The Phantom Regiment of Killiecrankie

Pass of Killiecrankie

Pass of Killiecrankie

The Battle of Killiecrankie, fought on the 27th of July, 1689, was part of the Jacobite Risings trying to get James VII/II back on the throne in Scotland, England, and Ireland. It was a bloody victory for the Highland Jacobite army against the government troops (mainly comprising of lowland Scots, incorrectly referred to as ‘English’) who supported William and Mary of Orange.

There were thousands killed at Killiecrankie – mostly Government men, but also, notably, the Jacobite commander, Viscount ‘Bonnie’ Dundee – so it’s not surprising that there are a number of ghost stories surrounding the area where the battle was fought.

Here is one taken and adapted from Elliott O’Donnell’s book ‘Scottish Ghost Stories‘.

“On a cycle tour in Scotland, making Pitlochry my temporary headquarters, I rode over one evening to view the historic Pass of Killiecrankie. It was late when I arrived there, and the western sky was one great splash of crimson and gold – such vivid colouring I had never seen before and never have seen since.

I paid no heed to the time, nor did I think of stirring, until the dark shadows of the night fell across my face. I then started up in a panic, and was about to pedal off in haste, when a notion suddenly seized me: I had a latchkey, plenty of sandwiches, a warm cape, why not camp out there till early morning?

The idea was no sooner conceived than put into operation. Selecting the most comfortable-looking boulder I could see, I scrambled on to the top of it, and, with my cloak drawn tightly

over my back and shoulders, commenced my vigil. The cold mountain air, sweet with the perfume of gorse and heather, intoxicated me, and I gradually sank into a heavenly torpor, from which I was abruptly aroused by a dull boom, that I at once associated with distant

musketry. All was then still as the grave, and, on glancing at my watch, I saw it was two in the morning.

A species of nervous dread now laid hold of me which oppressed and disconcerted me. Moreover, I was impressed for the first time with the extraordinary solitude which seemed to belong to a period far other than the present. This feeling at length became so acute, that, in a panic of fear – ridiculous, puerile fear, I forcibly withdrew my gaze of the area and concentrated it abstractedly on the ground at my feet. I then listened, and in the rustling of a leaf, the humming of some night insect, the whizzing of a bat, the whispering of the wind as it moaned softly past me, I detected something that was not right. I blew my nose, and had barely ceased marvelling at the loudness of its reverberations, before the piercing, ghoulish shriek of an owl sent the blood in torrents to my heart. I then laughed, and my blood froze as I heard a chorus, of what I tried to persuade myself could only be echoes, proceed from every crag and rock in the valley. For some seconds after this I sat still, hardly daring to breathe, and acting extremely angry with myself for being such a fool. With a stupendous effort I turned my attention to the most material of things. One of the skirt buttons on my hip – they were much in vogue then – being loose, I endeavoured to occupy myself in tightening it, and when that was done, I set to work on my shoes, and tied knots in the laces. But this, too, ceasing at last to attract me, I was desperately racking my mind for some other device, when there came again the booming noise I heard before, but which I could now no longer doubt was of firearms. I looked in the direction of the sound and my heart almost stopped.

Racing towards me – as if not merely for his life, but his soul – came the figure of a Highlander, with eyes fixed ahead of him in a ghastly, agonised stare. He had not a vestige of colour, and, in the powerful glow of the moonbeams, his skin shone livid.

He ran with huge bounds, and, what added to my terror and made me double aware he was nothing mortal, was that each time his feet struck the hard, smooth road, upon which I could well see there were no stones, there came the unmistakable sound of the scattering of gravel. But on he came, with cyclonic swiftness. It was all infernally, hideously real, even to the minutest of details: the flying up and down of his kilt, sporran, and sword less scabbard; the bursting of the seam of his coat, near the shoulder. I tried hard to shut my eyes, but was compelled to keep them open, and follow his every movement as, darting past me, he left the roadway, and, leaping several of the smaller obstacles that barred his way, finally disappeared behind some large boulders.

I then heard the loud rat-tat of drums, accompanied by the shrill voices of fifes and flutes, and at the farther end of the Pass, their arms glittering in the moonlight, appeared a regiment of scarlet-clad soldiers.

At the head rode a mounted officer, after him came the band, and then, four abreast, a long line of warriors; in their centre two ensigns, and on their flanks, officers and non-commissioned officers with swords and pikes; more mounted men bringing up the rear.  I could hear the ground vibrate, the gravel crunch and scatter, as enormously tall men, with set, white faces and livid eyes steadily and mechanically advanced.

Every instant I expected they would see me, and I became sick with terror. But from this I was happily saved; no one appeared to notice me, and they all passed by without as much as a turn of the head; their feet keeping time to one everlasting, monotonous tramp.

I got up and watched until the last of them had turned the bend of the Pass, and the sheen of his weapons and trappings could no longer be seen; then I remounted my boulder and wondered if anything further would happen. It was now half-past two, and blended with the moonbeams was a peculiar whiteness, which rendered the whole aspect of my surroundings indescribably dreary and ghostly.



Feeling cold and hungry, I started on my beef sandwiches, when a loud rustling made me look up. Confronting me, on the opposite side of the road, was an ash tree, and to my surprise, despite the fact that the breeze had fallen and there was scarcely a breath of wind, the tree swayed violently to and fro, whilst there proceeded from it the most dreadful moanings and groanings. I was so terrified that I caught hold of my bicycle and tried to mount, but I was unable as I had not a particle of strength in my limbs. Then to assure myself the moving of the tree was not an illusion, I rubbed my eyes and called aloud; but it made no difference – the movement and noise continued. Summing up courage, I stepped into the road to get a closer view, when to my horror my feet kicked against something. Looking down, I saw the body of a Government soldier, with a ghastly wound in his chest. I gazed around, and there, on all sides of me, from one end of the valley to the other, lay dozens of bodies,–bodies of men and horses, – Highlanders and lowlanders, white-cheeked, lurid eyes, and bloody-browed, – a hotch-potch of livid, gory awfulness. Here was the writhing figure of an officer with half his face shot away; and there, a horse with no head. I cannot dwell on such horrors; the very memory makes me feel sick and faint.

The air, that beautiful, fresh mountain air, resounded with their moanings and groanings, and reeked with the smell of their blood. As I stood rooted to the ground with horror I suddenly saw drop from the ash, a Highland girl, with bold, handsome features, raven black hair, and the whitest of arms and feet. In one hand she carried a wicker basket, in the other a broad knife. A gleam of avarice and cruelty came into her large dark eyes, as, wandering around her, they rested on the rich facings of the Government officers’ uniforms. I knew what was in her mind, and – forgetting she was but a ghost – that they were all ghosts – I moved heaven and earth to stop her. I could not. Making straight for a wounded officer that lay moaning piteously on the ground, some ten feet away from me, she spurned with her slender, graceful feet, the bodies of the dead and dying Government soldiers that came in her way. Then, snatching the officer’s sword and pistol from him, she knelt down, and, with a look of devilish glee in her eyes, calmly plunged her knife into his heart, working the blade to assure herself she had made a thorough job of it. Anything more hellish I could not have imagined, and yet it fascinated me – the girl was so wickedly fair and shapely.

Her act of cruelty over, she spoiled her victim of his rings, epaulets, buttons and gold lacing, and, having placed them in her basket, proceeded elsewhere. In cases when unable to remove the rings, she chopped off the fingers, and popped them, just as they were, into her basket. Neither was her mode of dispatch always the same, for while she put some men out of their misery in the manner I have described, she cut the throats of others with as great a nonchalance as if she had been killing fowls, whilst others again she settled with the butt-ends of their guns or pistols. In all she murdered ten, and was decamping with her booty when her gloating eyes suddenly encountered mine, and with a shrill scream of rage she rushed towards me. I was an easy victim. Raising her flashing blade high over her head, an expression of fiendish glee in her staring eyes, she made ready to strike me. This was the climax, my overstrained nerves could stand no more, and ere the blow had time to descend, I pitched heavily forward and fell at her feet. When I recovered, every phantom had vanished, and the Pass glowed with all the cheerful freshness of the early morning sun. Not a whit the worse for my venture, I cycled swiftly home, and ate as only one can eat who has spent the night amid the banks and braes of bonnie Scotland.”


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One thought on “The Phantom Regiment of Killiecrankie

  1. Arthur B Robertson III

    WOW! As a foreign (USA) Robertson, I am just now, in advanced age, learning of my clan, and Scottish history. I am totally enthralled, fascinated by it all. So wish I could come for a visit. Due to poverty, I know I never will; but the computer, the ‘world of the web’, and sites such as these will be a wonderful alternative. Thanks to all who provide and maintain these sites and to those who contribute to them!


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