Saturday, 29 June 2013

Strange but true?

A FEW years ago, when I worked as a journalist for a regional newspaper, I wrote a series of articles on haunted places in Dumfries and Galloway. The research was intriguing, compelling and altogether fascinating. This is one of those strange-but-true stories that I will never forget. It is a tale that is very much believed by a family who truly feel that they are haunted by their past. The picture was taken by the very talented Jim McEwan who, no doubt, was forced to trudge through the undergrowth at my behest.

CENTURIES of history in Dumfries and Galloway have not passed without their fair share of blood-letting and horror.
With soil, coin and title affording ultimate power, the people of these lands have witnessed terrible atrocities in the names of renown and revenge.
It is surprising, therefore, to come across a tale that is so gruesome and horrific, that it is barely believable, but it is one born out of accident rather than malicious intent.
The incident has been well documented in official records and most members of the Jardine clan have at least heard whispers of the terrible fate that befell one James Porteous some time in the 1650s.
It was around this time that Sir Alexander Jardine ruled Applegirth from his stronghold known as Spedlins Tower, near Lockerbie.
A miller called James Porteous was accused of burning down his mill and was confined to a prison in the tower.
“He was kept inside what is called a bottle-neck dungeon,” Sir Alec, head of today’s Jardine said. “This dungeon was approximately 10 feet deep with a base of six foot in circumference. The neck was only two feet across. Porteous was thrown into it and the door was locked above his head.”
All was well until Sir Alexander was called to a sudden and unexpected meeting in Edinburgh. He set off as usual on his lengthy journey that may have taken him four or five days.
It was not until he was passing through the gates of the city that he noticed he was carrying the gate keeper’s large bundle of keys.
To his horror, Sir Alexander realised that he had taken with him the only key to the sturdy door that the hapless Porteous had been confined beneath.
Meanwhile, at Spedlins Tower, the poor miller screamed out against his terrible suffering: “Let me oot! Let me oot! I’m starving! Give me food and water! Let me oot!”
But his pitiful pleas were to no avail, for there was no key to the heavy door and the jail had become a tomb.
Despite Sir Alexander’s attempts to send a man back swiftly to relieve the prisoner of his agony, he was too late in his efforts.
The servant found the sorry Porteous in the dungeon dead. In desperation, the miller — insane with the horror of his ordeal — had gnawed off his own hands.
It was not long before the ghost of Porteous moved in to Spedlins Tower and all hell broke loose.
The angry spirit, who became known as “Dunty” (or “one who knocks”), screamed his complaints across the halls and stairwells of the tower.
One account says that he “rattled chains, banged on doors and moaned incessantly”, making life obviously unbearable for its terrified owners.
Unable to endure any more of Dunty’s shrieking, Sir Alexander sought the help of the family chaplain who performed an exorcism of the restless spirit using the castle’s bible.
Dunty’s ghost finally quietened and confined itself to the dungeon — the place where he had suffered his cruel fate.
The Jardine family could sleep again.
It is said that it was not too long after that the chaplain dropped dead from a sudden and inexplicable illness.
Some years later, the bible showed signs of wear and was sent away to be rebound.
Dunty’s ghost appeared to take advantage of this and became “extremely boisterous in the pit.” It banged on the door so violently that it almost shook off its hinges. It continued the pitiful cries and generally made a nuisance of itself.Even an attempt to flee to nearby Jardine Hall did not deter the obdurate Dunty from making his presence felt.
“My ancestors believed that a ghost could not cross water and the River Annan lies between the tower and the hall,” explained Sir Alec.
 “This was proved wrong and Dunty chased the family across the river, even dragging the lord and lady out of bed.”
The Jardines had the bible returned from its binders forthwith and it was placed in the dungeon wall where it remained until the family moved from the tower.
It is believed that the vengeful ghost of James Porteous left the tower with the Jardines and continued to haunt the Lairds of Applegirth down through the centuries.
Spedlins Tower fell to ruin and has recently been impressively restored by the Grays who are the present owner-occupiers.
Do they ever hear the screams of Dunty?
Mr Gray does not believe in ghosts.
For Sir Alec, heir to the Applegirth name, title, lands, history and ghost, it is a very different matter.
“I have no idea if Dunty still haunts Spedlin because I have the family bible,” he said.
“It was beautifully rebound and lies safely in an oak case. I don’t know whether it is this that keeps Dunty quiet, but I do not relish the prospect of losing it and finding out!”
Amazingly, Sir Alec also holds the key to the dungeon that he keeps in a safe place and has his own theory of this regrettable chapter in his family’s history.
“There is a school of thought that Porteous was the laird’s secret half-brother and that there was a bit of skulduggery going on,” said Sir Alec.
“The Laird of Applegirth was said to have a deformed foot, while Porteous was a big, muscular man. It is possible that there was a lot of rivalry between the two of them and a fair amount of jealousy. I think that there was more to Porteous’ death than has been told.
“A few years ago, I planted an oak tree at Spedlin in the memory of James Porteous in the hope of making peace with him. Ijust felt that it was the right thing to do.”
The Jardines have gone from Spedlin. Their once magnificent hall across the river has disappeared without trace and, if there still remains a dark echo of Dunty, no-one is telling.

If the ghost of James Porteous has found forgiveness at last, then perhaps it is time to let him rest — he certainly deserves it.

1 comment:

Axe said...

Thank you for the lovely account. I have always wondered if there was truth or historical account of Dunty Porteous' ghost story! (And being trapped in South Africa, much like the miller himself) I had very few resources to lay the curiosity to rest :-)