“When he murdered her
Under the old willow tree
She was so very young
This girl of twenty three
Now she haunts his castle
upon that bare hill
Cursed its green gardens
She dwells there still…”
It was some five years ago whilst I lived on the windy West Coast of Scotland,
when I first heard about her.
The cottage I rented was part of a large, crumbling Estate, and on this Estate stood an ancient castle.
It was build in the Thirteenth Century, had past through many hands and was besieged by many more and then finally left abandoned for the birds to make home.
Until in the 1970’s an eccentric old lady occupied it for some years, or maybe even decades, I do not know exactly.
What I do know however is that she must have lived there enduring the cold and damp walls, the hostile winds sweeping in from the sea, the freezing winters and also…
the ghost that dwelled the castle gardens and corridors.
You see, this castle was said to be haunted and her presence had been seen, heard or felt in some way or another, by many.
The spirit that dwelled there was of a certain Lady Green, or ‘Green Lady’ as the locals referred to her, and this is her tale;
A long, long time ago, on August 27th in the year 1782 to be precise, a girl was born to a farmer’s family, just on the outskirts of a small settlement on the West Coast of Scotland, called Skypness.
They named the baby girl Bracken, for she looked wild like the flowers that grew on the meadow.
She grew up wild playing in the fields and on the many beaches and running up and down the hill behind the house, chasing the cattle her family kept.
Upon that hill stood an old castle and it was surrounded by majestic gardens.
Bracken loved creeping around these gardens so green and beautiful, so full of life, with its glorious plants and flowers. In the summer butterflies floated gently on the soft air that smelled of roses and herbs. It really was the most beautiful place to behold.
But she never told a soul about her secretive wanders there, for the king who lived in this old castle was a most terrible creature. He was cruel and unkind and taxed his people to the point of their utmost despair. It was a struggle for most farmers and fishermen to even feed their families, let alone pay for the expensive habits of their king.
Even though they had never in fact seen the king in person, it was said he wore the most expensive of pelts, drank from golden cups and ate from plates made of the finest China. There was even word of an obsession he would have with the precious mother of pearl, it was said he had his walls covered with it from top to bottom.
But the king had no wife nor family and thus he lived alone in his grand habitation, hardly ever seen outside his own majestic court.
Nobody dared go near his castle or his gardens, but Bracken had no fear and knew the secret passage to it through the ivy at the back of a small patch of woodlands on the hillside.
She played there many happy afternoons, chasing the butterflies and dragonflies and singing in choir with the songbirds flying in and out of the trees.
She would sit for hours under the old willow tree by the pond and would stare into the water. So calm and serene it felt to behold the tiny creatures that lived there.
Their homes were tucked away safely under the deep green water plants that danced elegantly in the movement left by tiny fish swimming past. And then to follow with her eye the frog leaping from one water lily to he next, she had not a care for any other thing in the world when she was there in that small world of greenery. But she kept her playing grounds a secret out of fear she would no longer be allowed to go there.
Years went by and Bracken grew to be a beautiful young woman.
There was something unique about her ways, a certain kind of quality she had that nobody could quite put into words.
It was as if an unearthly peacefulness beheld her soul,
a fearlessness even, as pure as the snow that fell fresh from the cold winter skies.
And no matter how kind she always was to others, you would never quite feel you knew her.
There was always a distance between her and others, as thin as air it may have been,
yet still visible to the sensitive soul’s eye.
It was on a cold windy evening in December, when Bracken was seventeen years of age, that her mother and she spend an evening together by the warm hearth. Father was out at the barn tending to the animals, so it was only Bracken and her mother keeping each other company.
Bracken was writing in her diary, as she did every day, whilst her mother mended some old clothes.
It was only their own soft breathing and that of their two lazy dogs on the rug, and the crisp crackling sound springing joyfully from the hearth that filled the room, when all of a sudden a loud knocking on the door roused them from their peace.
“Who could it be at this time of night?” Asked the mother in an anxious voice, resting her needlework on her lap.
Bracken looked up from her book and said:
“Don’t worry mother, I will go and have a look. It probably was but the wind playing tricks”
Bracken got up swiftly and made her way through the corridor to open the door.
She was never seen since.
Searches were called and searches were abandoned and after months of combing the moors, beaches and woodlands, the search for Bracken was called off.
She had disappeared like thin air and she had left no trace.
Her poor parents grieved a grief most unpleasant, as they did not know what had happened to their young daughter.
Life went back to a form of normality after some time had passed, but their home was never again the same without their daughter there.
It was many years after Bracken’s disappearance, that some villagers started noticing a strange phenomenon had taken place on the hillside where the old castle stood.
It was as if a cold dark atmosphere had grabbed hold of it. It was first noticed that the hill in the distance seemed to be covered in dark clouds and snow, even when the weather down in the village was fair and pleasant.
Some folk from the village became rather curious and suspicious so they decided to go up there to see for themselves what unearthly thing had unleashed itself upon the landscape.
The castle had long been abandoned and the king who used to inhabit it had passed away many more years ago.
When the villagers went on their excursion to the castle grounds one late afternoon, they brought back stories of a garden that had withered and died, covered in a blanket of snow during the warm summer months and dressed in cobwebs like a ghost, glistening most morbidly in the eerie evening light.
Its splendid trees that once bore crowns of leaves and fruit had now wilted away sparing only their bare crooked branches that reached up desperately to the dark depressive heavens, like the old bony fingers of a witch.
The skeletons of trees, plants and bushes stood frozen in the cold winds that blew there without ever ceasing, holding on to the lifeless ground with the very last drop of life that was still left in their roots.
To behold these gardens gave the most dreadful feeling of terror and despair as there was no other in the world. Not only because of the terrible state the gardens were in to the eye, but even more so because of an indescribable, unearthly chill that hung still in the air, like a bird of prey waiting to take his leap to kill. Standing there looking out on to this landscape gave the villagers the most dreadful fear. It was as if someone was there other than themselves. A presence most bitter that dwelled within the ghost of these gardens, a most bitter presence indeed.
When they walked towards the frozen pond they saw the old willow tree standing there with her head bowed over the ice as if she was a mere depression herself.
In the faint light of the moon one of the villagers saw something at the foot of that tree. “Look!” he pointed out
“There by that tree!”
When they approached the object sticking up from the cold ground they saw it was a small cross of stone covered in lichen.
On the surface one could still read the primitive inscription that was once engraved into it:
So there, Bracken found her death in the very gardens she so loved as a child.
How she got there, why and by whom she was taken, will never be know for certain,
but it is said it was the king himself who knocked on her family’s door that night.
It is thought that for all those years he watched her play so innocently in his gardens as a child, and that he fell in love with her pure soul he desired for himself so very deeply. When he stole her from her parent’s house, he took her to his castle, and for five years he tried to make her his wife, to make her love him as she loved his gardens, with a childlike purity and joy.
But he could not reach her very soul, indeed he could never quite feel she was there at all no matter how hard he tried to please her. It is then believed he became so embittered and depressed that he murdered her out of pure misery and that he buried her himself under the willow tree by the water, where so often she sat to admire the fish swimming up and down and the frogs leaping from leave to flower.
But ever since he murdered her so cruelly, Bracken’s soul did not rest.
Her soul became so consumed with anger and rage over her murder that she cursed the king and his gardens, turning them into a cold, gloomy cemetery where all hopes and dreams died with her in its lap. Blossoming trees and soft summer days made way for crooked dead branches and dreich winters, until finally, death itself wrapped everything up entirely in its frozen grip.
The king passed away in terror, of grief and shame for what he had done.
His castle was inherited by time to ruin it.
But Bracken’s ghost is said to dwell there still, her breath icy and her hair black as ash.
The gardens are but a ghoulish memorial to her embittered soul.
Time passing weakened her icy grip and life slowly returned there,
but her breath can still be felt in the unusual cold winds and her bitter sadness lives in the very air and soil still.
Quite cynically, the locals of that village who live at the foot of that cursed hill,
call her “Green Lady”
Thank you for reading this here ghostly tale,
I hope you enjoyed it!
Both illustrations of Green Lady can be found in my shop
The portrait is available as Giclee Prints,
the floating lady above the cursed garden is available as the original only at the moment.
Have a wonderful Sunday!
x p x