My adventure with the ghost of Tantallon Castle

So I conquered a castle. As you do. It felt like I did, or at least that a lot of energy was put into getting to the castle which I see as equal to conquering it – even though I wasn’t invading as such. It was a 3 mile walk, okay? It took over an hour to get there and it was “enjoyable” (or so I’m told. I didn’t find that part enjoyable, but rather, painful due to a sore leg and heavy handbag.) I had been told by Ashley Pryce that there was a bus to the castle that we could jump on from the train station in North Berwick, but there wasn’t.

I was with Ash, Keir Liddle from Edinburgh Skeptics, and Adam Cuerdan whom I have often spoken to online, and although it was painful to walk the whole 3 miles along pavements, roads and grassy banks, it was pretty stunning to look out over the coast the whole way (except that bit where Keir took us on a detour around some tennis courts for some reason…). I also nearly wet myself at one point when Ash decided to leap into oncoming traffic to save his bottle of coca cola. That’s another story though.

Cake box
Thank you, Adam!

We soon arrived at the castle and all was forgiven as we sat down for a cake break (you all have those, right?). Adam had provided the most delicious cakes and we used them to replenish our energy and moods before descending on the castle to see if we could recreate the famous Tantallon Castle Ghost photo.

the original photo showing a figure looking down at the photographer from a higher up doorway

For those who don’t know, the Tantallon ghost photo was taken by a visitor to the castle who caught something in one of the upper exposed doorways¬†that he hadn’t remembered seeing at the time. Unsure of what it was he asked for other opinions and this soon snowballed into a ghost story.

Tantallon castle is stunning, with stunning views of the sea and surrounding coast. As we arrived at the castle there were strong winds and a hint of rain and a sky that was growing moodier by the second – it was the perfect weather for visiting a castle to investigate a ghost.

The picture certainly captured the imagination of many and Professor Richard Wiseman¬†has written a great piece here about his exploration into the ghost. Richard was able to recreate the photo by kneeling next to the safety rail/grating up there, but many say that this wasn’t a perfect recreation as he was kneeling when the original ‘thing’ wasn’t.

One hypothesis is that it’s a person who was walking past the doorway at the time the photo was taken, and another is that it’s exposed brickwork causing an illusion as the sunlight shines onto it from another light source – perhaps from behind or to the side.

A photo of the stone work present on the back wall of the landing area. Shows rough and smooth stones of different sizes with different textures that some claim caused an illusion in the original ghost photo.

A photo showing the view down from the landing area in which an apparent ghost was photographed. It shows the lower level of the castle from where the original photo was taken, with the metal safety grill in view.

Having explored the area in which the ‘ghost’ was photographed I can see the possibility that it could be the light hitting the stone work. There are two doorways that lead into that little landing area, and the staircase carries on up to the next level, and half way up these stairs is a window.

I couldn’t work out which stones could cause the illusion though, but I know that’s the problem with such illusions – it’s hard to work out what is causing them sometimes.

Anyway, we decided to explore the other hypothesis too and Adam climbed up to the level the ‘ghost’ was photographed on, as the rest of us stayed on the ground floor. As Adam was wearing a dark coat and hat he soon faded into the shadows and it was easy to see how someone could be mistaken for something odd had you not known they were there. The picture below shows Adam, it is blurred as it is a still from the video further down – and although not in the exact position the ‘ghost’ was in, in the original photo, I think there is a likeness.

A still from footage shot by the group at Tantallon castle. A grainy image, but it does show Adam on the landing above, looking similar to the alleged ghost.

Ash Pryce filmed the recreation and you can watch it below. I am recording audio on my Iphone throughout, in case you wondered why I’m holding on to it so much – I’m not showing it off, honest!

When Professor Wiseman conducted his recreation he knelt on the floor and people claimed that it wasn’t a true recreation of the ‘apparition’ which suggested it being a person was maybe not as likely. However, with the recreation we conducted while at the castle I think that it is likely that it was a person walking past that area. Had Wiseman stood further back on the landing it would have created the same effect.

I am not convinced that the original photo contains anything paranormal – and it appears that those from the castle and nearby are of a similar opinion – interestingly, talking to those who have studied the photo previously to my visit there, the person who took the original photo didn’t think it was a ghost either.

The pareidolia hypothesis is still valid, in my opinion, and cannot be ruled out unless the landing area is observed in various weather conditions throughout the day to see the sort of light being cast against those stones. However, after seeing Adam up on the landing I do think it is more likely that a tourist was passing through the landing area and out through the door to the left of the window, that leads to an outside area of the castle.

If you get to visit Tantallon castle then you should do so. It’s certainly a beautiful place with stunning views. I miss it already.

Thank you to the Edinburgh Skeptics for making the visit possible.

A photo taken by Hayley on her walk to Tantallon from the road. It shows the almost red castle in the distance, sitting in front of it is a large golden field of crops with a moody sky above.

About Hayley Stevens 431 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

3 Comments on My adventure with the ghost of Tantallon Castle

  1. Hi

    Just a quick clarification, would have posted sooner but had to double check.

    Professor Wiseman only knelt down during his initial investigation, on the second attempt at recreation with myself, Dr Watt and the photographer he wasn’t kneeling.

    He was standing, though leaning forward, near the stones.

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