A Lewis ghost story tells us of a mystical visitation

The chapel at Cellar Head, close to where our story takes place. Picture courtesy of Robert Robb.
The chapel at Cellar Head, close to where our story takes place. Picture courtesy of Robert Robb.

This article relates the story of ghostly visitations a remote island spot. The story dates from 1929, but was first featured in our sister publication Back in the Day in December 2014.

Doune Tower was a little summer residence on the edge of a wide moor, near Cellar head, in the Isle of Lewis. From the remotest time the ruins of a Scandinavian watch tower stood on the very site of the present dwelling, and around it floated stories of ancient days, when marauding yellow men from Norway used to pillage the Ness coast and carry of the spoil in their swift-manoeuvring galleys.

The original tower is supposed to have been built both as an look-out station and a fortress in the event of an overwhelming invasion. Like the present building, it stood on the top of a cliff 200 feet above the sea level, and thus commanded an extensive view of land and ocean. There are several caves at the base of the rock, one of which would accommodate a large body of men, and could be safeguarded by one person occupying a natural recess at the entrance to the cave.

But in order to enter the cave at all, there is a drop of about 60 feet, which must be descended on a rope after some dizzy rock scaling from the heights above.

The use of the Doune is so remote there is no written history at all concerning it, and but little oral tradition exists which is of any value, but that the place had an interesting past may be readily assumed without much doubt.

The surrounding moorland is occupied only by sheep, and in summer by cattle. Tended by the erstwhile occupants of the groups of shielings on the adjacent hills and streams. There is no permanent human habitation for miles around the place.

Cellar Head is almost midway between Ness and North Tolsta, but Doune Tower is nearer the Ness district, and originally, as now, was included in the Ness area.

Possibly on the introduction of Christianity, the old fort fell into disuse, and the massive blocks of stone which fell out of its old walls were a source of wonder to sightseers, as to how they could have been carried there and utilised for building purposes at such an early age.

In the 1870s, one beautiful July afternoon, a deep tragedy occurred on the rocks below that saddened the Ness community for some time, and was remembered for decades afterwards.

Some young women from had gone out there to cut grass for their milch cows.

The ledges on which such grass flourished are the most difficult to get at, and one courageous girl, named Annie Campbell, a better climber than her companions, was seeking to guide one of the others across an awesome ravine when her own hold gave way, and she was dashed to death on the pebbly shore below.

The grass on these ledges has never been cut since, and doubtless the shadow of the tragedy created a still more weird atmosphere around the old Doune.

But the intervening time wrought changes, and about 25 years after the incident a local gentleman put up a neat summer cottage on the foundation of the old fort, and our strange tale has to do with happenings around that genial summer house.

When erecting the house the owner was jocularly warned that the ghosts of the old giants who originally owned the place would certainly not leave him alone,but he did not seem in the least bit perturbed.

Not far from the house stands the quaint old world hall or temple where the shieling people for long years have foregathered at the setting sun to sing the old gospel hymns and psalms to the sweetest Gaelic airs that ever enthralled the human spirit.

The murmur of the wild sea and the clamour of the terns and other ocean birds often mingle with the cadences of psalms and hymns.

However these sounds from nature do not detract from their noble sentiments, and many memories of bygone days cluster round the little meeting-house on the Ness moors.

The rebuilding of the Tower called visitors from far and near, and this led the owner to make some alterations on the place at the New year of 1928.

A couple of local joiners were hired to do the job and a housekeeper sent along to look after their welfare and lodge them in the place whilst repairs and alterations were under way. Being the dead of winter and being so far removed from other human habitations doubtless made the workers keenly susceptible to fear, but otherwise no explanation as yet has been found for the nocturnal sights and sounds which made them finally flee from the place in abject terror, from which they did not recover for some time thereafter.

The disturbances always occurred after midnight, and up to present no satisfactory solution has been found for any of them.

One night, when the inmates were all sound asleep, three loud knocks at the front door startled them. One of the men jumped out of bed and rushed to the door in his night attire, but there was no one there.

A crescent, waning moon hung low over the distant hills and cast uncanny shadows on moorland and rocks. The sea moaned against a hard frost which had tuned the little pools into scintillating mirrors of clear ice, the air blew clear and cold from the open sea across the endless moor, and the man went back to say there was nobody there, but there was no more sleep for anyone in the house that long winter night.

After this there was quiet for some nights and the workers had settled down once again when, about four in the morning, their slumbers were again broken by a noise as if someone had fired a 7lb iron weight from the ceiling to the sitting room floor.

The startled sleepers awoke in a cold sweat and instantly searched, but in vain, to find the cause of their alarm.

Unable to find any explanation, either for this or the former disturbance, the men, on returning home at the weekend, related their strange experience and would doubtless have much preferred not to return to the scene of their fears, but, pooh-poohed all around by their friends for their foolish fancies, they returned to the work the next week and the same housekeeper accompanied them.

The last occurrence had been on a Friday and they consoled themselves with the assurance that they may be safe enough from any molestation till the following Friday at least, and so it proved, for nothing happened all week and they retired to bed on Friday in the usual way.

It is questionable if their sleep that night was unbroken, but certainly they got cause enough before morning for plenty alarm.

At 5am, they were startled by a noise like a cannon shot immediately behind the house. The whole building shook and trembled, and they felt as if one of the floorbeams had been broken in two.

One of the men jumped out of the bed trembling and called to the woman but she had gone in a dead faint from sheer fright. They all dressed when the woman came round and there was no further rest or sleep that night again.

They came away for the weekend on the morrow and heartily wished their work was finished so they might never more go near the old place again.

They went back, however, and expected to be finished before the following Friday, as doubtless they would have under ordinary circumstances.

However, the worst was yet to happen, for, on Thursday night about eleven o’clock, as the housekeeper opened the door to get a pail of water from the barrel at the end of the house, she saw and recognised the figure of a friend who had been dead for six years.

The apparation glided through the air to meet her in the doorway.

A bright mantle lamp in the kitchen window lit up the front yard and the man’s bust was clearly outlined. She shut the door in the face of the awesome apparition, and with a fainting gasp murmured, “O Lord deliver me! ”

Then she fell in a fainting ‘ heap on the porch floor and talked incoherently far into the night.

The men never went to bed at all that night. They wrought all through and were finished some time early the following day, and then fled from the place as they would from the plague.

But neither noises of ghost have ever disturbed Doune Tower since then...unless you know different?