The Monster of Glamis
by Stuart Cleland
‘If you could even guess the nature of this castle’s secret,’ confessed the 13th Claude-Bowes Lyon, Earl of Strathmore, ‘you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours.’
A dark presence that has haunted my thoughts since I was a small boy is that of Glamis Castle, Scotland. The history of its gruesome secret is the point at which I will begin my own story.
Glamis Castle is situated in the village of Glamis. You will find it about twelve miles north of Dundee in the region of Angus. The village is a simple collection of dwellings, but the castle is a great, ornate palace, ominously glaring at all that surrounds it.
There are accounts of the castle dating back over a thousand years. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is said to have been inspired by the Scottish King, Malcolm II, who was murdered at the palace. There are many stories of dreadful deeds and hauntings taking place at Glamis throughout the ages. One commonly told tale is that of Lady Janet Douglas, who was believed to haunt the palace after she was burned as a witch on the orders of King James V of Scotland.
The most disturbing incident, and the one with which we shall be concerned, involves the Bowes-Lyon family that continues to rule Glamis to this day. The story goes that the 11th Earl and Lady of Strathmore gave birth to a son. It was reported that the son was ‘born and died on 21 October 1821.’ However, subsequent accounts suggest that the baby was born badly deformed with a huge head and great limbs that seemed made of wood. More horrifically, there are claims that the child was forever kept locked up in a secret chamber, away from public eyes. This might have been the end of the story had there not been talk of a workman accidentally stumbling upon the secret room in 1865. Apparently, the terrified man was immediately persuaded and funded to go and live in Australia, thus keeping any prying outsiders away from the Strathmore secret. Little is known about what the workman saw, but whisperings were later heard of a creature with a ‘chest as enormous as a barrel, hairy as a doormat, his head running straight into his shoulders and his arms and legs toy-like.’
I had visited Glamis Castle four times. The first occasion, I was eight and on a family holiday with my parents. Now that I had reached my early thirties, I was keen to relive the mystery of this place. Perhaps it was because I was recovering from the break-up of a recent, long-term relationship in which, despite being a man, I was ‘the mistress.’ As my mother had warned, ‘They never leave them’—And she was right. My tall, long-legged musician had stayed with her partner despite the promises, squabbles and begging on both sides.
I felt contrastingly powerful when I drove through the gates of Glamis Castle. The long road cut though a wide landscape of deciduous trees. The shadows of these great trees marked the road ahead, but also covered two tall regal statues whose faces peered at each other across the passage.
Most breath-taking was the house ahead. This immense building was something of a Gothic dream. Turrets and towers, all a light brown texture and the colour of sandstone, were crowned with huge, grey, cone roofs. As I drove past the castle to the carpark at the back, I could feel its many windows staring at me.
I climbed out of my hired Corsa and stepped up to the entrance. A gentle but fresh wind reminded me that Scotland, even in August, can produce shivers.
I looked up to the castle. Half-way up the stone surface, amongst the many openings, on the near side of the palace was a very thin window.
This agape slit was glaring, not because of its aesthetic appearance, but because that room apparently did not exist from the inside.
I took the guided tour at 2:30pm. This would be where I would find the secret room. I had last visited Glamis five years ago. I had been with a maverick female friend, Heidi. Her cheeky laughter and frequent jokes had drawn attention to us. When I tried to leave the main group, the tour guide quickly noticed and shepherded me back to the herd.
This time I had done considerably more research on the probable location of the room.
I knew that there was a passageway leading from the central hunting hall. This in turn would show the way to the mystery chamber.
I enjoyed the tour. The rooms were warmly illuminated by the August sun. I was careful not to ask any questions, so to remain firmly in the background.
When we reached the main hall, knights in armour stood to attention along stone-clad walls. Long tapestries hung next to courtly family portraits.
As the crowd was admiring these treasures, I waited for my chance to give them the slip. The elderly female attendant had temporarily left the room. Our other guide was caught up in an intense conversation with some English tourists.
I shuffled backwards behind a large hanging rug, ducked underneath this, only to be suddenly stood in the passageway that I was searching for.
I heard voices getting closer from the central hall. Perhaps one of the guides had seen me.
But to my relief the sounds passed.
The corridor in which I crept was extremely dark; nevertheless, I could make out a thin ray of sunlight at the end of it. I must have trudged on for about three minutes when I came to the end of the passage. Starting to feel disappointed that there was no room after all, I noticed that there was a small half-door, low on the ground to my right. I bent down to peer at this. I gave it a shove but there was no movement. I then sat against the opposite stone wall and used my back on the wall to push the door with my legs with all my strength.
I was frightened someone would hear me but, to my surprise, the portal started to creak open. I was amazed that I had found the room. I forced the door free and lay on my back. I turned over and then wriggled forward on my stomach.
I suffer from claustrophobia, so there was part of me that was clamouring to give up. But after all these years, I couldn’t.
I slid into a little stone room. A small amount of light seeped in through the arrow-slit window: the window.
I sat up. The room was bare. There were only stone walls and a wooden bench that lay to the far side of the room. Other than these details, there was nothing.
After exiting the room, I managed to re-join the group.
I was feeling irritable and confused. I was unsure, even after my painstaking research, that this was room I had been looking for.
I would soon discover that it was.
Fortunately, the visitors were so engrossed in the tour that they did not notice my sudden reappearance.
I only became the focus of attention when we were in the chapel. This large decorative place of worship was cluttered with chairs.
Perhaps the aristocracy had needed divine help over the years.
The guide told us a tale that this was where the ghost of Janet Douglas would make an appearance. She had a favourite seat. At first the guide flirtingly refused to divulge the information as to which seat this was. Later, she pointed to me, and said ‘It’s where you are sat, sir.’ Meeting her stare, I was frightened that she somehow knew of my deviant excursion.
‘Do you know a Janet Douglas?’ this middle-aged lady with a posh Scottish accent then enquired.
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘That was my paternal grandmother’s name.’
Normally, I would have enjoyed the synchronicity of this discovery, but I was still feeling disappointment that there had been no revealing treasures or artefacts in the room.
During the next day I was still unsure of my success and began to question the whereabouts and the existence of the secret place.
Two days after my visit to the castle, I decided to cheer myself up by paying a visit to a nearby small town. I would browse in some second-hand bookstores and buy some tourist gifts for friends and family.
To the east of Glamis is the pretty village of Pitlochry. It was another brilliant August day. By brilliant I mean nineteen degrees Celsius! A brown river flushed past a pebbled forest path. Bulky stones lay on the bottom of the bed. Duck weed swayed from side to side, inviting me into the clear streams.
I had a stimulating afternoon, walking along the high street in Pitlochry. I saw an attractive inn with purple curtains and uneven 16th century walls beckoning me in for a late lunch.
In this place I thoroughly enjoyed feasting on the Scottish ‘delicacies’ from my youth. A hot, flaky steak pie melted oozing cheesy mashed potatoes and buttery carrots. For pudding, I tried a sweet Scottish trifle: a thick layer of cold custard sandwiched in between double cream and a sponge/ jelly hybrid.
The book shop I visited had that dank musty smell that only second-hand stores possess. After buying an old 1960s copy of The Invisible Man I decided to take one last ‘hoof’ along Pitlochry high street. It was now early evening, and a traditional sweet shop was closing as I passed. The village bank was also shut, the only busy ambience coming from the other pub in the vicinity. This was a less attractive 1950s building with roughcast walls. Nevertheless, there was a healthy laughter and noise of cutlery clashing with plates coming from within.
As I was walking past the main window of the pub, I peered through to catch a look at this 5 o’clock scene. Two young women of about twenty, heavily plastered in make-up, sat next to each other, laughing tipsily. Nursing his stout at the bar, was an old man with a flat cap, known in Scotch as a ‘bunnet.’ A rather spotty teenager vigorously thumped various buttons on one of the quiz machines.
It was then that I was sickened with shock. On the central table of the public house, about ten feet from my window, sat what I could only describe as horror in human form. This thing had a head the size of a watermelon. Its hair straggled down the sides of its head, leaving a great bald egg at the top. Its hands were entirely mismatching. One was the size of great club, the other a child’s glove.
What was most horrifying was that this creature was leering straight at me. It had a cruel smile on its face. Its lumpy eyes seemed to never blink. Its entire body remained motionless.
After a few seconds of staring with terror at this thing, I had to leave. I rushed away from the building like a madman.
This was the secret of Glamis. How was it still alive? And how had it found me?
For a few minutes I crouched on the other side of the road, wheezing and struggling for breath. I could feel local inhabitants looking at me.
Surely, I had imagined this. Perhaps I had become obsessed with this whole thing, my brain overactive.
Against my better judgement I ran straight back to the pub window. There was no sign of the creature.
It had gone.
I must have imagined it all.
After this unsettling episode I returned to my bed. I was sleeping in an old family tent which I, my parents and siblings had used on and off for the last thirty years. I was staying in a campsite about five miles from the castle.
That night and the following day passed without incident. In the morning I woke up early and drove to the quaint fishing village of Crail. The weather was good enough to lie on one of the beautiful beaches near the harbour. At lunchtime I hungrily tucked into a paper bag full of delicious fish and chips. This meal was the superior Scottish/ Northern English variant: fat, salty chips with succulent white fish in batter, the grey skin removed.
It was that night that the next incident occurred. I had a disturbing dream.
In the dream, I was stood within the large drawing room of Glamis Castle. The ceiling was a sizeable white arch. The room seemed inviting, with deep red patterned rugs and a similarly coloured sofa. These were warmly lighted under the glow of lamps that were stationed alongside each of the walls.
It was then that I noticed the creature.
It was at the far side of the room standing below a vast painting. The figure had the same awful grin on its face. It used its smaller hand to direct me to its own eyes; it then pointed at me. This seemed to notify that I had been looking at him.
The monster of Glamis pointed at the great canvass, then back to itself—as if to signify that it was part of the painting.
I could feel myself looking at the piece. On it stood four male figures. There were two more mature gentlemen who, occupying the centre of the picture, seemed to have the most status. The most senior man was sat on a throne, displaying his well sculptured torso; the other stood next to him, wearing a hazel curled wig, fashionable at the time. At my right side was a young aristocrat in a bulging maroon outfit.
It was the fourth figure that almost made me retch. A little child with extraordinarily pale skin, nervously looked out from the painting. I quickly noticed that this was the creature. The child’s head was far too large for its body. Its trunk was bent to one side, the arms unevenly sized.
I was starting to feel real pity for this child, and even his adult version, when I noticed that my horrible curator was now slowly treading towards me.
I wanted to run, but in the dream I could feel my feet securely fastened to the part of the floor on which I stood.
The figure grew closer and closer, until I shouted out.
To my relief, I woke up from this nightmare. I was back in my tent. I looked at my watch. It was 2:37 in the morning.
I started to breathe a sigh of relief.
Immediately, though, I could feel a presence standing outside the tent, next to where my head lay.
I turned on my torch. I briefly saw a crooked shadow, then heard a snap of twigs.
I lay on the tent canvas for what seemed like three hours. I had started to sweat. I was in deep fear and disbelief.
The arrival of dawn eased me into some notion of safety, if a precarious one. Surely this was all a trick of my imagination. Should I just go home to Southeast England? At first, I thought so. However, my years of thinking about the Glamis horror gave me a firm resilience to stick it out.
I still had a few more days of my holiday. Fuck it if I was going to cut it short. After all, I had paid for the trip up front and had been looking forward to it. With a renewed stubbornness I took a day trip to one of my favourite places.
St Andrews is a famous fishing harbour and golfing resort, about twenty-five miles south of Glamis, on the other side of Dundee and the river Tay. The town is an attractive mix of University buildings, working harbours and quirky shops.
I firstly strolled from the town centre towards the golf course and beach. Overdressed American tourists stood watching amateur players tee off from hole number 1.
I walked past tall, dark, Georgian flats that reminded me of a trip to visit my father’s mother who was staying here for a holiday. I was only a little boy of about six. My Gran had asked me to try some gammon. I wanted to play on the old wooden swing in the back garden, so I semi-obligingly tried a tiny centimetre square of the meat, before placing my cutlery back on the plate.
It was still sunny, but as the afternoon aged, lumpy black clouds started to form amongst the sea winds of the place. I enjoyed sucking a toffee ice cream before I decided to try some more sturdy walking to St Rule’s. This slender tower stands way above the rest of St Andrew’s Cathedral. The ancient place of worship lies in ruins, but St Rule’s has remained strong, surveying out across the sea as well as all the inhabited part of the town.
When I reached the cathedral, I noticed that the black clouds were rapidly spreading. The sky was taking on a darker tone, even though it was only 4pm. Despite this, I was in good spirits. As usual, hiking quickly increased the endorphins and gave me a greater self-esteem. I decided to raise this further by climbing up the many steps of St Rule’s. I advanced determinedly to the top, quite out of breath by the time I had done three quarters of the route.
From the plateau I could see virtually all of St Andrews. I stood reflecting. This had been quite an experience over the last few days. I firmly decided that I would keep it at that, and soon push it back into my memories.
Almost with a jump in my step, I reached the bottom of the turret.
I bounded out the door with a renewed exuberance.
This buoyancy was immediately halted when I was knocked about five feet to the side.
To my terror I realised that I was being thumped with a bony fist.
Winded and panicking, I turned to locate the source of my attack.
It was the creature.
It looked grey and almost transparent, but its violence was real. The thing’s malevolent smile remained, but it also now had the qualities of a sneer.
Then it hit me again.
In my horror, I ran as fast as I could to the cathedral’s public entrance. I could sense the monster’s rancid breath on my neck. It was pursuing me.
I hurtled through the gates, now not even stopping to see where my attacker was.
I bolted along the pathway at the cliffs. I would seek safety in the centre of the town.
By the time I got to the visitors’ centre, I realised that the ghastly figure was no longer with me. I frantically spun round to check that it wasn’t hiding; but it seemed to have gone.
A few hours later, I found myself back at the campsite. I was an emotional wreck, but I knew that no sane person would believe me. Equally, having struggled with mental health issues when I was younger, part of me was still convinced that this was still some sort of grotesque hallucination.
I sat in my tent feeling especially vulnerable. I could not see anything that lay outside its walls.
Inside the tent, I could not stand being in the dark, so I left my torch permanently on. My mind was racing; I stayed awake way past my normal hour. Eventually, about 2am, I drifted off into a weary, fragile sleep.
It was soon thereafter that I had another terrible dream.
I was back again in the drawing room of the castle. This episode began where the previous one ended.
The creature was prowling towards me. Its smirk was now cut across its hideous face.
Again, I felt unable to move.
The figure advanced nearer.
Suddenly it was upon me.
The thing grabbed my throat with its toy fingers and started to strangle me.
I started and was wide awake.
For a few seconds I was relieved to be back in my tent.
But then I realised that the monster of Glamis was here as well.
Its moon face was close up to mine. Its mauling palms were squeezing my Adam’s apple as it grinned.
This went on for a few agonising seconds. I began to think that this was the end. Then my body’s fight system kicked in. I thrust at the creature as hard as I could. It was clearly stronger than me, but this was enough to make it release me for a few seconds. I immediately took advantage of this, forced myself up and darted underneath the entrance of the tent.
Earlier anxiety had kept me alive; previously I had placed the car keys in my pocket. Those thoughts we have that are commonly seen as insane were in this case well founded.
I drove to the nearest service station and collapsed at a dining table. I stayed there, adrenaline coursing through my veins, till the next morning.
I was now in a desperate survival state; I would do anything to extricate myself from this awful situation.
I waited for what seemed like an age for Glamis Castle to open at ten o’clock in the morning.
As soon as the gates opened, I furiously drove my car to the back of the house.
Next to the car park is the visitors’ shop and paying entrance. I stormed into this place, looking for anybody to help.
The lady at the till was my middle-aged guide from a few days before. I saw on her name badge that she was called May. She remembered me from the Janet Douglas incident.
After explaining to her that my purpose was not actually to buy another ticket, I then described my pitiful story to her.
May’s facial expression moved from scolding at my intrusion into the room, to aghast, when I told her of the further events of this week.
She became gaunt and pale.
‘Oh God’ she muttered. ‘We keep visitors away from that room, not for the privacy of the family. But because we know what will happen to a person once they see anything to do with the boy.’
I kept asking May if there was anything that I could do. At first, she just shook her head, looking at me now with deep empathy and pity.
Eventually May told me the only thing that I could do.
‘No, I will never do that,’ I exclaimed tearfully.
In a surge of adrenaline, I drove the car back down south for a few hours to its hiring place in Hamilton, Lanarkshire. I did not collect my things from the tent, as I could never return to it under any circumstances.
Less than five hours later I caught the train back to London. I kept nervously scanning the train compartment both ways, in fear of seeing the creature.
I had already found to my disquiet that it seemed to be able to appear anywhere.
By the time I got to London I had convinced myself that the thing was rooted in Scotland and that I had escaped it forever.
I took the local train to Hitchin where I was met by my brother and his son, Robert.
I hugged my brother more forcefully than usual. Robert, who was five at the time, came running up to me. He had been very excited to see his uncle.
I gave my nephew a deep hug. I then started walking, my arms around his shoulder, towards my brother’s car.
It was at that point that I saw the monster.
It stood on the opposite station platform, staring and smiling straight at us.
I was filled with dread.
However, the queasiness in my stomach took a turn for the worse, when I saw that young Robert also seemed to be peering at the creature.
I pulled him away and charged towards the car.
After this sighting and a few days of horrible anticipation, I began to feel more comfortable. I started to enjoy the routine of my job which was ironically what I was trying to get away from by going to Glamis.
A few weeks passed. I was sleeping better and slowly returning to my usual healthy appetite.
It was on the following Sunday that I had a phone call from my brother.
‘I know this sounds stupid,’ my brother explained.
‘What is it?’ I inquired.
‘Robert has a fertile imagination as you know. He keeps telling me a silly story.’
‘Oh?’ I asked, becoming slightly wearier.
‘It’s only that Rob says that you know about him as well.’
‘Who?’ I began to whisper.
‘Well,’ my brother sighed. ‘Over the past two weeks, he insists that he keeps seeing a man.’
‘A man?’ I croaked.
‘Yes,’ replied my brother. ‘Robert claims that this frightening figure keeps looking at him through the back window of our house.’
A feeling of sickness took over me.
‘It’s disturbing stuff,’ my brother continued. ‘Robert says that the man concerned has an extremely large and disfigured head.’