This story revolves around the cottage that I was living in at the time – Craig Gardener’s Cottage, near Montrose, Scotland…… the cottage was situated just outside a 16-foot tall stone wall that ran around the gardens that surrounded Craig House…… Craig House being the ancient pile, and my cottage being the once-upon-a-time home for the gardener that would have serviced the manse…..
I remember that it had been a beautiful day….. warm, sunny, and with the faintest of breezes arriving in off of the North Sea & the Montrose Basin….. I’d stopped a hundred times during my chores and watched the two-man sailing ships playing out in the blue water of the basin…… the cottage was bordered by box-hedges on all sides, and I remember that I had spent most of the morning re-shaping the hedges with an antique set of hedge-trimmers…. The Missus had been slated to work from noon until six that day, and I remember that she brought me a cheese & Branston Pickle sandwich outside for lunch…..and I ate it while watching the little white boats ease their way under the railway bridge and out into the North Sea via that tiny neck of water the separates Montrose from Ferryden…….
….. she left for work soon afterwards – it was a Saturday, I believe – and I decided to give our postage stamp of a yard a mowing before the rain came that evening…..
I had made an arrangement with the owners of Craig House that I would do all of my own yard work – keep the grass cut, the hedges trimmed, and the flowerbeds maintained – if they would let me borrow their equipment and tools as I needed them….. they had no problem with that at all…. and since they were seldom home in the castle (they both worked in London during the week), I had been given a set of skeleton keys for every gate, door, and lock….. and I had helped myself to their lawnmower, strimmer, spades, etc hundreds and hundreds of times…..
…. the castle – Craig House – was situated in the center of a series of square & rectangular courtyards that radiated outwards for a few hundred yards in every direction…… so to reach the stone shed where the mower was kept, I actually had to pass through three different locked doors…. in other words, once I penetrated one courtyard, there was a gate which I had to unlock and pass through to get to yet another sequestered space….. and after three doors, I was standing on the gravel in front of the 12th century keep & the rest of the continually-rebuilt Castle Proper…. bits of it having been completed, added, and renovated in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries…..
For those of you who have visited my house, you might recognize this photo from the tack-board in the kitchen/dining room….. well, this is the path that I walked down to get to the gate that opened on the outermost western courtyard…..
…. after entering the side-door, you were greeted with gravel paths that crisscrossed an area of about two acres….. this enclosed space was actually 1/4 of the walled property….. beds of roses and rhododendron were alongside each path… behind you and to the left (resting alongside the giant wall) was a Victorian greenhouse that ran nearly the entire length of the western wall…. it was partially sunken and was an amazing configuration of plate glass, wrought iron, and wooden panes that had been painted, painted, and re-painted white for over a hundred years……
I remember that there was an ancient fig that had grown out of one of the broken panes and I usually picked a few each time it bore fruit.
When no one was home, it really was quite creepy to wander through the gardens alone….. the high walls actually kept out the sound of the wind that was usually constant in Scotland….. and combined with the crunch of the path as you walked – and the fact that you were always under the gaze of the windows from the three stories of castle – I always felt like I was being watched….. and there truly was something surreal about stepping from a windy drive, through an ivy-covered wooden door, and finding yourself in a still, quiet, flowery & manicured wonderland…..
As it came to pass that fine Scottish afternoon, I grabbed my keys, unlocked the door, and began making my way towards the inner circle to fetch the mower…..
…. after having lived in the cottage for years, I had managed to get myself used to the feel of “being watched” as I explored the courtyards… not that I was every nosy or a busybody, or anything, but I did occasionally take the “long way” through the gardens before reaching the tool shed….. hey, there was no one home, I had the keys, and it truly was a beautifully maintained garden, so there was never any mischief…… that is, until the day that I am referring to now…..
I had unlocked the shed and retrieved the mower….. and I was in the process of dragging it through the deep gravel of the Main Area when I stopped to open the gate to the first outer garden…… and here is where it gets a bit weird…..
… the gate that I am talking about consisted of two wooden doors….. each door was 10 feet tall, three inches thick, and six feet wide….. the wall that they helped to close ran directly into the westerly wall of the castle – the castle itself providing the “wall” until it continued on off to the right for 75 meters or so……
I pushed on the heavy wooden doors each in turn, and opened them wide…… and as I dragged the mower through (the gravel were so deep and loose that the wheels wouldn’t turn properly on the push mower), I noticed that there was a window on the side of the castle at nearly ground-level that looked a bit odd…… it was one of those “archer” type windows that was tall and narrow….. but time – five hundred or more years – had caused the window to be slowly covered with dirt from the garden….. and as a result, it was nearly buried….
I stood there for a few minutes and just looked around….. there was no one there but me….. the air was still and silent…… there was no noise except for my own crunching footsteps in the gravel and the occasional wail from one of the local peacocks…… and I was more than just a little curious about what was up with that oddly placed window….. but as I said, I stood there for ages just thinking and wondering….. one hand on the mower, one hand at my chin…. until finally I thought, “hey, there is no crime in looking in a window…. besides, no one is here anyway….. I should see what if I can see anything!”…. well, I took one step off of that gravel path towards the window and both of those 300lb doors slammed shut….
I remember standing there with chills running up my spine before turning around to see what had happened…… there was no wind….. no one else around….. and those ancient, heavy doors were not easy to move when I opened or closed them……
I jumped back on the path, pulled the doors open and ran back into the inner courtyard….. nobody around be me….. and all those black windows looking back at me…… I walked up to the front door and knocked….. there was no answer…… feeling a bit freaked out, I made my way back to the gate and tried to slam one of the doors by pushing as hard as I could…… all I managed was a weak thump as it hit the rock keystone………
And, therein is the story, boys and girls……. I brought both doors together, locked them with the key, and hastily made my way back home absolutely chilling from head to toe…… no ghosts, no visions, just the totally assured idea that something in that house did not want me looking in that old window…. or, perhaps more likely, did not want me roaming around and doing something that I shouldn’t…. who knows? But, I will tell you this, and this is a fact….. the doors that slammed behind me were huge…. and there was no gust of wind that could have slammed them…… I’d opened and closed them a hundred times, and they were hard to open OR close……. it was just plain odd……
I told my landlord about it a few weeks later…. he laughed and said, “Eric, old friend, you have no bloody clue…… next time we’re out of town for a while, you and The Missus should come up and spend a few nights….. the maid’s little boy – a four year old – talks to someone in the second story parlor the whole time she cleans…. and his dog won’t get within ten feet of the front door… day OR night……Of course, I declined the invitation to stay the night…… but then, you guys already knew that, right?…