The Trossachs

Gartmore – Sputum and Temper

Psychic investigator Hamilton Coe surrounded by allies and adversaries. Featured characters include Mark E Smith, Vampira, Terry Thomas, Patricia Highsmith, Hayley Mills, Donald Pleasence, Honey Bane, Dennis Hopper, Judge Dredd, Miss Marple and Margaret Rutherford

To Gartmore where I addressed the local historical society on the subject of Haunted Houses – focusing on Ballechin House and Glamis Castle. An attentive and agreeable audience with the exception of a sickly looking character – prominently seated – who coughed throughout, his complexion (already ruddy) turning an increasingly dangerous shade of puce. At one point, completely distracted, I referred to the door between this world and the next, adding that “some of us are already half-way through.” On reflection, this was poorly judged and the rapport I’d enjoyed with the audience started to dwindle – a process of alienation that culminated in an ill-tempered Q and A.

Later, as I waited for Christine to pick me up, I noticed the invalid smoking a cigarette and expectorating a strand of sputum into a drain.

Ballechin House, Near Dunkeld

Psychic Investigator Hamilton Coe surrounded by icons of horror. Featured characters include M.R. James, Dave Vanian, Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Arthur Machen, Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney, Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein, Michael Redgrave from Dead of Night, Vincent Price, Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu, Barbara Steele and the Children of the Damned

Built in 1806, Ballechin’s reputation as a haunted house* followed the death of its owner, Major Robert Steuart, in 1876. Most histories of the haunting refer to Steuart by his posthumously accorded nickname, “the Wicked Major”, though his depredations seem to have been limited to a clandestine affair with a housekeeper and a compulsion to fill his home with dogs. Semi-invalid by the time of his tenancy at Ballechin, he had formerly served in India where he developed a belief in transmigration. As he hirpled laboriously around the great house, he frequently repeated the desire that one of the dogs should inherit his spirit. Relatives, to whom, presumably, the Major had failed to endear himself while human, thwarted this ambition by ordering a canine cull within hours of his death. Not surprisingly, among the first supernatural phenomena reported in the house was the pungent odour of dogs. Aural manifestations followed, including the Major’s limping gait, knocks and the sound of voices quarrelling. Visitors to the house complained of a presence in their rooms, some claiming that their bed-clothes had been violently removed by unseen hands. While sceptics suggested the phenomena had less to do with the Major’s ghost than the building’s irregular construction, the manifestations became so pronounced that, in 1883, an annexe was built for the security of the family children.