Not a Whisky Spirit! Ghost stories from Islay Scotland

Pumpkins in a spooky wood

Scottish Ghost Stories from the island of Islay

Whisky is by far the most famous spirit on Islay, our Scottish island. But with Halloween looming, we thought we would look at some of the other types of spirits that inhabit this ancient place. And some Scottish Halloween traditions. If you like Scottish ghost stories, then read on and find out what eerie friends live alongside us …

Kildalton Castle and its employee

Kildalton Castle near Port Ellen (also famous for another haunting) has its very own resident ghost. The story goes that many years ago there was an employee with a ‘very distinct appearance’ who worked for the then laird. Often he would need to leave the island. Despite his absence, people still saw him wandering around the large castle building. Then one day, long after this man was dead and buried, two women in Craigmore Forest saw a figure walking towards them.

Important to note is that Craigmore Forest was once the property of the Laird. Significantly, the figure that approached, was clothed in the fashion of a bygone era. He was also accompanied by a terrier dog. As he and his dog passed the ladies, to their astonishment, there was no sound. They then simply disappeared into the bushes. Upon returning home, one of the women described this apparition to their mother, who had once worked for the laird. At once she recognised the description of this man. He was the long-dead factor who had once been employed by the old laird.

Port Ellen haunting

Next, is the haunting in Port Ellen. Now a country hotel, this building was once a distillery. When the building was still in use as a distillery in the nineteenth century, a thirsty burglar paid a visit. Indeed, being surrounded by barrels of fine malt whisky, he had a tipple or two or three or four. As a result, not being sharp with sobriety, he made for the closest exit. Unfortunately, this was a second-floor window! He did not survive the fall and is said to still haunt the building to this day. From time to time he can be seen at the spot where he fell surprising any visitors in his path. The window has since been bricked over.

Bowmore’s headless horseman

Upon his return home one stormy night in Bowmore, crofter Lachlan Ban saw something that spooked him. A headless horseman, galloped away from his house leaving him frozen in fear. As he approached the front of his house, the door was ajar. When he stepped inside the fire had blown out and there stood a bottle of Bowmore whisky and an empty dram. Of course there then came an explanation to this paranormal experience. Ban’s brother had passed that Friday night. Furthermore, he stated that the wind had blown the front door open and blown out the fire.

Additionally, he mentioned he had brought the whisky to share with him and could wait no longer. So he had a quick dram himself before leaving. In the light of the terrible weather, he had galloped off with his cloak pulled tight over his head. Nevertheless, this story still haunts the island. To this day, true islanders never offer an opened bottle of whisky to their guests in fear of attracting the headless horseman. Maybe, something to do with the fact that Ban was too embarrassed to tell real the story!

A full moon with the silhouettes of tree branches against it

Scottish Halloween Traditions

Neep lanterns

These days, pumpkins used to create spooky lanterns at this time of year. But in Scotland, it was normal to use a turnip. Much the same as the pumpkin, these were carved with scary faces and hollowed out so a candle could be lit inside to scare away evil spirits. Most people use pumpkins now and they are much easier to carve! Why not try carving a turnip this year? It could make a great decoration for telling your Scottish ghost stories!

A turnip carved into a lantern


In Scotland we don’t have Trick or Treating. However, we do still dress up in scary costumes. We call this ‘Guising’. And the idea behind it is so the children can hide amongst any wandering evil spirits and be safe. It’s also to scare away evil spirits before they can do any damage. But traditionally, to make sure they did the job, the costumes were a lot more creepy than the costumes children wear today.

Apple Dookin’

The Scottish name for apple bobbing. And a firm favourite at parties. Without using your hands, you need to grab an apple that is ‘bobbing’ in a barrel or bowl of water.

Apples in a cauldron for bobbing

Nut burning

If you want to find out if you and your partner will have a happy life together, try a spot of nut-burning. Popular with newly engaged couples, you put a nut in a fire. If it burns quietly, it would be a happy union. If it hisses and cracks, maybe not such a happy union!

Kale pulling

Another tradition that went hand in hand with your future with your partner! People would pull kale stalks after dark. The length, shape and amount of soil around the root represent your future lover. The length and shape had to do with their figure and the amount of soil represented wealth.

Treacle Scones

Another game played around Halloween. The objective was to take a bite out of a scone filled with treacle without using your hands. Very messy but sounds like it could be fun!

Come and visit this spooktacular island!

So why not come along to Islay and see it for yourself. Maybe you will see a ghost or two while you are here! You could join in some of the Halloween traditions and tell Scottish ghost stories throughout the evening. Autumn is a beautiful time of year to visit this stunning island. If you are looking for somewhere to stay then get in touch with us here at Islay Cottages today.

Get in touch >