To Aberfoyle’s outdoor adventure centre ‘Go Ape’ where we finally redeemed the Christmas vouchers I bought as a family gift. Christine, Muriel and – especially – Jackson entered the spirit of the occasion. Perhaps predictably, only Spencer refused to participate, frowning and fidgeting throughout the safety induction before removing his harness, tossing it toward the instructor and disappearing in the direction of the toilets. He eventually rejoined us two and a half hours later, emerging from a thicket as we made our way back to Christine’s car. Rather than apologise for the manner in which he squandered his gift, he complained that the induction had made him feel ‘like a fucking venture scout…’
Tonight’s show, I think, might be best described as a curate’s egg – good in parts. Aileen Walsh, my first guest, was excellent, contributing informative and funny observations on teenage depression, blogging and Patricia Highsmith. We might have struck up a rapport had it not been for my other guest – Douglas Mair who was a pain from start to finish: querulous, unprepared and weirdly defensive on the topic of ley-lines – his purported realm of expertise.
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.
Situated in Forfarshire, some twenty miles to the north of Dundee, Glamis Castle is the seat of the Earls of Strathmore. Reputedly the scene of Duncan’s murder by MacBeth in 1040, the oldest part of the current building can be dated to the latter part of the fourteenth century. The secret chambers for which the Castle is renowned were a relatively recent addition, their creation in the late seventeenth century a precautionary measure by Patrick Lyon, first Earl of Strathmore, whose Jacobite sympathies rendered him vulnerable to the antipathy of the House of Orange. The notion of a ‘house within a house’ has subsequently excited the popular imagination and various theories have been extended as to what might dwell therein.
In 1916, W.B. Yeats, having been rejected by Maud Gonne and her daughter Iseult*, proposed to Bertha Hyde-Lees (familiarly known as Georgie). If Yeats was hoping that one or other of the Gonnes, dismayed by the prospect of his imminent unavailability, would finally surrender to his advances, he was to be disappointed. If anything, both seemed relieved by the apparent transfer of his affections. Worse still, Georgie unexpectedly accepted his proposal with the consequence that within months the poet, chagrined and bewildered, found himself honeymooning with a woman whose very presence was a source of irritation. Having already used Georgie shabbily, Yeats, whose advanced years came without the compensation of sensitivity or experience, had little compunction about confessing the cause of his unhappiness. Understandably bemused by developments, Georgie struggled to compose her thoughts by writing them down. Distracted by Yeats’s self-absorbed interruptions, it suddenly occurred to her that, while she continued to write, the words no longer came of her own volition – she was merely a conduit for some other source of inspiration. Pointing out to her husband the vaguely promising sentiments ” With the bird all is well at heart ” and ” You will neither regret nor repine ” she triggered an obsession that would dominate the rest of their lives.