Slowly but gracefully mouldering in the lush forests of East Lothian lies an abandoned castle with an intriguing legend to its name. Yester Castle, also known as Goblin Ha’, has a fascinating history dating back more than 700 years and is attached to several notorious legends that make it a favourite among aficionados of all things paranormal and supernatural.
The foremost of these legends revolves around how the castle was built. Supposedly it was constructed for Norman immigrant Hugo de Giffard by none other than an army of goblins, hence the name Goblin Ha’. This is quite a founding myth, and you can’t help wishing it was somehow true; but the rather less spine-tingling truth is that it was erected by Portuguese slaves. Whoever they were, their handiwork is clearly evident in the remarkable Gothic arched ceiling, which remains in surprisingly sound condition to this day despite the castle’s great age and the encroaching roots and weeds of the forest.
The castle’s owner and originator, de Giffard, is a rather nefarious figure in his own right, so much so that Sir Walter Scott thought fit to include him in Marmion, where he is likened to ‘Pharoah’s Magi’. Goblin Ha’ itself is even mentioned, as follows:
‘Of lofty roof and ample size,
Beneath the castle deep it lies;
To hew the living rock profound,
The floor to pave, the arch to round,
There never toiled a mortal arm;
It all was wrought by word and charm.’
A descendant of the First Laird of Yester, and a guardian of Alexander III, Hugo had a reputation for necromancy and all kinds of devilish goings-on. As a result he was dubbed the Wizard of Yester, and it was believed by locals that a well inside the castle was actually something far less mundane: a portal to Hell. They were so unnerved by this notion that they filled the well with rocks, which you can still see to this day, in order to prevent any demons or other wicked beasties from emerging and plaguing their village. Unfortunately for paranormal enthusiasts no records of any diabolical incidents can be found.
After Giffard’s death, the castle passed into the Hay family and survived through a tumultuous period of history, falling under attack in 1547 during the time of unrest dubbed the Rough Wooing. Its contemporary master, John, who was the Fourth Lord of Hay, used the castle as his base and successfully defended it against the English though he was later captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Eventually, in the next century, Yester Castle was abandoned, and remained so for the most part, though the part known as Goblin Ha’ was tenanted by the falconer of the Marquess of Tweeddale for a time. Most recently, in the year 2013, it was sold on by Chip Menotti, the son of the operatic composer Gian-Carlo, and these days it has become something of an attraction for those in the know about its magical history.
If you would like to visit it for yourself, however, be warned: the castle is not named on any signposts, nor is it easy to find, as is befitting of such an old and ‘faerie’ place. In order to locate it, you will have to head to Gifford and the Castle Park Golf Club. Ask for directions here and hopefully you will be pointed to the right place, though it does involve some scrambling and trekking through the somewhat eerie woodland. Once you do find the castle you are sure to think it worth the trek, as Yester and its Goblin Ha’ are as atmospheric and majestic as you might expect of such a legendary place with just a hint of the diabolical…