Spooks Week: A Haunted Road


 

Culzean Castle 


This isn't my story, but it was told to us by the friend involved, a man of profound common sense, not to say scepticism, which made it all the more impressive. 

He and a couple of colleagues had taken a party of scouts to camp at Culzean Castle for the weekend. This was a local event and they were pretty close to home, which was just as well, because the wife of one of them was in the advanced stages of pregnancy. They had, however, hiked there, carrying backpacks, and had no other means of transport. 

In the early hours of the morning, a message came through to the Castle that she had gone into the early stages of labour. This was before the days of mobile phones, so it was a landline message. Not wanting to inconvenience anyone further, the husband decided that since it was a fine summer night, he could easily walk the few miles back to the town of Maybole, to pick up his car. Our friend said that since there was still a supervisor left behind for the youngsters he would keep him company along the road and come back to the campsite in the morning. 

If you don't know this part of the world, there is a road running to the west of the A77, closer to the sea.  Head south and it will go to Maidens and will ultimately rejoin the main road south at Turnberry where Mr Trump has his hotel. Northwards, it will take you to Ayr, but a few miles north of Culzean, at a place called Pennyglen, you can branch off towards Maybole. At night, it's a quiet rural road, and certainly the quickest way back to the town. 

Remember, this is an old road, with a violent history. Or at least the surrounding countryside has a violent history. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were two factions of the Kennedy family, the Earls of Cassilis and the Lairds of Bargany, holding sway north and south of here, and sometimes they came to blows. The feud had been long and bitter. Most notably they came to much more than blows when young Gilbert Kennedy, the Bargany heir, fell victim to an attack by the powerful Earl of Cassilis on 11th December 1601, as he rode from Ayr to Girvan, a journey of some twenty two miles. 

'He was the brawest manne that was to be gotten in ony land,' says a contemporary chronicler, in the old Scots of the time. 'of hich stataur and weel maid, his hair blakk, bott of ane cumlie feace'.  In other words, he was tall, dark and handsome. Even though he was 'feerse and feirry and wander nemble' (fierce and fiery and wondrous nimble) this was a deliberate ambush, the odds were stacked against him and he and his travelling companions were wounded or murdered. Astonishingly, he was carried to Maybole, mortally wounded but still alive, where Cassilis, in his role of 'Judge Ordinar' of the county threatened to kill him if he showed any signs of recovery. He was further transported to Ayr and died there a day later. 

If you're intrigued, you should seek out S R Crockett's The Grey Man, a novel that will tell you a lot more about that time and place. 

But - to resume our spooky tale. 

The two men were young and fit, and they were walking smartly along the road in the direction of Maybole, when they heard, somewhere in the distance, the distinctive clip clop of approaching horse's hooves. Summer nights are short in this part of the world, and the sky was already beginning to grow lighter with that liquid grey light of very early morning. The rider seemed to be coming closer. Now riders are not uncommon on these roads, although as our friend said, not usually at three in the morning. But they weren't unduly worried. They carried on walking. 

The expectant father, anxious to get home, had pulled some yards ahead. Our friend said that around the bend in the road, just ahead of him, came a tall black horse with a tall rider, swathed in what appeared to be a dark cloak. Surprisingly, he seemed to be wearing a 'slouch' hat - 'like the ones you see in the movies', he said. His first thought was to wonder what on earth somebody was doing riding in fancy dress along the back road from Maybole to Maidens. 

However, that thought quickly gave way to surprise when he saw his friend pause for a few seconds, and then quite suddenly take to his heels, run past the rider at a rate of knots and head off into the distance. He was standing stock still in astonishment as the rider calmly trotted past him. Who could it possibly be, to give his friend such a fright? 

He raised his eyes to the figure.

'As true as I'm sitting here,' he said, 'there was no face at all, no head even, between the hat and the cloak. Just a gap where it should be.'

'What did you do?' we asked.

'What do you think I did?' he said. 'I ran too. I don't think either of us stopped until we were back home in Maybole!' 



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