetings at Red Castle and were known to practice Druidic rituals on select areas of their land. The legend most surrounding Red Castle is that the large glacial hill which serves as its base actually contains a Tuama (Ritual Grave), which the Comyns used in their rituals.
Radar mapping of the castle and the hill have not discovered any bones or subterranean structures, but the legend still persists with the townsfolk nearby.
Rait Castle - The Knights Death Room (Lore)
Rait Castle was constructed in the late 1200's to house the Comyn family who, due to their French ancestry, also held the name De Rait, and thus memorialized their house seat under the name of Rait. After a member of the Comyn Clan killed another clan's Chief, the castle was given as punishment, to the Mackintosh's who were vying for power in the area.
When the castle was given to the Mackintosh's a feast was held and the Comyn's were obligated under rules of chivalry to attend. However, the Comyn's were all murdered during the feast in order to ensure the Mackintosh's ownership was not contested later.
The most pervasive legend around this massacre is that the Mackintosh's, after finding a Comyn knight hiding in a corner, paralyzed with fear and not fighting, they held him in place and sealed him into his corner. There have been no verified surveys which indicate such a macabre tomb exists on the grounds, but since the castle has been in ruin since 1596, such a wall may have fallen away or been removed in the interim.
Yinchley Tower - Secret Hall (Truth)
Yinchley Tower is a 14th century castle built by the Ross Clan as a house seat, but would be usurped in that role by Ross Castle in 1406.
As it was meant to house cheifs and other highly placed clansmen, it was constructed with a partially below-ground-level arched room which served as a secret dining hall to hold more secure feasts and meetings in.
The arched room is still accessable today, though the castle fell into ruin in the early 1700s.
Malkeran Castle - Secret Escape Tunnel (Truth)
Malkeran Castle was constructed in 1567 by Clan Bogle. It was the seat of power for the Bogles for over 200 years and is still owned and maintained by a Bogle Clansman today. It holds the honor of never having been breached or otherwise successfully invaded by an enemy. The Bogle's held coin for the King and were, therefore, extremely careful with the fortification of their house seat. They had several secret escape tunnels built into the walls of the castle which lead down to three seperate exits over 300 meters beyond the exterior walls. The Bogle's allow tours through these passages (which have now been reinforced for safety) on request.
Eilean Donan Castle - The Lovers Nook (True)
Clan Mckenzie built the castle to house their families and their allies; Clan Macrae. The island on which the castle is built is named after the Irish St. Donnan of Eigg (who allegedly built a church on the island in the 500s before he was martyred in 617).
The castle has a rich history spanning the reign of Alexander II (who asked the Matheson clansman residing on the island at the time to make the point a stronghold of protection against the Norsemen) through the reign of Robert the Bruce, past the Jacobite Rebellion, and into modern history with its inclusion in many films and novels.
While the castle has underwent many architectural changes since its original form (a fort-like "Curtain Wall" castle), its current form was a result of additional construction during the 15th and 16th centuries.
A rather beautiful legend surrounding the castle relates to a gesture of love between a Mckenzie chief's son and a French-born noblewoman from the nearby Caisteal Maol ("Bare Castle" in Gaelic). The McKenzie man had been smitten with the woman (named Aalis DeLenquon in the common legend) for some time and had courted her through banquets held in her honor at the castle. She became fond of the island and the view of the lochs from the ramparts, but expressed a wish to be able to enjoy them during the colder months without fear of catching ill. As a gesture of his love, the chief's son commanded that a portion of the wall facing the Eastern loch be hollowed out and added on to to form a small windowed secret chamber. Upon revealing the newly constructed chamber to her, he professed his loyalty and desire to wed, and was warmly accepted. Thus, the chamber (now having its interior wall removed during renovations) is now deemed the "Lover's Nook" in their honor.