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The Haunting Of Littledean Tower: The Terrifying Scottish Folk Tale Of The Murdered Laird

Updated: Jan 3

Littledean Tower is now not much more than a ruin, however, it holds a dark story that has been embedded deep into Scottish folklore. That is the story of how a runaway hand is said to have strangled the laird.

The Haunting Of Littledean Tower, Scotland
The Scottish folk tale of Littledean Tower and the murdered laird is still spoken today.

Littledean Tower stands close to the village of Maxton in Roxburghshire. The building dates from the fifteenth century. It has long been uninhabited, but it was at one time the stronghold of the Kerr family. One laird of Littledean, who lived in the tower in the seventeenth century, had a particularly bad reputation.

The laird was by all accounts, a thoroughly unsavoury character. He drank heavily, mistreated his family and servants, and took great pleasure in playing an active part in the persecution of Covenanters in the district. He had a violent temper, and it is said that on one occasion he became so angry with a stable boy who had saddled and harnessed his horse improperly that he trampled the poor lad to death.

The laird enjoyed entertaining his friends - the only people who could bear his company were those who shared his liking for excessive and bad behaviour - and they spent many raucous evenings drinking themselves incapable.

The laird's wife, Margaret, lived a miserable life. Her husband was undeniably cruel in his treatment of her. It seems, however, that she bore it all for the most part with remarkable dignity and stoicism. One evening, however, the laird overstepped the mark. He had, as usual, been drinking heavily with his companions, and one of them asked where Margaret was (it was her habit to keep well out of the way of her husband and his cronies at such times).

The laird dragged Margaret from her room and down to the dining hall where his visitors sat. He then proceeded to berate her and humiliate her in front of them. Margaret stood, confined by her husband's vicious grip on her arm, and suffered this treatment in silence.

At length the laird let her go, uttering as a final insult that he would rather be married to a woman from hell, for such a wife would have more warmth than the woman he had married.

It was a terrible thing to say, and Margaret finally broke her silence in response to it. "You will live to regret those words," she said, before quietly leaving the room.

The laird's friends bade him goodnight and left Littledean, but the laird was too fired up with drink and bad temper to settle. He saddled up his horse and rode off into the darkness. After some time, he came to a cottage in a clearing in the woods. The door was open and the laird could see a woman inside, sitting at a spinning wheel. He dismounted and approached. His horse seemed strangely agitated as the laird got to the cottage door and he had to hold its reigns very firmly to prevent it from bolting. Looking into the cottage, the laird thought that he could see shadowy figures moving in the corners, but it was too dark to make out what they were. He tried to speak to the woman. She did not respond in words to his greeting. Instead, she stopped spinning and turned to face him, still holding the newly spun thread between her fingers. With a maniacal laugh, she snapped the thread in two.

The laird saw no more, for at that point his horse took such a fright and pulled him away with such force that he almost had to let go of the reigns. He regained control of the animal at last, mounted, and rode away. When he eventually arrived back at Littledean, he still had the picture of the woman in his mind. She had been the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on.

The ruins of Littledean Tower
The ruins of Littledean Tower as it stands today

The next day, he found that in spite of himself, he was preoccupied with the woman in the cottage. He set off to try and find her. He rode for most of the day, trying to find the same path through the wood that he had taken the night before, but in spite of many hours' searching, he was unable to find any sign of the cottage where he had last seen the woman.

He returned to Littledean, frustrated. As he approached his home, however, he caught sight of a graceful figure standing in a glade by the river - it was the very woman whom he had been searching for! She held out her arms to him in silence, and he went to her eagerly.

The laird's obsession with the woman grew. Every night at the same time, just before dark, she would appear at the same place by the river. His desire for her was so great that the laird ignored any need for caution. There, within sight of his marital home, he indulged his passion for this strange woman night after night.

It was inevitable that the affair would not remain a secret. The laird was seen with the woman and Lady Margaret was told about it. She confronted him and threw her wedding ring in his face. The laird merely turned on his heel and walked away.

Lady Margaret was ready to leave, but before she did, she wanted to find out who her husband's mysterious lover was. Two men volunteered to go and search for the woman on her behalf. That evening they went to the glade by the river where the laird and the woman had been meeting, and after some time they caught sight of her. As they moved towards her stealthily, hoping to entrap her, she disappeared. A hare sped away from the place she had been seen and ran off far in the distance.

The two men returned to Lady Margaret to find her in a state of great consternation. The laird was missing. There was little point in mounting a search at this late hour, for it was too dark. They had no choice but to wait. It was far into the night when the laird's horse finally galloped up to the tower, carrying its master. The horse was sweating and exhausted; the laird was grim-faced and as white as a sheet. He was shaking as he told all those present what had happened to him. He had been riding towards home when he had caught sight of a hare running alongside his horse. Before long, the hare had been joined by several others, racing along beside him, in front of him, and behind him. They leaped around the feet of his horse and jumped up to saddle height.

The laird was terrified and had tried first to spur his horse on to outrun them, then to cut them down with his sword and trample them with the horse's hooves. His efforts were in vain until his sword struck the paw of one hare, cutting it clean off. The paw had jumped in the air and landed in his pistol holster. The pack of hares then suddenly withdrew. By the time all this had happened, the laird had ridden all the way to the village of Midlem, a place notorious for witchcraft and many miles from his home. He had spurred his horse into a gallop and had neither stopped nor even slowed his pace until he reached the safety of Littledean. "Devils," he muttered through chattering teeth. "Devils!"

When he told his tale, the laird put his hand into the pistol holster to feel for the hare's paw. He screamed, quickly withdrawing his hand from the holster and throwing something down on the ground.

"It grabbed me!" he cried.

Lady Margaret looked down at the thing that her husband had thrown from his holster. It was not a hare's paw but the bloody severed hand of a woman. The laird drew his sword and speared the hand. As he did so, it flexed, very much as if it were alive. The laird took it, still impaled on his sword, out of the tower and made for the river. When he reached the water's edge, he hurled the bloody hand into the river's murky depths with all his might. He was very close to the spot where he and the mysterious woman had been meeting, and when he had thrown the hand into the river, he turned around and saw her, crouching beneath a tree. She lifted her head to look at him. To his horror, the laird saw that her face had been transformed into a hideous, wizened countenance with an evil leer.

"You took my hand from me," she rasped. "Now it will be with you forever!"

The laird returned to the tower, still shaking. He collapsed into a chair by the fireside and put his hand into his pocket. The hand was there again. He threw it from the window in disgust and stumbled up to his bedchamber, hoping to find relief in sleep. But when he got into bed, he realised that he could feel something beneath the pillow on which his head lay. Putting his hand under the pillow, he withdrew the hideous hand. By this time hysterical with fear, he threw the hand into the fire and him himself beneath the covers.

The laird did not appear downstairs the next morning. After some time, Lady Margaret sent servants up to wake him. Not a sound came from the laird's bedroom in spite of the servants' repeated knocking and calling.

His door was locked, and they had to break it down to gain entry. When they finally managed to enter the room, they found the laird lying on the floor. He was dead. His face, far from appearing peaceful, had a look of unimaginable terror. His neck was bruised, and the bruises appeared to be the marks of fingers around the laird's neck.

He had been strangled by the hideous hand. Duntrune Castle: A Brutal Scottish Killing That Resulted In The Tormented Ghost Of A Highland Piper


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