By Richard Falconer
Halloween is once more upon us and St Andrews has no shortage of goulish apparitions to startle the unwary.
Having researched the town’s alternative residents for over four decades, I have found over 200 ghostly associations in 123 locations. If you are visiting St Andrews you won’t have to go far to find them as most are in the centre of St Andrews.
With such a volatile mix of tragedy, violence and hardship in St Andrews over the centuries, it becomes easy to see why such a wealth of ghosts, lurk in timely fashion around this ancient town. With the past being revealed in the present at every turn, St Andrews is not only the home of golf it is also the home of ghosts.
There are ghosts of Archbishops, Martyrs, Royals, White Ladies, Green Ladies, Grey Ladies, Blue Ladies, Phantom Monks and fishermen. A doppelganger, a phantom car, a ghost ship, mysterious skulls, a floating head, ghostly golfers, a phantom coach trundling the streets in the early hours, ghostly figures in black, an array of classical hauntings and an abundance of poltergeist activity to force the mind into admitting their reality.
There was poltergeist and ghostly activity in the Britannia Hotel now known as the West Port Bar & Kitchen, which also affected a flat next door to suffer similar occurrences. There is the Phantom Piper of the Principal’s House on the Scores where Prince William and Kate studied Art History together.
They are all here, appearing in and around the Castle and Cathedral ruins, mansions, flats, shops, hotels, bars, homes, student residences, roads and the famed golf courses of St Andrews, as they roam, rattle, glide, fall, follow, aid, stare and scare as they go!
With such a wealth of accounts and stories to choose from in St Andrews it has been difficult to choose what pick for Halloween. If you have never been to St Andrews I hope the following reports about one of its iconic structures which drew in so many pilgrims over the centuries will set the tone for a visit to the town.
The Ghosts of St Rules Tower
To wet the Halloween appetite the following focuses on the reported phenomenon over the years at St Regulus Tower or St Rules Tower, standing in the Cathedral grounds as a legacy to a former glory. The tower stands at a height of 108 feet and commands breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and of St Andrews old and new lying below.
William Linskill wrote, “The old Square Tower of St Regulus is the most ancient and most haunted tower in the whole British Isles. There was talk of the terrible and awful hauntings at the tower, and the danger of approaching its vicinity after nightfall, and of the many fearful things that were to be seen, heard, and felt. It was suggested that no one would dare pass at night up there, and some heavy wagers went flying around.
Hallowe’en or All Hallows Night is the sure night to test the truth of such statements, for that is the very night it is firmly believed, when all the spirits are permitted to wander about unchecked and unrestrained for good or evil.”
One Halloween he did spend a few hours in the dead of night at the top of the tower. He put himself forward after his housemates said, “who would care or dare to undertake such a gruesome, nerve-shaking task?” Rising to the challenge, he soon he found himself on his own, and climbing the steps of the tower with only a candle lighting his way, he became very scared of what he might encounter. When he eventually reached the top, he thought he heard footsteps coming up the tower behind him. There was nowhere to hide so he called out “who on earth are you?” No one replied or appeared.
Following a midnight vigil he wished he never put himself forward for he began descending the stairs. As he did so, he had the sensation of someone rapidly following him from above. He was glad to be out of that tower, but no more so than once out of the Cathedral grounds altogether.
There have been strange disturbances in this tower for a great many years. Lights like the flickering of candles have been seen in recent times shining through the windows of the tower late at night when all is silent and locked. The phenomenon is very similar to the following account.
In the early 1990s, a few wandering the Cathedral precincts one night saw a light in the lowest window of the tower. With the tower locked, no one could have gained entry, yet there it was. The light appeared, disappeared and reappeared again in the next window up, and then the next to the top. Someone was climbing up the tower. The light then disappeared from the top window and a few moments later, a figure in white appeared, peering over the top. The figure then disappeared and the lights again appeared one at a time in each window as if someone were descending the tower.
People have also been seen wandering around the top of the tower early in the morning or evening when closed to the public.
One of Historic Scotland’s curators at the Cathedral told me recently that visitors to the tower have seen a room with a wooden floor and people seated around a table. A local resident of St Andrews I met in August felt something brush past him near the bottom of the tower when climbing the stairs and the following is an account given to me by a woman I met a few months ago. It includes a number of very similar details to the above accounts.
As a child, Christine went with a small school party to the Cathedral ruins. They were nearing St Rules Tower and on looking up, she saw someone in the middle window of the tower. The person appeared to be waving a white handkerchief out of the window. She said it could also have been a monk and the white was from the sleeve of his cowl. The party she was with didn’t notice this and all carried on into the tower. Falling behind slightly, she was the last one to enter.
In those days, there was no turnstile at the entrance. When she entered, the teacher asked her to close the door and started climbing the stairs himself. She closed the large heavy door and put on the latch but as she turned to climb the stairs herself, the door flew open. She closed it again and the same thing happened. She peered outside but there was no one around. She did this a third time and on stepping back saw the latch rise and the door fly open again with nobody on the outside. On seeing this, she ran up the first few steps and began climbing the spiralling stairs to the top.
Around halfway up, she saw a monk through one of the open windows of the stairwell, standing in a small room. The room had a wooden floor and was quite bare barring some basic wooden furniture. She joined her friends at the top of the tower, but didn’t mention what she had seen to them or her to her teacher. After admiring the views, they all began making their way back down. She was the last one to descend and at the same point, she again looked through the open window and could still see a monk standing in the room.
The stone spiral stairs in the tower were created in 1700. Before this time, there was a series of wooden floors accessed by wooden ladders. The wooden floors are no longer present in the tower so it is impossible for any to stand at one of the west facing windows, yet there it was, a figure waving out of the window. Her unusual experiences at the tower had been impressions from a former time.
The main ghostly experience in this tower is a monk who passes those climbing the stair. He is the second most reported ghost in St Andrews and his name is Robert De Montrose. (The most sighted ghost is the White Lady of the Haunted Tower).
I took the following photo in July 2014. I had a party from Austria on a tour and at 7:30pm we reached the Cathedral grounds. One of the party pointed to the tower and said “Is that someone up there.” We all looked and took photos of the figure standing in the window silently looking down at us. Myself, and others on the tours have seen him 6 times in the last three months.
The apparition is of a Prior of the monastery from 1386. A Lord of Parliament, he had precedence over all other Priors and Abbots in Scotland. By all accounts, he was a gentle and well respected man who humbly carried out extensive work on the Cathedral following a fire in 1378. He loved the Cathedral and St. Rules Tower, and enjoyed ascending the wooden ladders after night fall on moon lit nights to admire the stars, the precincts and the settlement below.
He spent a lot of time reforming the discipline of the Canons, but there was one in particular who had an undisciplined nature and was prone to rebelling when confronted by authority. His name was Thomas Platter. During the year 1394, Montrose found the monk cavorting with a woman and banished him to the Priory dungeon for a few days hoping this would discipline him. Far from succeeding, Platter taking grievance at the Prior’s punishment plotted his demise.
One evening after vespers he waited until the Prior was on his way from the darkened cloisters to the dormitory of the Canons. A few steps once leading up to the dormitory still exists and it was by this area that Platter, on noticing the Prior was alone, emerged from the darkness and in seizing his opportunity, drew a dagger from within his cloak. He drove the blade clean into him, leaving the Prior slumped on the floor. He survived for three long days after this atrocity and was able to identify his assailant before he died. Platter was then seized in trying his escape.
Two days after the Priors body was buried in the New Chapter House, Thomas Platter was brought forth and after a long discourse from Bishop Walter Trail to the clergy and people, he was thrust bound into prison. Prison conditions were harsh and he too died soon after. His body was cast onto unhallowed ground or the ‘dunghill’ as it was put.
Nothing more was heard of this incident until over 500 years later when an employee of one of the hotels in St. Andrews had two visions, both connected with the above incident they were of a monk who appeared beside his bed. During the second visit, the monk said he was Thomas Platter, who for his crime had fed on the bread of grief and the water of affliction till he died and his body cast onto unhallowed ground. As he had never received a Christian burial and the stonemason at work in the Priory had disturbed his remains, he entreated that his bones might now be interred with the rights of the Holy Church through the instrumentality of Lord Bute.
So on the 15th July 1898 the bones of Thomas Platter were exhumed, carried by the visionary they were laid to rest in the consecrated grounds of the Cathedral. Also present at the re-burial were a local priest, Lord Bute and a prominent Benedictine monk who performed the last rights. I have found out the burial took place somewhere near the southern side of St Rules Tower.
Stewart Lamont in his book ‘Is Anybody There’ written in 1980 says, ‘Michael Elder a young actor from the Byre Theatre had a peculiar experience within the tower one summer’s day in 1948, ‘I paid my three pence and was climbing the wooden stairs near the bottom when I noticed the legs of a man standing above me clad in a sort of cassock. I didn’t think of the strangeness of the dress at the time and when he asked if I was going up I said yes. “You can follow me up,” he said, but when I got to the top and looked round, there was no one in sight. There was no way that I could have squeezed past him on the narrow stairs, I got a cold shiver, panicked and ran down the stairs as fast as I could. When I got into the sunshine, the custodian was standing watching two men mowing the grass. I asked him if he had seen anyone come out of the tower. “There has been no one in or out since yourself,” he replied.’
There are numerous accounts like this and few realise they have experienced the ghost of a monk until after their encounter. The initial thought for most is of a woman passing them on the stair wearing a brown dress and sandals.
A local St Andrews woman had a similar encounter a number of years later. When 14 years of age, Greta Boyd visited the tower with some friends. On climbing the tower her concentration was directed toward the precarious old worn steps. When nearing the top a figure wearing a brown skirt appeared from around the corner above her, before carrying on she moved to one side to let the woman pass. Once at the top her friends asked what had taken her so long. After explaining about the woman they looked at her astonished and informed her there had been no one else on the stair at all. What Greta had assumed to be a woman wearing a brown skirt had in fact been the habit of the famed monk of St Rules.
Local legend has it that in the dead of night if one dares to ring the bell hanging at the entrance to the tower, and push aside the large heavy wooden door, on stepping inside, a helpful and willing monk will be waiting to guide the curious up the steep narrow steps to the top of the tower.
Richard is the author of the books ‘Ghosts of St Andrews’, ‘A St Andrews Mystery’ and ‘Ghosts of Fife,’ and conducts history and ghost tours around St Andrews based on his many years of research. For further details visit www.standrewsghosttours.com