I was beginning to think I should have stayed at The Edinburgh Hilton after all. It’s a perfectly nice hotel. Predictable. And safe. The eyes of the Tudor clad figure fade in the rear view mirror as he disappears back into the fog. My heart is racing as I park up the car and redial the phone. No signal.
It’s a real castle all right. Sheer stone walls towering way above my head. The crows are still screeching. Jostling for position on their roosts in the trees. A stone staircase and large wooden door provide the way in and a cheery young woman waits on the other side.
“Hulloow… did ye have a good journey?”
“Yes, apart from the last bit…”
“Aye, we can be difficult to find.”
“No, the…. oh never mind.”
The vaulted great hall was spectacular. It must have occupied at least half of the building’s total height. A long table down the middle, already set up for dinner. Quite a few guests. After checking me in the young woman led the way up a steep, narrow spiral staircase, the steps carved from solid slabs of stone. Occasional slit windows relieving the austerity of the thick stone walls.
“Dinner is at 7.30., drinks served from 7.00. The ghost tour is at 10.00.”
“Aye, of course. Our guests love it, just before bed.” She was smiling. But not joking. “Some people have said they’ve heard chains being dragged up these steps, in the middle of the night.”
“Here you are, do you like the view?”
I’m not looking at the view. My room is at the very top of the stairs. If I hear chains clanking, is this where they go?
At 7.00 p.m. I make my way back down the stone staircase to the Great Hall. Half a dozen people are gathered in front of the massive stone fireplace at the far end. I spot Iain, the colleague joining me for dinner, deep in conversation and drink already to hand. And a split second later realise just who he is talking to.. The hat with the feather now rests on a chair. But the rest of the costume is just as I’d seen it before, out on the drive.
As it turns out, the group by the fireplace are from the US. Devotees of Scottish History who don’t do things by halves. The ladies are all ‘dressed’ for dinner too. I’m feeling a bit awkward in my jeans but as I didn’t pack a kirtle there’s not a lot I can do. In any case, it is Iain who is the centre of attention. They had taken enthusiastically to the born and bred Scot whose recollection of history lessons is being tested to the full. Further members of the tour party drift down into the Hall. In the magnificent surroundings, and with the benefit of a goblet of wine, I am starting to relax.
And then, just before dinner, everything goes quiet.
I turn to look towards the shadows at the back of the Great Hall. A girl, in a pure white flowing gown, is moving slowly towards us across the stone floor. Not wishing to be caught out again, I glance at my new chum in the doublet and hose. His mouth has dropped open and his goblet is tipped to one side. Safe to assume then the ‘lady in white’ is not one of them..