Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dornoch Castle and Cathedral

A few years ago I stayed at Dornoch Castle in Scotland.  A beautiful 15th century building, with thick walls and the look of a fine keep, originally it was used as the home of the Bishops of Caithness. The castle has, over the centuries, served as a courthouse, a prison and a school.  Dornoch Castle is believed to be haunted, its walls reputedly shaking at several historical events, and the ghost of a sheep thief, Andrew McCornish, imprisoned in its dungeon, is said to roam the castle. Strange lights, noises and figures have been reported by those working or staying in the castle.  It was not, however, in Dornoch Castle that I saw something strange, but rather at the Cathedral across the road from it.

I had a friend going through marriage problems, and he kept phoning. The walls of the castle at Dornoch are so thick that I was having trouble with my phone connection, and so on a dark, starless night, I headed out to the grassed area between the castle and the Cathedral to take my phone call.  Feeling a little exposed, the large castle looming behind, the ancient Cathedral and its graveyard in front, I sat on the park bench, put my feet up and rested my back against the arm of the wooden bench.  It was all going well and I was making the right consoling comments, knowing my friend would be back with his wife by the morning, when my mind drifted and I started to look at the graveyard. 

The Cathedral was built by a bishop called Gilbert de Moravia, at his own expense.  The first recorded service was held in 1239.  The original building was burnt to the ground, most of it destroyed, and Gilberts tomb was desecrated in 1570, during a clan war.  Restoration commenced in 1616 and was completed between 1835 to 1837.  Gargoyles that cling to the building, are believed to be evil spirits trapped in stone by the tolling bells of the Cathedral.

It was as I sat watching the Cathedral and the graveyard just beyond its low stone wall, the high headstones visible above the edge of the wall, that I saw a flicker of light from what looked like the ground of the graveyard. I sat up a little fascinated by what I assumed must be a light show of some description, perhaps in place to entertain the tourists.  Though at the time, in the dark, sitting between the two edifices my brain could not understand why the ground of the graveyard would have lights.  I sat nodding, the phone propped against my ear, just listening, my glance now concentrated on the darkened graveyard when again a flash of light, reaching higher into the air this time, illuminated the tombstones. I stood up, the phone still at my ear but my full attention on the graveyard.

I looked for a car whose headlights may have somehow breached the stone wall around the graveyard, but the quiet street was empty.  Now I told the person on the phone to hold on a minute and then a large burst of light shot up, a greenish tinge to it.  I stood fascinated but not really frightened, the light ebbed and dissipated and I headed inside apologising in advance for the possibility of the phone cutting out.

In the cold morning light I looked for a single explanation, ground lights, remnants of some sort of firecrackers, anything but there was nothing but a peaceful feeling of the extraordinary.  I have a friend who is a practitioner of Wiccan and I told him and he chuckled a little and said even the spirits like to get your attention sometimes.  Maybe he is right.