BEWARE ALL WHO ENTER HERE
Morag Bootland explores the dark and eerie history behind one of East Lothian’s haunted historical gems to uncover tales of demonic beings and a family curse, soon realising it’s not a place for the fainthearted
Scotland’s rich and often bloody history has ensured that our culture is enriched by more than its fair share of ghost stories. Generations of our bairns have cowered from tales of ghosts, ghouls and the seemingly endless supply of monsters that call Scotland home. With Halloween fast approaching a recent camping trip to the wild woods of East Lothian was probably not the best time to discover the truly terrifying tale of the Goblin Ha’. Seeking sustenance in the pub of the same name is much more up my street, but my curiosity got the better of me and I needed to know more about the hall of the goblins. The ruins of Yester Castle lie in Thicket Wood near the pretty East Lothian village of Gifford, and can be reached on foot by those brave or determined enough to find them. Considering that the castle dates back to sometime before 1267, there is still a fair bit of stonework intact, making it easy to locate. But it is what lies beneath the tumbled-down walls that we are concerned with, because this is the location of the goblin hall. The underground chamber with its impressive vaulted ceiling is remarkably well preserved and can be accessed via a stone staircase on the north side of the castle. The founder of Yester Castle was local baron Sir Hugo de Giffard, who had been charged with guarding Alexander III, the infant king of Scotland. But Giffard’s interest in science and experiments earned him a dark reputation. Rumours of necromancy, wizardry and the dark arts spread far and wide. These rumours became a matter of record when 14th century chronicler John de Fordun wrote of the subterranean cave and its demonic inhabitants. Legend has it that Sir Hugo made a pact with the devil in order to gather an army of hobgoblins to help him build the castle and its vaulted chamber in which he practised sorcery. An example of this sorcery is said to live on in one of the oldest houses in Scotland. Colstoun House sits on an estate just outside the town of Haddington and has always belonged to the Brouns of Colstoun. Hugo de Giffard’s daughter, Marion, married the laird of Colstoun and Sir Hugo gifted the couple an enchanted pear that would bring them luck as long as it remained safe and intact. If any harm befell the mystical fruit then de Giffard claimed it would spell disaster for the Broun family. Understandably, the pear was placed under lock and key in a silver box where it remained and the family prospered. Fast forward 400 years and another marriage blessed the Broun family. The year was 1692 and on her wedding night, Sir George Broun’s fiancé, Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie, decided to open the cask and, seeing the pear looking as fresh as the day it was picked, she took a bite. Disaster quickly befell the Brouns and George was forced to sell Coulston Estate to his brother Robert in order to pay off huge gambling debts, but it didn’t end there. Soon after, Robert and his two sons were killed in a flash flood when the River Tyne burst its banks. Sir George died in 1718 without a male heir. It is said that the pear turned as hard as rock as soon as it was bitten but that it is still in residence at Colstoun House, where thankfully it remains safely under lock and key.
“Rumours of necromancy, wizardry and the dark arts spread far and wide
Left: The Goblin Ha’ Hotel in Gifford. Right (clockwise from top left): The ruins of Yester Castle; dare to descend; the vaulted interior of the Goblin Ha’; path to Yester Castle; life in the woods around Yester Castle; more ruins in the woods around Yester Castle; herald moths make their home in the Goblin Ha.