Hermitage Castle is located in deepest Liddesdale, on a lonely spot by the river (Hermitage Water). Indeed as you look up to the castle from the car park you get a sense of the grand scale of the building, but also a deep feeling of foreboding. The castle is certainly not picturesque like many others. The building lacks windows, the doorways are small and narrow, with the exception of the main entrance which is disproportionally large. The feelings of foreboding are heightened when standing in the castle alone, with nothing but the wind whistling through the few openings in the walls. It is easy to feel slightly unnerved, especially when you know some of the colourful local legends surrounding the castles former occupants.
History of Hermitage Castle
The castle, built around 1300, stands as an ominous guardian over the wind rattled moorland of the surrounding countryside that made up what was the fought-over border between England and Scotland. Ownership of the castle switched regularly between the two countries depending on which of them had the upper hand at the time. Indeed, Hermitage Castle stands as the guardhouse of the bloodiest valleys in Britain.
In the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish historical novelist, recorded local feelings towards Hermitage Castle. He wrote that this solid, impenetrable fortress "... unable to support the load of iniquity which had long been accumulating within its walls, is supposed to have partly sunk beneath the ground; and its ruins are still regarded by the peasants with peculiar aversion and horror".
Sir William de Soulis (Evil Lord Soulis)
One of the earliest owners of Hermitage Castle was Sir William de Soulis, who held it during the reign of Robert the Bruce (1274 - 1329).
According to legend, de Soulis immersed himself in the black arts. He would kidnap local children, murder them and use their blood in despicable occult rituals, conjuring up devilish familiars called Redcaps, who wreak all manner of evil upon those who dwelt in the surrounding district.
Redcaps are a wicked murderous dwarf or goblin, said to inhabit ruined castles found along the border between England and Scotland. Redcaps murder travellers who stray into their homes, and dye their hats with their victims' blood and this is how the get their name. Redcaps must kill regularly, for if the blood staining their hats dries out, they die.
The Redcaps are still said to guard treasure somewhere around Hermitage, and the cries of Lord Soulis' victims are said to be heard from within the castle.
While there is no historical evidence of his occult practices, there are many accounts of de Soulis's infamous cruelty.
In 1320, William de Soulis kidnapped a young Armstrong woman and tried to take her back to Hermitage Castle. When her father tried to stop him, de Soulis killed him on the spot. A crowd gathered around them, and de Soulis was on the verge of being lynched when Alexander Armstrong, the Laird of Mangerton, intervened. He calmed the crowd and advised de Soulis to return to Hermitage Castle without his captive. To thank him for saving him from the mob, he invited Alexander Armstrong to a grand banquet at Hermitage Castle, but when he arrived, de Soulis stabbed him in the back, killing him.
Complaints about de Soulis's activities frequently reached the ears of King Robert the Bruce himself, and when told of this latest outrage, Bruce, in frustration, cried "Soulis! Soulis! Go boil him in brew!" Needing no further invitation, the local people stormed the castle, seized de Soulis and took him to the Nine Stane Rigg, a circle of stones by the castle. There they wrapped de Soulis in lead and plunged him headfirst into a cauldron of boiling water where he boiled to death.
Although a very colourful legend, history recalls that in 1320 de Soulis was involved in a conspiracy against King Robert. He was arrested at Berwick, and brought before parliament. There he confessed his treason and was imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle. He died later that year under mysterious circumstances.
Whichever version of his death you chose to believe, his enraged wraith still wanders Hermitage Castle. His ghost is frequently said to be accompanied by the heart-rending sobs of children echoing along the crumbling corridors. Redcaps are still believed to roam the site on the prowl for unsuspecting travellers.
Hermitage Castle is further haunted by the spirit of Sir Alexander Ramsay. The castle was at the time occupied by Sir William Douglas, who had wrested the castle from the clutches of the Englishman Sir Ralph de Neville in 1338. Douglas was much respected throughout Scotland because of his victories against the English. However, when David II made Sir Alexander Ramsay Sheriff of Teviotdale, the ruthless and envious Douglas lured the unfortunate Ramsay to Hermitage Castle and imprisoned him in a "frightful pit or Dungeon, apparently airless and devoid of sanitation". Here, Ramsay slowly starved to death, and his ghostly groans of agony have echoed down the centuries ever since.
Hermitage Castle is without a doubt one of the eeriest places you could ever wish to uncover, and its evil atmosphere can send cold shivers down the spine.