Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1

  1. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 1
  2. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 2
  3. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 3
  4. Serial Saturday: The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor by Carol Willis, Part 4 – Finale



The Weird Ghosts of Lanark Manor: Part One


I was living in South Lanarkshire after I had broken my ankle. It was a typical October day, blustery with intermittent rain lashing the thick leaded windowpanes. A damp chill penetrated my socks and slippers. Recently widowed, I was house sitting at Lanark Manor, site of an old estate in the Scottish Lowlands thirty miles southwest of Edinburgh. Long past its former grandeur and regional influence, the property was now dedicated agricultural land and the caretakers, Hilary and Carey, farmed sheep and a small herd of beef cattle. Perched high on a ridge, the diverse swards held sweeping views of the ancient glacier-carved valley and the Pentland Hills and Tinto Hill Cairn to the southeast. 

New to the area and to rural living, I was still charmed by the sprawling rustic estate. Built in the 1700s, the Georgian house was a long rambling structure added onto over the decades, surrounded by a hodgepodge of barns and storage sheds in various states of dilapidation. There were high ceilings, tall mullioned windows, wide plank floors of antique pine, and each room had an ornate marble fireplace. The curved staircase of carved stone, Hilary assured me, had been quite elegant during its heyday. The graywacke sandstone, thick and mossy, was dead quiet in the middle of the night if you closed the windows. 

At half past ten in the morning, the sun slanted from the east as low clouds wafted spectrally over the fields. After several weeks of peaceful slumbers, I was nursing a mild headache from an inexplicable night of poor sleep and unsettling dreams. 

A sense of uncanny foreboding lingered, when Hilary called to ask, “You alright if we stay on through the weekend?” 

Hilary and her husband, Carey, were renovating a small farmhouse to the south in Dumfries and had run into a snag with one of the local contractors. “We need to be here to help get this sorted out,” she said with a heavy sigh, adding, “With winter coming, I’m afraid if we don’t get this taken care of now, who knows when the contractor will be back.” 

I had planned to leave the next morning to spend a few weeks with Roberta, an old childhood friend now living in West Wickham south of London. Then to another friend’s pied-de-tierre in Paris for the month of December, to include a lovely, if a bit lonely, Christmas by myself. 

My friend in West Wickham and the apartment in Paris were not going anywhere and as I was still convalescing from a broken ankle, I would not be able to do much sightseeing, anyway. Also, my friend Roberta was boisterous and often pushy, and I had begun to regret my hasty promise to visit. Secretly, I relished the excuse for a few more quiet days of reading and staring out the window.

“No problem. I can stay through Sunday if you like,” I said, gauging the skies through the sitting room window. Sun streaked through a curtain of rain along the rim of gray-blue hills across the valley, and the houses below loomed solemn and otherworldly. 

“That would be a huge help, Caroline. If the power goes out or if you need anything, you can call Chris.” 

Chris drove a taxi-for-hire, and lived down the road, a mile as the crow flies. He had driven me to Biggar for grocery shopping, and once to Wishaw for follow-up x-rays on my ankle. He was a kind middle-age gentleman, talkative and a bit of a mother hen. 

Hilary thanked me again and promised to return early Sunday morning. “Sunday night at the latest. Ed will be round later this week to move the sheep to another pasture. Text if you have questions. Bye-bye!” 

I called my friend Roberta to tell her I would not be arriving until Sunday, begging off quickly, hinting at some prior commitment before she could demand a more lengthy explanation.

As I set the kettle onto boil in the kitchen, I noticed the back door standing ajar. Between the backdoor and the kitchen, separated by a set of heavy double doors, was a brick floored vestibule with a low wooden bench and coat rack, used mostly as a mudroom during the wet sodden winters. The double doors leading from the kitchen were still bolted shut, so it was not that it was letting in the cold air. 

But it was odd. I had not been out the backdoor since the day before and I am always careful to close and latch the door behind me. 

As I unbolted the double doors and stepped down into the vestibule, a gust of wind blew a riot of leaves through the door and rain slicked the floor. When I leaned out to pull the door to, I glimpsed a tall narrow man as he disappeared, almost oozing, around the corner of the long crumbling barn across the gravel drive. His hunched outline was indistinct, like his body was gathering shadows as he went. 

I had seen the farmhand coming and going, but always while gazing out the window or across the field at a distance. I had never met Ed, so figured he must have come early. 

Briefly wondering where he had come from I watched for a bit waiting for him to reappear so I could properly introduce myself. But when he did not reappear after several minutes, I gave up. 

I did not hear or see anything again until later that afternoon when I went outside to take my daily walk. My ankle was still sore with limited range of motion, but the doctors had recommended daily exercise to strengthen the muscles and prevent buildup of scar tissue. 

I trundled around the western edge of the house, through a gap in the ancient moss-covered stone wall. The rain had cleared and although it was still cold and windy, the low smokey gray clouds had dissipated and the sun now shown brilliantly in a bright blue sky. Grand views of Mount Tinto and palisaded pastureland to the south, still green and lush this time of year, were worth the trek through the mud and squelch. 

In boot and crutches, I hobbled slowly down the narrow gravel path as cyclones of dead leaves whirled like apparitions. The dark greens of summer were gone replaced by curled leaves fringed in yellows and browns clinging stubbornly to the branches. The path cut through a dense copse of trees, and the eerie crackling of small twigs and desiccated leaves sounded like footsteps. 

I got the feeling someone was watching me and more than once I turned around expecting to see the farmhand or a tractor rumbling up the dirt tract. 

For the first time since I had arrived, I felt an unease related to the vulnerability of my position. A middle-aged female housesitting a remote farmhouse alone with a broken ankle. Chris, the closest neighbor, was over a mile away. And foolishly, I had left my iPhone on the kitchen table. 

Although not easily spooked, the whole situation made me pause. I stood under the trees for a few spine-tingling moments wondering if someone had followed me. 

But there was no one, only the loud honk of the peacock that paraded behind the house. I shrugged it off, attributing the feeling to an overactive imagination or some holdover from my fitful night leeching into my waking hours. 

However, the memory of the dark figure of the man I had seen this morning unsettled me. I could not rid myself of the feeling something was lurking just outside my peripheral vision.

The nagging sense of being watched followed me as I tottered like an invalid down the mud-slicked road to the first gate. I stopped, leaning on the cold metal bars to rest my arms, and readjust the straps on my boot. The wind blew through the hollow holes in my aluminum crutches and the melancholy sound was like that of a shepherd’s lute. As I gazed across the desolate windswept valley and listened to that mournful tune, I was inexplicably filled with a sense of loneliness and a longing for something I could not name. 

Another bank of dark clouds conspired to the northwest, so I turned back before it began to rain again. On my return through the trees, I heard a low moaning somewhere to my left. My heart gave a start as I caught the figure of an old woman standing amidst the shaggy underbrush. Dressed in a long dark cape, she wore an old-fashioned black-lace mantle, much like a Spanish mantilla over her head. Although her face was in shadows, she appeared to be peering off into the distance as if waiting for someone. I do not think she noticed me, although how she could not have heard me lumbering along the path was a mystery.

“Hello?” I said, warily. 

It was gloomy under the trees and at that moment, the clouds passed over the sun, so we were plunged into almost complete darkness. A gust of wind blew my hair in a tangled nest about my head and when I cleared my face, the strange woman was gone. 

“Hello?” I asked, loudly this time, peering through thicket. The moaning had stopped.

Suddenly a pair of pheasants exploded upward, squawking angrily at being flushed from the undergrowth. My heart hammered in my chest, and I stumbled, almost slipping on a blanket of wet leaves. 

When I shuffled through the tangled brush to where I believed the woman had been standing, there was nothing but the jagged hollowed remains of a large tree trunk. I swiveled and called out a few more times but no one answered. 

I soon reasoned what I had seen had really been just been the pheasants or a trick of the light. However, much like the figure of the man this morning, the whole incident was strange and off putting.

Disconcerted, my headache throbbed at my temples. 

I returned to the main house damp and thoroughly chilled to the bone. I made a small fire in the grate in the sitting room and swallowed my last three capsules of Paracetamol. All perfectly quiet in the house, I poured the last dregs of Cognac from an old dusty bottle into a snifter and settled into a cozy armchair. I spent the rest of an uneventful afternoon reading a small volume of poetry, badly dogeared and water marked. Occasionally, I heard the bleating of sheep, and the loud piercing cry of the peacock. 

My headache soon receded and I dismissed the woman in the woods as a figment of my peculiar mood. Eventually, the sense of being watched left me all together. Warmed by the fire and the Cognac, I read and drowsed as the wind and rain pelted the house.


I awoke in the middle of the night by a loud rapping. I bolted up right in bed, shot through with a frisson of fear wondering who in the world could be at the backdoor. I held my breath, waiting to hear the noise again. My first thought was perhaps Hilary and her husband had come back early. Had they been locked out? 

The banging started up again, more insistent this time, echoing throughout the house. Then began a loud scraping sound, a rounded, rusty noise. 

“Hello?” I called out from the bedroom, tingling with fear running like an electric current under my skin. 

I felt ridiculous, dressed in a thin cotton tee and underwear. The room was cold, and wind whistled under the window casements. I had no weapon, save my aluminum crutches and a small hardbound book of poems sitting on the bedside table, reminding me again of how unprepared and inadequate I was.

At the sound of my voice, the scraping noise ceased for a moment but resumed intermittently before stopping altogether. I listened for the sound of a car or footsteps outside, but heard nothing. 

Wide awake and shivering, I resolved to get dressed and see if I could make out what had caused the ruckus. Balanced on one foot, trembling, I awkwardly pulled leggings over my bum ankle and shoved my arms through an old moth-eaten woolen sweater. I had left my ankle boot, wet and muddy from this afternoon’s walk, by the back door, so I teetered out of the bedroom on my crutches in stocking feet. 

I descended the stairs precariously, gripping onto the metal railing, calling out, “Hello? Who’s there?” my voice swallowed by the darkened stairwell.

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