The first three letters of its name describes Sanquhar Castle very aptly – Sad And Neglected. What remains of it can be found on the southern edge of the town of Sanquhar, hardly two hundred yards south-west of the A76, the West Coast main line from Scotland to England, in Dumfrieshire, in south-west Scotland. There are no signboards to indicate its location and visitors are more likely to stumble upon it on their way to the fairytale pink sandstone Drumlanrig Castle, just ten miles south of Sanquhar near Thornhill.
Sanquhar Castle was built in the 13th century. Originally the lands in the area belonged to the Ross family. In the 14th century, ownership passed to the Crichton family by marriage. The location chosen for the castle was very defensible. On the west, the ground fell steeply to the River Nith and to the north was Townfoot Burn. The eastern and southern boundaries were secured by a deep ditch. In 1639, the castle was sold to Sir William Douglas, the first Duke of Queensberry, who built Drumlanrig Castle. In 1895, John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute, bought back his ancestral home and worked on its restoration until his death in 1900. Since then it has been neglected, remembered only by some sad stories from its past.
The Ghost of Marion of Dalpeddar
One such story dated from 1590. The heroine of the tale was Marion of Dalpeddar. She was a flaxen-haired young woman who disappeared at that time, under suspicious circumstances. Rumors had it that she was murdered by one of the Crichtons, one Lord Robert Crichton, who was remembered in local lore as a cruel tyrant.
In 1875-76, parts of the castle were excavated in preparation for restoration work. In a pit, entombed inside a wall, a young female skeleton was found face down. The skeleton still had some hair attached to the skull. The hair was long and blond. Presumably these were the mortal remains of Marion.
Her ghost has been sighted from time to time in Sanquhar Castle. She appears as a white lady, with long, pale tresses and long, white, flowing gown. People who had seen her said she was quite beautiful to behold. This apparition is referred to as the White Lady.
The Haunting of John Wilson
Another tale of woe from Sanquhar Castle involved a man. His name was John Wilson. He was the unfortunate victim of circumstances, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
John Wilson was the servant of of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick. Sir Thomas was at odds with Douglas of Drumlanrig, who was an ally of Robert Crichton, the Lord of Sanquhar and Sheriff of Nithsdale. To spite Sir Thomas, Crichton accused John Wilson of some contrived crimes. When Sir Thomas tried to protest Wilson’s innocence, Crichton responded by sentencing the unfortunate pawn to death by hanging. Wilson’s ghost still haunts the ruins of Sanquhar Castle. It has been heard groaning and rattling its chains, perpetually protesting its innocence.
The Faith of Abraham Crichton
One of the best known legends of Sanquhar relates the story of the ghost of Abraham Crichton. He was a merchant, descended from the ancient lords of Crichton Peel. Being a shrewd and active businessman, he became very wealthy and eventually became the chief magistrate. When the parish of Kirkbride was merged with the parishes of Sanquhar and Durisdeer, he was involved in the demolition of the old parish building. In his own words, he would “sune ding doon the Whigs’ sanctuary”.
Soon afterwards, he fell from his horse and died. His ghost had been sighted often walking in the kirkyard or grinning over the low wall that surrounded it. Eventually, a venerable man of the cloth named Hunter laid his spirit to rest.
Local lore had a story, a funny one, related to his ghost.
There were collieries at Sanquhar near Crawickbridge. The colliers lived in the town and went to work very early, usually two or three o’clock in the morning during the winter season. One of them was Cringan, a notorious coward.
To get to the collieries, Cringan had to pass the kirkyard where Abraham Crichton’s ghost had been sighted often. He tried his best to walk there in the company of his fellow colliers. When he had to go alone, he resorted to an interesting way to get past the kirkyard without seeing the ghost.
When he got to the top of the kirk brae, he would shut his eyes tight and run down at full speed until he was past the stream between the kirk and the Broomfield. Then he felt safe enough to open his eyes again because it was said that ghosts could not cross a running stream.
One dark winter morning, Cringan had to pass the kirkyard on his own again. The previous day, a band of tinkers had come to the neighborhood. They had a donkey. The donkey laid down to rest on the road in the middle of the kirk brae, exactly opposite the church. So when Cringan ran down from the brae top with both his eyes shut tightly in fear of seeing ghosts, he fell right over the donkey.
Thinking that he had run foul of Abraham Crichton’s ghost, he did not dare to have a closer look at what he had stumbled over and instead scrambled back to his feet to continue running until he reached the pit where he worked. There he told his workmates about how he had a marvelous escape from the ghost. Whereupon all of them had a good laugh because they had pass that way earlier and had seen the donkey lying in the middle of the road.
Visitors to Sanquhar Castle are well-advised to keep both eyes wide open when picking their way over the crumbling ruins so that they would not miss a step or miss a spectral sighting.
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