Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Saddell Castle

Saddell Castle was built in the early sixteenth century for the Bishop of Argyll.

In one of the pillars of its gate are indentations which Kintyre tradition claims are the finger-and thumbprints of the Devil.

The story goes that the Laird of Saddell mischievously wagered a village tailor to spend a night in the graveyard of the ruined mid twelfth-century Abbey of Saddell, which was thought to be haunted. The tailor accepted the challenge, and they agreed that he would take with him enough cloth to make a pair of trousers in the course of the night.

Off he went and sat cross-legged tailor-fashion on a tomb. Suddenly the earth began to rumble and a slab lying on the ground nearby started to heave. Then an enormous head appeared, and the tailor heard a voice saying, ‘Do you see this great head of mine?’ ‘Ay, ay, I’m seeing it,’ said the wee tailor, ‘but I’m too busy making my breeks.’

Then an enormous pair of shoulders appeared and the voice enquired, ‘Do you see these great shoulders of mine?’ And the wee tailor said, ‘Ay, ay!’ but went on stitching.

The earth rumbled again and a great body appeared, and. the voice asked, ‘Do you see this great body of mine?’ ‘Ay, ay, I’m seeing it,’ said the wee tailor, ‘but I must get finished with my breeks.’

Then a great leg and foot appeared and stamped on the slab so hard that the whole graveyard quaked. ‘Do you see·this great foot of mine?’ asked the voice. ‘Ay, ay, I do that,’ replied the wee tailor, ‘but my breeks are finished, though the stitches may be ower long.’

Tucking the trousers under his arm·and the thimble in his pocket, he cut off the thread and quickly took to his heels. The Devil — for it was he — followed in hot pursuit. Down the glen ran the tailor, towards Saddell Castle, the Devil gaining on him every step. The tailor just managed to reach the castle gate and close it fast behind him. ln his frustrated rage, the Devil smote one of the pillars supporting the gate, ‘and the imprint of his fingers and thumb  may be seen there to this day, ‘ says Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, telling this story in 1937.

This story I’ve quoted verbatim from Jennifer Westwood’s and Sophia Kingshill’s book “The Lore of Scotland: A guide to Scottish legends” as they tell it sublimely1Westwood, Jennifer and Sophia Kingshill. “The Lore of Scotland: A guide to Scottish legends”. ISBN 9780099547167 2011..

Saddell Abbey: originally a House of Cistercian Monks founded by Somerled Macdonald, Lord of Kintyre, and continued by his son, Reginald. Deserted c.1470. James IV tranferred its lands to Bishopric of Argyll 1507-8. Many stones removed in 18th century for building of Saddell House and offices. [Information from Historic Scotland, 20 July 1971]
Saddell Castle is a tower-house, built between 1508 and 1512, but being a private residence, I was a bit hesitant about nosing about the porch looking for the Devil’s finger and thumb prints2Canmore.org.uk. (2022). Saddell Castle | Canmore. [online] Available at: https://canmore.org.uk/site/38867/saddell-castle [Accessed 11 May 2022]..

There is very little left of Saddell Abbey, just a few ruined walls in a burial ground which is still in use3Canmore.org.uk. (2022). Saddell Abbey | Canmore. [online] Available at: https://canmore.org.uk/site/38866/saddell-abbey [Accessed 11 May 2022].4Canmore.org.uk. (2022). Saddell Burial Ground | Canmore. [online] Available at: https://canmore.org.uk/site/234111/saddell-burial-ground [Accessed 11 May 2022].5Canmore.org.uk. (2022). Saddell Burial Ground | Canmore. [online] Available at: https://canmore.org.uk/site/38873/saddell-burial-ground [Accessed 11 May 2022].. What is interesting though are twelve or so medieval grave slabs carved with knights, monks, salmon, otters, and ships. These are housed in a small purpose built ‘museum’ to protect them from the elements.

Carved grave slabs.







2 responses to “Saddell Castle”

  1. Robert MacNamara avatar
    Robert MacNamara

    Antony Hippisley Coxe in ‘Haunted Britain’ has a nice notation and photo of Saddell Castle . He asked the locals if it was haunted . I haven’t visited it yet , but I was at the library in Edinburgh and did some research from their books .
    The castle has lots of atmosphere .

    1. Fhithich avatar

      Well worth a visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *